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Batman and Two-Face edge ever closer to their destination in All-Star Batman #3, while a deeper history between the two is revealed.  After the zig-zagging narrative and outright zaniness of the first two issues, it’s nice to have a little breather.

That’s just what this issue is: it’s slow.  It’s pretty straightforward.  It’s even a little boring, but in the best possible way.

Not every issue of every book needs to be wall-to-wall action and ever-increasing obstacles.  There are times when downtime is well-earned for both the readers and the characters, a time to step away from the craziness and goofiness and bring a little more focus to the story.  All-Star Batman #3 is just that.

But first more craziness and goofiness.

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When KGBeast appeared last month, I was stoked.  I already liked the idea of sending Batman and Two-Face on a road trip of redemption, and pitting them against all of the assassins and hired muscle was just icing on the cake.  You give me a KGBeast who has the decapitated head of a Talon in his freezer?  Reader, you’ve just made a friend for life.

The fight with the Beast is pretty well executed by Romita, though there were a few panels that I had to look over a few times just to make sure I understood what was going on.  It ends with Harvey being gravely injured and Duke popping up out of nowhere to save the fugitives, so to recuperate Bruce directs Duke to a safe house he has set up on All Nut Farms.

A million Batpoints if you can guess who’s there.

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Yes, that is Harold the mute mechanic.  For those not in the know, Harold was a mechanic who suffered from Kyphosis, but is incredibly skilled at mechanical work.  Originally manipulated by the Penguin to be a part of his gang, he is later taken in by Batman to serve a new purpose in life.  I doubt the character is ever going to crack the top twenty in anyone’s favorite Batman character list, but it was an interesting idea that reinforces Batman’s belief that anyone is capable of rehabilitation.  His presence also lifted a bit of the suspension of disbelief that two guys could build and maintain an entire high-tech cave lair themselves, assigning some of the more technically difficult tasks to someone other than a billionaire playboy and his willing but aging British butler.

Harold was a weird but welcome footnote in Batman comics for the better part of a decade, before he was unceremoniously dispatched way back in Hush after selling out Bruce to Tommy Elliot in exchange for the gift of speech.  While nobody was chomping at the bit for his return, I’m sure, it’s nice to see a weird-but-likeable character be brought back in to continuity.

Also, I have approximately no evidence of this, but I’ve been championing for/calling this for at least three years now.  High-five, me. (?)

Scott Snyder cuts down on the flashbacks and time jumps this month, making this script the most consistent of the series so far.  Without needing to jump backward, forward, and back again in time, it’s a much more focused narrative.  There are still some flashbacks to Bruce and Harvey’s earlier lives, revealing that the two had known each other as young boys before reconnecting as adults to wage war on crime.

It’s an understandable addition to their history, but I’m not entirely sure it’s needed; the friendship between the two was already so strong that Bruce has been haunted by Harvey’s tragic downfall since the creation of Two-Face in the Forties.  Making them boyhood friends who reconnect later in life feels unnecessary, not really adding anything to the characters, but I’ll take a “wait and see” approach here.  It may very well be the key to this whole story, so it’s best not to write it off completely yet.

Besides the focus on the main duo (trio now, with Duke in tow), there’s a small bit with Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White.  It doesn’t quite reach the heights of their scene together last month, though it comes close.  It’s great seeing the Penguin try and maintain the control he lost in the presence of KGBeast, given that his arrogance will not allow him to concede any sort of defeat or weakness.  I’ve always liked Cobblepot as the bridge between old crime and new crime, as he’s pretty much a classic gangster in the trappings of a freakish supervillain.  The suave nightclub owner is a great idea, but it’s still great to see him let loose now and then and do something truly villainous.

I mean, great for everybody but the guy he charred to a crisp.  My condolences.

Besides being more focused and linear, the script is really, really funny in places.  There a few dry one-liners here and there that got a chuckle out of me, and there’s a gag with the Royal Flush Gang that had me rolling.  I won’t spoil it, but I’m thinking it’s going to be my front-runner in the overused Panel of the Year joke I always make.  It’s that good.

Unrelated, but still a great sound effect.
Unrelated, but still a great sound effect.

The quieter middle passages are bookended by some truly delirious action sequences, opening with the skirmish with KGBeast and concluding with an ambush by some palette-swapped Talons.  It’s not quite as over-the-top enjoyable as the previous chapter, but with a tighter focus Snyder has made his All-Star an interesting, intriguing take on the Caped Crusader.

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“The Cursed Wheel” continues to be a wild-card, but like the main narrative it also benefits from a tighter focus this month.

Duke is front and center with very little influence from Bruce, who is only present in about four panels himself.  This is supposed to be Duke’s story, so seeing him get the spotlight is rewarding.  Snyder has Duke investigate Zsasz’s case himself, and getting an insight into his deductive process provides for some much needed character growth.

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Seeing Duke work through clues is a welcome break from the characters punching information into a computer.  Even when he tries and fails, he’s still using detective skills.  If this story is about Duke learning, it’s nice to actually see him using his own skills and honing them in the field.

There are some flashbacks to Duke and his mom, and those are… a little rough.  She refers to him as “baby bird,” which is a tad too on the nose, and her revelation that she lied about a court case was awkwardly staged and worded.  Despite that, the script for this backup is much stronger and more confident than the previous installments, and Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire continue to prove they should have been penciling the main series this whole time.

Recommended if:

  • You like KGBeast.
  • You like exploring Bruce and Harvey’s friendship.
  • You want some insight into Duke’s training regime.

Overall: A bit slower than previous issues, but with much more focused storytelling.  I’m a fan of things going absolutely nuts, and at times All-Star Batman delivers.  Scott Snyder is trying to tell a character-driven story too, though, and his pieces are finally falling into place.  Add in the surprise return of an almost forgotten character and this is an enjoyable read.

SCORE: 7/10