All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!

What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity.  Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch.  (Or is he?  More on that later.)

The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty.  Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300.  The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.

However, Miller is also proving a point.  We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity.  However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick.  That is, until now.  Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster.  Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.

And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee.  Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.  His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away.  His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire.  He is absolutely astonishing.

So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.

Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns?  As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work. 

However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence.  For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built?  Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6.  The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman.  I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again

But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.  

And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals.  We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.”  Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said.  ‘We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'”

In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.

Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.

Batman Begins – A Movie Review

I know this was a good movie because I went to see it with several friends and their wives, including mine, and the wives, including mine, loved it!

This was the Batman that every fanboy has longed to see.  He was intense, guilt-ridden, an expert fighter, truly frightening, and took what he did very seriously. 

The film dealt with the parts of Batman that the average person doesn’t know much about, which is why I know my wife and the other wives really loved it.  They never knew that Bruce Wayne was a man who had everything he loved taken from him at a young age by a common criminal.  They didn’t realize he blamed himself for the murder of his parents.  It was news to them that he fights a battle against the forces of evil nightly in order to make up for what he couldn’t do then.  He fights to make sure that what happened to him happens to no one else.  They enjoyed the explanation of how he obtains his equipment.  They were shown that he is a mortal man, not a super-man, using the cowardly psyche of the average criminal against them.  It allows us to witness him get hurt, really hurt, and it makes us pity him when we see his bruises, his cuts, his scars. 

This is Batman.  He is only a man to those who know his true identity, but a man who makes himself a force of nature to those he hunts through intelligence, discipline, and chicanery.

The movie succeeds in all the right ways.  Unlike the other Batman movies, we care about this Batman, we root for this Batman, we want to see this Batman on the screen, not the over the top villains of past films.  Batman is the star of this picture, not a mere challenge to the antagonist.

The uniform was plausible, the vehicle was probable, the plot was tight, the acting was superb (in nearly all cases), and the directing was magnificent.

In other words, see this film.  You won’t be sorry.

And remember, we fall down so that we may learn how to pick ourselves up.

The Dark Knight – A Movie Review

(No Spoilers Ahead)

Simply “wow.”

This movie surpassed even my lofty expectations as a Batman fan.  Epic in nature with nonstop action and a tight, logical storyline that organically meshed with the characterization of its players, The Dark Knight deserves every bit of the accolades it’s amassing.

Christian Bale’s Batman is truly a force of nature-savage yet noble, fierce yet heroic.  He teems with intimidation and generally looks like he could explode at any given moment, which is all part of Batman’s psychological warfare against the criminal world.  Other actors have played Batman either too coy or too cool, but Bale depicts Batman as a warrior, someone ready to take back his streets by force.  Bale brings an emotional intensity to Batman that is totally necessary to the character and translates brilliantly to the screen.

With the untimely death of Heath Ledger, there was a palpable fear that folks would go overboard in applauding his efforts as the Joker.  Christopher Nolan earned my respect with Batman Begins, so when he broke convention and cast Ledger, I trusted his decision.  However, when people started talking about an Oscar for Ledger’s Joker, I snickered a bit.  Let me tell you, after seeing his performance, it would not surprise me in the least if Ledger was nominated.  Ledger was absolutely unrecognizable as the Joker.  It didn’t look like Ledger, it didn’t sound like him-it really felt as though what we saw on screen was THE Joker, not just an actor playing a role.  Ledger utterly disappeared.  I knew Ledger would be good, but he was so incredible brilliant, I was blown away.  And his Joker wasn’t the flamboyant “mobster” of 1989’s version or the harmless clown from the 1960s-his was a calculating, homicidal, disturbed, “agent of chaos.”  I rarely have nightmares, and just last night Ledger’s Joker entered my dreams and scared the pudding out of me.  No joke.

Aaron Eckhart’s role as Harvey Dent was much bigger than I expected, and he also brought a real complexity to the movie that added a thematic layer about “heroism” versus “duty” that really enriched the overall story.  His character when compared and contrasted to Commissioner Gordon’s and Batman’s showed you all the various shades of goodness and just how fragile such a notion can be. If you know the comic books, you know Dent’s fate.  I won’t spoil anything for you, though.

Finally, all the actors were sublime.  Oldman as Gordon, Freeman as Fox, Caine as Alfred, Gyllenhaal as Dawes-all of them worked hard to make their characters well-rounded, emotional people that we could connect with.  I think the actors’ dedication to their characters-no mater how small the role-along with Ledger’s performance and the raw emotion of the movie pleased me the most.

Director Christopher Nolan really seems to understand what makes Batman tick.  His The Dark Knight felt like all of the best qualities of a comic book blended with the noir of a thriller rooted in realism.  I’ve never quite seen anything like The Dark Knight, and judging from the box office, neither has anyone else.  Whether you’re a fan of Batman or not, this one is definitely worth the price of admission and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it on several levels.