Monday, August 31, 2009

Captain Complainy, Away!

I came late to the 'party' known as 'All-Star Batman and Robin' by Frank Miller and Jim Lee. So everyone on the interwebs has already heard this rant, probably 4 years ago. God willing, this comic is still on hiatus. DO NOT READ IT. Now, that said, I should point out that I couldn't STOP reading it once I started in on the trade. I found that dark place in myself that cannot stop staring at a terrible train wreck. There is nothing wrong with Jim Lee's art, I'll say that first. Some perfectly acceptable fanservice here. The rest of it is designed to make people like me, who just BARELY tolerate Batman in the first place, go absolutely nuts.
You know my favorite Batman? Diedrich Bader's just-this-side of ENJOYING HIS LIFE Batman in the 'Batman the Brave and the Bold' cartoon. It happens to be my favorite currently airing cartoon.
Frank Miller's 'Goddamn Batman' is THAT Batman's polar opposite. I should mention for anyone lucky enough to have avoided it that that's what Miller's psycho cop-killing Batman calls himself. "I love being the goddamn Batman!' he chortles. Soon it's what all the other characters start calling him as well. Goddamn Batman. Like the Spectacular Spider-Man. It should probably have just been the title of the comic so readers like me would know what to expect.
And I should have known! After all, I sat through the bizarre, tonally confused and just plain awful piece of unwatchable garbage called 'The Spirit'. Watch it with a friend if you have to, because you'll NEED to mock it to survive it.
In the overwrought world of the Goddamn Batman, 12 year-old orphan Dick Grayson is abducted by a nutjob who refers to him as brat, snot, etc., slaps him around, starves him in a cave, and brings him tied up villains to torture. The nutcase? G.D. Batman himself. Alfred feeds the kid out of pity. And brought me to the second item that had me snorting with derision (I'll get to the first in a second, it's about 'Wonder Woman'). Proto-Robin hears the butler speak and thinks to himself 'English Accent. Upper class. Probably South Kensington.'
Where in the holy hell is a traumatized 12 year old AMERICAN boy getting this kind of insight? He's got no detective training. He's living on rats in a cave. How, I beg you, is he supposed to be able to tell a South Kensington accent from his own butt?
Everyone in this comic is insane. I know, I know, that might not seem like anything other than business as usual in fair Gotham, but trust me, it's MUCH worse than usual.
And why does everyone, from the G.D. Batman to Commissioner Gordon to the rapist-murder Joker INSIST on referring to Gotham city as a woman? A whore, a mother, bladda-bladda-blather-blah! 'My city is a woman who NEEDS me.' For the last time: CITIES AREN'T GIRLS! The Spirit was the last time I put up with that sort of thing. These inner monologues are cuckoo-nutty fruit loops! I half expect the G.D. Batman to start tongue-kissing brick walls and humping rain gutters.
As a fine example of the kind of loving attitude the comic shows to women: Black Canary is a vigilante loony-tune bartender who apparently just decided to Flip Out one day, crippling the men who taunt and proposition her, then just as quickly falling down under G.D. Batman ON THE DOCK where they meet FOR THE FIRST TIME for some kissage.
Oh, but she's not as badly distorted as the G.D. Wonder Woman! The first words out of HER mouth in this comic, I shit you not: 'Out of my way, Sperm Bank.'
It took 3 pages for me to determine that this was meant to BE Wonder Woman and not someone dressed as Wonder Woman. I couldn't believe this cold, openly unapologetic, murderous creature was supposed to be Diana!
But she's hanging with a lunkheaded Superman and a Green Lantern who G.D. Batman refers to as 'retarded'- and they bear this assesment out! For the purposes of this story, a child abusing crankcase has to look like the best option out there, so by default Supes and Hal become muscle-bound and brain-damaged.
Case in point: Hal is defeated and nearly murdered by G.D. Bats and G.D. Robin (for some insane reason I can't expound on here) because they painted themselves and their entire surroundings yellow, then taunted Green Lantern with lemonade. 'Damn you and your lemonade!' declares Hal. It's one of the most surreal scenes I've seen this side of the Silver Age.
All-Star Batman, in my colleague Ron's terms, is only just possibly enjoyable as 'conscious self-parody' He added: 'There isn't a grain of salt big enough to take with this. It's appalling.'
It's as though the excellent All-Star Superman by Morrison and Quitely had to have a terrible sucky yang to its delightful yin.
Which brings me back to my problems with Batman generally. The reason why I own NO solo Batman comics and have SUCH a hard time liking the character. It's because there's a Miller G.D. Batman out there for every 'The Choice' by Dennis O'Neil. Which I read last week in a collection called Robin the Teen Wonder.
'The Choice' is a perfectly glorious orgin story for Robin, mostly because it is straightforward and sensible. The story of Bruce and Dick's first encounter is played as an ADOPTION, not an ABDUCTION. It is a recruitment into a FAMILY, not into some mad war. And I believed in O'Neil's characters as PEOPLE, not as foaming-mad caricatures.
There's room for every interpretation, of course, but SERIOUSLY! The reader should WANT to be a billionaire genius scientist with mad skills and plenty of friends and dates and cars and freaking jets and boats and jet-boats. I, probably fortunately, don't know ANYONE who genuinely wants to be an unshaven, child-beating sadist dancing in and out of psychosis who will always be miserable day or night for the rest of eternity because his parents are dead.
Plenty of escapist fantasy BEGINS with 'My parents are dead, whatever fantastic things will I GET up to now?' It's sick, I know. But that's the way the fantasy goes: an imaginary escape from the constraints placed on us by our parents. Reality is never so simple. But, and I hate to harp on this- superhero comics are not supposed to BE real, only SEEM real. You must FOOL me, the reader, into believing in your writing and your implausible realm!
Because for me personally, good superhero comics come down to either morality or escapism. Usually both. This story has neither. Not only would I not want to trade places with the G.D. Batman or his pitiable protege, I think I'll have to escape from Frank Miller himself in the future.
And if the realization came to me four years too late it's only because I didn't read any warning blogs! Heed my words! Save yourselves! And, if possible, save me too!
Damn you and your lemonade!

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