By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
What exactly is “out of character” for Batman? He’s one of the most multi-faceted figures in all of popular culture. In comic books alone, we’ve seen him do virtually everything. He’s spit in Superman’s face (long story) and beat people to a bloody pulp. But he’s also worn zebra stripes and fought on the keys of a giant typewriter. Much depends on the angle you’re looking at him from. Are you going for the more mature, moody and broody Batman? Or is this a more colorful Caped Crusader for all ages?
This being said, a few things happen in All-Star Batman #1 that struck me as out of character. Both of them deal not with something Batman does, but something he says. More specifically, how he says it.
All-Star Batman takes our hero out of Gotham City, and on to the open road. Harvey Dent believes he can dispose of his alter-ego Two-Face if he can somehow get to a mysterious house nearly 500 miles away. Two-Face counters Dent’s offer by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. What’s more, if Batman reaches his destination, Two-Face threatens to spill every dirty secret he has about the Gotham underworld. This makes our protagonists the target of supervillains, civilians, and shockingly, one of Batman’s most trusted allies.
This book comes from our old friend Scott Snyder, who writes really good Batman stories, despite at times annoying the crap out of yours truly. Most of what we get here falls into the really good category. Heck, our premise involves Batman hauling Two-Face across the country in a semi-truck. As a Batman geek, I’m immediately interested.
But Snyder makes some grating choices in this issue. The most notable is in the above image. Our opening scene sees Firefly and Killer Moth crash through the window of a diner, Batman in tow. They threaten to kill everyone inside if he doesn’t tell them where Harvey is. Batman responds with: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He follows up with a wink and a smile.
These two panels feel completely out of character. They seem like something we might get from Superman or Captain America. Particularly the “look at my face” bit. I understand that saving those lives is Batman’s primary motivation that scene. But this isn’t his first rodeo. Why would Bruce Wayne, a public figure, want to intentionally draw attention to his masked face?
Then you have the wink and smile. I’m not sure if he’s looking at the villains or the diner patrons. Either way, it’s completely out of left field for this version of Batman. It’s one thing to make bold choices. For instance, Snyder later has Batman stab Killer Moth through the arm, and hack off Black Spider’s cybernetic limbs with a chainsaw. Edgy? Yes. But fair enough. However, if you push the boundaries too far the character itself begins to change. For this Dark Knight version of Batman, Snyder pushed the boundaries too far, and too early in the issue. Readers are just getting settled in, and he’s already throwing them awkward curve balls.
The whole “shut up and die” line (shown above) wasn’t great, either. I’m also prepared to get another big awful Batman robot at some point in this book. You know it’s coming.
All of this in a series called All-Star Batman, which obviously prompts memories of the controversial and much-maligned All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Why would they choose that title? Because the All-Star name evokes a reaction? Because Snyder will be working with “all-star” talents on this book?
But to repeat: Most of what’s in this issue is good. Snyder’s characterization of Two-Face is spot-on. We establish he’s colorblind in his left eye. Meaning his dual personality sees the world in (you guessed it) black and white. Two-Face knowing people’s secrets, their hidden dark sides, is very strong writing and fits him like a glove. There’s also a point to be made for money bringing out the dark side in everyday people.
Though his art has an undoubtedly epic feel to it, John Romita Jr. has good issues and bad issues. One in awhile, you’ll seen one of his panels and just cringe. Thankfully, this is a good issue. Also, Dean White’s colors allow you to really feel the heat of the Indian summer they mention early on. The intense red that White puts into Two-Face’s scarred half is very striking, specifically that big eye. It’s like he has the all seeing, all knowing eye.
Snyder also gives us a back-up story drawn by Declan Shalvey, whose sleek and clean work I prefer to Romita’s. We get a lovely appearance from the Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile. The story features Duke Thomas, who is also in the main story. But between his appearances in this book and Tom King’s Batman, we still have no idea what the end goal of him being there is. It’s been emphasized that Duke is not going to be Robin. Batman, in his own words, is “trying something new.” My interest is piqued.
However, this story also introduces us to something that, if it’s what I think it is, infuriates me. The Cursed Wheel is supposed to be a condensed version of all Batman’s training, sharpened and applied to tenets taught by Alfred. Each color on the wheel apparently represents different psychological traits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept, until you get to this dialogue…
“Look at the colors. You see hints of them in the colors of your allies. Dick leans blue. Damian, green. Barbara, purple. It’s a secret history that unites them, connects them, differentiates them.”
No, it really doesn’t.
We don’t need to overthink the colors that Dick, Damian, Barbara, and everybody that’s trained with Batman wears. If Duke needs to have a model for his training, so be it. But let’s not overdo it. This concept has just been introduced, so it deserves a chance to grow. But at this point it’s an eye-roller.
Just before we’re introduced to the wheel of contrivance, Duke is telling Batman that he’s fine on his own, and that today “Robin doesn’t need a Batman.” The Dark Knight replies with “Good. Batman doesn’t need a Robin either.” That line feels very wrong coming from Bruce, considering just how many Robins he’s trained. What’s he getting at?
There’s definitely some nitpicking to be done with All-Star Batman. I’ve credited Scott Snyder with not being afraid to have big ideas. Some of them pay off, some of them don’t. But it’s the little things that chip away at this issue, and cumulatively bring it down a notch. Still, Snyder has earned the right to say what he wants to say with Batman. It’s obviously too early to call this story a success or failure. But because Snyder is attached to it, All-Star Batman will at the very least be noteworthy.
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