Scott Snyder’s work on All-Star Batman hasn’t always lived up to the title. When the book débuted, it focused on the Dark Knight’s quest to cure Two-Face of his split personality once and for all. That arc was gratuitously violent, filled with overwrought dialogue and, frankly, far from the best work Snyder had ever done with the character.
However, once that arc ended, the book immediately improved. With each issue came a different rogue from Batman’s gallery as well as a new artist to render them. While those issues had a narrative through line, it took a backseat to Snyder’s examination of Batman’s relationship with each villain. Now, that arc ends with Batman going up against one of his oldest (hint, hint) enemies with legendary artist Jock and colorist Lee Loughridge bringing their confrontation to life. And holy hell is it a thrill.
It is pretty much impossible to talk about the issue without spoiling a few things. So, if you haven’t read All-Star Batman #9 yet, it’s best to go do so now and finish this review later. Anyway, at the end of the previous issue, Bruce learned that his encounters with Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter were all orchestrated by the same person—someone we learn here is none other than Ra’s al Ghul. Though Snyder plays coy with that reveal through a good chunk of the issue, in some ways, the actual who of it all doesn’t really matter.
While al Ghul is certainly one of Batman’s most formidable villains, he functions just as much as a symbol of evil here as himself. Or perhaps–to get even closer to the heart of it–darkness itself. Not to presume, but it seems fairly obvious that America’s current political climate influenced Snyder’s writing here. Ra’s al Ghul’s apparent belief that humanity is driven by fear and ignorance and therefore needs to be purged feels a little too familiar. And even if that were too oblique, then the fact that the action suddenly and without much explanation takes place in Washington D.C. makes it abundantly clear.
It is breathtaking to watch Ra’s and Bruce/Batman have their final showdown with the great monuments of America’s capitol city as their background. Jock’s etch-like, dynamic inks and Loughridge’s leached colors make palpable the issue’s overwhelming sense of apocalypse. We are watching an empire in decline and there is seemingly little our hero can do to stop it. However, while Snyder has always used his All-Star work to explore the big ideas behind the Batman character, it’s the way he explores hope here that really elevates the issue. For all his damage, Batman is also a beacon of hope—sometimes literally when the Bat Signal shines over the cloudy skies of Gotham. He is a symbol that people can still find their way back to goodness even through seemingly insurmountable darkness.
It is–to put it mildly–rare to see Batman portrayed as a symbol of hope, but what has always made Snyder’s work with the character so remarkable is the way he can take this well-known character and story and tease new facets out of them. Sure, his work on All-Star Batman hasn’t always shown that, but this issue is nothing if not proof of concept. Hell, it may even be better than his work on New 52 Batman.