‘Batman and Robin’ drops F-bomb, Frank Miller calls it ‘terrible and glorious’

Sept. 11, 2008 | 9:56 p.m.

Allstar10_2DC Comics has pulled back tens of thousands of copies of "All-Star Batman and Robin" No. 10 due to a printing error that put two R-rated words into word balloons in the story. Which words? Well, one begins with "F" and the other begins with "C" — and, yes, it’s that C word.

The issue was written by Frank Miller who didn’t even know about the dustup until we called him. "This is the first I’ve heard of it. I have no idea how this awful thing happened. It’s just one of those terrible and glorious things that happen time to time in publishing."

Miller, of course, prides himself on being provocative (he is the man that brought the world "Sin City" and "300"), so he let out a cynical chuckle as he mulled over the fact that he has the first true R-rated "Batman" comic book in the 69-year publishing history of the iconic DC character.

That doesn’t mean he wanted it to happen. "I didn’t, of course, it’s a mistake. And my first reaction is simple: I want at least three copies."

Get in line, Frank. The issue was already heating up on EBay on Thursday afternoon.

When I got him on the phone, Miller was headed to Los Angeles International Airport (a busy place today) to catch a flight to Germany to promote his upcoming film "The Spirit." He was just about the only person in comics fandom that hadn’t heard about the instantly collectible issues with the potty mouth. How exactly did this publishing mistake happen? It was actually all too easy.

Allstar15For the uninitiated, despite the quaint title, "All-Star" is geared toward an older audience and presents an especially nasty and grim incarnation of Batman. This is not a children’s book.

"That’s right," Miller said, "it’s not aimed at kids, but this is a confusing time right now and nuances are missed. The rules are changing all the time, especially in comics and people are trying to sort it out. But this was absolutely not intentional."

The series follows Batman in his earliest days with Robin the Boy Wonder and details the young orphan’s induction into the world of crime-fighting. It’s a harrowing process, more like a POW’s ordeal than a training regime. At one point, the "mentoring" hero leaves the shivering and spooked youngster alone in the frigid bat cave with instructions to catch and eat rats.

There’s plenty of curvy women and bone-breaking gutter brawls in this Gotham and, to convey that "street sense" of the tale, there’s quite a bit of ripe language. In every issue, the graphic language was blacked-out graphically (think of the dark bars that cross out words in a redacted police report). Somewhat surprisingly, this was accomplished by putting the words on the page and then crossing them out. It sounds like they were asking for trouble to me, but Miller said it was simply the most practical way to do it.

"I wrote the actual words in the script and had them put on the page so the black bars would be the right size on the page," Miller explained. In this latest issue, the bars are there but on a few you can read right through them; they’re more gray than black. "It’s a simple printing error," Miller said. "That’s what it is."

An error that has the visible F-word coming out of the mouth of some punks and even (gasp) young Batgirl, who always seemed like such a polite young lady in the past. I called DC Comics and exchanged some e-mails with their head of publicity, David Hyde, but they are choosing to decline comment at this time. Miller did ask me to pass on a message to DC: "Tell them not to shred the copies. Please, a single plea, just don’t shred them."

The series, drawn by comics superstar Jim Lee, began in 2005. Miller said "It has been an absolute  gas to work on, it’s been a great, great time for me. I’ve written up through issue No. 13. There will be just four more after that. Or maybe five. My plan is in the end we find out where that robot tyrannosaurs in the Batcave comes from. We finally find out. That’s plan. Unless of course I get fired now."

– Geoff Boucher

"All-Star Batman and Robin" issue No. 10 images, drawn by Jim Lee, courtesy of DC Comics.

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