Frank Miller's All Star Batman And Robin, the Boy Wonder is generally so very bad that pointing out just how terrible it is in respect to the portrayal of women feels a little unsporting.
"Oh, FRANK," I want to sigh, much as if a puppy had shit on my doorstep or a two-year old had drawn on the walls. "Batman doesn't say "cool". Alfred never addresses women to whom he has just introduced himself as "love". Your characterisation is a mess, your dialogue is laughable, and repeating things over and over again in captioned internal monologue isn't hard-hitting drama; it's just dull. Clean this mess up, and don't do it again."
But Frank Miller isn't a puppy, and neither, regardless of the issues in his issues, is he a two-year-old boy. He is a grown man hired by DC to create the "most anticipated title of the year." Miller is a comics writer with a towering reputation, good circulation numbers, and a painfully apparent contempt for anyone with a vagina.
So, even though pointing out the misogyny in ASBAR (pronounced "ASS-bah") is easier than beating ducks in a barrel to death with a crowbar, I'm going to do it anyway.
Here is the original Vicki Vale, introduced in Batman #49 in 1948*:
And here is Frank Miller's Vicki Vale:
You may have noticed that her butt is talking.
In Miller's hands, photographer Vicki Vale becomes a gossip columnist "gadfly" who struts around her apartment in lacy lingerie and fluffy heels, sipping a martini, and dictating to herself while Gotham City gleams in the huge, uncurtained, picture windows behind her.
Ah, how far things have come for women in comics!
The rightly renowned Bechdel's Law refers to movies, but could equally well apply to comics – or at least arcs. A character in Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For states that she won't watch a movie unless:
- There is more than one women in it, and;
- they talk to each other, and;
- about something other than a man.
Well, of course ASBAR doesn't pass, but what I find totally amazing is that Vicki (who can't talk to another woman, since the only other woman in this issue is about to get shot in the head) is actually talking to herself, and it's still about a man.
Actually, it's three men! Superman (hot; possible penis of steel) Batman (crazy man who will never get the girls) and Bruce Wayne (rich; hot). Men she wants; the man she doesn't want. All about the mens! The only thing that will stop Vicki Vale from thinking and talking about men is witnessing a brutal double murder.
But let's not blame Frank right away! Maybe it was the artist who's responsible for this soft-porn adolescent fantasy. Maybe the cheesecake poses and buttshots were totally Jim Lee's idea!
Oh, how I adore the days of director's editions.
Here, in Miller's own words, is how he wanted Vicki Vale to be portrayed:
Frank wants you to drool over Vicki Vale. She's hot! She knows what she's got! She's strutting around her own apartment – technically alone – but you, dear reader, you are allowed in to watch. She's stripped down for *you*.
She doesn't actually have a personality, other than being "restless". But that's okay! Lacy panties, gorgeous face – who needs to pay attention to characterisation when you can spend paragraphs describing her body?
And she won't do anything vulgar. Vulgarity, apparently, is reserved for Frank.
Oh, FRANK, you misogynistic slimeball. Whyfor the steaming pile of crap on my doorstep?
There's more to be said about poor Vicki, including her eagerness to drop everything in favour of a spur of the moment date with Bruce (so much for having to work), but really? Ducks in a barrel.
Tune in tomorrow, true believers, when I suppress my gag reflex and press on to ASBAR #3. In a shocking turn of events, Miller's Black Canary spends all her time thinking about a man.
* This picture has those awful white boxes because the only copy of it I could find had photoshopped captions added from ASBAR. It's here, and it's hilarious.