By Justin Wood
Before the release of Jordan Claes' All-Star Batman #2 review, I'd heard through the editorial grapevine that he'd made my less than pleasant review of #1 look like a pull quote for the series. Consider my interest having been piqued, but come that Wednesday, having read the comic for myself as prep, I was honestly surprised that the review hadn't been harsher. All-Star Batman #2 was one of the worst comics I've read all year, maybe the worst from the Big Two, though Aquaman #2 definitely stands in the running. I don't have a lingering curiosity for what DC has to do next, once Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is done I can go back to fucking off in the dust collecting indie section at my local failing comic shop. That said, with recent events, both related and not related to All-Star Batman,; I now feel it is some sort of meager duty to cover this book specifically until this terrible storyline ends. I'll pay for it if I have to. Hell, that local comic shop needs some sort of income to keep from just folding under all of this relaunch variant-bait bullshit.I am not here for vengeance for what All-Star Batman #2 did to my itty bitty Batman fan heart because frankly, it's better. That's not praise; it'd be hard to be worse, but All-Star has temporarily pulled up to where the first issue had set its altitude at awkwardly, unlovable bad. Batman continues to drag John Romita Jr.'s demon-faced Dent across the countryside to his Two-Face Cure Lab while beset by Z-list joke cameos seemingly curated to make people question the age-old claim that Batman has Comic's Best Rogue Gallery. We've got at least one or two more issues left in this story, plenty of time for Crazy Quilt and Condiment King to join the party.
By this issue, Snyder seems to be in on the joke, but the hardcore wocka-wocka tone of some of the beats don't feel like cathartic moments of levity, but somehow the true heart of the comic. I get the late-90's/early 2000's movies made about a campy TV show vibe, like The Brady Bunch Movie or Bewitched, where it isn't as much an homage as it is poking fun at the source material. Sure, the story is about Two-Face, but the comic actually feels like it's about reminding us that the Royal Flush gang was as real as it was terrible.
I could practically feel Kevin Beckham of the CBMFP reading over my shoulder, providing a running commentary during the opening tussle with the KGBeast. Here's what his Specter had to say: “That's how you make KGBeast a badass adversary for Batman, by making Batman into the dumbest jabroni motherfucker alive!” Cops shoot at KGBeast with guns. Batman takes him on with “Bat-Knuckles.” It's worth noting, but not worth complaining about. Issue two gave us the secret back-of-the-back-Bat-Crowbar and nothing is going to outdo that gem. Nothing is more frustrating to a long term fan than seeing a top tier superhero get their ass lazily handed to them by a C minus lister for the sake of artificial drama.
When Bruce was psychologically broken by the Court of Owls, it was one of the best genuine moments of fear and despair for the immortal, untouchable Batman in ages. It was the earliest time Scott Snyder impressed me as a Batman writer, creating a new enemy that actually felt like they could legitimately have the upper hand on the biggest badass in the DCU. It was intense and unnerving to watch Bruce's mind crack as his body withered away in the labyrinth, subjected to the worst kind of scrutiny to reveal all he was all along was a rich boy playing demigod. Here, we need something to happen, so let’s have a character less impressive than Marvel's Nuke, kick Batman around like a hacky sack before being unimaginatively hindered for the sake of an ongoing story.
But hey, I did say this was better than #2 right? Well, there are a few things I did like. I don't know who else gives a shit, but mildly obscure Batman ally Harold Allnut pops up in this, maybe for the first time in New 52 canon (I'm not going to research the answer). I always liked the idea of Harold, a great part of the Batman mythos that doesn't fit a lot of stories well but who seems unfairly ignored or forgotten by a lot of writers. He doesn't contribute much here, but I'll chalk this up to the first C-lister cameo that I was actually pleased to see scrounged from the archives. We also finally get some answers about the central plot, despite once again rewriting another implausibly large unspoken chapter into Bruce's childhood, something I used to enjoy in Snyder's Batman but now seems transparent. Still, I at least know what the story is now.
JRJR. You know how I feel about his work. Don't need to elaborate here. Art at least looks better than #2, but I swear every time he draws a panel with the Penguin, someone who worked on Batman: The Animated Series dies.
Backup story would probably be more coherent and more frustrating if it was all published at once, as I can't seem to recall enough of what happened in previous issues and I will laugh in your face if you recommend I go back to catch up. Shalvey’s art continues to be good, but I'm far from in love with it here, just making me more sick waiting for Injection to return from hiatus.
Losing steam. Jordie Bellaire. Good. Dean White. Good. Arkham metal band. Bad.
I'm going to stick with this book. I'd rather someone else at the site read it, but if nobody takes up the mantle, I'll ride it out till the end. Why? The resolution can't be good (that's one thing about Snyder's past writing that I'll definitely agree with Dustin and Steve on), so why subject myself to this? Because not everyone loves this book. Plenty of people do, at least that's what Comic Book Roundup tells me, but not everyone. Reading comic reviews today, you'd think nobody ever published anything bad in comics, that DC and Marvel are pumping out legendary stories like “God Loves, Man Kills” and “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” on a weekly basis.
It isn't in mean spirit that we at the site review so negatively so frequently, but rather out of a frustrated optimism that dissent, when honestly maintained without malicious agenda, is healthy and necessary. In my life, I've learned a lot about art and how to make and experience it from bad reviews, both of my own work and others. They can give us a window into how a range of people experience art, giving us perspectives that we never considered or unable to genuinely relate to, but give us a greater texture to our shared relationship with media. This year, on more than one occasion and with more than one cause, the world nearly broke Comic Bastards. The world has been tough on a lot of my friends, and some of my fellow Bastards were not excepted from this. While things will inevitably and necessarily change, I will see 2016 pass and Comic Bastards remain.
Why bother? Why continue when five years of existence hasn't resulted in much more than a tidy (and gratitude deserving) readership and a sub-par reputation with publishers? Because dissent is important. Because there are books out there that other sites just flat out won't read that I think, deserve some kind words. Because if we can't find it in ourselves to be honest, critically incisive, and frank to the hazard of some hypothetical reputation, then we might as well be the goddamn video game review industry. So I'll plant my flag. This book sucks. I wish it didn't, but it does, and I don't want people to feel crazy because they can't seem to find anyone else that agrees with them about that. Have an issue with that? Go comment on Comic Book Roundup about it.
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All-Star Batman #2 Writer: Scott Snyder Artists: John Romita Jr., Declan Shalvey Publisher: DC Comics