Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: The Goddamn Batman

Review: All-Star Batman & Robin HC

I think the lion's share of comics fans were in synch with me when I salivated over this announced All Star Batman & Robin title. Frank goddamn Miller. Jim goddamn Lee. How could this not be the single greatest book published in the last 20 years?

I think I was also in synch with an equally lionesque share of comics fans when I got done reading AS Batman # 1 and couldn't speak for an hour. "I'm the goddamn Batman?" What. The. Fuck.

I set that book down and didn't purchase another. I would occasionally read scattered reviews, and if you know me you know I was tracking order numbers. AS Batman maintained a consistent 100,000+ and I wondered to myself who was still buying the damn thing.

When the hardcover edition hit the stands, curiosity got the better of me and I had to check it out. I'm glad I did.

The HC edition presents the first 8 issues without commercial interruption in all of their over-the-top, irreverent beauty. That's right, I said beauty.

There are reasons not to like the book, but they are mainly reasons of bottled expectations and unrealistic demands. I think we were expecting something familiar with a little Sin City twist. Shame on us. We demanded that Miller produce the same old same old with a such a polish that it would still knock our cotton footwear off. Absurd.

What we got was the Goddamn Batman. And after reading the first eight issues straight through, I'm very pleased to meet him.

To me, this book has many layers, but I'm most interested in two of them - the character study Miller is creating, and the meta-commentary on comics he's planted. Let me explain.

Batman: The Character Study
I think the idea of Batman as slightly off his nut is well-trodden ground in "water cooler" talk, but it rarely gets played out in the floppies. At least not seriously. Yes, we recognize and the characters recognize that Bruce Wayne is obsessed with his mission to a level that is likely not healthy. But at the end of the day, we never question whether or not Batman is a hero.

In AS Batman, everybody questions this openly, and the answer is not traditional. Batman is bent. We get to see a good deal of Batman's internal dialogue from Miller, particularly as regards Robin. And what we see is slightly disturbing. Whatever else we might say about the story as it unfolds, the book has brass balls.

Meta Commentary
It isn't just Batman that's off, which brings me to the meta level. What Frank Miller is doing in this book is showing us how absurd most superhero storytelling is by stripping off the glossy sheen and showing us some "reality" within the fictional backdrop.

Look, this isn't unprecedented. (See Watchmen, 1986) But it is unusual, and it is entertaining. So Batman is bent. Batman is bent to the point where Robin is isolated in the Batcave and meant to eat rats to toughen him up. The Justice League is at odds with each other and not terribly competent.

This is not a world where the good guys know just what to do and say. The cops are corrupt, Green Lantern is a moron, Superman has no stones, and Wonder Woman is an ultra-aggressive bitch, and Black Canary picks pockets when she's done stomping thugs.

How about this meta gem from issue # 5:

"I leave the Batmobile parked in a back alley of Giordano and Adams. That's taking a chance--some loser with ideas might spot it and get himself electrocuted trying to steal it."

In case you didn't catch it, that's Miller giving everyone who's handled the character since the Neal Adams/Dick Giordano days (including himself?) a big fat middle finger.

What's fun about reading this title is that it is completely over-the-top fun and action while simultaneously demonstrating what a horrible farce that whole situation is.

Another positive is that this is the strongest I've ever seen the character Robin. Dick Grayson is not window dressing - he's a prodigy that Batman is in awe of. It takes Robin about six seconds to relieve Hal Jordan of his ring and deal some near lethal damage.

On the downside, Miller has gotten very in love with his short, staccato sentence structure. And he repeats EVERYTHING. Every character exhibits the phenomenon. It's irritating and unnecessary.

My final judgement is that All-Star Batman is certainly worth having in your collection if you're a comics fan at all. Maybe this isn't the Rolls Royce we foolishly clamored for in our hearts. But whatever she is...she definitely goes. Unbuckle your seat belt and enjoy the rest on its own terms.

Birds of Prey out on DVD as of Tuesday, July 15!

Once upon a time the WB put out a Birds of Prey series I would assume is loosely based on the DC comic that Gail Simone used to kick so much ass on. I say assume because I never watched the show - it was off the air before I ever knew it existed!

Ashley Scott plays the Huntress, in this mythos the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Dina Meyer is Oracle/Barbara Gordon. Dinah Lance appears to be a psychic and not the Black Canary, played by Rachel Skarsten.

Not sure why this tanked after only 13 episodes, but I've already plunked down the cash and ordered it to find out...

It's Dark Knight Time!!!

As I type this, it's just after midnight on July 18, and I imagine a handful of fortunate nerds are seeing the first screenings of The Dark Knight locally.

I don't usually do openings, as the press of humanity is bad for my mental balance. And my mental balance is precarious enough as it is. Needless to say I will be taking this film in before long. Definitely at the IMAX in St. Michael. Oh yeah.

In a summer over-saturated with comic goodness, I still find myself anticipating this movie at an obscene level. Hard to imagine something that could top Iron Man - but this one just might do it.

Anybody out there seen the film or the Birds of Prey series? I'd love to read your comments. Otherwise, see you when we upload the next show!


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