The Cynical Optimist – 3/8/08

All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder Vol. 1

Frank Miller’s Goddamn Batman


Luminary creators Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and Jim Lee (Batman: Hush) join forces to retell the origin of Dick Grayson, the original Robin in All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, which is the first series to be launched under DC’s All Star imprint.

All Star titles are self-contained story arcs existing outside of official DC Comics continuity. The idea is that writers and artists can retell the history of prominent DC Universe characters without being restricted by the continuity of past canonical stories.

Not only does it allow creators a chance to reboot titles, but also appeals to readers who may feel intimidated by the sheer amounts of history already established for each character.

Just because this is a retelling of Robin’s origin doesn’t mean it can’t have some history. Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) has stated that All Star Batman & Robin exists in the same continuity as the other storylines in his Dark Knight universe and is actually a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns.

This book has, well, just about everything. It combines the gritty, noir feel of Miller’s writing with the gorgeous, colorful art of Jim Lee into a memorable book that feels as if it could be the definitive origin of Robin, though I still love the Dark Victory tale very much.

At the start of All Star Batman & Robin, Vicki Vale is getting ready for a night out on the town with Bruce Wayne. The two decide to attend a traveling circus in Gotham where they see “The Flying Graysons,” an acrobat family consisting of twelve-year-old Dick Grayson and his parents.

As always, young Dick is an acrobatic daredevil. Vicki Vale gasps as he spins and twirls through the air. In-between the “Oh My God” exclamations, Vicki chokes out, “This kid’s amazing!” to which Bruce replies, “Yeah, I’ve had my eye on him for a while. He’s something alright.”

And while this is a new take on Robin’s origin, his initial birth is still very much the same. Grayson’s parents are shot and killed by a hit man, leaving the 12-year-old orphaned and alone. G.C.P.D officers escort him from the scene in a threatening manner. It’s pretty obvious that these guys are the bad cops – the sleazy, dirty rats that typically infest Miller’s stories.

Bruce disappears in typical fashion while Vicki and Alfred Pennyworth chase after the cops who just abducted Grayson. Batman hunts down the killer and then rescues Dick Grayson from the corrupt cops. “You’ve just been drafted into a war.”

Miller’s Batman is more than just dark and disturbed – he comes off as slightly psychopathic at times. The Batman hurls himself off rooftops onto unsuspecting criminals, laughing all the way down like a madman. He is also a bit of a sadist, reflecting on all the injuries he’s handed out to Gotham’s scum – the bones he’s broken – the pain he has inflicted.

Miller’s gritty dialogue provides perhaps the book’s single most infamous moment when our caped crusader introduces himself to Grayson as “the Goddamn Batman.” The phrase has gone on to become a mainstay in the series, with the phrase showing up in every issue. It’s almost like those guys responsible for “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” whispered into Frank’s ear and compelled him to give Batman more colorful language.

Batman’s abuse extends even towards innocents as he verbally and physically abuses Dick Grayson in an attempt to prevent him from grieving over his parent’s deaths. While rescuing the Boy Wonder, Batman appears to kill a group of corrupt police officers by landing the Batmobile on top of a pursuing squad car. In a scene very similar to the experiment Evey undergoes in V For Vendetta, Batman withholds food from Grayson and suggests that the boy catch rats and eat them if he is hungry.

And while volume one of this All Star series focuses primarily on the relationship between Batman and Robin, there are plenty of other characters that Jim Lee illustrates beautifully. Black Canary, Batgirl and the Joker all have their roles to play – and another story thread shows us the disgust and contempt shared between the Justice League and Batman. Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and Plastic Man occupy many of Lee’s frames, and they’ve never looked better.

One of the best moments involves a confrontation between Batman and Robin and the Green Lantern. Our dynamic duo has led the Green Lantern to a safe house that is painted completely yellow – Batman points out that this weakness of Lantern’s is absolutely preposterous. It’s fun to see Batman make fun, and even ridicule, DC’s other big names. Miller really plays up the animosity between the JLA and Batman, which he see later on down the line with Superman’s inclusion in The Dark Knight Returns.

Speaking of The Dark Knight Returns, as you might recall, Dick Grayson is noticeably absent, to which Bruce Wayne simply says that they are not on speaking terms. He does, however, reminisce about Dick when confronting the Mutants in his tank-like Batmobile, and before meeting Carrie Kelley who has taken up the Robin mantle of her own free will.

In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman reveals that he sacked Grayson “For incompetence. For cowardice”, and as Batman has just barely stopped Grayson from murdering Carrie, he also shows Grayson little in the way of sympathy, understanding or affection, and manages to kill his former partner then and there.

After seeing their relationship in All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, it’s easy to imagine how Dick Grayson could come to resent, even hate Batman. I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a new fix of Frank Miller’s Batman, and while not as masterful as The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, this is a worthy addition to your collection.