Review: All-Star Batman #1

On one of the presumably many covers of All-Star Batman, a John Romita Jr. illustrated Dark Knight awkwardly holds something towards the viewer. I think its supposed to be a Batarang. It's long and curved like a sickle, boomerangesque, with little jagged spines almost like thorns, or maybe the teeth of a chainsaw. I looked at it longer than any one single page of this issue, contemplating what was attempted to be communicated. It's not impressive or striking, it doesn't pop the way you'd expect a first issue of a new Batman comic with a superstar writer attached to it would. I looked at that clumsy brutal looking Batarang and wondered to myself, is this interesting? Or is it what happens when you tackle something so many times that you just start abstracting things for no reason, just to try to make it feel different.

I liked a lot of Snyder's Batman, contrary to the popular opinion here on Bastards, but I won't pretend the last few arcs sat well with me. At his best, Snyder seemed like someone who could sculpt new angles on the psychology of the men and women of Gotham. He gave Frank Miller's incorruptible Year One Jim Gordon a guilty past that enriched the character, giving him the drive of a man who wasn't without sins he needed to make right. He gave us a Bruce Wayne that toyed with hopeless oblivion before his fateful choice to live in spite of, or even dedicated to, his pain. He infested Gotham with the surprisingly effectively scary "Court of Owls," wrote a few wonderful issues with a hate-drunk Joker, and communicated to me the first Riddler I could understand as a genuine antagonist to Batman. As the series went on however, the cracks split and yawned. The arcs grew bigger and more unwieldy, each new series seeming to try to outdo the last in terms of scale, concluding with kaiju fighting in the streets of Gotham. He killed the Joker with nary a bat of an eye from the media or comic fans, not even getting the press that War Machine apparently warranted recently. Not even Greg Capullo's unerringly and increasingly masterful hand could keep me reading the final arc, ambitious and ballsy as it was in places. I checked out, done with the Big Two for the time being.

ASBM_Cv1_dsBatman was handed off to be bewilderingly ruined by seemingly talented writer Tom King and increasingly questionably enjoyable artist David Finch, but DC wasn't going to let the name Snyder quit the cowl quite yet. Months into Rebirth we finally get All-Star Batman, another book to fling a big middle finger at any sort of timeline or continuity between Bat-titles. He's accompanied this time not with Capullo's impossibly detailed and expressive spider-lines but with DC's resident shrug, John Romita Jr., an artist who drew some of my favorite comics of all time but who draws variant covers now like he's penning a resignation. Batman sucks. Detective Comics sucks. Let's face it, I'm just here for the morbid curiosity.

All-Star Batman is a step backward in terms of scale but somehow also involves pitting the entire population of Gotham City against the Knight. Two Face somehow managed to rain acid on ole "Why Do We Live Here," burning “hundreds” (everyone was indoors watching Rio apparently), and Batman decides its time to purge Two-Face once and for all in a mysterious location. The kicker is, Two-Face springs a plan to show Batman how terrible everyone really is deep down by offering a reward for Batman's capture during Two-Face's transport to Camp X-Ray, with the threat that on failure of stopping Batman he'll dump everyone's dirty little Internet secrets out for the world to see. Careful, Scott. That's pretty much Joker's plan and motivation from The Dark Knight and Luc Besson just got his ass plowed in court by John Carpenter for less.

Now we get a weirdly grounded and gritty Bat story, cutting Batman off from resources and allies despite only being a mile outside of Gotham. It's not unreadable, but it is a mess, featuring uncharacteristic moments ('Rebirth' Batman is apparently all about winks and fist-bumps now), weirdly disjointed non-linear storytelling, and more of this goddamn weird "Robin-not-Robin" crap that is the worst thing about current Batman. The comic features a back-up story as well, illustrated by frequent Warren Ellis collaborator Declan Shalvey that starts to put the microscope up to Duke, but it still doesn't make a fucking lick of sense. I don't care about the payoff to all this footsie is, give him a personality and things to do and then wow me with your amazing groundbreaking idea of what not-Robin-Robin means.

Art wise, I can't help but feel the step down from Capullo. It's not the worst art I've seen out of John Romita Jr., and he's old-school comics, he knows how to throw down readable composition. Still, despite his easy practiced hand, it feels kind of lifeless and staid, with blunt bland paneling and his usual collection of rote facial expressions and poses. Danny Miki's inks are good and Dean White's colors give everything a weird psychedelic anxiety that works in the book's favor, but I'm honestly just tired of DC and Marvel treating John Romita Jr. like he's still a world-class illustrator. It's better than his Superman, but he could have done this work in his sleep. Throw some illustrators a bone, hire someone new or somebody that would just be cool to see given a shot at Batburg. At its heart, this story seems to want to be about Two-Face dragging Batman down to Earth to face his City one-on-one, testing his faith with blood and iron. There are some cool artists that could put the dirt on the boots of that story, but here I see too many pages of slick disinterest. I don't know about other people's shops, but even the grizzled middle-aged comic fan that runs my neighborhood comic retailer that complains about web comic artists drawing at Marvel doesn't want to see Romita covers anymore. I'm not advocating the man quit illustrating professionally (I can't think of any artists I'd call that for) but I think we all stopped getting what we paid for with these books he keeps getting dropped in his lap.

I'm not really interested in writing much about "The Cursed Wheel" back up story. Shalvey illustrates, it looks good, surprise, surprise. The star of the story is Jordie Bellaire, making Shalvey's muted ink-wash tinted inks ring, making the most of a story that has a weird highlighted color fetish that I don't properly understand or feel interested enough in to make the effort to try to decrypt. It doesn't matter, I think we're all just exhausted of me not liking Batman stuff by now.

I'm still reading pre-Rebirth Batman trades, even Snyder/Capullo stuff, in my free time these days. "Court of Owls", "RIP", "Dark Victory", that sort of thing. I'm not so jaded I can't enjoy a superhero book, I could use some Batman in my life right now, but as a critic for this website I can read all of the Bat-titles for free and I don't even feel the quiver of curiosity after Issue 2 for all of them. I'll go back to playing the Telltale Batman or maybe do a second play-through of Arkham Origins if I need a fix. I can stop looking for meaning in this clunky saw-toothed Batarang of a book and just admit to myself that despite the stylization and attempt to reinvent the wheel, the result is clumsy, ugly, and doesn't stand up to what came before.

[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]

All-Star Batman #1 Writer: Scott Snyder Artist: John Romita Jr. Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital