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Right. Now.

Let’s talk about that cover for a second.  I mean, how great is it?  Say what you will about Romita’s style (believe me, I have some things to say later), but that image definitely grabs your attention.  It’s like those old Golden and Silver Age covers that had a million things going on that were tangentially related to the issue’s actual story, at best, but they still made you stop and think “I need to know why Batman is fighting a giant gorilla/a caveman/on a giant tupperware set.”

So while Batman (sadly) doesn’t actual play slots to decide which assassins and enemies he’s going to fight, the image itself is intriguing enough to warrant at least a flip-through: the bloodied arm of Batman, the brilliantly subtle shadow of his silhouette, and several of Batman’s most dangerous rogues on the reels.  In an age when comic covers are frequently literal punch-fests, this is a nice bit of symbolic storytelling.

It’s a fitting cover, too, because this book has just been absolutely bananas so far.  What better analogy to describe All-Star Batman than the loud, bombastic opulence of a casino?  This is a story that started with Batman being thrown through a diner, so subtlety hasn’t really been a priority.  Chapter four is no different, maintaining that level of insanity that has been building since the first issue.

Our own Josh McDonald says he gets more out of this story when he views it as an out-of-continuity, Elseworlds-esque tale, and I’m inclined to agree.  There’s so much weirdness going on that it’s difficult seeing this take place in the same universe where Batman just fought a giant baby monster with jetpacks and electrified skyscrapers.

…that… ok, maybe this could work, but man is it a stretch.  As of the end of this issue, this series has seen Batman almost drowned, hit in the torso with a tree, had knives jabbed in his wrists, and had acid poured in his eyes.  How this dude is still standing, let alone fighting a group of Two-Face Talons is beyond me, other than the ever handy “he’s Batman” explanation.

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Either every Batsuit has those, or this one is very, very specific to his mission.  Victory is in the preparation, after all.

As bonkers as things get, this issue has some of the best dialogue I’ve read from Snyder in quite some time.  There are two moments that rang so true and worked so well that they may very well have redeemed this arc for me.  One involves Bruce telling Duke that no matter how violent and riotous people can get, they need to be viewed as the people they can be.  It’s a brilliant moment of optimism from the Dark Knight, one that rarely gets attention these days, but true to the core of the character nonetheless.  I mean, Bruce is a guy who vowed as a child to rid the world of all crime.  He’s taken on partners and wards, each of whom have experienced their own tragedies, precisely so they don’t fall into the same dark miasma that almost claimed Bruce himself.  Even in the face of relentless darkness, Batman knows there’s good in the world, it’s just that people just need to be reminded of that fact.

The other scene brings the title “My Own Worst Enemy” full circle, where the Harvey side of Two-Face reveals his contingency in case Batman didn’t succeed in getting Two-Face to their destination.  It’s a great back and forth between the two warring sides of a broken man’s mind, further proving Batman’s assertion that even the worst of us is still capable of doing the right thing.

Beyond the heavier themes, we’re also given one of the funniest images I’ve seen in a good long while: Two-Face tied to the back of a bi-plane.

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Shout-out to Roxy Rocket.

That’s just so ridiculous and silly I couldn’t help but laugh at it.

Funny as it may be, the serial number on the side of the plane stood out to me.  I looked up both Detective Comics #528 and Batman #528, and while the former is the second of a two-parter featuring Savage Skull (who is no doubt prime for a reinventing), here’s the synopsis for the latter:

Batman was able to defeat the strong man and knife thrower. He went after Two-Face and Lockhart. Two-Face set up his trial, which was broken up by Batman. Victims safe and criminals captured, the police arrived. Victory is won with the help of Schism, the conflicted conjoined twins, who prove that right is much stronger in them than wrong.

If that’s not a terrific parallel for Harvey’s internal conflict, I don’t know what is.

Even with that funny visual, month in and month out, Romita has been the biggest stumbling block for me.  I feel that I’d enjoy this book a lot more if another artist were on it, but even if the storytelling is absolutely stellar, the art keeps me from ever wanting to return and read it again.  Romita is an industry legend, no doubt, but his style is so distinct as to be distracting.  He’s done some recent work I’ve genuinely loved, but here it’s just so sketchy, stiff, and blocky as to hinder the narrative flow.  It’s hard to enjoy reading a book when you don’t much enjoy looking at it.

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There are a few panels that are pretty creative, particularly the effect that colorist Dean White uses to demonstrate Bruce’s loss of vision.  Even so, that’s more due to the great work of the colorist and Danny Miki’s inks and less Romita’s lines.  Jock is penciling the next arc, which features Mr. Freeze, so hopefully the visuals won’t be too much of a burden much longer.  As it is, a few neat tricks and funny images don’t make up for a stylistic preference I just can’t reconcile.

All-Star has still proposed many unanswered questions: why did Alfred shoot that plane down? (If this was answered, I’m blanking on it.)

How does Bruce and Harvey’s childhood friendship pan out? (I’m still not sure I buy this as a necessary connection.)

What did Gordon find when he looked into the clock? (Kind of sort of answered in an off-handed way, but I want to see Gordon’s reaction in person.)

Just what does Harvey’s father have to do with all of this, and given the conditions he’s been kept in, how is he still alive? (This was just introduced this issue, so a lack of explanation is understandable.)

Hopefully these are all answered, and even more so that they’re answered satisfactorily.  No matter what, sometimes you just need to read something absolutely bananas to get you through the day, and in that regard All-Star Batman certainly delivers.

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The first cycle of “The Cursed Wheel” comes to an end this month, and it’s fine.  Not bad, not great.  Just fine.  Duke deducts why Zsasz targeted the victim in this particular case, which is refreshing to see as “detective skills” don’t get much of a focus these days.  The narrative feels rushed in its conclusion, to the point that I had to re-read it a few times after reading a tweet from Declan Shalvey to realize this is the final installment of this round.  It just ends, though it does end optimistically.

The biggest advantage “The Cursed Wheel” has had over the main story has been Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s vibrant and energetic art.  While it’s still good this time around, most of the action takes place in a sterile hospital.  Given the location, there’s not much room for an awful lot of color or kinetic action.  Duke’s fight in a hallway is curiously flat, and even the bright yellow of his costume doesn’t manage to pop out against the dull gray backgrounds like it should.  I like Shalvey and Bellaire’s individual styles and have loved their collaboration so far, but this installment is disappointingly dull.

That is, until Batman swoops in, giving the issue its most memorable image by far.

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I love that: the shadow slowly creeping over Zsasz’s face; the splattered paint effect for the rays of sunlight; the perspective of the buildings; Batman’s stark silhouette.  Everything about this image works.  That’s classic Batman right there.

Just when this backup was starting to get interesting it came to a somewhat abrupt halt, so here’s hoping Snyder’s future plans for Duke’s training continue with that upward mobility.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been reading this far.
  • You like bits of great dialogue.
  • You just need something crazy to read.

Overall: Taken as an out-of-continuity story, this is pure, crazy fun.  There are bits of genuine greatness here and there and lots of laughs to be had, but the overall lacking visuals drag the story down.  Even so, All-Star Batman is pure escapism, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

SCORE: 6.5/10