All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol.1

All-Star Batman & Robin by Frank Miller and Jim LeeAll-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol.1 by Frank Miller (author) & Jim Lee (illustrator)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAll-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol. 1 is the re-telling of how the legendary Dynamic Duo came to be as only Frank Miller has the cahoonas to do it.

About a year before Alan Moore started exploring a realistic approach to superheroes in his famous WATCHMEN series, Frank Miller was delving into the twisted psyche that would drive a playboy millionaire to become a vigilante with his highly acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Both not only heavily influenced the Christian Bale Batman movies, but changed the whole way Batman has been viewed ever since, and some other superheroes, too.

Jim Lee is one of the top comic book artists in the business today. When drawn by Mr. Lee, the larger-than-life characters that populate these worlds are bold and beautiful in the way we would expect Greek gods and goddess to be.

Jim Lee and Frank Miller together are a fanboy’s dream team.

Many people are familiar with Mr. Miller’s graphic novels that have been adapted into awesome movies, such as Sin City and 300, but almost any comic reader will tell you that Miller has also taken classic superheroes such as Batman, Wolverine, Daredevil and Elektra in daring directions which no one had taken them before and few have done since. Some may even view what he does as nothing short of sacrilege. True to form, that’s exactly what Miller does again here in All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder.

This story takes place sometime not long after the events of Batman: Year One. Not only are Bruce Wayne’s nighttime activities still a fairly new undertaking, but the Justice League of America is in its infancy, along with a few of DC Universe’s B-listers who are just now entering the scene. I can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t know the story of how Robin came to be the wise-cracking sidekick, but Miller’s adaptation is a much harsher version. Corrupt police charge Batman with kidnapping and Batman’s “training” of Robin would do the Spartans proud.

Judging from reader reviews, I don’t think this story was well received. The story arc seems to have ended abruptly with a cliffhanger and there’s no denying that Batman is an arrogant jerk. If anyone is sentimental about DC superheroes, fair warning: Superman acts like a boy scout, Wonder Woman an ultra-feminist bitch, and Green Lantern, in comparison to the Dark Knight, lacks the imagination worthy of his ring. Personally, I love All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder just as it is.

The classic archetypes just don’t cut it anymore. If you’re going to make an interesting story with universally known characters that have been around for seventy years, risk is a requirement. Anyone driven and obsessive enough to be one of the greatest superheroes —without any superpowers — and lead a double life to boot, would have to be borderline psychotic. It’s that human flaw that makes Batman such a popular character. There’s just something reassuring about a mysterious man patrolling the night who is mean enough to strike fear into the hearts of those we fear.

Frank Miller and Jim Lee breathe new life into whatever they work on. The only problem I have with this series is its sudden ending without a closure.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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  1. Great book. Great review. Thanks, Greg. You make me want to pull it off the shelf and read it again. If only I didn’t have so many comics to read. And I agree that an author’s taking risks with an established character is a good thing. Of course, it depends on my mood. At times it’s fun to indulge in nostalgia, like when you have a visual quotation as in the latest Batman by Snyder. The writer and artist take me right back to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as a pre-Batman Bruce sits in the chair trying to decide whether to live or die. Stick with tradition or make it new? A good writer, like Miller at his best, can pull off either one.

  2. Batman: Year One is one of my top five comics of all time. I also enjoyed “Sin City”, TDKR and his Daredevil, so you would think I would have at least read “All-Star Batman & Robin, but you would be wrong. I’m not sure why this never popped up on my radar, although I think some of the scathing reviews might have had something to do with that. Batman is my favorite character in comics and I am hyper-critical of how he is portrayed. In comics, the art was almost always the bigger draw for me than the story. Batman was one of a handful of characters where the story was more important than the art. It is one of the few books that I will overlook mediocre art, if the story is good.

  3. I read this text a while back. I agree with Greg that it wasn’t the appalling bit of self-congratulatory madness that the die-hard Batfans tend to claim (in their suicide notes), but I do have to say that the number of plot holes troubled me a bit. The famous one is Dick Grayson’s face somehow having had time to turn up on a milk carton in Metropolis while he’s still en route to the batcave from his parents’ shooting…Jim Lee’s art IS fantastic, though, some of the best he’s ever done.

    Perhaps I’ll read it again at some point, though. I came into it wary last time, and sometimes a new perspective can make all the difference.

  4. I haven’t read any Batman, though he is my favorite superhero. I like the movies and I never missed an episode of Batman & Robin when I was a kid (“Same bat time, same bat channel!”) : )
    I should try this.

    What I really wanted to say, though, is that after Greg’s recommendation, I tried the Comixology app on my iPad and was impressed. I read an Elric comic and a Sandman. I don’t read many comics, but the way the app moves you through the story by featuring each frame separately and blacking out the rest really enhanced my experience. One problem I have with comics is that the pages are so busy that it’s easy to get sensory overload and not know where to focus. The Comixology app fixed that for me.

  5. Brad-total agreement. Even though Miller pulls no bunches with his rendition with classic comic book characters, its easy to tell he loves them like we do.

    CTGT- If I listed my favorite comics, Miller would easily get the top slots. My introduction to him was when I bought the now famous (and valuable) Wolverine 4 issue limited series right off the grocery store spinner rack in the mid-eighties.

    Tim- I saw the milk carton picture but the time-span flew right by me. But I’m really leniant with technicalities in comics then I am with books. The cheeseyness and far -fetchness is part of the fun.

    Kat -I strongly recommend The Dark Knight Returns or. Batman: Year One. The way this one ends or doesn’t end really is infuriating. I discovered it was supposed to pick up last year in Dark Knight:Robin the Boy Wonder but never did.
    Brad and I discussed that same thing about digital comics. I went so far as to recently buying a digital version of a comic I already have a hard copy of.

  6. Oh.I wanted to say that I’ve never been much of Green Lantern fan, so I thoroughly enjoyed the last part of it.

  7. Derek /

    I thought the series was contracted for 12 issues by Miller & Lee but input on Wikipedia suggests 15 issues total was the plan to tell Miller’s full story. As Greg comments, that never occurs (9 total).

    When Jim Lee first came onto the scene, his artwork was phenomenal. It felt like fresh depictions in a “realistic” fashion that us fanboys had never seen before. Lee & Todd McFarlane were the top dogs at that time and collectors would speculate on the inflated prices that would enhance their collections by any title drawn by the two of them.

    Looking back now, Jim Lee’s art is still fantastic but it hasn’t matured well enough to stack high against all of the other outstanding artists in the medium. Jim Lee being on a title is a plus but I don’t go out of my way to buy his art.

    Frank Miller. Good writer, very important to the medium of comics. Also very outspoken. Miller has three huge highlights in his career: Daredevil, The Dark Knight, and Sin City. He has other good stuff but those are his trademarks worthy of reading.

    Miller to me is somewhat like Jim Lee. He hasn’t matured with the times and become a better writer. He’s probably still capable of cranking out a good story but he feels more like a Michael Bay movie with his recent efforts.

  8. Derek – Do you know if Miller has had any recent stuff? Except for his movie adaptions, he doesn’t seem to have much going on

    The first Sin City -which was originally self-titled and later called Sin City: The Hard Good-bye- is my favorite story of all time. 300 is up there too. My leather bound silver-leaf hardback collection of Miller’s Batman stories, along with the original 4 issue Wolverine limited series is some of my prize possessions.

  9. Derek /

    Greg – Not much. I think Miller is more involved in the movie industry or just kicking back in some type of semi-retirement. He’ll spit out the occasional story once in awhile, like a recent Dark Horse Presents anthology, issue #1 (?), but not much else.

    I can’t quite recall all of the Sin City stories but it seems there were at least three full-length arcs and then some one-shot stories. I didn’t get the Dark Horse anthology — it’s like $7.99 a pop — but issue #1 may have been a Sin City short story.

    In more recent times, probably the only other significant storyline would be his revisting to Batman with The Dark Knight Returns. Not as good as the original but I found it adequate although some fans despised it for all of the hoopla behind it.

  10. Derek /

    I take that back, his spot in the DH anthology was called Xerxes which was a sneak peek at his upcoming sequel to 300. It will be a six-issue mini-series and I don’t recall seeing it on the shelf yet. I would expect a follow-up movie if he releases the story.

  11. Derek- Yeah, that had been finding too. And as much as I hate it, I do have to agree with your statement about Miller having become stagnated. I had started his Dark Knight Strikes Back arc, and have never completed it. It has some really cool moments but was ultimately more of the same.

    Sin City has several story arcs that come in series, and one-shots -to include a Christmas special which is AWESOME- and I have them all. I will say Miller has managed to keep those stories alive, at least for me and considering its been years since the last one. I know of the story featured in Dark Horse’s anthology you mentioned but its the one Sin City I don’t have. I wish very much to get my hands on because I’ve heard it features my favorite Sin City character, Marv, in his youth.

    Did you know Miller was involved in the Lone Wolf and Cub Magna series? My son had followed them when he was young.

  12. Derek /

    Greg – I loved the Lone Wolf and Cub series. I think I still have some of the First Comics prestige format series in my comic collection but I know I never got all 40-50 issues that they were able to print. Dark Horse comics printed some too but I can’t recall in what format. I know the original Japanese series was very broad in size.

    To my knoweldge, I think all that Miller did was draw the covers for the First printings. Maybe some forewards. He does credit Lone Wolf for his Ronin series which is another excellent read from Miller back in his prime.

  13. Derek, my brotha, you do indeed know your stuff, because I Googled this and Miller only did the covers of those first editions, not after Dark Horse picked it up.
    However, I’ll have to check my son’s editions because what I remember did indeed look like Miller’s cover art-work. Seems like he had one that was Lone Wolf and Cub 2000 or some future year too. My son also had a two or three of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, which are pretty sweet. But best not get me started on Martial Art flicks. :)

    I was going to ask if you had Ronin. I’ve almost gotten that one a few times. I’ll have to see if its on Comixology

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