Forget the previous “Batman” series to bear this title. This time around “All-Star” is the victory lap for Scott Snyder after he, along with Greg Capullo, delivered some of the best “Batman” stories in recent memory with their run on the “New 52” incarnation of the title. While that series worked because it managed to keep topping itself with each arc, Snyder is deliberately dialing down the scale for this one to tell different kinds of stories (and for the sake of his own sanity as he’s mentioned in interviews).
So we have a story with a relatively straightforward premise that has Batman taking Two-Face out of Gotham on a cross-country trip to a place that may have a cure for the villain’s multiple-personality disorder. The problem is that thanks to systems set up back when he was Harvey Dent, Two-Face has dirt on everyone in Gotham and he’s threatening to reveal it all if Batman isn’t stopped. If getting the general populace to work for him wasn’t enough, Two-Face has also promised a sizeable cash bounty for taking out Batman as well. So every B, C, and D-list villain in Batman’s rogues gallery now wants in on this too.
The good news is that the change of pace for this story results in a genuinely rip-roaring adventure that reminds you how fun “Batman” stories can be. This is a story where Batman is winking at the crowds in a fight to let them know that he won’t let Killer Moth hurt them in one moment, and then stands threateningly over Black Spider with a chainsaw the next. It’s gloriously over-the-top stuff and that’s even before the revamped KGBeast — who is just the Beast these days — shows up in the third part.
While Snyder’s propulsive script drives a lot of the action, I doubt that the story would have been as entertaining without John Romita Jr.’s art. The setpieces he delivers, whether they’re as simple as a brawl in a diner or complex like the train battle royale with Killer Croc and his friends, are riveting to see on the page. That’s because Romita Jr. brings incredible levels of energy and excitement to each scene and maintains them through the entirety of the story.
There are also plenty of little details to appreciate in this story as well. I was honestly surprised to see Snyder bring back Harold, the mute hunchback who served for a time as Batman’s mechanic in the pre-52 era. The specifics of how he’s used here are best appreciated in the context of the story, but the writer makes the character work here. Duke Thomas’ presence as the one person willing to call Batman out on some of his actions is greatly appreciated, as is his taste in heavy metal which winds up having a practical application in the story at one point.
These details work well within the story’s relatively small scale. Yet despite setting out to tell a “Batman” story that wasn’t as epic as his previous ones, Snyder can’t seem to help himself from going big when it comes to upping the stakes here. This is seen in subplots involving a potential betrayal by Alfred in supporting Batman in this case and when Commissioner Gordon comes to storm Wayne Manor after some of Two-Face’s evidence implies that the billionaire and the Batman are one and the same. Snyder did a good job establishing the stakes early on, so these subplots come off as needless in that context. Moreover, it’s obvious from the moment they’re introduced that nothing will come of them in the end.
I’m also fairly skeptical about the nature of the “cure” applied to Two-Face at the end of the story. Snyder lays out some intriguing ground rules as to how it should work, but it remains to be seen whether subsequent stories featuring the character will acknowledge them. If they do, cool, if not then this winds up being a needless complication for Two-Face that will quickly be forgotten.
While Duke Thomas has a prominent role in the main story, the multi-part backup feature of the first four issues is all about him. Recognizing that the young man has potential as a hero, Batman begins training him as such starting with a case involving Mr. Zsaz, the villain who likes to add a new scar to his body for each of his victims. This time around, the madman actually leaves a survivor and it’s up to Duke to figure out why and determine if being a hero is something that he really wants.
The novel bit of this story, “The Cursed Wheel,” is that it acknowledges that Batman’s Robins eventually grow into their own brand of superhero. In Duke’s case, Batman is cutting out the “Robin” phase of his career and helping him to determine what kind of hero he wants to be. As a starting point in that journey, “The Cursed Wheel” is fine as it does a good job of establishing that Duke has the chops for being a hero while plugging him into a decent “whytheydidit” story. We have yet to see what’s going to make Duke a unique hero, but that’s an issue that future stories will have to address. Regrettably, they’ll likely have to do so without the well-crafted art of Declan Shalvey who handles the artistic chores here.
This first volume of “All-Star Batman” may have its issues, but the sheer level of energy and fun of the main story effectively steamrollers over them. It’s the kind of story that sets out to offer pure entertainment and largely succeeds. Some may have issues with a story that has Batman winking at his audience, both on and off the page, but if you give yourself the chance I’m willing to bet you’ll have as much fun with this story as he does.