My relationship with this arc has been rather… strange. Even though there were aspects of Scott Snyder’s writing on Batman that I wasn’t a huge fan of, I was still greatly looking forward to see what he would do with the character when he didn’t have as much pressure on him. As such, I was looking forward to All-Star Batman quite a bit.
A book that takes a fresh look at some of Batman’s most iconic villains, telling stories that are a little off the beaten path? And the first arc was going to feature Two-Face, one of my favorite (if not my favorite) villains in comics? Man, I’ll take two copies.
We won’t dwell on it, but at first I was underwhelmed. The review is right there if you want to read it, so I won’t say too much more, except that things just didn’t quite gel with me. As the series has gone on, though, it’s gotten increasingly more bananas and/or ridiculous and I’ve been enjoying myself. Greatest Batman story of all time? Probably not, but anything that features KGBeast and the insane contents of his fridge is A-OK in my book.
So now that things are winding down, Snyder is wrapping up his Two-Face story. This meditation on the relationship between Bruce and Harvey comes to its conclusion, and refreshingly enough all of the loose threads are tied up.
But is it good?
…I do this too much, don’t I?
Whatever. It’s perfectly enjoyable and fine if you don’t think too hard about it. Once things start settling in, though…
I’ve read this twice now. I had to. When I finished it the first time I really enjoyed it. There were a few things I needed to process, but overall I thought it was a solid ending. A lot of that stems from the fact that it is an ending, bringing the arc to a close and tying up its loose threads. So, satisfied, I knocked out my other two review issues for the week before jumping in and writing my thoughts. All was well and good (I really liked my other two offerings this week), but then… something was nagging at me. I started thinking more about All-Star and its events. Things I’d originally accepted just weren’t sitting right.
So, I read it again. Some pages more than once. There are quite a few things to like here, but man is this a disappointing ending.
Things start off promising enough, however, as Batman, Duke, and Two-Face escape the incoming mob via America’s oldest, most reliable form of transportation: the runaway steamboat casino.
This sequence is actually pretty fun, and some of Romita’s best work on the series. It’s over the top, ludicrous fun, and a great start to the issue.
After dumping the boat, along with KGBeast, Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White Shark, the boys hit the road once again as they reach the final stretch of their journey. There’s a swipe at Catman here that’s one of the best lines Snyder’s written in a long time, and I don’t even have anything against Catman. It’s just that great of a line.
In the meantime, the narrative finally shifts back to Wayne Manor, and I’m not going to lie: I thought this thread had been dropped. Duke briefly mentioned the police an issue or two back, but considering we never heard another word about it I thought it was brushed aside just like that. The fact that there was any resolution at all was a pleasant surprise, and those scenes have some of my favorite moments in the issue. There’s an exchange between Gordon and Alfred that’s pretty great, playing up the idea that Gordon is too good a cop to not know Bruce’s secret but choosing to feign ignorance regardless. There’s also a panel late in the issue that’s just a great piece of subtle visual storytelling: once the secret behind the clock is revealed, Gordon lets a little smirk play across his lips as he tells his men to pack it up. The punchline to that story was a bit goofy, but that moment with Gordon was pretty great.
That thread is also where one of my biggest qualms with the story as a whole comes into play, and I can’t really discuss it without actually, you know, spoiling it, so you know what that means.
That’s… fine, I guess, if a little weak. My biggest problem with this whole subplot is how Alfred has been behaving. He’s been skittish, paranoid, and meek. There is no way the police wouldn’t think that he wasn’t hiding something, and he even has a telephone conversation with Batman while they’re standing right behind him. He gets a nice line, about how Bruce is his hero and his son, but the eventual “reveal” that there’s just a little man-cave behind the clock doesn’t really work. Why would Alfred be freaking out about the police finding a room with some couches, books, and a potted plant? It felt really out of character for him to behave that way. Usually Alfred is upright and dry, just as confident and level-headed under pressure as Bruce is. For the arc’s longest running mystery, that mischaracterization made the resolution land with a thud.
And then there’s the entire reason Bruce was taking Harvey back to their original meeting place. Sad to say, even with those lushly colored flashbacks, this doesn’t pay off either. Neither Bruce nor Harvey is changed by this whole story, and the revelation that they knew each other as boys, even anonymously, doesn’t add anything to their characters or relationship. Like the Wayne Manor story, Bruce’s mission is resolved too neatly, too pat to be anything but anticlimactic.
Harvey had hidden a sort of serum at the old manor that, once injected, would take over the dominant personality and “burn away” the weaker one. It’s kind of a good idea, if a little pseudosciencey, and I do appreciate that Harvey wanted to get to it to prove that Harvey is stronger than Two-Face, not the other way around. Then all of that is nullified when Bruce reveals that he had Harold make a booster that would strengthen the “acids” in the brain that represent both personalities (like I said, it’s wacky) so that neither one could ever be “burned away.” Harvey will always be battling with himself to prove dominance.
It’s not a terrible idea, and I did appreciate that there was a tug-of-war going on between his two personalities. Like the “oh, it’s just a man-cave” resolution, though, this just came across as way too convenient and neat.
Besides all that, Batman should absolutely, totally be dead by this point.
Or at the very least, irreparably maimed.
Comics are all about suspension of disbelief, and I totally get that. It’s a medium where people fly, a billionaire can swing across rooftops without immediately breaking his legs, and radiation will, at worst, transform you into a hideous monster with awesome powers instead of, you know, killing you. Even so, this is a little much even for Batman. Dude’s been thrown through a diner, crashed a plane, had acid poured into his eyes, and now KGBeast just casually spears him through the shoulder. It’s ridiculous, and I like ridiculous, but this is just too over the top. Bats is no doubt an incredibly formidable guy, but even he has his limits.
I stand corrected. Still, it’s insane the amount of punishment he’s been put through. That makes him seem less than human, and therefore less interesting.
Factor in that Romita’s pencils get muddier and more unclear as the issue goes on and this book becomes a chore to look at. I’ve gone on record multiple times stating that I’m not a fan of his style, but I can still recognize when it’s good. The opening third of this issue actually looks pretty great, with an energetic chase scene that is only improved by Dean White’s nice, vibrant use of color. Once things slow down and the heroes get caught in the rain, however, the colors make everything look like a brown, muddy miasma.
“My Own Worst Enemy” was a bumpy ride. It was at its best when it was just off-the-rails and over-the-top ridiculous, but that couldn’t be reconciled with the more grounded, straightforward story Snyder also wanted to tell. It’s disappointing, considering I love Two-Face, but there was enough to like that it wasn’t a total bust.
Ah well. Bring on Mr. Freeze. I have a feeling that one is going to be pretty… cool.
BONUS: There are some pretty good variant covers this month. Here’s my favorite, from Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire:
I’ll say it again: I wish these two had been the main team for this arc.
- You like Scott Snyder’s work.
- You’ve liked this series so far.
- You like good ideas, even if they aren’t fully realized.
Overall: If you read this once, it may be one of your favorite comics of the year. It’s fast, exciting, and actually concludes the arc without leaving any loose threads. Think about it too much and read it again, though, and things may fall apart. I like this series as an out-of-continuity, “go big or go home” concept book, and Snyder has certainly delivered that in spades. It’s when things slow down and we’re supposed to be invested in more intimate moments that things don’t work the way they should. Even still, there look to be some exciting stories coming from Scott’s pen in the near future, and I’m looking forward to where his ideas take us.