All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #5

The Lovely Vicki Vale
DC Comics

Frank Miller redefined Batman in the late 80s with two acclaimed mini-series: The Dark Knight Returns (dealing an older Batman coming out of retirement to save Gotham yet again) and Batman: Year One (which fine-tuned Batman’s origin). While the character from the 60s television show hadn’t been as campy as the public perceived him to be for quite some time, it was Miller’s stories that brought mainstream attention to the “Dark Knight.”

Joined by Jim Lee, one of the most popular artists of the past couple decades, Miller returned to Batman for this new All Star series, which was another fresh start for the character. I don’t know if I was expecting some sort of de facto sequel to Year One or a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, but Miller threw us all for a loop with this latest series.

The Batman presented in ASBaR is extremely confident and he enjoys what he’s doing, almost to the point of being maniacal about it. We’re introduced to this Batman through the eyes of young Dick Grayson, who would eventually become Robin, Batman’s sidekick. After attending a circus where he witnesses Grayson’s parents murdered, Batman takes the youth under his wing. That’s pretty much where the similarities to the regular story end. This Batman is scaring the hell out of Grayson. Grayson doesn’t really want to go along with Batman and is out of his wits as Batman mows through police who are chasing them, gets insulted by the person who is supposed to be saving him and is pretty much dumped off in the Bat Cave to fend for himself while Batman goes on patrol. If not for Alfred the butler, young Grayson would be forced to feed himself by eating the rats in the cave (Batman’s idea).

The latest issue of ASBaR came out after a year’s delay and I really can’t explain why, but I can almost forgive the scheduling problems because of the enjoyment I got out of the issue. Grayson is still stuck in the cave. Alfred is wondering if his “master” has gone off the deep end, and some familiar characters in Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Plastic Man are deciding what to do about the Bat Man.

Wonder Woman is an Amazon warrior who wants to kill Batman, and she pretty much despises all of the men in the world anyway. Superman is given some stones and puts Wonder Woman in her place; he comes off more powerful than he’s been written in years. Meanwhile, Batman is jumping across rooftops thinking how much he enjoys “being the goddam Batman” and laughing like a mental patient. He then proceeds to rescue a woman about to be raped by crippling her attackers and telling her not to call an ambulance so they can suffer some more.

Jim Lee’s art has never been better. He took a run at the character a few years back, but there is a greater attention to detail here. Although the cheesecake factor with the female characters is definitely high – to the point of ridiculous – I chalk that up more to Miller’s direction than Lee’s interpretations of the characters. Everything in the book is over-the-top, and I’m sure the women are supposed to be drawn equally unrealistically.

Frank Miller’s cover for ASBaR #5
DC Comics

Due to its lateness and the way Miller is handling the character, there are a lot of people who are critical of the book. I don’t know what they were expecting, but I assumed that this All Star line would be giving us different takes on these characters… and this madman version of Batman running around is something I’m not familiar with. Since the track record with scheduling isn’t so great, I’d recommend waiting for the trade paperbacks on this story, but most of the issues are still available and we’re only at part five.

And lest people think that Miller is just totally going for a wild approach and not caring at all to make a “definitive” Batman, there are moments of greatness in the series. In this issue in particular, Miller shows how Bruce Wayne’s mother never really knew her real son until the moment just before she died, when she looked into her son’s eyes and saw a demon staring back. Loved it! The All Star version of Batman isn’t going to appeal to most readers out there. A lot of the “real” Batman fans are up in arms about the way the character is being portrayed, but really this is just an alternative version served up by a creative team doing their best to do something a little different. A dark Batman isn’t anything new, but the twisted glee he takes in his job and his acceptance of his mission comes off fresh. This is the most fun you’ll have had reading a Batman book in years.