Thursday, 20 April 2017

All-Star Batman, Volume 1: My Own Worst Enemy Review (Scott Snyder, John Romita Jr.)


Batman has the opportunity to erase Two-Face’s Hyde persona leaving only the “good” Jekyll part of him, Harvey Dent. They have 500 miles to travel to get the cure. Only problem is Two-Face has placed a massive bounty on the Dark Knight’s head and all the rats have crawled out of the woodwork and are gunning for him en route! Will they make it - and will the cure work? 

Fucking FINALLY! I knew there was another Rebirth title out there that wasn’t terrible and I found it with All-Star Batman! That said, it’s not a great book. Scott Snyder crams in too much for a five-issue storyline and a lot of it is utter bullshit – this title should really be called All-Star Contrivance! 

Two-Face was made too powerful here. Snyder tends to do this whenever he puts a villain in the spotlight - Riddler in Zero Year for example was an insanely OTT characterisation! I could buy that Two-Face has tons of dirt on everyone who’s anyone in Gotham - fine. But in addition he also has access to the top three mob bosses’ finances and can somehow guarantee whoever kills Batman that fortune?? No, I don’t buy that. I mean, how? And that’s not all: he can somehow control the weather and is threatening Gotham with acid rain to burn everyone’s faces to be like his! CONTROL THE WEATHER??? That’s too much, Snyder. 

The premise is flimsy at best. Batman just takes Two-Face at his word (already unbelievable) that he has a cure - how did he come up with a cure in the first place, why did he not take the cure when he had the chance and why did he hide it 500 miles away in some remote house on the coast that’s remained abandoned for decades?! It’s such a contrived setup designed purely to make Batman and Two-Face go on a road trip there, conveniently allowing Snyder to write what’s essentially a book-length action scene. 

And then there’s all the threats being thrown at Batman because of the impossible bounty placed on him by Two-Face - why does everybody take the word of a lunatic who bases his decisions on a coin toss!? Ordinary people assume if they shoot Batman, he’ll just happily hand them over scads of cash - the rogues too! Why is Two-Face suddenly the embodiment of integrity when he’s done nothing to earn it?? Because there’s no story without this detail. 

And STILL the contrived nonsense doesn’t stop there! Great White, Black Mask and Penguin hire KGBeast to kill Batman - ok, he’s actually a viable threat to Batman; except they can’t afford him. You’d think an assassin of KGBeast’s calibre would find a way of checking if they had his astronomical fee, right? Maybe even ask for it completely up front given who he is? But no, he takes the job on the word of a trio of insane crooks. Stupid! 

So why am I calling this a decent comic after making so many criticisms? Well, lots of little things. I liked that this was a Batman adventure outside of Gotham so we get to see Batman outside his comfort zone. The set pieces were strong: chainsaw Batman in the cornfield was an awesome visual and the train fight against the likes of Killer Croc was very cool. Bruce’s hunchback mechanic from waaaay back in the day, Harold, makes a surprise cameo and the Bat-knuckles were fun in a silly way. Not all the new gadgets were as good though - the echo-location pecs were ridiculous as was the giant Batarang he’s holding on the cover. 

I didn’t love these scenes but I’ll give Snyder that Bruce and Harvey were momentary childhood friends even though, once again, it feels like a contrived detail in an already heavily contrived story. The Gordon/GCPD storming Wayne Manor storyline while Bruce was away was similarly trite - just another facet of Harvey’s sudden absurd reach - but was somewhat tense and the resolution was delightfully daffy. And I really enjoyed John Romita Jr’s art especially when complemented by Dean White’s joyous colours. 

The backup story was complete rubbish. Batman and Duke, Zsasz, and Duke’s parents - I have no idea what that was all about, honestly. It was instantly forgettable gibberish. Declan Shalvey’s art was great though, I hope he gets to draw more Batman in the future. 

And that’s All-Star Batman, Volume 1: My Own Worst Enemy: deeply flawed but fairly readable and with enough fun nuggets scattered throughout to be entertaining enough. It’s slightly better than the last couple Snyder/Batman books - Endgame and Bloom - but it’s definitely not up there with the best of his New 52 Batman storylines like Death of the Family and Zero Year. It’s still worth a read for Batman fans but don’t expect much either - it continues to feel like Snyder’s running on fumes at this point and doesn’t have any more solid Batman stories left to tell. Unfortunately it wasn’t the all-star read I was hoping it might’ve been.

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