This comic made me feel grubby.
But that isn't always a bad thing...
Having written two of the all-time best Batman stories in Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller now attempts to bridge the gap between them with a spectacularly over-the-top, ludicrously macho train-wreck of a comic that presents us with a Batman we've never seen before and retells the origin of Dick Grayson, the Boy Wonder, with outrageous nerve. It's like the Jim Steinman album of comic books - everything's louder than everything else, every cop is crooked, every woman is an impossibly long-legged underwear model, and every other superhero is either a jerk or lives in wide-eyed admiration of the goddamned Batman.
Oh yes, the goddamned Batman. Everyone calls him that. He even calls himself that.
"What, are you dense?" he asks a confused Grayson on their first meeting. "Are you retarded? Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the goddamned Batman."
Yep, it doesn't sound like any Batman you've ever read before... and it isn't. Miller tries half-heartedly to explain away the Batman's dialogue as his obsessive attempt to help Dick stay focused, keep him angry, not allow him to wallow in grief over his parent's death... make him into a soldier. But that explanation only goes so far and soon psycho-Batman is saying goddamned-this and goddamned-that even when he's talking to himself (which he does a lot).
Yes, Frank Miller has long since become a parody of himself. Yet it's impossible not to be entertained by that parody. There are some huge plot holes and gaping logic chasms in this book (let's not even mention Dick hearing Alfred's voice for the first time and pinpointing his accent as "South Kensington, I think") yet still Miller tries to come up with a plausible reason for why a violent vigilante would ever bring himself to take on board a 12 year old side-kick. His explanation? Batman is nuts. This whole world's nuts, so he has to be nuts to deal with it.
After all, this is a world where every costumed heroine is ogled as a sex object by every man she meets... and relishes in busting balls to prove she's not just that. It's a world in which Wonder Woman says things like, "Out of my way, sperm bank!" It's a world in which Batman saves Black Canary from a violent gang and she thanks him with a quick shag on the docks. It's a world in which the Joker has an assistant with swastikas on her boobs. Is it sexist? In a world (our own) of Anti-Feminism and Slut Walks, that's debatable.
It's also a world in which everyone keeps telling Batman his Batmobile is "queer". So it is homophobic? Or is it actually (like Miller's infamous 300) homoerotic?
"His hand lands on my shoulder," Dick narrates, "weightless as a falling leaf. Those bigass fingers of his squeeze like a gentle caress."
I've never been a Jim Lee fan, but he's the perfect artist to illustrate Miller's gaudy, ridiculous excesses. The art here literally leaps off the page - just check out the SIX page splash of the Batcave the first time Dick enters that dark, frigid hole. (Goddamn it, Frank, you've got me doing it now.) It's as grossly unnecessary as everything else in this book... yet you can't help but admire it. (Or maybe that's just me.)
Best of all is Batman's humiliation of Green Lantern in the final chapter, describing Hal Jordan as "a moron with the imagination of a potato" before letting Robin beat this "retarded demigod" half to death in a yellow-painted room. Hell, that was worth the price of the book all by itself.
I bought All Star Batman & Robin Vol 1on eBay for the bargain price of £2.49 + £2.49 p&p. It collects 9 issues (there are supposed to be more to come, but both Miller and Lee appear to have lost interest) and I fully intended to read it once and sell it on for a profit. The truth is... I just enjoyed it too much. And I feel goddamned grubby for admitting that.