Review: All-Star Batman and Robin by Frank Miller
Welcome back, Readers!
This month’s graphic novel review is going to be All-Star Batman and Robin from Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Fans of these creators will find only good things in this book as it is a near perfect amalgamation of their combined talents. Jim Lee’s easily recognizable art returns as strong as ever, I’d say he even draws one of the best Batman around. Frank Miller’s distinct gritty tone readers might remember from Sin City returns, as Frank scours Gotham’s dark underbelly for some seriously interesting story beats. All-Star Batman is pitched as a re-imagining of Robin’s origin story, covering the death of his family and his “adoption” into the Bat-family. I realize that All-Star Batman is a bit of a controversial piece of comic history so I plan on treading lightly as to not step on too many toes. Keep in mind that the opinions expressed below are very much my own and that my tastes might not mirror yours. So were do you look when you want some hard-as-nails Batman action? Read below to find out!
All-star Batman and Robin is pitched as a re-imagining of the classic origin story of none other then the boy wonder himself. There isn’t a whole lot to say about the story direction as Robin’s origin has been written more times then I could count, each time with very small intricacies and variations from the original plot line. Robin’s family, circus performers by the name “The Flying Graysons”, are shot and killed in front of Dick during one of their high-flying circus acts, leaving Dick scarred beyond imagination. Bruce Wayne, as Batman, takes Dick under his proverbial wing (no pun intended) and begins training him for his future as one of Gotham’s finest crime fighters. All-star Batman covers all aspects of Dick Graysons induction into the Bat-family, from the birth of Robin to the adventures (and sometimes misadventures) that follow with being Batman’s right hand man. Throughout the graphic novel we watch as Dick trains and becomes a fine detective and fighter, we watch him take revenge on his parents killer and we are there to observe as he encounters and deals with other superheroes such as Green Lantern and Black Canary. A fair amount of All-star Batman is stuff we have all read before, the parts that make it interesting are the scenes that come between the main story beats. We are treated to Batman’s first encounter with the Justice League, him discovering the fledgling hero, Black Canary, and we even get to view his encounters with a few of his classic villains.
The writing take an oddly uncharacteristic take for the caped crusader, who spouts countless out-of-character lines including: Cool, and Shut up. Frank Miller’s skill arises is in the characters internal monologues which are found on nearly every single page, detailing the characters actions, motives and thought processes thoroughly. Often times it feels like useless exposition but it’s up for interpretation. The mood of the story is made apparent within the first few pages and it persists throughout the entire run, Gotham feels dark, foreboding and above all, gritty. The grit of Gotham stretches out to all of the major players in Frank Miller’s story, Alfred, Robin and even a few members of the Justice League, it’s an odd artistic choice but Frank plays it with some consistency.
I’m not a huge fan of what Frank Miller does with Batman, playing him off as a reckless asshole/psychopath who disregards everyone’s well being, but it’s generally tolerable. The saving grace of this comics dialogue and odd tone is the frequency of the character to character banter, which is few and far between, leaving a lot of room to appreciate the tone of the story. That being said, the overall ham-fistedness of Millers dialogue and pacing is an immense detriment to the story. Towards the end of the book I found myself skipping the text boxes entirely and only occasionally reading a line or two.
Jim Lee, how I love thee. Jim Lee is the amazing artist behind All-Star Batman, drawing it in his clean and bold fashion. The art in this graphic novel is strong and consistent through and through, just as Jim Lee’s name always promises. Batman is drawn to be built perfectly, he seems muscular enough to be an unpowered superhero but still much smaller then the boy scout, Superman, who makes a few small appearances. The settings in All-Star Batman are all drawn with appropriate reverence for the most menacing city in the comic world, the Gotham city skyline is drawn with such intricacy that it nearly becomes overwhelming. Tonally, the visuals of this comic are set in the perfect crevice between moody and noir; Every page features some amazingly rendered weather effect or lighting intricacy that really demonstrates the artistic teams talents. All-Star Batman couldn’t have been drawn by a better group of talented artists, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair draw the quintessential superhero comic down to the most granular of details. Overall, the art of this book is the only part that is worth your time, it almost feels like it’s wasted on Frank Miller’s obscure and tonally inappropriate storytelling techniques. If I honestly had to rate All-star Batman and Robin I would have to give it 2 out of 5 stars, Jim Lee’s art is the only part of the entire comic worth salvaging.