All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is an American comic book series written by Frank Miller and penciled by Jim Lee. DC Comics published its issues with a sporadic schedule, between 2005 and 2008. The series was put on hiatus after #10, though is unlikely to continue.
This was the first series to be launched in 2005 under DC's All Star imprint. These series are helmed by renowned writers and artists in the American comic book industry and attempt to retell some of the history of prominent DC Universe characters, but outside of DC Universe continuity, and not be restricted by it, in order to appeal to new and returning readers. Every series under the All Star imprint is set in its own continuity and separate universes.
In a retelling of the origin of Batman's sidekick, Robin: Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale are at the circus watching "The Flying Graysons," an acrobat family consisting of twelve-year-old Dick Grayson and his parents. When Grayson's parents are shot to death by a hit man, he is escorted from the scene by several cops of the Gotham City Police Department in a threatening manner. Vicki and Alfred Pennyworth chase after them. Batman begins searching for the killer and then rescues Dick Grayson from the police, telling him that he has been drafted into a war. More police chase after the Batmobile with orders to kill Batman, during which Vicki is seriously injured. Dick is frightened by Batman's violently ramming the police vehicles during the chase. When Dick begins to cry, Batman smacks him, though he then catches himself, questioning these actions. He tells Dick he will find his parents' killer, and tells him not to trust the Gotham police.
Arriving in the Batcave, Batman drops Dick off, leaving him to his own devices. When Dick asks what he can eat Batman coldly tells Dick to eat the cave's vermin if he is hungry. Alfred informs Batman that Vicki is in critical condition, but knows a doctor in Paris who might be able to save her. Alfred contacts Superman, who is enraged to learn of Batman's kidnapping of Dick. Alfred reveals that Batman knows Superman's secret identity, thus blackmailing Superman into bringing the doctor from Paris to Gotham. Batman and Alfred get into a heated argument over Alfred's providing Dick with clean clothes, a blanket and food, and when Batman manhandles Dick, Alfred orders him to cease, invoking a bitter reaction from Batman.
The Justice League, consisting of Superman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern, discusses Batman. Green Lantern and Plastic Man suggest talking to or inviting him into the League. Superman wants to arrest him and Wonder Woman wants to kill him. The latter two heroes argue rather heatedly over the issue, but are implied to have romantic feelings for each other and possibly even a relationship. The argument ends in a kiss, and Wonder Woman leaves in a huff, agreeing to wait before acting on her own to stop Batman. Batman comes to the aid of Black Canary, who is fighting a group of thugs, including "Jocko-Boy" Vanzetti, who killed Dick's parents. After defeating the criminals, the two crimefighters share a romantic interlude, before Batman takes Canary home, with Vanzetti bound and gagged in the Batmobile's trunk. Batman and Dick manage to extract from Jocko-Boy the name of the person who hired him: the Joker.
Dick wants to fight crime with Batman, but Batman says he needs a secret identity first. Batman leaves the cave when he sees Green Lantern's symbol in the sky. After dumping Jocko-Boy in a river, Batman meets Green Lantern, but refuses to speak to him. Dick creates a costume, basing it on Robin Hood. Joker goes to see Catwoman to tell her he has an idea in mind for Batman. Batman returns to the cave, and when Dick tells him his name is Hood, Batman points out that an opponent can easily pull the hood down over his head. Batman tells him to lose the hood and names him Robin. Dick receives a new costume made by Alfred.
Together they confront the Green Lantern. Robin paints the entire room yellow and he covers himself and Batman in yellow. Green Lantern's powers have no effect on something coloured yellow. Lantern tries to persuade Batman that his methods are not acceptable, either to the super-hero community or the world at large. Batman mocks his arguments and Lantern is further incensed when both he and Robin deny that Robin is Dick Grayson. Lantern is about to leave when Robin steals his ring causing a fight between them. Robin strikes Lantern with a move that almost kills him before Batman saves his life. Batman then takes Robin to his parents' graves, where they share a moment of mutual grief. The heroes then go underground at the request of Catwoman who is severely injured.
Jim Gordon is shown trying to solve a crime when he learns his wife has been in an accident. At the same time his daughter dressed as Batgirl is fighting crime. Black Canary robs a group of snuff film makers and proceeds to set them on fire. Batgirl is later arrested and Jim is shown to be deeply depressed when he calls his former lover Sarah at the request of his daughter.
The first issue launched with four different covers. three of them were illustrated by Jim Lee—one sporting Batman, the other Robin and one a sketch variant of Batman. Frank Miller illustrated the fourth. Since then, Frank Miller has drawn variant covers for the series. With the exception of issue #2, the Miller covers are sold in 1:10 ratios. For issue #8 and #9, the variant covers were being drawn by Neal Adams. The cover for #10 was drawn by Frank Quitely.
The All Star titles are self-contained story arcs existing outside of official DC Comics continuity. Despite sharing a label with Grant Morrison's All Star Superman, All Star Batman and Robin exists in its own continuity unrelated to other books in the All Star imprint.
Frank Miller has also stated that All Star Batman and Robin does exist in the same continuity as the other storylines in his "Dark Knight Universe". This consists of Miller's Dark Knight, its sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman: Year One, and the Todd McFarlane collaboration Spawn/Batman. Of these, only Year One is considered canonical to the mainstream DC Universe. In 2007, Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Universe" was officially designated as Earth-31 within the new DC Comics Multiverse composed of 52 alternate universes. Although set in the same continuity, there is a possible inconsistency with the timeline, as All Star Batman and Robin has a younger Batman in the early-21st century, while The Dark Knight (published in 1986) tells the story of a 50 year old Batman during what appears to be a Cold War-like tension between the US and Russia. But the story takes places in a dystopic future, and no year is ever specified. In reality Ronald Reagan lived until 2004, well after the Cold War "officially" ended, the David Letterman show was still on the air until recently and Russia is still nuclear equipped as of this writing.
Morrison has admitted to being uncertain whether their Superman and the version featured in All Star Batman and Robin are the same due to the dramatic time differences between the two books: "I don’t know if it would have worked. For me, I guess I do see it all taking place in the same world even though they seem like very different characters. Frank Miller is doing Batman at the beginning of his career and I am doing Superman at the very end of his life, in the years beyond All Star Batman. But it could be the same character as far as I am concerned. That’s where they may have ended up."
The series' first issue sold over 300,000 copies. The once-monthly series became increasingly delayed over time, to the point where only one issue was published in 2006. When issue #5 was released, the series was placed on a regular bi-monthly schedule, with the exception of Issue #10, which was postponed from April 9 release to August 27 release, and then to a September 10 release, which it successfully met, only for the book to be recalled due to a printing error that left numerous profanities insufficiently censored.
Despite drops in sales since the first issue, All Star Batman and Robin issues regularly topped DC Comics' highest-selling chart on the months when they came out.
Initially released with great fanfare and to much anticipation, All Star Batman has consistently received derision from critics. Nearly all complaints about the series are directed at Frank Miller's writing, specifically his non-traditional interpretation of the main character. In the series to date, Batman is consistently violent and cruel, excited by his own sadism towards criminals, musing over the injuries he has inflicted. His abuse extends even towards innocents: he verbally and physically abuses Dick Grayson in an attempt to prevent him from grieving over his parent's deaths, even slapping the boy in the face. Immediately following this, Batman appears to kill a group of corrupt police officers by landing the Batmobile on top of a pursuing squad car. While fighting thugs in the presence of Black Canary, he throws a Molotov cocktail that consumes several of them with flames. At the Batcave, he withholds food from Grayson and suggests that the boy catch rats and eat them if he is hungry.
Perhaps the book's single most infamous moment occurred when Miller's gritty style of dialogue led the title character to introduce himself to Grayson as "the Goddamn Batman." The phrase went on to become something of a meme among comic book fans for its perceived comedic value, and has, since its sudden fame, been repeated at least once in nearly every subsequent issue of the comic. According to reviewer Brett Weiss, the line "drew derision from fans and critics alike".
Reviewer Peter Sanderson of IGN Comics, while acknowledging that the series is "widely reviled", and opining that DC Comics' publicity for the series was "misleading", suggested that Batman's treatment of Grayson was comparable to a drill sergeant's treatment of a new recruit, but questioned whether this would merely traumatize Grayson further. He nonetheless claimed to be "fascinated" with how this behavior reveals Batman's personality, likening his rough treatment of Grayson to the psychologically frightening experience to which V subjected Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta. Sanderson also pointed out that Miller's view of All Star Batman and Robin as a spin-off/reboot of his graphic novels Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again suggests that the darker, grittier take on Batman and his more dysfunctional relationship with Robin make sense when taken in context. This viewpoint also suggests that Batman's rough treatment of Dick Grayson reveals a lot about the inner workings of Batman's personality.
Reviewer Brett Weiss, in the Comics Buyers Guide #1636 (December 2007), gave the first issue of the series high marks for being interesting and edgy, but opined that by issue #6, the series became "a bad joke," citing the series' "absurdly bad, faux-noir dialogue," and presenting Batman "as a psychopath, as opposed to merely dark and disturbed." Weiss praised Jim Lee's art as "gorgeous", but opined that it was wasted on the title, which he saw as "something that seems to be bad on purpose".
Comics journalist Cliff Biggers, in Comic Shop News #1064 (November 7, 2007), called the series "one of the biggest train wrecks in comics history," expressing amazement at how he feels Frank Miller disregarded every aspect of Batman's character in order to tell "a Sin City story in bat-garb." Reviewing issue #7, Biggers excoriated the sequence with Batman and Black Canary as "farcical" and "Tarantinoesque", arguing that Miller's work could not get worse. Biggers gave the issue a "D", explaining that it would be an "F" if not for Jim Lee's art, and suggested that to salvage the work, DC should reprint the book with blank word balloons and let readers submit their own scripts.
Reviewing the first three issues of the series, William Gatevackes of PopMatters said that "[Jim Lee's art] is beautiful [but] cannot make up for the writing or the holes in the storytelling." Gatevackes criticized what he perceived to be a lack of plot, saying that "it seems like [Miller is] expanding four issues of story over 20 issues of the book." Gatevackes compared All Star Batman and Robin unfavorably to Miller's previous work, saying: "One is puzzled as to what happened to the Frank Miller who gained his fame on Daredevil, Ronin, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Can he come back? Because until he does, All Star Batman and Robin should be avoided at all costs."
Iann Robinson, writing for Crave Online, wrote an essay critical of All Star Batman and Robin, calling it "a comic series that just spirals deeper and deeper into the abyss of unreadable. I understand Miller's need to re-invent, but this is just badly done and in poor taste." Robinson commented that "the art by Jim Lee is first rate [and] really wonderful to look at, [but] Frank Miller has stripped Batman of all of his dignity, class, and honor. This isn't the Dark Knight; this is Dirty Harry in a cowl. The worst part is that this is exactly what Batman isn't about." He added, "In one fell swoop, Miller has erased all the good he did for Batman with The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. All of that is just gone."
The book also has its defenders. Jon Morris, writing for The High Hat, named All Star Batman and Robin one of the best superhero comics of 2006, finding All Star's take on the character "an intriguing alternative take on a character long reimagined to the point of incoherence. Surely the readers as a whole have seen Batman the tortured soul, Batman the awkward father figure, Batman the authoritarian and Batman the zillion-other-paternal character archetypes countless times before under the stewardship of a few dozen other authors; why not for a scant twelve issues have a book about a Batman who might just be what a control-obsessed, Kevlar-suited sadist would be like in real life — which is to say "distinctly unpleasant"? It’s unsavory, sure, but who buys Batman comics because he’s warm and cuddly?"
The series is being collected into individual volumes:
- All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Volume 1 (collects issues 1-9, Released June 25, 2008, ISBN 1401216811)
- Jim Lee on All Star Batman, Newsarama, June 1, 2005
- Frank Miller Talks All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Newsarama, June 7, 2005
- Cover gallery by Jim Lee