All-Star Batman #9 review

All Star Batman 9

And so Batman has encountered the ends of the earth.  Not the locations, though; the actual events that would lead to the world’s end.

A world that ends in disaster.

A world that ends in sickness.

A world that ends in materialism.

None of these endings will do, though.  The only ending that fits, the only one worthy of the End of the Earth… is the one Ra’s Al Ghul initiates.

If you read Detective Comics #954, then you know that the events of this issue actually take place before it.  The conversation and confrontation Bruce and Ra’s have here puts a lot of that ‘Tec story into context, and it actually made me enjoy it more.  I know Brandon gave it a pretty decent score, but I found ‘Tec 954 to be confusing and overwrought.  Now we have All-Star Batman #9 which is also kind of confusing and overwrought, but it makes the issue it was supposed to precede make a little more sense.

On the surface, there are some pretty good ideas here.  The conceit that Ra’s won’t allow the world to end but on his own terms is pretty great, and in keeping with his massive ego.  See, Ra’s knows what’s best for the world, and he won’t let random chance or even humanity’s own interference lead to its own destruction.  No, he needs to be the one to bring about the end so everything will be rebuilt the way he thinks it should be.  What we would call arrogance, he would call vision.

That idea doesn’t quite stick the landing, though, due to the heavy use of monologue here.  This issue is dense and heavy with dialogue, and most of it is expository.  Sure, it’s nice to see why Tetch was brought into play in the previous issue, but a typical “Ra’s Al Ghul wants to destroy civilization” plot doesn’t measure up to the superior forebearers.  Nothing reaches the terrifying horror of Freeze, or the moving pathos of Ivy, or the outright craziness of Hatter’s installment.  While the other “ends” had a clear tone and mood, this is disappointingly by the book.  Save for a few decent lines here and there, the “Ends of the Earth” finale doesn’t rise above what came before.  It could have easily been an installment in a half dozen other Ra’s Al Ghul stories.

One thing I’ve realized is that Snyder’s true gift is in writing prose.  If you’ve read A.D.: After Death, you know that the most gripping parts of the narrative are the long prose sections.  He can certainly spin a gripping tale out of a lot of words, and when it works it works marvelously.  For whatever reason, though, it isn’t translating to his dialogue in Batman comics.

That said, there is one line that I absolutely loved.

I don’t know if it was Snyder’s intent or not, but “to think I once called you Detective” is a pretty great summation of Batman’s portrayal in recent years.  It’s been so long since he’s done any genuine detective work or fought street-level crimes that he doesn’t really deserve the title “the World’s Greatest Detective” anymore.

Am I taking that out of context?  Likely.

Is it still a valid interpretation?  Definitely.

I also appreciate the visual symmetry in the storytelling, as it makes the arc feel complete.  Using Jock for both the opening and closing chapters of this story was a bit disappointing at first, since I was looking forward to other artists making their mark on Snyder’s work.  It was great seeing the likes of Tula Lotay and Giuseppi Camuncoli on the title, bringing a different feel to Scott’s words.  Jock is great and everything, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of wanted to see how four different artists would have worked to tell one complete story.

Then I actually, you know, read the issue and I can certainly see why Jock was brought back in.  I didn’t love everything he did here, as he mostly had to draw two guys standing around and talking to each other, but the opening chase scene is pretty great.  There’s a pretty cool splash page with a motorcycle jump that’s particularly memorable, and I like the way he drew Ra’s.  It’s the closing pages that work the best, though, bringing the entire arc full circle.  Unlike the “detective” line, this most certainly was intentional, ending the arc the way its preceding installments began.

In the end, though, it’s still just an issue with two guys talking to each other.  We’ve seen it dozens of times before with these same two characters, even as recently as last week, so to truly stand out it needed to be pretty epic.  It isn’t, sadly, so instead of a bang the Earth ends with a whimper.

I’ll be discussing spoilers here, so if you don’t want to know what goes on in the backup, skip ahead.

“The Cursed Wheel” spins and spins and never really stops.  Even this, proclaimed as the conclusion, is hardly an ending.  It raises more questions than it answers, and it’s a remarkably confusing, pretty frustrating affair.

This has been set up as the conclusion to Duke’s training, going so far as to say “Finale” right there on the title card.  While reading it, I didn’t think it could possibly wrap up satisfactorily, as it needed to conclude both the Riddler plot and Duke’s dilemma.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do either.  Instead of explaining what the Cursed Wheel is all about and what kind of hero Duke is supposed to be, the story simply ends on a cliffhanger that continues in Dark Days: The Forge #1.

What’s worse is the whole ordeal is incredibly confusing: Duke has metahuman powers, brought upon by Daryl’s prodding.  That’s… fine, I guess, though it kind of comes out of nowhere.  I think I vaguely remember that he may have swallowed one of Bloom’s seeds way back when, but even if that did happen there haven’t been any hints that it took effect.  I mean, until now, that is.

And it’s not really clear what his abilities are supposed to be: his eyes glow yellow, and there are some really weird POV shots where he sees yellow people and environments with black swirls, but I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean.  The narration states he has to “think outside the box.”  Can he see other spectrums?  Other dimensions?  Other realities or alternate events?  Guess we have to wait until the summer to find out.

The story isn’t really visually interesting either.  Francavilla is always at the very least solid, so there’s nothing genuinely bad about the visual aesthetic, but there isn’t anything inspired or memorable either.  The only images that really stick out and stay with you are the ones that just lead to more confusion.  I’ve loved some of his layout choices in previous installments, particularly with the crossword puzzle motif, but this is just by the numbers work.  Nothing is memorable, at least not for the right reasons, which is frankly a pretty apt way to describe this whole story.

BONUS: A pretty rad variant from Chris Burnham.

SHOW SPOILER ▼

Recommended if:

  • You’ve read the other installments.
  • You can’t get enough of Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul conflicts.
  • You can look past the story for some interesting narrative choices.

Overall: A disappointing conclusion to an otherwise solid, sometimes even great arc.  None of the big ideas really congeal, and even Jock’s pencils are relatively subdued and under-utilized.  Combine the dull main narrative with a confusing, incredibly frustrating backup story and this is an unfortunate dip in quality for a series that has been on a high roll lately.

SCORE: 5/10

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