A Timeline of All-Star Batman
by Travis Hedge Coke
All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder ran more issues than was planned, took longer to come out than planned, yet still did not finish, and likely it never will.
Frank Miller (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), with Jared K Fletcher (letterer), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Scott Williams (inker) put together ten issues of controversial, belly-laugh absurd, high emotion comics which never failed to get people talking and has left them and others talking today. Being honest, we were all confused at the time, many of us are probably confused today, and nobody was not both laughing with and at the comics.
Ostensibly targeted at making a comic easily received by people who do not read a ton of comics, utilizing platonic ideal Batman, Robin, et al, All-Star, instead, delivered a winding gothic miasma with a petulant, overreacting Batman trying to avoid reckoning with himself, a stubborn, cynical, even bloodthirsty Robin, a sadistic, rapist Joker, obnoxious Plastic Man, exasperated Wonder Woman who might singlehandedly be trying to make misandry a real thing, and an intense, homoerotic, sometimes shirtless in the rain and thunder Alfred Pennyworth, to keep us on our toes.
Designed to throw us all off-guard, All-Star did put old hands and new readers are equal footing. We were all a little thrown by prose that repeats phrases over and over, interludes which sprout seemingly from nowhere and meld into the main narrative, an aggressively unlikable set of superheroes, and perhaps most unexpected, a timeline which pings forwards and back with flashbacks inside flashbacks, nights and days bleeding together, and chains of causality which do not become clear until nearly the entire ten issue run was completed between 2005 and 2008.
The first two scenes are interlaced, flash-forward and flashback refusing to have a middle-ground present before launching us even further forward or taking us farther back. We open with Dick Grayson performing before a crowd, captions giving us his soliloquy about his parents and faith, while in the recent past Vickie Vale – dressed in flashy undies, headset, high heels and martini – dictates an article on Batman. Her path will take her to the circus where Grayson and his parents perform their acrobatics, with the implication that all we have seen of him so far, as been in the future of what we have seen of Vale.
In the first pages of All-Star, Bruce Wayne is twenty-five, Dick Grayson is twelve years old, Jimmy Olsen, sixteen, the younger of the two Barbaras Gordon, fifteen. Alfred, Superman, Plastic Man, and Jim Gordon are however old you need them to be. And, they are all mythically ageless.
Bruce Wayne was born in 1983. Martha and Thomas Wayne were killed in 1989. Dick Grayson was born in 1995 or ’96. Batman has been around since approximately April, 2006. The Joker poisoned the Gotham Reservoir in December ’06, making his big-time debut as a mass-murderer and a new kind of pop criminal in Gotham City. Black Canary has been a vigilante and superhero since last 2007.
March 20, 2008 Robin reveals he was not kidnapped and reliability of the photograph of Batman hoisting Dick is called into question as a digital fraud
Issues one through nine of All-Star have a present-day storyline covering roughly three days, with issue ten a coda, taking place a week after. This is, in essence, Robin: Week One. Like the end of Batman: Year One teases a second year confronting the Joker, issue ten of All-Star sets up an arc we never get, in which Robin will encounter, for the first time, that clown-faced killer in the sharp suits.
Before any of the main story, the story of how Dick Grayson’s parents are murdered and he becomes Robin, the Boy Wonder, Superman, Clark Kent, gets his milk carton and morning edition delivery a full fifteen or more hours before the murders, declaring Grayson missing and blaming the mysterious Batman.
There is police corruption, and there is seeding misinformation, but faking the kidnapping of a kid the Gotham police know they may have to kill, a full day ahead of the murder of his parents, is a risky and brazen gambit. One which requires connections, savvy, and desperation.
(“Metropolis. Fifteen hours ago,” also functions as a joke, as this jump back in time takes place in issue three, after most of issues one and two were one long (not yet finished) drive in the Batmobile.)
Richard and Mary Grayson are shot dead on the evening of March 18, 2008, the same day that Mill Creek released a DVD compilation of of the subversively Marxist, leftist, fueled by politics close to the bone, 1955-60 television program, The Adventures of Robin Hood. The US embassy in Yemen is struck by mortar fire, killing two people. (March 18, though not of that year, also marks the death by assassination of one of Wyatt Earp’s brothers, Morgan.)
Within hours, the night of the 18th, Bruce Wayne, as Batman, has rescued Mary and Richard’s son, Dick, from the police, taken him to the Batcave, and had Alfred Pennyworth contact Superman at home so he can run a medical specialist out to assist in the care of journalist, Vickie Vale, who was hospitalized trying to save Dick Grayson from the aforementioned cops.
The police had taken the youngest Grayson to Galt’s Gulch, a new feature to the Gotham City landscape, as far as comics’ appearances go, but named for the commune in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and in this story, a place local police use frequently to dispose of bodies.
In Atlas Shrugged, Galt’s is only called that by others, not by Galt himself, and the nature and politic of the Gulch is up to functional interpretation. To quote the novel, “The Gulch had no police force or sheriff, because it had no crime.”
This night also sees the first of three hospitals to feature in All-Star, St Irene’s Medical Center, to which Vale is taken, with broken bones and contusions.
There are eight St Irenes, two of them empresses, one a misinterpretation of a building, and a widow who nursed St Sebastian back to health after he was struck by so many enemy arrows that he looked like a sea urchin.
On March 19, Vickie Vale is released from the hospital, in the company of cub photographer and teenaged gawker, Jimmy Olsen.
That evening, Diana of Themyscira visits her superhuman colleagues in Metropolis, in a disused publishing plant, to discuss how to handle Batman and the kind of attention he garners.
Later, in the early dark hours of night, Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Jim Gordon, comes home, lies to her dad, and sneaks out as Batgirl.
At roughly the same time, Batman first encounters Black Canary, as their pursuit of criminals dovetails into a meeting between police and smugglers on the Gotham City docks.
(Contrary to popular received wisdom, nothing in the comic indicates they did more than make out after beating several men senseless, and did not have sex (which would have been very quickly, if they did), and did not do so while anyone burned to death.)
Around midnight, we see why trying to make this timeline too strict or intentional is kind of silly, because, a Gotham newspaper releases a late city edition with a story on the rescue of Dick Grayson, his thoughts on Batman, and how he is being taken in by a nice local rich fellow who was also orphaned as a child.
Thing is, that newspaper went out the night of March 20th. Remember my timeline? The shelling of the US embassy? The release on DVD of a Robin Hood show? Not the date on which the adult Graysons were killed.
Remember the other two hospitals I have yet to name, but also called for women saints?
One is St Mary’s, and we can all work out relevance for a St Mary, but St Rosalyn? I know St Rosalia, St Rosalind, Patron Saint of Palermo, whose skeleton turned out to be the bones of a goat. Rosalyn? I do not know.
In the middle of the day, Batman and Robin paint a room solid yellow, serve lemonade, and, painted yellow, pick a fight with Green Lantern, purely because they are in a bad mood and because Batman is a little teensy quite a lot bit envious of Lantern’s superhuman abilities and powerful ring.
Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, is almost killed, his windpipe crushed, because he is there, because to Dick and Bruce, Robin and Batman, Hal Jordan has been lucky and they have not. When Plastic Man sexually harasses Wonder Woman, when Batman narrates to himself about his superiority to Superman and simultaneously cannot stop thinking about him, describing his splendor and power, competing against him, when Superman stamps his foot like an adult toddler because he cannot control Batman without physically attacking him, we, as audience, touch an unpleasant envy at the root of the superhero genre, a sunless underbelly the dragon will lay atop, always, to keep anyone from seeing, from piercing.
In The Hobbit, the dragon, Smaug, has his missing scale revealed to a simple hobbit, because he is too proud, feels too safe. Smaug shows off. Almost we see superheroes do, in All-Star, is show off. Outside of Black Canary and Wonder Woman, none of them seem to know much of real responsibility, measured and consistent responsibility. And, those women, too, act largely out of frustration.
Later that day, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson visit a cemetery to allow them both a moment of grief. They are learning a responsibility, together, which Green Lantern seems to already have, despite Batman’s mocking him, and which we know the other heroes will also learn.
ONE WEEK LATER
Time lasts while we feel it. Story-time, gekiga-time, subjective, human, lives, experiential, genuine time cannot be the time you set hour and minute hands to, as anyone does to get down from a grandfather clock to the Batcave. The real time of the Batman is in the Batcave, not in the clock.
Barbara Gordon, the elder, drinks too much, and her husband, Jim, sleeps around. Decades later, in another comic written by Frank Miller, James will joke about Bruce Wayne’s playboy facade and lightly chastise him for drinking too much before Bruce decides to go teetotal again and return to being Batman.
The Dark Knight, published as, The Dark Knight Returns, takes place over about a month’s time, in a far future which is ever-distant but increasingly locked to a time soon only to be known through forgetfulness or secondhand nostalgia. Set in a timeless past, Superman: Year One, runs a course of about twenty-one years, but that is Earth-time. If we assume a Krypton which is its traditional supergiant size, far enough out from its sun, those twenty-plus Earth years may be one Kryptonian year.
Dark Knight and S: Y1 may not feel their time range, as we read them or when we think on them. They exist, as do almost all of Frank Miller’s comics, in perpetual, heavy gekiga-time, timeless-time, emotional-time. A night can stretch forever and the daylight can be only a flicker between nights. Two decades can go buy in a flash before someone is being softly booted out of their four year hitch in the Navy earlier than planned. Dick Grayson can become Robin in an instant, in a week, a month, a year; a lifetime.
Things do not reach their ends in story-time. In gekiga-time, lived time, memorial time, perspective and retrospective time distend, contract, and warp without regard to ticktock clock fascism. If Frank Miller’s Batman is an anarchist or a libertarian, and Miller’s Robin is the protege and the flaw of Batman, could be this kind of time is anarchic, libertianesque, a different sort of Galt’s Gulch than either Ayn Rand’s or Gotham City’s.
In the second week of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Jim Gordon is a wand’ring star feigning a soliloquy that is really for his phantom friend, Batman, to overhear, his wife hospitalized after drunkenly wrecking her car, his daughter in jail, a costumed vigilante. Catwoman, who as of yet we have not seen, is beat up, fragile and hiding. Black Canary is passing by police who barely even notice, running wild and vigilant in her city. The Joker looms over everything, brutal, horrifying.
This may be the cruelest, starkest Joker anyone has portrayed. Not the capering clown or enactor of unlikely pop crime. A rapist, a murderer, a depraved, violent gangster. This Joker hurts people. Anything else is facilitating him hurting people. We hardly see him, outside of one murder and an end-of-issue tag, a giant playing card with his likeness.
Week Two of All-Star may have been the beginning of a second arc, but on its own, with no further issues, the comic is coda, reflection, a sad walk after the burial, knowing that once grieving begins, grief will never end in your lifetime.
Maybe the end is where you stop.
A Timeline of All-Star Batman
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