By Justin Wood
By issue four, the shock has worn off. The routine sets in. It's amazing how many nonsensical things this book crams in, yet it doesn't faze me anymore. If you want a parade of the most ridiculous Batman concepts and moments since the 1970's, pick up any given issue of All Star Batman. I'm reviewing all of the remaining issues of this first arc (appearing to thankfully take its bow next issue) but the worst this book can make me feel is now behind us. Now we just wait and wonder how it came to this.
Right where we left off, Two-Face has Batman trapped by some silly samurai jouster Court of Owl goons, on loan from the Court because he apparently has them blackmailed with the same idiotically complete folder of Gothamite secrets. He pours acid into Batman's eyes, which results in only a temporary inconvenience for the Bat instead of, you know, irreparable damage. Convoluted maneuvering between Two-Face, Harvey, and KGBeast (who, in the best part of the comic, is hilariously hung up on explaining to Batman how cool seasteading is) is interspersed with cluttered, ugly action sequences that strain eyes and patience.
Look, this book is trying, I'm not saying it isn't. It's trying a lot of things to be different and shake-up how you think and feel about a Batman story. The problem is all of these things are ridiculous and frankly feel desperate. Despite some of the consensus in the senior staff here at Bastards, I like Morrison's Batman run, and there is no denying that that was a bizarre nightmare at times. Apocalyptic visions of the future. A supervillain cult leader is pretending to be Bruce Wayne's dad. Joker doing a secret identity thing, Motherfucking Zur-En-Arr. That book was insane, and not always in a way that was good or pleasant to read. However, the risks his various Batman projects took felt appropriate to the idea of Batman, an immortally intellectually and physically endowed billionaire playing global games of know-how and chance with themed psychotics with a penchant for body and mind altering substances. In that world, it absolutely felt like an inspired choice to have Bruce create a rainbow colored backup Batman in his brain for the day he finally loses it.
In All-Star Batman, you can see a lot of the same kinds of attempts to explore the mechanical workings of Batman's world of madness. Here, however, the soul has been stretched to its breaking point, and a lot of the attempts to be different are less examining Bruce Wayne's soul and more hard juking his personality in an attempt to radically reimagine him. They are mostly choices that feel appropriate to telling the story of a young, growing Batman, not one on his nth Robin/Not Robin. The ongoing use of the ex-Arkham inmate band is distractingly obnoxious, Batman keeps playing aggressive and chummy, and the gadgets on his suit... I mean Christ. I get that the gadgets are by this point supposed to be a joke, I don't for a minute think Snyder isn't playing this arc with his tongue dug deep into his cheek, but it serves no purpose. Batman is put in a jam and instead of using his detective intelligence, his Herculean Strength, or a combination of the two, this arc he just pops out another intentionally comical gadget from his stupid suit. It doesn't match the grounded, gritty tone the book pretended was the goal (remember when Bats had to rely on some chainsaws he found to deal with some assailants?). It flies in the face of the somber tone the Harvey/Bruce backstory that is jammed unceremoniously into the already crowded Batman origin, and it isn't even cute or fun in the way that makes people post non-contextual fragments on Tumblr. This book feels like a Takashi Miike film as scripted by Brian Micheal Bendis, garish, unpleasant, and full of word bubbles I lose interest in reading halfway through. It's incorrect to think it's a bad thing to experience fiction that you don't know how to feel while reading it, it's another thing to experience fiction that doesn't seem to be able to choose what it wants you to be feeling.
“The Cursed Wheel” continues to be a mistake. I don't know how we were expected to follow the mildly convoluted mystery story when it was hacked up into these tiny, improperly paced chunks, forcing us to try and remember plot twists from a muddled Zsasz mystery from a month ago. I can't even really stand behind Shalvey's art this time, the final panel actually nearly made me laugh in how unintentionally funny it looked. For some reason, despite the plot being resolved, there is still one chapter left. Going to keep saying it, if it isn't strong enough to be its own book don't do it as a backup story. At this point, I feel like ignoring them in reviews from here on out.
One more issue, right? Right? I'm looking forward to leaving this story behind in the rearview, a queasy pothole in the blandly uneven road that is comics in 2016. You can't make me hate comics the same way you can't make me hate music, but this year has done a good job of really making me want to check out of what goes on in the mainstream comic industry as a whole. The culture isn't fun right now, the major publishers are all working from really transparent notes, but most of all, there's no sense of discovery.
My favorite ongoing series this year was my favorite ongoing series last year, from someone I am already a committed fan of. I don't gamble on Image or Black Mask titles anymore, because, despite the of diversity, there is a creeping sense of sameness to what is actually being written. Young Animal is a thing, and the Warren Ellis Wildstorm announcement is vaguely attention-nabbing, but so far what little I've read of Animal feels like a bunch of 30-year-olds forming a cover band after work, not the New Music. Comics, like any artform or movement of history, moves in tides. The tide is going out for me, but it'll return eventually. In the meantime, though, I'm just left with wet sand and something misshapen and formerly alive that got left behind, twisted in knots of kelp. I'll stare at it, at least for one issue more, before leaving it behind, hoping that the tide returns quickly to whisk it way, from the sand and memory.
All-Star Batman #4
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics