All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder (Special Edition) #1 (February, 2006)
Writer – Frank Miller
Penciller – Jim Lee
Letterer – Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor – Brandon Montclare
Editor – Bob Schreck
Cover Price: $3.99
We haven’t really discussed (or discussed at all, really) DC’s “All Star” line from the mid/late 2000’s. Back then a lot of readers looked at this as DC’s answer to Marvel’s Ultimate Line of Comics… and it’s pretty easy to see why.
I largely ignored both this and All Star Superman… mostly for financial reasons, however… if I’m being honest, I probably also wasn’t looking for a “new take” on either character.
Today we’re going to be taking a look at the Special Edition version of ASBARTBW (yeesh) which is not only shot from Jim Lee’s pencils (wait’ll you see this… it’s some amazing stuff) but it also includes a very detailed script that’s sure to trigger the dreaded “current year cringe” in some folks. We’ll wrap up by taking a look at some of the “choicest” directives from Miller to Lee.
Without further ado…
We open with Dick Grayson flying high above Haley’s Circus on the trapeze. Gotta say, with just the pencils here, you can really appreciate how much work and detail goes into a page like this. It’s almost a shame there are only like twenty words on it! Elsewhere, Vicki Vale is dictating her next article into an earpiece… an earpiece which is like one of the four things she’s wearing at the moment. I mean, you gotta see this. She’s giving a show to countless telescope-having neighbors here.
She’s comparing Metropolis’ hero Superman to Gothams… G-D Batman. Yeah, this is the first mention of the “G-D Batman”… all the while she seductively eats the olive out of her martini.
Then… she gets a call! It’s Alfred, and he’s here to whisk her away for her date with Bruce Wayne… and so, we enter into a dressing montage.
Alfred leads her to the car… and to the date. Bruce has decided to take Ms. Vale to the most romantic of locations… the Circus! While there, the see the youngest of The Flying Graysons miss a trapeze and proceed to plummet toward the ground. Thinking fast, Dick throws a line, catches the trapeze… and is able to land safely. Vicki comments at how amazing the boy is… to which, get this… Bruce informs her that he’s “had an eye on him (Dick) for awhile”… which, I mean… that’s weird, right? Even Vicki’s all “Wha–?”
As the Flying Graysons soak in the applause and adulation… Richard and Mary are… shot?! Wait, that’s not how it goes… is it? Either way… it puts Dick in that iconic shot of the youngster stood between his dead parents. This doesn’t feel right, does it?
From here, Bruce sneaks off to change clothes and… immediately finds the shooter, Jocko-boy Vanzetti. He fills the goon with some snake-poison before heading off to find that boy he’s… had his eye on.
Meanwhile, Vicki Vale has a run-in with a policeman so evil and corrupt I’m surprised he doesn’t have horns and a forked-tail.
Vicki tries getting to the boy… who is very much in shock, and… get this… the officer punches her! Right in the mush!
She runs off to the Alf-Mobile, and after commandeering it, drives out into the country hot on the trail of the Gotham P.D. and their captive (?) young Dick Grayson. Along the way… we can see the officers trying to “spin” the events Dick just witnessed… for reasons that I’d assume/hope become clear at some point.
When Dick doesn’t come around quick enough… the officers pull over, form a circle around him… and go to beat the hell out of him! I mean, the kid’s twelve. Anyhoo, before they can swing their first baton, they find themselves surrounded… by bats?!
The Batmobile roars into the scene, and the cops flee. Batman then… grabs Dick by his shirt… hoists him into the air, and informs him that he’s just been drafted into a war. Ay yai yai.
So… well, um this wasn’t the most subtle of stories now was it?
I suppose we could go “all in” on the sexualization of Vicki Vale… we could talk about Miller taking a little too much from Film Noir to depict “the real life” strutting around her apartment… we could talk about some of the silly Sandra Dee dialogue “What is a girl to do?”… I dunno. I felt like the backlash to all of this was a bit overblown… while at the same time, I’m a little bit gobsmacked to finally be seeing it in all its glory.
I will say, Lee’s depiction of Vale as an attractive woman is pretty solid. I might be projecting, but I feel like he did the best he could with what Miller gave him (you can see his directives below). After reading the script… I think if Miller did this himself, it wouldn’t have been treated with half the “class” Jim Lee gives it here.
Let’s talk about that creepy comment from Bruce about Dick. He’s been “keeping an eye on” some random kid performer at a traveling circus. There isn’t any way to write that where it doesn’t sound weird as hell, is there? I mean, just being able to identify a performer at a traveling circus might “out” you as a weirdo… much less actually tracking and “keeping an eye on”. Especially when you’re some aloof billionaire… and the character you’re “keeping an eye on” is a 12-year old boy. Even taking off our “current year goggles”, there’s just no way this isn’t… at the very best, a little bit skeevy.
The Gotham P.D. being behind (or complicit) with the murder of Richard and Mary Grayson? Ehh… I’ll withhold judgment for now. It’s a different take to be sure… but, that’s kinda what this “line” is all about. Can’t fault it for that, regardless of just how “wrong” it all feels with all we know.
The “Ultimate” comparison… does it match up? Well, yes and no… Yes, in that we’re sorta starting fresh here. I mean, Batman’s already established… but his is an origin that most people reading this will already know. Dick Grayson’s origin is shown… and tweaked a bit, which fits in with the Ultimate comparison. Where it doesn’t quite match up is… the Richard and Mary murder happened in the first issue. If this were a Marvel-Ultimate Comic, it would’ve taken at least six-issues before they hit the ground.
Onto the “choicer” Script Bits…
Some wild stuff here, no? Now… I’m not a guy who is offended by any of this… but even I’ve gotta say, this isn’t really a good look. While not as tone-deaf in 2006, today this makes for a pretty weird read.
I’d never presume to tell Frank Miller how to write his scripts… where I’m stuck is DC deciding to publish said script. I mean, it’s at best… a little embarrassing, isn’t it? I mean, the pandering comments “It’ll drive them crazy.” and “Make them drool.” This feels like something out of Jemas-era Marvel’s “Bad Girls for Fan Boys” initiative.
Without saying it outright, this feels very much aimed at that “Mom’s Basement” demographic… which, is more annoying than offensive… but still, not sure why DC thought this would be a good look. Maybe they knew it was ridiculous, and just wanted the cheap laugh? Who knows…
Overall… this feels like one of those “love it or hate it” books, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it at full cover price. Jim Lee’s (pencil) art is really amazing… I don’t think I’d mind seeing more “Special Editions” shot directly from pencil-art. It’s quite striking. The art might be worth the price of admission… but, I’d recommend keeping an eye out for it on the cheap. This issue has been collected, and is (the “non” Special Edition) is available digitally.