Yarr, ye scavernous bilgerats. Buckle yer swash and hoist the mainsail, prepare to weigh anchor and set course for adventure as All-Star Batman draws to a close.
If you have any doubts about Snyder’s sincerity with the pirate motif, just know that the very first page sees an airplane take off from a landmass with a rock face that looks like a skull.
Dude is all in with the piracy, and it is my favorite thing.
And really, if you take it in on that level, this book is just an awful lot of fun. There are plane chases and sword fights on the beach, all gorgeously illustrated by the inimitable Rafael Albuquerque.
On the one hand, thinking of Alfred swearing kind of strikes me as out of character. On the other, he’s flying a plane with a skull and crossbones on the wings, and that rules.
Heck, there are even some fun throwaway lines here and there, like the canonization of the real-world “be yourself, unless you can be Batman” idiom.
From beginning to end, this issue is a blast. Like the rest of “The First Ally,” the final installment here is bristling with energy and some pretty crazy concepts, all encapsulating what All-Star Batman was intended to be from the beginning. So if you just read it like that, there’s more than enough to recommend.
Thankfully, there’s some pretty great drama going on too.
At its core, this arc has been about fathers and sons. Alfred and Bruce. Alfred and Jarvis. Alfred and Briar. Briar and Nemesis. At first, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t anything about Bruce’s relationship with Damian. Surely it could have been fit in somewhere? But really, this is Alfred’s story, and while he’s a big part of Damian’s life, he was part of Bruce’s first.
There’s been criticism of Alfred constantly calling Bruce his son, and I’ve touched on it before. I see how it could cause some contention, but I’m fine with it. Particularly when you take into account his absent father and the surrogate he had in Briar, and how Alfred would want to be better than both of them for a man who had no choice in losing his parents. That scene right there, with Bruce and Alfred meeting for the first time, is one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever seen Snyder write. It’s so simple and pure, lacking in any grandiosity or bombast. It’s just two people who will come to mean the world to each other meeting for the first time. I also love the nod to Zorro, which is always a delight to see when discussing the early years of Batman.
Great thematic material and fun tone aside, there are some things I didn’t think quite worked. For the most part, this whole story wraps up a little too quickly and is left on a fairly open-ended note. Most of this comes down to Briar and his “son” Nemesis. The true identity of Nemesis is weird, but could have made for some interesting dynamics, yet his and Briar’s story is cut pretty short.
The main conflict ends up being a sword fight on a beach, and on a swashbuckling level it’s pretty fun. Albuquerque’s illustrations are just as energetic and lovely as you’d expect, but the raw emotional notes Snyder tries to hit with the villains don’t quite land in this stretch. Had a little more time been spent with Briar, learning about his failures and attempts at redemption, then the revelation of Nemesis may have paid off better. Instead, Briar is pretty clearly the villain from the get-go, and even though there’s pain in his actions you never get the sense that he’s repentant or filled with regret. All he wants to do is breed the perfect soldier, and no familial connection will get in the way of that. To that end, the climax feels more like an inevitability than anything.
Save for those minor quibbles, I really loved the ending to this story and the series proper. A lot of these themes hit closer to home for me, seeing as how I’m a father, and I love making that connection to a comic book beyond simply “this is Batman and I like Batman.” The book works on that level too, though, with some of the most pure comic booky entertainment you’ll find these days. It’s a difficult balance to hit, but I feel Snyder struck it pretty well. It’s not often you find a story that’s both a send up of pirate serials and a meditation on what it means to be a father, so I’m thankful that All-Star Batman provided that. Here’s to the next step in this title’s journey, whenever and whatever it may be.
So, too, does the backup come to an end, bringing this whole arc full circle. Literally: by the end of this story, you find out just where the Myasniks fit in with the story Snyder has been telling. Honestly, I should have seen it telegraphed a bit more, I’ve no doubt, but I found it a pretty satisfying conclusion to “Killers-In-Law.”
From the beginning, I’ve enjoyed the backup as kind of a trashy action story. What it lacked in depth it made up for in raw, dirty visuals and some pretty visceral fight scenes. In retrospect, though, it’s a direct link to the main “First Ally” story. More than that, it takes the theme of fathers trying to do what they feel is best for their children and shows how wrong it can go: Vik’s father was in no way a good man, or even a good father, but he did what he felt was necessary to prepare his daughter to lead the family. The methods he used were cruel, and nobody would mistake him of being anything but cutthroat, yet he still exhibits a twisted sense of pride when his daughter does what she must after realizing how vile his actions can be. If Alfred sticks by Bruce because he loves him and wants to see him succeed, “Papa” distances himself because the Family is more important than his family.
So yeah, it’s a pretty solid ending to the arc. Batman gets to do a little Batmanning in preventing the cache of weapons from reaching Gotham, and the action is…
Dear heavens. The White Portuguese is a ship, not a man…
- You’re a fan of All-Star Batman and want to see it finish strong.
- You like crazy pirate adventures.
- You want to see Alfred kick some butt.
- You like the deeper look at Alfred and Bruce’s relationship.
Overall: All-Star goes out strong. With “The First Ally,” Snyder and Albuquerque ran us through a gamut of insane action, thrilling chases, and even a bit of high-seas intrigue. More than that, though, this was a look at the relationships between fathers and sons. There were a few times when the disparate tones clashed a bit, but overall Snyder successfully balanced the fun with the drama, crafting a swashbuckler of an arc with a rock-solid heart. Jokes aside, the backup ended on a high note too, bringing its story full circle with the main narrative and making both stronger because of it. Wherever this book goes in the future, the bar has been set high.