All-Star Batman #11 review

Let’s talk about Alfred referring to Bruce as his “son.”  Fitting, as it’s literally the very first line of dialogue here.  I’ve seen a lot of complaints about it, saying that it’s too one the nose and a case of bludgeoning the reader over the read with a point to drive it home.  I can understand those complaints, sure; it is a little on the nose, and a display of overt sentimentality that the usually dry, straight-faced Pennyworth would more likely dole out in much smaller doses.

Still, I kind of like the sentimental aspect regardless.  It may be that I’m a dad and like to be able to relate to a man who sees a loved one as his own son.  More likely it’s that I like Batman, too often alienating those around him, actually sharing genuine affection with his loved ones.  There’s room for brooding and focus there too, of course, but Bruce is all about family.  That’s why we have Alfred.  And Dick.  And Jim.  And Barbara.  And Kate.  And… yes, even Jason.

Seeing that it stems from a strained relationship with his own father makes Alfred’s assertion hit even harder.  Some may question it, and that’s fine.  I accept it as it is, which is also fine.  Every one of us gets something different out of everything we read based on our own perspectives.

Then there’s the stuff that I’m a little more hesitant to accept.  Alfred calling Bruce his son is all well and good, but opening the issue with the revelation that Bruce is working on a machine to help him cheat death?  That I have a little tougher of a time buying.  Even if it has its roots in an earlier Snyder Batman story, it’s a little too out there for me.

Even if I don’t love the idea, it at least adds another layer to the story.  Bruce isn’t just trying to keep the Genesis Engine out of the hands of criminals; no, he actually wants to use it for himself.  I may not like the idea of a Batman who is trying to live forever, but I do like the idea of a Batman who can fail and learn from his mistakes.

But first, we’ve got to get some swashbuckling action up in here.  Aside from one or two slow pages, this issue is straight-up adrenaline.  I love the fact that Snyder is just letting this story get crazy and including increasingly more ludicrous action scenes.  It’s like a Bond movie: Bruce uses an antique rope and anchor to escape from an island prison, only to fight a bunch of gators crocodiles in open water, and then he tracks a lead down to a submarine casino.

That is the worst pun ever.  I love it.

Generally speaking, I like the writing here, especially the banter between Bruce and Alfred.  Bruce doesn’t take himself too seriously, and the boys play well off of each other.  Saying that, there are a few times where it gets a bit wordy and overly explanatory (Alfred knowing the genus and species of the crocs off his head, for one, and the mysterious villain going into detail about what will happen if the sub implodes).

This is really Alfred’s show, though, and as fun as parts of the book get it’s his story that’s the most engrossing.  There have been looks into the butler’s past before, so nothing that’s explored here is really new.  His father worked for the Waynes while Alfred pursued his true passion in acting, only to wind up serving in the military and, ultimately, MI5.  It’s the melancholy and regret that drives everything home, though, as Alfred realizes his past may be coming back to haunt him.  The flashes back to his earlier years are genuinely moving, particularly those focusing on his absent father.  Alfred’s lamentation of not knowing his father well is brutal, even more so because he wasn’t unloving towards the boy, just doing what he thought was best by serving the Waynes.  There isn’t any bitterness in Alfred’s recollection, just regret that he didn’t know his father as well as he’d hoped.

That juxtaposes his role as a soldier well, and makes his actions in the present even cooler.

No, I am not above thinking that a rail-thin butler piloting a jetpack is awesome.  Jetpacks are awesome.  Sue me.

Snyder’s writing is complemented perfectly by Albuquerque’s pencils and Jordie Bellaire’s colors.  The visual style is stunning, and I couldn’t think of a team better suited to this story.  Albuquerque’s style is rough and sketchy while still maintaining clear form, and he uses open and negative space to his advantage.  This story is big and it feels big, even within the claustrophobic confines of a submarine.  And Jordie… well, Jordie is one of the best in the business.  Just look at that sequence just above: there are so few colors used, but the lack of hues tell as much of a story as the dialogue does.  She’s a smart colorist, and that’s on full display here.

A few hiccups aside, this is a fun second chapter to the arc.  It’s exciting and moving all at once, fully embracing its craziness while staying grounded with an emotional core.

Oh, and Hush gets punched in the face.  It’s the little things.

This takes a while to get going, but when it gets there it’s engrossing stuff.  Bruce, still undercover as “Knockout,” has been pulling some jobs with Vik the heiress to the Myasnik crime empire.  It’s fairly standard fare, as the two plan a heist and get busted, resulting in some fisticuffs.  Bruce wants to play the part, of course, but refuses to kill, which in turn draws the attention of both Vik and her father.

One curious bit involves Bruce drinking alcohol.  He makes a comment about how he hopes his head can stay clear even after pounding down some vodka.  Now, I’ve always been under the impression that Bruce never drinks.  Ever.  He abstains so as to keep a steady countenance, and even when he has to play up his playboy persona he’ll find clever ways of disposing of drink so he doesn’t ingest it.  Has that changed?  He’s undercover here, so you could write it off that he’s doing it to keep up appearances, but Bruce is nothing if not crafty.  Even when surrounded by people who are expecting him to partake, he’d surely be able to find a way around actually taking a drink.

It’s a quibble that took me out of the story for sure, but didn’t make me hate it.  Even at only around eight pages, the story is a bit uneven, though once Bruce dons his costume it becomes pretty engrossing.

Like a Matryoshka doll, Albuquerque and Scavone are crafting a mystery of layers.  When one piece is cracked, another bit of information comes to light that changes the game.  It’s gotten pretty gripping, now that it’s starting to go somewhere, and the moody, ink-heavy visuals reflect the dirty, seedy atmosphere.  There are lots of places this story could go from here, but right now I’m intrigued.

Recommended if:

  • You want to see Alfred let loose and be an action hero.
  • You want some good, rollicking adventure in between longer stretches of dialogue.

Overall: One part daring adventure serial and one part fairly frustrating narrative, the former is thankfully favored so it’s easy enough to recommend.  Even when some of the ideas and concepts he resurrects don’t really resonate with me, I still enjoy the fact that Snyder is willing to write a more care-free, dare I say fun Batman.  The backup takes a bit to get going, but once it does it’s reminiscent of the best types of crime drama: grimy and intense, full of twists and turns.  All-Star Batman may make some questionable storytelling choices, but if it’s nothing if not interesting and engrossing.

SCORE: 7.5/10