Monday, September 26, 2005


Dense or Retarded?

Ganked from Barbelith Underground, here is all that you ever need read of All-Star Batman and Robin, truly one of the worst comics I've ever read. I bought the first issue, suffered hugely through all 22-odd pages, and then read the second issue in the comic shop, which included the following gem of a panel:

For those who don't follow comics that closely, this is a retelling of Robin's origin, and the reputedly "dense" or "retarded" kid on the left is Dick Grayson, shortly after his parents are killed. In all previous versions of Robin's origin, his trapeze-artist parents are killed by gangsters, who rig the ropes to break during their act, making it look like an accident.

In Frank Miller's masterful retelling, they are shot in the head by an overweight thug (an incredible feat, really, considering that he's shooting over long distances with a handgun) after they've reached the ground and are taking their bows. To make it look like an accident. Naturally. Batman, who has already been scouting their now-orphaned twelve-year old son--for some unknown reason--decides on the spot to "draft" the grieving child into his war on crime. You know, instead of getting him some grief counseling.

I hadn't planned on doing much more than posting that image, but I find now that I can't escape quoting one page's worth of Miller's Psychotic Batman monologue. Having already damaged your eyes with the panel above, I'll compound the insult by salting on a bit more of Miller's third-rate Spillane-tough-guy interior monologue. I urge the squeamish to turn away now.

I'll set the stage. Dick Grayson's parents have just been shot, taking their bows at the center ring of a circus, while Bruce Wayne watches from the audience. Bruce thinks to himself, "And I don't know why this was done to him. I can't know why. Not yet." And then we get the following page of soliloquy, worthy of Hamlet. (Note that the all-caps emphasis and the repetition is as written.)
But I know exactly THIS MUCH.

The boy has entered MY world.

And he'll never leave it.

There's no way out.

There's no way out.

There's no way out.

No. Way. Out.

Not for any of us.

[Batman throws a "batarang" shuriken into the back of the fleeing thug.]

Snake poison.

Turns out the stuff works.

I hope it's got some NASTY side effects.

As a matter of fact, I CHECKED.

It DOES. This killer will be pulling BUGS that aren't THERE out of his EARS for a MONTH.
Honestly, this is some of the worst writing I've ever seen. Leaving aside the obvious question--why would a detective incapacitate a murdered with toxins, leaving him unable to answer questions for a month?--it's just damned lazy writing. It's nonsense, nothing more than self-contradictory, macho bullshit. Does Batman know whether the snake poison works (assuming, of course, that he doesn't mean "works for snakes") when the panel begins? Has he forgotten that he has "checked"? When he hopes for "NASTY side effects," has it slipped his mind that he already knows precisely what those side effects will be, and how long they will last? Does anyone, by this point, care?

I don't have anything near Lou Anders's affection for the character of Batman. Hell, I don't even like the character that much at all. But I find this just offensive. If it weren't for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's upcoming take on the last son of Krypton, I'd write off the All-Star line all together. At least with All-Star Superman, I can be reasonably sure the hero won't torture suspects, murder policemen, and psychological abuse a traumatized twelve-year old, all in the interests of "fighting crime."

Ugh. That is absolutely horrible (And I'm not a huge Batman fan either.) Miller is a shadow of his former self.

--Mahesh Raj Mohan
I think that with Miller the rot set in a long time ago. Really, to my tastes, nothing he's done since well before That Yellow Bastard has been readable, and the last things of his that were actually good were the Martha Washington stories (Give Me Liberty, et al.), but I wonder how much of their quality should actually be attributed to Dave Gibbons.
I totally agree. I also loved much of his Martha Washington run. Gibbons is always really humble about how much he contributes, so I'll bet a lot really is owed to him. I did like Miller's run on 300 though.

Hey, looking forward to Paragaea, and the Adventures antho, by the way!
Thanks! Adventure is at the printer now, and should be in stores by the middle of November at the latest. Paragaea, so far as I know, is on track for release in May. I hope you like them!
No problem, :-) By the way, my review of H, T, & E should be running in 'Strange Horizons' sometime next week.
I read the first issue. It... wasn't very good. Now I'm kinda curious about the second issue. In a watching-a-train-wreck kinda way.

And thank the gods for the upcoming Morrison Superman book. I've long thought Morrison should just be given Superman to do with as he pleases. He wrote an excellent Supes in JLA while the character was being mishandled in the regular series. He even made the Blue Superman kinda cool. I'm not a big Quitely fan. He's very talented, but I hate the signature Quitely chin. Still, it should be tremendous fun. And fun is something I don't think Miller would recognize at this point if it walked up to him and thumped him on the head.
I'm with you, Didi. Of course, I always thought they should just give Morrison the whole damned DC universe to play with. Imagine my surprise to discover that they have. If Seven Soldiers is any indication of where DC is headed as a whole, with Morrison as the guiding creative principle, I think "fun" is precisely the word.

But you have to look at Miller as someone who seems psychologically incapable of recognizing what fun is. After all, this is the guy who described Dark Knight Strikes Back as a "romp."
I agree that Miller has become a shadow of his former self, but I was a big fan of his work when he was in his prime. Dark Knight Returns was what made me start reading comics.

Miller used to write terrific first-person narration, especially the variety I call "first-person psychotic." His Batman (at his best) fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with Elektra and Marv at the far end.

I still remember snippets of Batman's narration from Dark Knight Returns:

There are seven working defenses from this position.

Three of them disarm with minimal contact.

Three of them kill.

One of them--
[He leaps out and shatters the thug's femur.] --hurts.

Or from Batman Year One:

Bullets don't harm me.

Nothing harms me.

But I know pain.

I know pain.

Sometimes I share it.

With someone like you.

Yeah, I think that Batman Year One holds up remarkably well (better than Dark Knight Returns, arguably, as much as I like them both). As great as the first-person narration works in both of those (and in the Martha Washington stuff, come to think of it), rereading it now it's that much tougher to see Miller's style degenerate into a collection of stylistic tics.

I think that much of Miller's problem comes from doing the same thing for too long. Too much Batman and we get things like Dark Knight Strikes Back. Too much Sin City and we get Hell and Back. Perhaps that's why 300 was more creatively successful than most of his recent output, since the material was "fresher." Could be an object lesson for all creative types who deal with serials, I suppose.
I think it's much more than that. Certainly there are plenty of writers - examples abound in the nextdoorland of the mystery genre -who can trade forever on a single style without descending into such shameless and degrading self parody.

And part of the tragedy of Frank Miller is not only the depths to which he sinks but the heights from which he fell.

I agree with Ted regarding Dark Knight Returns and Year One's brilliance and historic place in the canon, but I disagree with Chris in placing Year One ahead of DKR. Although the former is a gripping narrative, it lacks the complexity of Dark Knight. It's a straight-forward story, complicated only by multiple points of view and meaning only what it means, and does not have the other work's metatextural dialogues (occuring in the juxtaposition of media commentary and action - if you pay attention, Dr Wholper is actually correct!!), literary illusions, Christ figures (Superman outright says the equivalent of "Mother, mother, why hast Thou abandoned me?"), nor the sheer temerity of it's central thesis - that the Batman persona, for all it's strengths and successes, was actually a WRONG choice for Bruce Wayne to have made.

No, Dark Knight is a far superior work from every angle, and, in fact, part of the failure of Dark Knight Strikes Again is in Miller's attempt to sample his own earlier success in miniature, providing stripped down and thoughtless parodies of the intertextural dialogues of the previous work.

In actuality, Miller's descent unnerves me, in that it's hard to see how the same person can be responsible for crafting both the best treament of the character (Returns) and the worst (Strikes Again). The blindness once-brilliant creators can experience is frightening - like listening to the Wakowski's talk about how Revolutions was just misunderstood. Or Rick Berman and Brannon Braga argue that Voyager is every bit as sophisticated as TNG and it's simply that the fan-base has become jaded. Granted, there are levels of subjectivity here, but Miller's decline is indicative of more than just the overplaying of a cliche; he's fallen to pieces, and is no longer even capable of recognizing what it was he did before, let alone aping it.
Alan Moore said something interesting about Miller in an interview at "Frank's very good at what he does, I just sometimes would like to see him do a story that wasn't about guys being tough."

I agree.

I think Dark Knight Strikes Again is very amusing if you read it as a giant "f*** you" to DC Comics. I don't think DC (or most fans, apparently) got the joke.
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