Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why I love The Spirit (2008) (and you should too), by Mike Sterling

Whenever I talk about stuff like this, people think I'm simply being contrary. And I swear, I'm not. For example, let's take All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Hoo boy, did people not like this comic.

And by "people," I mean "mostly just dudes online complaining about it on blogs and message boards," because let me tell you, actual in-store sales on this comic were just dandy. I wish any one of the dozen or so X-Men comics Marvel cranks out per month sold anywhere close to the numbers we were getting on All Star Batman.

And the comic itself really was a hoot. It was funny and outrageous, a full-steam-ahead action movie of a superhero comic, with over-the-top reinterpretations not just of Batman and Robin, but of most of DC's superhero mainstays. Unfortunately, it was perhaps a little too outrageous for some online commentators, who bristled at the very idea that perhaps there existed a handful of Batman comics out of the thousands that have ever been published that did not conform precisely to their idea of the real Batman.

And they tried hard to be offended: that most infamous panel ("I'm the g--d--- Batman!") was spread far and wide; not so much the in-story explanation for that seemingly out-of-character behavior, which, granted, was a whole two panels later so I can see how folks may have missed it. There was a point to all the shenanigans in the comics, too…a through line to all the seemingly crazy goings-on in All Star Batman, that of morality and responsibility.

The other superheroes were only barely under control, held citizens and each other in barely-concealed contempt, Batman himself was dark and moody and violent, and sought in young Dick Grayson a protege who could follow him down his path. At least, until, during a confrontation with Green Lantern, Robin very nearly kills GL, which triggers Batman's realization that the path he's pushing Robin down is one that can only lead to disaster.

That issue ends with a comforting embrace between Batman and his young ward, the first in the series as I recall, pointing toward a new path for the duo that leads to healing, not hurting, which even as I write that I know it's a trite phrase, but the point being that there's more to this comic than just ""I'm the g--d--- Batman!"

Sadly, the series ends an issue later, the story unfinished, despite a now pretty much forgotten announcement that a later mini-series would wrap the whole thing up. My guess is that later events in the storyline would involve Batman, having learned his lesson about power and responsibility, attempting to get the other heroes to get their own acts together. And of course, while other crazy stuff is going down the whole time, so that things don't get too serious.

But we'll likely never know, though what does exist of the series still stands as an interesting experiment in superhero storytelling for which, perhaps, the world was not yet ready.

Oh, and then Frank Miller went on to write and direct a film adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit, which was also entertaining and funny and visually interesting, and, I think, undeservedly got a bad rap. You should see it sometime.


I always think of Mike Sterling as King Of The Comic Bloggers, and his pal Dorian as the Dark Prince (Fun Fact: their twitter feeds are the only two I ever follow). Of course, being king of the comic bloggers also always makes me think it sounds like Evan Dorkin's King of The Chimps and Dwarves, which isn't entirely accurate...


Islington Comic Forum said...

As much as I love the (frankly: totally awesome) All Star Batman and Robin judging from the title I thought this was gonna be a defense of the (frankly: totally awful) Spirit film? What gives?

Joe S. Walker said...

I'm sorry, but "Because I am clinically insane" is the only argument I can understand on this point.

Islington Comic Forum said...

Jog the Blog wrote a good thing about The Spirit:

"They're out there, readers. In your nation. Your community. Your city screams; your subway (or applicable mass transit unit) shudders. Maybe they're even in your own family. Your bed. It's coming from inside your house, friend. Yes! I can only mean one thing, one terrifying class of citizen: people who liked The Spirit!"