After a few months off, Scott Snyder is back to writing Batman, but this time nearly everything is different: a new artist will be joining him on each arc, Batman isn’t even in Gotham, and even the story structure is changed. We got to pick Snyder and John Romita Jr.’s brains just yesterday, but let’s take a look at All-Star Batman #1: is it good?
All-Star Batman #1 (DC Comics)
So what’s it about? Check the summary:
“My Own Worst Enemy” part one! Superstar writer Scott Snyder explodes into an all-new Batman series alongside legendary artist John Romita Jr., reimagining some of the Dark Knight’s greatest villains. First up: Two-Face! Batman must take Two-Face to a destination out of Gotham City, but the duplicitous villain has a two of spades up his sleeve. Every assassin, bounty hunter and ordinary citizen with something to hide is on their tails with one goal: kill Batman! Handcuffed together on the road to hell, this is Batman and Two-Face as you’ve never seen them before!
Why does this book matter?
Scott Snyder just came off an epic run writing Batman every month and redefining the character in so many ways that it’s hard to remember other versions of him. Meanwhile, legendary artist John Romita Jr. is teaming up with him to draw what could be the biggest surprise of the year.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
What’s a Batman comic without Batman being a total boss?
One of the joys of reading Snyder’s work is how he has layers of story sometimes buried, or sometimes right there at the surface throughout a single issue that tug at you in different ways. Characters’ intentions, motivations, and plans are all pulling in different directions and as the story progresses it begins to tug at each of these layers just right so that by the conclusion the mystery unfurls completely. All-Star Batman #1 is no different. The layers go deeper this time around due to the use of flashbacks perfectly placed in order to imbue new information about the characters. I dare you to read this in one sitting and not reread the whole damn thing again once you’re done. Added bonus: You’ll want to so that you can better understand the layers in play.
Snyder has bolder themes mixed in with tried and true ones like Batman believing everyone has a good side and his unwavering belief he can fix Harvey Dent. Harvey may be the main villain of this issue, but other villains pop up too due to a clever plot cooked up that involves stopping Batman in order to gain incredible riches. Harvey appears to be dueling himself moreso than ever, and there’s possibly a redemption story deep down. Batman is racing to save Harvey Dent, but at the same time Two Face is attempting to prove to Batman everyone has a bad side and that bad side rules.
You have to love the fact that this is a road trip book. Has Batman ever even done that? The character is always stuck in Gotham, which when you think about it reduces the possibilities of the character. Based on this single issue it’s clear this is going to be a different type of Batman book, from the use of flashbacks, to a countdown in miles travelled and miles to go, to the absence of Gotham itself. Batman is not only racing to save Harvey, but also himself as villains chase down the both of them. Though there are other books where Batman has plenty of friends, it appears this won’t be one of them, so if you ever wanted a Batman solo book that’s within continuity, this is your title.
The art by Romita Jr. is bar none some of the best I’ve seen from him yet. The second Killer Moth and Firefly pop up, my mouth was agape. The design of these characters is creepy, but also hulking. They don’t look like pipsqueaks, but honest to god big time villains; this has something to do with Romita Jr.’s ability to add depth and weight to his characters. They appear sturdy and ready for a fight. The new Batman costume looks fantastic with an incredible amount of detail in the mesh of Batman’s suit and a nice use of the lines that run along it. The purple looks great too (in one panel the mesh itself looks purple, which is a nice touch) and somehow Romita’s pulled off making Batman look cool while walking through a field of grass. Usually a gothic cityscape is required to make Batman look foreboding, but Romita Jr. pulls it off with yellow grass and leaves fluttering in the wind. It’s a beauty of a book from beginning to end.
At the same time, Two Face’s scarred visage is quite interesting to look at, and Romita Jr. has infused it with lines almost similar to how Batman’s costume has lines running across it. The eye is something else; it’s almost like some kind of Infinity Gem — that’s how much it draws your attention. Romita Jr. gives the character an otherworldly look that impresses.
If that’s true that’s pretty interesting, eh?
This issue also comes with a backup drawn by Declan Shelvey that takes us on a mission with Batman and the new Robin. There’s a style of torture Snyder introduces that’s interesting (and really gross) and adds a new level of horror to a certain villain. The backup also reveals a test Batman gives all of the people he’s fought crime with that adds a psychological element that’ll be interesting to see developed further. And Shelvey kills it on art, though the style looks a tad different than his previous work. He gets to draw the Bat-Cave, which is quite moody and cast in an interesting sepia tone (colors by Jordie Bellaire) to highlight the fan favorite items.
It can’t be perfect can it?
There’s a moment in this issue where we see something said by Harvey Dent via Batman’s back that threw me for a loop. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but after a rereading the scene it made sense. I think it’s supposed to be a clever transition to change the scene (and flashback), but it doesn’t entirely work — which is something I struggled with a few times while reading this issue.
Again, if you read this comic more than once it’ll make a lot of sense, but with so many flashbacks in use I found myself lost as to the whens and wheres sometimes. The comic gives you the time in which scenes take place relative to the “now”, but there isn’t enough visual stimuli to completely pull off the transitions. This also requires you to hold information in your mind as far as what has happened and when, which makes it hard to understand the bigger picture. By my count the story flashes back or forward five times and while that does allow Snyder to deliver new information at opportune moments, it requires too much of the reader to make it a completely pleasurable experience.
A minor hiccup occurred with the backup when I was slightly confused with a scene change that went from a closeup of color on a screen in a flashback, to a close up of fabric in the “now.” It’s a change between time and place that wasn’t immediately obvious. It might be due to how Shelvey drew the panels tighter than they should have been, making it difficult to identify the location.
These guys look great together.
Is It Good?
All-Star Batman knocks your socks off. There’s plenty of action, but also quite a lot of thematic storytelling to chew through with the promise of big character work along the way. Throw your expectations out the window–you haven’t seen Batman quite like this.