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We’re one month in with 288 miles to go, and I can confidently say that All-Star Batman is picking up steam.

Last month’s issue left me underwhelmed, as I found it to be a great concept that was dragged down by pacing issues and some questionable storytelling.  Some of those issues remain, but by and large the pros far outweigh the cons, making All-Star Batman #2 a genuinely exciting, adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.

The fractured storytelling is still here, with a reliance on flashbacks, flashforwards, and other time-jumps to tell the story Snyder is wanting to tell, but the whole narrative flows much, much smoother, and every thread has something interesting to say.

Framing the main narrative, Snyder has Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock staking out Wayne Manor “Two Days From Now,” waiting to follow up on a lead that could possibly destroy the entire legacy of the Batman.  These scenes are short yet gripping, and the dialogue between Gordon and Bullock is just great.  It’s always nice to see those two GCPD vets interact, even when discussing the most mundane of things.

The bulk of the book is taken up by a fight atop a speeding train and… guys, it’s fantastic.

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I mean, I knew this was going to be “Batman fights a bunch of assassins because why not?”, but Amygdala?  As a guy who, for a time, owned every issue of Chuck Dixon’s run on Nightwing, color me surprised.

The two encounter Killer Croc, King Shark and Amygdala, whose introductions get funnier as it goes along, as well as Cheshire and Copperhead, the latter of whom is now female because hey those Arkham games sure were popular, right?  Even Egghead (yes), Gentleman Ghost (YESSSSSSSSS) and Orca (………..) get name-dropped, though sadly that’s as far as it gets with those three.  Were you like me, super excited about the final panel of the first issue and the prospect of seeing Batman fighting Gentleman Ghost atop a big-rig and/or speeding train?  Keep waiting, my friends; our time will come.

There are a few questionable choices by Romita, whose style is so distinct it’s hard to divorce it from the material, so the visuals still aren’t quite as great as I’d hoped.   Every now and then there’s a figure that’s just stiff and lifeless or a panel that’s just a tad overstuffed to the point of awkardness, though in the end the issue still looks at least good.

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Remember, chums: the victory is in the preparation.

Snyder’s scripting is really funny this time around as well, with one-liners and visual gags both making me laugh out loud more than once.  There’s a scene between Alfred and Duke that is incredibly dry and expository that brings the story to a complete halt, so the storytelling isn’t perfect, but when he and Romita just let loose and have a good time it’s impossible to not be taken along for the ride.

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Take note that, yes, Batman does use the ridiculously over-sized Batarang. And it is hilarious.

What I think helps the most this month is the fact that Snyder’s writing is more focused on Batman and Two-Face and their journey, rather than pulling in too many disparate elements like Duke’s training.  Even the aforementioned scene between Duke and Alfred has a few good insights into Bruce and Harvey’s lives (“In this city, guessing Bruce Wayne is Batman isn’t that difficult.  It’s proving the link that Master Bruce has made impossible.”), and there’s a beautifully colored single-page flashback to a time before Batman and Two-Face that is just wonderful.

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We can ignore the gaffe in the fourth panel.

The time jumps work much more effectively this time around, thanks in no small part to the fact that they actually feel like transitions.  Even if the scenes don’t start and end on obviously similar images or lines, they still feel like they’re working to tell a cohesive story instead of being a montage of loosely connected but disparate parts.  As entertaining as the issue is on its own, the fact that it’s telling a story makes for a far more satisfying read.

Snyder and Romita keep most of the action focused on their two main characters and the increasingly difficult challenges they face as they head upstate, which is such a simple concept that doesn’t need much else added to make it effective.  Just give us the characters, a destination, and crazy obstacles along the way and you’re set.

As great as the train scenes are (and they are great), the best scene is where Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White approach a mysterious hooded figure to take out the Batman.  The dialogue is fantastic, the mystery of the assassin has a great payoff, and when you figure out who it is it just reads even better.

Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen next month’s solicit: it’s KGBeast (YYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS).

The whole scene is fantastic, with three men who are normally completely in control of every situation they’re in almost visibly shaking at the idea of even having to speak with such a dangerous man.  Knyazev is just cool and collected the entire time, brushing aside their grandstanding and just adding to his menace and reputation.  It makes his inevitable appearance in costume at the end of the issue that much more satisfying, setting up what will hopefully be an even crazier entertainment of an issue next month.

Plus, we get to see the contents of KGBeast’s refrigerator.  And it is amazing.

Spoiler

[caption id="attachment_32652" align="alignnone" width="586"]image He has a Talon in his fridge?! BEST COMIC EVER[/caption]

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If the main plot was almost completely redeemed this time around, the backup still left me a bit cold.

Most of that, I think, is because that’s exactly how Bruce is presented here: nothing but cold, distant, and calculating.  Granted, Bruce is focused first and foremost on his mission and hardly ever lets his emotions get the better of him in the line of duty, but his almost dismissive attitude toward the victims he and Duke are investigating is completely devoid of any sort of compassion.

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Besides that, this Wheel that Duke is a part of hasn’t quite clicked with me yet.  Scott Snyder himself has actually addressed some of the misconceptions around Duke’s arc and training, and getting a clearer idea of his intentions certainly helps the story read better.  I’m still not completely sold on it, but it’s early so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Declan Shalvey, as before, turns in some great work and once again leaves me wishing he was the primary artist I this series.  The always wonderful Jordie Bellaire’s colors are clean and pop right off the page, and though the script was a bit emotionally distant the artistic team certainly know how to evoke emotion through the use of the visual side of the comics medium.

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The backup may still be a weak link, but with a sense of direction it’s getting stronger.

Recommended if:

  • You want more Scott Snyder.
  • You like great action and adventure.
  • I guarantee you’re a fan of at least one villain in this book, and if you aren’t you will be once you finish reading.
  • You want to see Duke Thomas grow as a character.

Overall: A genuinely fun, adrenaline-fueled rollercoaster.  Even with its faults this title has improved since its first installment, with more focused storytelling, better character work, and fantastic action sequences coming to the fore.  There are still a few rough edges, but I still had a great time and can’t wait to see where Snyder, Romita, and crew take Bruce, Harvey, Duke, and us as readers.

SCORE: 8/10