Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Who’s Afraid of the Goddamn Batman!?
Originally Appears in Issue 5
With Frank Miller finally returning to complete the story he began five years ago in All Start Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Dean Van Nguyen believes this is a perfect time to revisit the unfairly derided title.
This February Frank Miller returns to the Batman franchise to finally complete a story arc he began way back in 2005. Running for six issues, Dark Knight: Boy Wonder will pick up the tale that began as All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, which ran for 10 issues over the course of three very uneasy years for Miller.
The series was a part of DC’s All Star imprint, where some of the company’s most iconic characters get re-imagined by acclaimed writers and artists outside the continuities of their regular series. By working on a new Batman title, Miller was re-entering a world that helped make his name, with his previously written story arcs, particularly The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, among the most highly regarded the series ever produced.
However, the project became deeply troubled. Issues were often months late, dropping at seemingly random times, ignoring all scheduled release dates. “Frank and I sat down just recently to have a long talk about how best to finish this very ‘deadline challenged’ project and give the loyal fans the second part of this epic storyline they have been patiently waiting for,” said Jim Lee, the artist on the series. “I feel terrible about how late [All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder] fell behind. 100 percent of the blame falls upon my shoulders, so one of the reasons we chose the February, 2011, start date was to ensure that Dark Knight: Boy Wonder would ship regularly and on-time.”
He might be taking the blame for the delays, but many readers felt that Lee’s artwork that was the series’ only redeeming quality, with Miller’s vision of Batman being met with widespread disdain as he recreated the character as a vengeful, cruel and often sadistic anti-hero. The story revolves around Dick Grayson’s evolution into Robin. When his parents are violently murdered in front of his eyes, Grayson is kidnapped by Batman, who sees the boy as a potential protégée. Miller’s Batman, scripted as 24 years-old, is callous and cruel in his treatment of Grayson, even slapping him in the face to stop his tears.
Fans frustration with the series seemed to be summed up by one line. Appearing in issue two, it has become the most infamous scripted pieces of dialogue in recent comic history. Introducing himself to Grayson as “the Goddamn Batman”, the line (repeated throughout the series) has become the definitive example of Miller’s heavy-handed dialogue, and perceived mismanagement of the Batman legacy. But perhaps those who deride the series have missed the point.
While “I’m the Goddamn Batman” is not the most outstanding piece of writing ever penned, by and large Miller recreates complex characters, offering clear windows into their broken personalities. His insights into why this Batman is so ruthless are fascinating. Soaked in his victim’s blood, the Dark Knight often muses on the pain he’s inflicted. He takes pleasure in this brutality, going as far as breaking a rapists arm in such a fashion that it will never heal correctly. “You’ll remember me every time the air goes wet and cold. Arthritis punk. It’ll hurt like hell.” This is not a Batman that rubs shoulders with the authorities in hope of fashioning a less corrupt Gotham. He’s a hardened vigilante, convinced the system is irreparably broken.
Seeing as the point of the Allstar series was to give proven writers the space to take a fresh approach on well established characters, it seems strange Miller and Lee’s series was met with such negativity. This is a well-executed, fascinatingly dark rendition of a character never known for being cutesy.