When DC Comics began announcing it’s new semi-imprint “DC All-Star,” last year, any press releases regarding the line ended up being overshadowed by one particular item: Frank Miller was going to write and Jim Lee was going to pencil the first twelve issues of the Batman All-Star comic series. It’s really hard to quantify, but maybe this news was bigger than the announcement back into 2001 or thereabouts that Jeph Loeb, a mediocre writer whose popularity amongst his peers and fanboys perplexes me, and Jim Lee were going to do a year-long run on Batman, which turned out to be the, the stretched-out but popular, storyline Hush. DC has collected Hush in paperback, hardcover, and an upcoming “Absolute” edition, so there’s no telling how many times DC will reprint and reformat this All-Star Batman in what will surely be a successful venture to separate Direct Market misfits from their cash.
Now, the first issue has been released (July 13, 2005) in time to coincide with the San Diego Comic Expo, Comic-con, or whatever it’s being called these days. One of my friends who works in a comic book store has told me that both on the Net and in his store fans are giving negative reviews. I won’t jump in to add another because ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER #1 really isn’t so bad, nor is it so good, but after the initial euphoria wore off, I realistically reassessed what I thought the quality of the book would be. And I thought it would be no big deal; I thought that it would amount to same thing as most big movies – a momentary big noise soon forgotten.
Perhaps, the best way to describe this first issue is to compare it to Miller’s script for Todd McFarlane in the Spawn/Batman one-shot from a decade ago. ASBARTBW isn’t the Miller of Daredevil, The Dark Knight Returns or the better Sin City chapters. This is the Miller of 300 and the lesser half of Sin City; this is the Miller of Spawn/Batman. Here, the dialogue’s not witty, and much of it amounts to the internal mental meandering of what seems to be most of the good guy cast of Miller’s latest Batman (d)opus: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Robin/Dick Grayson, Alfred (the butler), and Vicki Vale. Miller gives us seven pages (7!) of Vicki Vale’s vain internal prattling, and any fan fool can see that at this point the script is giving Jim Lee space to draw cheesecake. Although the second half of this tale gets a bump once Dick’s parents are killed, there is ultimately nothing special here – nothing worth $2.99.
Since selling his Image studio, Wildstorm Productions, to DC back in the late 90’s, Jim Lee’s development as a storyteller as literally nose-dived or, to be nice, stopped. I can honestly say that it’s as if he’s fallen on his face, only able to get up on a few occasions. The opening splash page is a good-looking spread featuring a young Dick Grayson in an acrobatic roll. Two-pages later, he’s into an extended Vicki Vale cheesecake segment that is unremarkably drawn for a man so talented and so hyped. In fact, Vicki isn’t so much sexy as she is just a routine pin-up drawing.
Lee’s pencils here are almost all composed in big, wide panels, splash pages, double-spreads, etc.; it’s not much storytelling, but it is an attempt to capture the cinematic sensations that wide screen action movies give their audiences. I should just stop beating around the bush. This isn’t good Jim Lee; this is like the work of a talented Jim Lee clone. Five or ten years ago, this is the same work that Marc Silvestri or David Finch would have done, and if Dwayne Turner was a top draftsman, this is what his art would look like.
I’m not truly disappointed. This is what I expect of comic books from DC that get big, splashy announcements and ad campaigns. Occasionally, I’m pleasantly surprised, as I am sometimes with big, event movies. Here, I’m not pleasantly or surprised, so I’m not going to pay three bucks every month or so for All-Star Batman and Robin, the etc. For me, the plainness of this project is best summed up by the final page. A towering, muscular Batman has grabbed Dick Grayson by the front of his shirt and has lifted him to eye level, telling the frightened boy, “You’ve just been drafted. Into a war.” Ooooooooooo! How dark and knighty, after Hush and numerous Dark Knight Returns rip offs, it’s now obvious that even Frank Miller can’t do Frank Miller’s Batman well anymore.