In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat writer AJ Frost is here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller: John Romita Jr.
Inker: Danny Miki
Colorist: Dean White
“Cursed Wheel” Backup Artist: Declan Shalvey
“Cursed Wheel” Backup Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
When is Batman most effective? For over seventy-five years, multiple writers, artists, and editors have defined and redefined the essential elements Bruce Wayne and his caped alter ego. Is Batman the most potent literary detective since Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, or is he a monomaniacal bruiser who uses pure brawn to achieve his objectives? Alas, there probably will never be a definitive as a continuous stream of creative people mold Batman into a nebulous symbol to fit the zeitgeist. Scott Snyder, one of the most prolific contemporary writers of Batman, has made his mark on the iconic figure by taking him and his retinue of friends and allies through many compelling capers and crusades.
Now as the writer for DC’s recently launched All-Star Batman, Snyder has taken Batman in yet another new direction. The first issue of All-Star made for an absorbing character study of how Batman interacts with his sworn enemies: what are their motivations? their innermost desires? the reasoning for their actualization as “villains?” The second issue—exceptional in its own right—continues this line of thought and dives deeper, if not into the existential realm of Batman, then certainly how he deals with the adversity of his chosen (albeit subterranean) profession.
With All-Star Batman #2, the name of the game is a subtle dance between psychological understanding and unleashed brutality; the best Batman stories are the ones that zone in on this dynamic. Continuing on the exploration of the relationship between Batman and Two-Face, this second issue offers a contrast to typical investigations on how a hero intersects with his foes and in return, how this affects the actions of the “hero.”
This structure defines the issue: Snyder thrusts readers headfirst into action, follows it up with introspection, and then pushes readers back to the carnage. The non-linearity of the plot underlies this notion. The artwork by John Romita Jr. amplifies Synder’s twofold approach to the Dark Knight and the clique that is set up to destroy him. This is about as brutal as it sounds. The visuals of this particular comic indeed support the writing as the intensity ebbs and flows. The designs of characters such as Killer Croc and Trixie (aka King Shark)—hulking lugs of pen and paper sinew—radiate menace through their seemingly ludicrous design. This duality permeates the issue, a vital reminder to the readers and to the characters that not everything is a simple as it seems.
Indeed, Snyder takes what could be a mundane set-up and turns it on its head. “This is the sound of reckoning,” Two-Face yells at Batman during a thrilling passage on a speeding train. The menace in found in Romita’s art and Synder’s dialogue heightens the tension, never making it seem silly or cartoonish (the short appearance by The Penguin notwithstanding).
Adding to the pressure is the backup story, a visceral short about Batman’s new sidekick (Robin replacement?) Lark aka Duke Thomas. The addition of his story, filled with tragedy and violence, is a nice addendum to the main plot, and its ending will hopefully leave readers with mouth agape. In sum, All-Star Batman is taking readers on a thrilling adventure that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I’m interested to see where the story takes us next.