I posted the following book review on Goodreads in February of 2009. Since then it has become my most “liked” book review by other Goodreads users. It’s also, by far, the most negative book review I’ve ever written. Is there a correlation here? Are people attracted to reviews that slash and burn more than reviews that praise? I’d be interested to hear your opinions…
All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder is a retelling of the first days of the “Dynamic Duo” by the celebrated creative team of writer Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee. This retelling set in the modern era (Robin originally made his debut as “The Sensational Character Find of 1940” – a bit dated) and is the rumored precursor to Miller’s award-winning Batman end-of-life-story: The Dark Knight Returns.
Despite the hype, the packaging, and the high-profile creative team, I believe this story is illustrative of everything that is wrong with today’s superhero comic books.
Miller’s Batman is a cackling narcicist who want to flaunt his labido and drive over anything in his way as much as he wants to “save” Gotham City. Miller has taken the Batman character beyond a tormented soul, lost in a life fighting darkness in the lowest places, but burning with justice inside – to a man who lusts attention, thrills, power (over both villians and heroes) and women.
Batman just went from being one of the most original characters in comics history to your average 21-year-old muscle-head.
Miller’s Batman is a man more concerned with kicking people’s teeth out and laughing while they bleed, than protecting the innocent and throwing every punch to make positive change in Gotham City. Instead of just disagreeing with the Justice League he mocks them as imbeciles, and instead of coaching Robin to be a hero he psychologically abuses him into a life of crime.
He’s a mess. He even beats Robin after the boy acts the way Batman trained him to and says “And stay down” with one last crack to the 12-year-old’s jaw.
And it’s not just Batman. Every character Miller touches in this story is a perverse version of who the character is in the rest of the DC Universe. This is not the place to pick them all apart, but suffice it to say, no character is left unsoiled.
This represents one of the largest problems in superhero comics today: all the heroes are disappearing.
But Miller was only half of the superstar creative team. Jim Lee’s art exemplified another major problem in modern comics: sex on every page.
Whether it was Black Canary’s grotesquely disproportionate quintuple D-cup size, or the completely pointless splash page of Vicky Vale in lingerie on p.3 to start the series (yes, a splash page, I thought those died with embossed covers in the 90’s too) – Lee’s female figures were a senseless distraction.
Excess of one element is bad in any art form: too many leading tones burdens the cadence, too much sugar kills the souffle’, too many fight scenes ruins the action movie.
In comics as well, too much sex detracts from the story, ruins the flow of the art, and turns the book into soft porn.
All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder is a senseless perversion of a central story in the DC Universe. Lee’s over-the-top sexuality, and Miller’s narcissist brutality combine to make an ugly mess of a story with little conceivable purpose beyond titillating the lowest common denominator of human taste.