In these tales from ALL STAR BATMAN #6-9, the Dark Knight faces some of his greatest foes to trace the origin of a blight that’s sweeping the planet, confronting Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter along the way!
After fifty-one issues on the main Batman title during The New 52 with artist Greg Capullo, writer Scott Snyder did not leave the Bat-world completely — his helming of All-Star Batman allows him to tell any story featuring the greatest rogues gallery in all of comics, as well as collaborating with big name artists. However, despite an interesting premise of a Mad Max-styled road journey with Two-Face, the initial five issues didn’t leave an entirely good impression as John Romita Jr’s art made it a rough and sometimes ugly visual read.
Fortunately, this volume takes a step-up; Snyder reunites with The Black Mirror co-artist Jock to tell one helluva Mr. Freeze story. When The New 52 revamped the origin of Victor Fries, we lost much of the sympathy evoked by the classic episode of Batman: The Animated Series‘ “Heart of Ice”. However, Snyder is able to retain that tragic spin to the literally cold-hearted villain, providing moments of arctic horror as Batman fights Freeze’s army of cold zombies in Alaska in illustrated prose form. It is always interesting to see Batman out of his comfort zone and this volume adheres to its title “Ends of the Earth” very well. A theme that has worked well in All-Star Batman is the separate arcs devoted to showcasing individual villains and this one for Mr. Freeze is no different.
Issue #7 shows Batman heading to Death Valley, Nevada Border following his battle with Freeze and trying to convince Poison Ivy to prevent a virus that is about to global. Despite a great understanding of what the story is about, the real triumph is the sharp characterization of Pamela Isley, who only wants to use her research to save the world, thus adding a tragic angle that Batman once again can sympathize with.
Following the brilliance of the initial two issues, things start to go downhill in #8 when the Dark Knight heads to the Mississippi Delta to face the Mad Hatter, leading to a VR experience that did remind me of another B:TAS episode “Perchance to Dream”. It’s not necessarily a bad issue, thanks to Giuseppe Camuncoli, who can change his art style to suit whatever project comes to him, but the narrative starts to ramble, especially when we’re in the Dreamscape and some of the characterization seems left-field. Although the sight of Batman hitting someone in the face with a flamingo is hilarious.
With Jock book-ending “Ends of the Earth”, the concluding issue ends on a good note for the arc as the puppet master is finally revealed, being a classic villain known for his apocalyptic plans for the “greater good.” Although the villain’s plot is a bit of a head-scratcher and Snyder continues being extremely wordy, Batman motorcycling through the political backdrop of Washington is a clever balance of action and ideas, especially with regards to Batman being a symbol of truth and justice.
What concludes this volume is the remainder of the backup feature “The Cursed Wheel” with Duke Thomas being the central focus, with the noirish-tinged art of Francesco Francavilla taking over for previous artist Declan Shalvey. More than any other Bat-title around, we get more of the sense of Duke being a crucial member to the Bat-family as he tries to test his own limits of psychology and intelligence, whilst confronting his past demons that ties into the events of “Zero Year”.
All-Star is about taking Batman out of his comfort zone of Gotham City and presenting new layers to the Dark Knight’s relationship with his enemies. This premise has been a success so far as Snyder works best when writing experimental standalone issues rather than overly-ambitious arcs and the success continues here.