Written by Alisha Weinberger
For “good guys who want to be bad” and “bad guys who want to be worse”…
Let’s be honest and address the giant elephant of a general consensus in the room, DC is leaving a lot to be desired lately. Specifically with Batman properties. Suicide Squad is even more divisive than Dawn of Justice. I really don’t want to talk about The Killing Joke adaptation. Even some of the Rebirth titles have started off with more of a whimper than a bang. But this is neither here nor there, because Scott Snyder has returned to remind us just why we love the Dark Knight and his cesspool kingdom.
Split between two seemingly connected story arcs, All-Star Batman kicks off with Part I of “My Own Worst Enemy,” the primary arc of the two. Two Face, having out-maneuvered and blackmailed opposing crime bosses, has attained (quite literally) god-like control of Gotham. At some point, he has managed to rain acid down onto Gotham, making its citizens into his image. His reign having finally gone too far, the saner Harvey Dent begs Batman to escort him 500 miles outside of Gotham. Unbeknownst to Bruce and Harvey, Two-Face has made a massively public deal with Gotham City: either stop Batman or every ugly, private secret of its citizens (villain or otherwise) will be dragged out into the open across all forms of media. If one succeeds, they will be made fabulously wealthy. What ensues is a twisted Midnight Run-like pursuit between Batman and seemingly every villain under the sun. And when I say every, I mean it, including but not limited to: Killer Moth, Firefly, Black Spider, and the Gentleman Ghost.
Yet the most dangerous villain revealed is Gotham itself. Snyder finds a healthy balance of wackiness and thematic darkness, positing a moral dilemma that is implicit to Batman, but rarely explored. Gotham is a cesspool, poverty is a scourge, and the reality that most crime is committed not out of some mad scientist intention but out of desperation is stark. Batman has and probably will have to beat up poor, average people. Typically the city of Gotham has always been referred to as a homogenous entity, but Two Face forces Bruce Wayne to actually examine the worth of the individual citizens he’s vowed to protect. As regular, local folks begin to turn on their hero, the synchronicity of the arc’s title “My Own Worst Enemy” is more than apparent.
While Snyder writes one of the better explorations of Batman and Dent/Two Face’s relationship, John Romita Jr. heads up a stunning artistic team, with himself on pencils, Dean White on colors, and Danny Miki on pencils. The dark grittiness of Batman’s quest is beautifully captured in an array of colors. There is a grainy texture to the art, with panels frequently fading in and out from black and white to color, the overall book feels like a grindhouse B-movie. Appropriately so, as Batman finds himself trekking the countryside, he will have to use his fists and his wits (and the occasional chainsaw) to survive.
Following the perspective of Duke Thomas, the second story arc is brief but ends in a gruesome discovery. It seemingly predates Bruce and Dent’s arc, as the execution of Snyder’s storytelling is chronologically disjointed, plunging readers into jarring, violent action. Some pages occurring either minutes, hours, or days prior to the main plotline. The artwork takes a slight shift, loosing it’s textured grit for flatter, solid colors. The artwork is still gorgeously colorful, and the shift is forgivable as it is a clear device for readers to delineate where they are between the two arcs.
All-Star Batman is a definite pickup. Stepping away from the superhero soap opera that is the larger DC universe, Snyder brings the character back to its roots. He weaves a morally ambiguous and sincerely tragic Dent/Two-Face. With all the attention given to the Joker lately, it is a welcomed, refreshing reminder that Gotham City is brimming with villains not just one, some infamously known and others that may surprise you.