It’s hard to top a modern-day classic run on a book. When the prolific Grant Morrison finished writing the character of Batman, many wondered when the dip in quality of the Caped Crusader would begin. Yet with Scott Snyder helming the book after Morrison’s departure, the book not only continued to be a great read, but even got better in quality as the months went by. Four years and fifty-one stellar issues later Snyder left Batman. Many wondered if this was when the dip in quality would come.
But when DC unveiled their new line of books under the branding “Rebirth,” it was revealed that Snyder wasn’t going anywhere. While no longer writing Batman proper, he would be spearheading a new series that would revitalize a defunct brand of DC – All-Star Batman. While this new issue doesn’t manage to reach the heights that his main run with Greg Capullo hit, it still feels like business as usual with Snyder behind the wheel of a Batman book.
Pairing with top artists to not only tell the kinds of Bat-stories he didn’t get to in Batman, but also to reimagine some of Batman’s top rogues in continuity, Snyder begins this new series by teaming with superstar John Romita Junior to deconstruct the villain Two-Face. After a brutal attack on Gotham and it’s citizens, Batman elects to take Two-Face hundreds of miles from Gotham to burn out the Two-Face persona from Harvey Dent. Yet Two-Face launches his own contingency plan to save his control on Harvey. Threatening to unleash the secrets of everyone in Gotham, Two-Face offers a fortune to anyone – supervillain or ordinary citizen – who can free him and kill Batman. So begins for Batman the race against time and the population.
The series immediately explodes into action from the opening pages. Anyone looking for a quiet, introspective Batman book should look elsewhere, as Snyder steps on the throttle and pushes Batman to places Snyder’s never taken him. The majority of the action takes place by a truck stop on the highway, a far cry from the rain-soaked streets of Gotham. The secondary villains are also ones who have taken a backseat to other, larger villains. With bad guys like Firefly and Black Spider gunning for Batman, this feels less like a “traditional” Batman story and more like a mash-up of crazy ideas. It even has Batman wielding a chainsaw. Let that image sink in.
What Snyder really excels at is making the character of Batman all his own. Snyder writes him less as an avenging crusader and more as a symbol of hope. The kind of superhero who inspires others to overcome their fears instead of giving in to them. With so many iterations of the character leaning towards the dark and violent (just look at Ben Affleck’s interpretation in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), it feels fresh to see a Batman who is confident of who he is as a hero. One scene in particular, involving Batman telling the patrons of the truck stop to remain calm, is definitively Snyder. Let’s hope this mentality of Bruce’s expands out to the other Bat-books.
Romita pairs well with Snyder for this manic story. While it isn’t the same without Capullo rendering Snyder’s Batman, Romita might just be the next best thing. His kinetic layouts add a real sense of action to the book that Snyder’s words can’t fully render. His depiction of Two-Face is terrifying and enthralling at the same time. But Romita also works with Danny Miki on inks and Dean White on colors, the latter being crucial to a key narrative point in Two-Face’s philosophy. Rendering certain panels in black and white, the art reflects the “black and white” nature of how Dent sees the world around him. It is these quick panels that help to show the art and writing totally in sync. Future issues of All-Star Batman should yield great things with Snyder and Romita together.
The backup tale, which Declan Shalvey draws, unfortunately doesn’t work as well. That’s not to say that either part of the creative team isn’t up to par with the main story. The only issue hear is the lack of pages this narrative gets. Snyder immediately sets up a murder mystery which may involve the serial killer Mister Zsasz, drawn expertly by Shalvey in all its gruesome horror. Yet the story then jumps back in time to the Batcave and sees Batman lecturing Duke Thomas, his newest protégé, on the workings of the “Cursed Wheel,” a training device that all of Batman’s previous mentees went through. While both of these stories are intriguing enough to pull the reader in, there just isn’t enough to really make this a compelling tale just yet.
Despite this, All-Star Batman proves to be a strong continuation of Snyder’s run on the character. While many creators can sometimes overstay their welcome writing certain heroes, Snyder is showing everyone that he still has plenty of stories left brewing in his brain to make another go-around worthy of readers’ time. Hop on board, the ride has only just begun.