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After some 3 years away, Keb returns with new material for the Outhouse's historic column. This first piece takes a serious look at Frank Miller and Jim Lee's classic All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder.
Hello everyone. Welcome to my column about what I like in comics. Before I kick off into my piece, I just want to say it's nice to be back and writing for the Outhouse again. Now when I get into fights with Jude Terror about the front page, I can feel somewhat validated because I contribute. Peeing in Your Shower was the first regular column at the Outhouse a long time ago, but I stopped writing it because I stopped liking comics. The good news is that I like comics again so I'm going to try to write something on a weekly basis that brings seriousness back to the Outhouse. Big shoutout to the OH staff for helping me get back into the swing of things. Anyway ...
We all like to focus on our fiction in a serious manner. There is something about fiction that tells us something about ourselves. We can all relate to the characters we follow. It’s fairly obvious that as comic fans, we tend to gravitate towards characters we can relate to. When there are changes to the status quo, we get angry. Admittedly, I haven’t been reading modern mainstream comics, but I have been enjoying stuff that has been published in the past. I’d like to spend some time examining how we read comics with a “serious” approach.
I recently read 10 issues of Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder and then began to start reading comics in a different manner than I normally would. In the past, I focused on the character. In All-Star Batman & Robin, my focus was on the Frank Miller Batman and Robin, pertaining specifically to Miller’s Dark Knight Returns universe. I’ve read The Dark Knight Returns and it is a wonderful book (etc.). The story is gritty and hardcore and it really shows a version of Batman that pushes the envelope in terms of what Batman is about. It’s no wonder that this version of Batman has been emulated for years.
However, when reading All-Star Batman & Robin, I realized that this approach would not carry over and was forced to throw away every reaction to the Dark Knight Returns. It’s not easy to understand, but there is an underlying ridiculousness to the Dark Knight Returns that exists in Frank Miller’s gritty imagination. For years I’ve always commented that Miller’s Batman is actually Sin City’s Marv in a Batman costume. He’s so gritty that he probably uses steel wool as a loofah sponge. It’s this silly imagery I took into reading All-Star Batman & Robin.
Okay, I’m about 10 years too late but I think it’s important that I read this series when I did. At the time, I was completely frustrated and/or bored with mainstream comics and this series was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me that superhero comics are meant to be fun, mindless escapes from the ordinary. The fact that Miller’s Batman is so over-the-top makes him completely unbelievable, and by doing so he becomes a reason for escaping the doldrums of everyday life.
When the reader distances his or herself from the character’s standards that they’re so used to seeing, they stop taking the character seriously and it dramatically alters the reading experience. The problem with superheroes today is that we’re trying to find some sort of realistic thread that we can cling to so that we can relate to them. As regular humans, it’s impossible for us to fly or use our unlimited wealth to create gizmos that will help us avenge crime. I believe that’s why writers have been exploring the “human” side of being “superhuman” for many years.
I can’t relate to Frank Miller’s Batman at all. I would never put a child in danger or tell him I’m the Goddamn Anything. However, by having no relationship to the character, I allow myself the distance to view him as a vessel for fantasy, and thus he becomes altogether entertaining. Miller works with a pre-defined one-dimensional character to create a one-dimensional reading experience. However, there is an onus on the reader to understand that. When understood, the simplicity of it all translates into the bottom line for superhero comics: FUN!
After reading so many issues of All Star Batman and Robin, I realized that the reason I enjoy comics is because they have that ability to be fun. It's something that at times, I think we as comic fans might overlook. There are times when we get invested in a comic or character and take it too seriously, altering the experience we have. At the heart of the superhero genre lies a disbelief in the realism of the world, and I think that essentially translates into what makes comics the fun experience that they are. After reading literature seriously for years, I almost forgot how to have fun, and the act of analyizing my lack of relation to the Goddamn Batman helped me realized that. I might just hate comics if I took him seriously, but I can't and that's really altered my reading experience. For that, I am ever grateful to Mr. Miller!
Written or Contributed by Keb Ellis
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