All-Star Goddamn Batman and Dick Grayson, Age Twelve
Frank, Frank, Frank.
Frank, what the hell happened to you? You had a successful run on Daredevil that revitalized it, created a fan-loved character (which sadly led to a crappy movie version of that character), and once upon a time you could draw without everything being so blocky and stylized. And then you made The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most quintessential Batman stories of all time. You paved the way for comics to be recognized as a serious medium and championed creators’ rights.
And then you made Sin City and it all went downhill from there.
Oh, sure, Sin City is a fantastic take on noir-styles in comics and some of the stories are even entertaining, but it set a precedent for you that you haven’t gotten away from since. All of your artwork since Sin City has followed that same blocky, noir style even when it’s in color. Sin City established the idea that you couldn’t write a female character who wasn’t a whore. You’ve spent so much time working on Sin City that it’s become your standard mode of writing, with choppy, brief sentences that have become a parody in themselves of the grim ‘n gritty era, which you yourself derided as “stupid.” In 1985, you said that “Batman is as good and pure a superhero as you can find.” Well, twenty years later, you seem to have forgotten that. The Batman in this book is unheroic, psychotic, and in some parts seems pedophilic, even.
The All-Star books were meant to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Ultimate universe – new series depicting superheroes starting their careers in a modern setting without decades of continuity to discourage new readers. A new comic reader can start fresh without having to worry about extensive back-story and situations that they may have never heard of. And considering Frank Miller’s more-hits-than-misses track record with Batman, it seemed like a natural fit for him to write this series, right?
The Sin City style is in full force in this series, with sexist portrayals of women, dialogue that seems schizophrenic at times or just repeats itself for no discernable reason, and plot points that sometimes feel like they were lifted directly from Sin City. The only saving grace on the book is Jim Lee’s gorgeous pencils. The book has been rocked with delays since day one. Since the book premiered in 2005, at the time of this writing, only four issues of the series have been released, but considering the content I can actually see that as a blessing.
There are actually two covers available for it (albeit promotional materials combined the two images into one) of the same Gotham City background while one cover features Batman and the other Robin. As I said above, Jim Lee does fantastic work (I’m particularly fond of his work on “Hush”), though I’m confused about why they felt the need to split the two characters so that they both had the cover devoted to them. I’d think it would make more sense actually to, as a buying incentive, have it be more like a two-part cover that could be combined into one, but hey, what do I know?
We start the action off with a young Dick Grayson performing a mid-air leap. The first thing one notices about this is that Dick is wearing a rather unusual green outfit with a stylized golden “G” on his chest (and making me think for a brief moment if Dr. Wertham wasn’t onto something in Seduction of the Innocent given the contents to come). I am a little curious about why the change in the outfit. It’s possible I’m wrong, but I always thought that the Robin outfit was an homage to the outfit Dick wore when he was in the circus. If that was the case, then why the green outfit, especially since the Robin costume only has green in the pixie boots, short pants, and gloves (none of which are in this outfit). Dick states in our ever-helpful narration boxes: “This should get me KILLED. But it WON’T. Not that I can BREATHE with my HEART fighting it out with my ADAM’S APPLE, just now–” And suddenly I have the image of the Star Trek fight music playing as a twelve year-old heart and an Adam’s apple duke it out in a wrestling match.
Dick goes on to talk about how much he loves his parents and how they’ll always catch him and in the last panel, it shows Dick with his arms spread wide, a happy smile on his face, and a narration box saying, “I fly.” I actually have to admit, this opening sequence does work really well, unusual costume aside. However, the writing problem of Frank Miller rears its ugly head right here as Dick has apparently contracted Torgo syndrome: “They’re always there for me. They always catch me. Mom and Dad. They always catch me. They’re always there for me. They’re always there for me.” So, they’re never there for you, then?
Flip the page and now we have moved fully into Frank’s fantasy world of how women are supposed to be. It’s a full-page shot of the Millerverse Vicki Vale. She’s strutting around a large apartment (with huge, uncurtained windows behind her) in pink underwear and holding a martini. The narrator boxes give us this helpful insight into her character: “Vicki Vale. Columnist. Gadfly. Dictating. She’s trouble. The kind of trouble you want.” Yes, boys, she’s only there for your pleasure. And what is Ms. Vale dictating? “So we got ourselves a Man of Steel in Metropolis – And why do we call him a Man of Steel? That does bring certain thoughts to mind.” What magazine does she work for, anyway? Superhero Innuendo Monthly? ‘In this issue – Diehard and the reason we want him fighting crime for us.’
As an aside, when people often cry sexism in comics because of skimpy outfits or skinny bodies, a common reaction is for people to cry out, ‘But men have it bad, too! Men wear skintight outfits that show off muscular bodies that we can’t hope to compare to!’ They don’t really get the problem. It’s not that the outfits are skimpy. It’s impractical, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that women are drawn that way purely for the titillation of the male reader. There is no friggin’ reason for Vicki Vale to be sauntering around her apartment in her underwear. No reason.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Frank, I mean it’s not like he’s having Vicki Vale’s ass talk to us or anything and- oh, never mind. Flip the page, last panel: Vicki Vale’s buttocks, the focus of the shot, conversing with us. And while I could go on a lengthy diatribe on just that section, I leave it in more capable hands here.
As for the text itself, Vicki continues talking about how Superman is so much better than Batman because of his mightier penis. “So Metropolis gets a Man of Steel. And what do we get in dear Gotham City? A damn flying rodent. Who doesn’t even fly.” So, wait, does he fly or doesn’t he? “A goddamn Bat Man.” Anyone who’s been hanging around the comics community for the past two years will know what that line foreshadows. Slutty Vale continues: “This loser throws a few other losers through a window and we’re supposed to swoon?” Well, you’d know losers, Vick. “Sometimes I despair, dear reader. Sometimes life seems to hold no meaning. They get a Man of Steel. We get a flying rat. What’s a poor girl to do?” Perhaps she could realize she doesn’t need men to validate her own existence and- ah, you get it.
Vicki goes on to pull a Jim Carrey as she speaks through her rear about how much Bruce Wayne is hot (oh, irony, hahahaha!). She’s interrupted by her buzzer and suddenly she starts complaining about how loud the buzzer when really we know she’s just upset that someone got in the way of her almost masturbatory thoughts about men she’d like to sleep with. As it turns out, it’s Alfred, who says that Bruce Wayne is requesting her presence. And like Pavlov’s dogs, Vicki scurries at the sound of a bell at the prospect of being with her man. In a two-page spread, we see Vicki trying on a variety of perfectly reasonable outfits, albeit now she’s also changed her lingerie to black (since she’s a slut and all). Throughout it, she says no less than four times: “I’m having a date with BRUCE WAYNE.” She settles in a cleavage-exposing white outfit that Emma Frost would blush at.
Alfred is our next victim of mischaracterization as Vicki comes down to meet the car and Alfred actually refers to her as “love.” Alfred informs her that they’ll be attending the circus and Vicki could care less since, as shown above, she only cares about the fact that: “I’m having a date with BRUCE WAYNE. How cool is THAT?” I don’t know how cool it is. I mean, I don’t even know who it is you’re having a date with. What’s his name?
Cut back to the circus and Dick is performing a complex maneuver. And what are his thoughts on the matter? “They’re always there for me. They always catch me. I fly.” GAH! We’re nine pages in and besides for Vicki’s penis monologue I think we’ve had a grand total of four sentences in this story which are repeated ad nauseum. Dick fails to grab the next swing bar and starts to fall, prompting audience members to start saying “My God!” Yes, every single one of the speech balloons that are reactions to this either are just or start off with “My God” and I started to wonder if there was a Monolith somewhere that I wasn’t seeing on the page. I will say happily that one of the balloons says, “My God this is horrible” and making me think the editor had slipped it in to give their own commentary on the issue.
Vicki is of course naturally worried about the child who is plummeting to his death, but Bruce reassures her that the kid knows what he’s doing. Dick suddenly grabs a grappling hook and rope from his armpit[!], tosses it up to the swing bar[!!], and manages to stop his free fall[!!!]. As I’ve said before, I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that suddenly stopping yourself while dropping like that is probably not good for the muscular structure. Furthermore, other than to show off that the kid already has talents that will come in handy when he becomes Robin, why isn’t there a safety net for the trapeze? In other comics I know it was said that they had removed it since this was supposed to be a complex, death-defying stunt to impress the audience, but no dialogue here indicates that’s the case here. And while it’s certainly cool that Dick can accomplish such a move, wouldn’t a net be safer than storing a grappling hook in your armpit flesh? I mean it’s got to be uncomfortable.
Back to Vicki and Bruce, where Vicki comments that Dick’s amazing and in a very creepy moment, Bruce replies: “Yeah, I’ve had my eye on him for awhile. He’s something, all right.” Vicki, for once acting like the woman she’s supposed to be based on, questions him on that comment. However, she quickly succumbs back to the Vicki Vale of Earth-Miller when Bruce smiles at her and replies, “I’ve got an eye for talent.” Bruce Wayne: Agent of NAMBLA. Vicki realizes something’s up, but she’s too gaga for Brucie to make the connection: “I’m having a DATE with BRUCE WAYNE.” I’m sorry, I really can’t follow this plotline, is she on a date or something?
The Flying Graysons take a bow, but then suddenly bullets strike Dick’s parents and kills them. What I don’t understand is the necessity to change this little detail of Dick’s origin story. Originally, Mob boss Tony Zucco was trying to extort money out of the circus and they refused to budge, so Tony put acid on the trapeze ropes, killing both of them. This would only leave circumstantial evidence pointing him to the crime. Instead, we now have a shooter who struck down the parents for reasons a new reader doesn’t know and is a major lapse in logic for the criminals, since anyone who brought a gun to the circus and then had to take aim to kill them as well as they did would’ve been spotted almost immediately committing the deed. In any case, Bruce looks in shock at his dead parents as Bruce’s thought captions fill us in:
“He doesn’t understand. He can’t possibly understand. I couldn’t, when it happened to me. And I don’t know why this was done to him. I can’t know why. Not yet. But I know exactly THIS MUCH: The boy has entered MY WORLD. And he’ll never leave it.” Well, you’ve heard it, folks: if your parents are murdered, you are now officially a part of Batman’s world. But it’s okay, they know you there.
Bruce slips off from a shocked Vicki Vale as he too falls prey to Torgo syndrome and repeats in his narration captions: “There’s no way out.” Apparently making us believe that Bruce can find a hidden spot to change amidst the chaos of a heavily-packed circus tent, Frank has Batman suddenly appear and instantly find the shooter as he flees the scene. He tosses a batarang into the guy and apparently he even put snake poison on the edge of it [!!]. Batman identifies him as a minor thug. “Yeah. Caught myself a six-and-a-half-foot-long MINNOW. There’s a lot of FOOD CHAIN to work my way up. But first — the KID. Dick Grayson. Age Twelve.” No, don’t interrogate him, you dick!
Meanwhile, Vicki’s trying to get the cops to get Dick Grayson, Age twelve to a hospital, but the cops are strangely adamant about it. They say he’s in good hands, but Vicki states: “Yeah, I’ve seen what you cops do with your hands. What girl in Gotham hasn’t? And who knows what you do to little boys?” Um, Vicki? He’s a dirty cop, you really can’t shame him. Furthermore, if Vicki’s accusation is true, why in the hell is she writing a stupid gossip column about who’s got the world’s finest crotch when she could be printing the truth about Gotham’s cops? The cop hits Vicki across the face and she spits blood out of her mouth. “Gotham’s FINEST. It wouldn’t be LADYLIKE to say finest at WHAT.” Considering her behavior in the previous pages, I’m not sure what her definition of “ladylike” is, exactly…
Actually acting like a competent individual for a moment, she commandeers Bruce’s car and Alfred comes along for the ride. She pursues the cop car, assuming that the cops are planning on beating up Dick and that she can get photographic proof of the cops assaulting a defenseless minor, thus having a felony crime that would get Washington’s attention. Dick argues with the cops about how his parents were murdered, but the cops tell him he’s remembering it wrong. He even tells them that “I saw the man who did it. And I can identify him.” And again, I have to shake my head in disbelief since the cops wouldn’t have had to rough up Dick if they had just cut the ropes instead of shooting them in the middle of a crowded circus tent! Furthermore, how the hell could Dick see who it was that did it?! When his parents were shot, he was taking a bow with his eyes closed and only looked up when he heard the bullets being fired and hitting his parents in their heads. There were hundreds if not thousands in that tent – how in the heck could he have seen who did it after just glancing up?!
Vicki Vale thinks to herself: “I don’t get it. Why KILL two AERIALISTS – then use the COPS to do LORD knows what to their BOY? It doesn’t make any SENSE. It doesn’t make any SENSE.” Vicki, I know it doesn’t. Vicki, I know it doesn’t. A swarm of bats suddenly flies down into the gulch where the cops have brought Dick. Batman tells us: “I knew these cops would take the boy to the GULCH. So I set up my SONICS. Bats like my SONICS.” Personally, I like Knuckles, but I haven’t played in awhile so- oh, what? Oh, well, I much prefer thinking about SEGA games than I do about this…
The bats attack the cops, who subsequently decide to flee. Batman stops the sonics and- Oh my lord… He drives the Batmobile through the cop car and splits it in half! I am just… Wow. I don’t think even Diehard’s mega-crotch produced as much of a ‘what is even the hell’ reaction from me as this just did. The physics of it are baffling. The ethical implications are mind-numbing. The sheer mischaracterization in it has got me wishing I had the safe, reliable days of Youngblood. I will admit, upon looking at the special edition of this issue and the original script that Frank Miller had written, he only writes that the Batmobile (the cool version from the 1950s) should smash through the cop car and utterly demolish it. I’m just trying to wrap my head around how Jim Lee went from “utterly demolish” to “slice the car in two.”
Batman picks up Dick Grayson, Age twelve by the collar and tells him, “On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. Into a war.” Thanks for the clarification, Batman, because I thought he was getting drafted into the NFL! And thus our first issue ends. And somewhere, Bob Kane is crying.
All right, so I want to hear some opinions – should I move on to #2 of this dreck or hold it off for another occasion? Tell me or else I’m going to launch a battering ram through your car that’ll inexplicably split it in half.