In 2005, DC teamed legendary Batman comic writer Frank Miller and equally legendary artist Jim Lee for what they clearly hoped would be the ultimate Batman comic. What they got was a comic in which Batman called Robin “retarded.” In short, they got the worst Batman comic ever made. And I love it.
Let me be perfectly clear here: As a representation of Batman, All Star Batman & Robin is a monumental failure. As the “ultimate” version of the Dark Knight, well, All Star’s Batman is so bad, it’s as if Miller was secretly trolling DC, trying to create the least ultimate Batman of all time. But the results, while horrible on many levels, are also massively, massively entertaining. It’s so spectacularly wrong that it’s kind of brilliant.
In fact, if you can wrap your head around the idea that Miller is trying to indulge all the worst instincts of superhero comics’ primarily male, teenage audience, and thus satirize the horrible excesses mainstream comics have gone to in order to ingratiate themselves to these readers, All Star Batman could be considered brilliant. Of course, as Frank Miller’s descent into madness and crotchetiness over the years has irrefutably proven, this could not have been his intention, but the comic still works on this level anyway.
Take, for instance, the very beginning of issue #1, in which journalist Vicki Vale dictates notes about some hard-hitting story while lounging in immensely impractical lingerie in her own apartment. As Lee draws picture after picture of Vale’s ass, the book practically shouts the absurdity of its incredible sexism and superhero comics’ desire to give teenage boys boners.
And that’s just for starters. All Star Batman & Robin wants to explore the basest of its primary audience’s desires by fulfilling them all to excess. In effect, All Star’s Batman is practically a teenage boy in Batman’s body—how else could you possibly explain the scenes of Batman cackling in glee as he ran along the rooftops of Gotham City at night, because it’s just so awesome being Batman? All Star Batman knows that being a super-buff, super-handsome, super-rich badass who is unfettered by all social obligation, including the law, would be totally rad, and thus there’s no room for an iota of Batman’s traditional brooding or tragic underpinnings.
Instead, this Batman takes all of his traditional behaviors to their logical—and illogical—extremes. He beats up bad guys in glee. He kidnaps an orphan against his will to join his mad crusade. He says “Goddamn” constantly. He berates Robin for talking back to him. He calls people names while he beats them up! He has sex with Black Canary on a filthy Gotham pier in the pouring rain—not because these are the things that make Batman cool, just gone totally out of control. Batman’s a badass! He takes no sass! Ladies love him!
There’s no better example of this than how All Star Batman deals with his fellow superheroes. In Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman uses his intelligence and preparation to fight and defeat Superman, in a confrontation that has influenced his relationships with his DC counterparts for decades. Again, All Star takes this to its most ridiculous extreme as Batman arranges to have Green Lantern meet him in a room he has forced Robin to paint entirely yellow—including Batman and Robin themselves—in order to negate Green Lantern’s powers so Hal knows exactly who’s in charge. And, for kicks, Batman is also drinking lemonade during this encounter, because All Star Batman is such a magnificent asshole.
Even if you somehow don’t buy that Batman’s arrested development can be seen as a savage indictment of what a traditional, teenaged male audience like more about the Dark Knight, the sight of Batman going so far out of his way just to be a dick to Green Lantern is goddamned hilarious. The book is funny, if only because you know how seriously Miller took it all. Another perfect example: When Wonder Woman makes her debut by telling a random dude to “Get out of my way, sperm bank.” Wonder Woman referring to a guy as the sum of his reproductive capability is deeply entertaining. It’s just that I would argue it’s so spectacularly wrong that it ends up being kind of brilliant.
Actually, that’s All Star Batman & Robin in its entirety—so mistaken, it becomes a work of genius. Hey, just because you watched your parents gets murdered as a 12-year-old and dedicated your entire life to fighting crime and avenging their deaths doesn’t mean you can’t look at the lighter side of things, right?
That’s right, Batman. Sometimes life is good.
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