Review: All-Star Batman #1

[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]

Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller (main story)
: John Romita, Jr.
Inker (main story): Danny Miki
Artist (backup story): Declan Shalvey

Despite the title, this is not the long promised continuation of the Frank Miller/Jim Lee series All-Star Batman and Robin. The wait for that title will continue for now.

This issue drops us in the middle of the story, as a small town diner suddenly finds itself a setting for Batman’s fight against Firefly and Killer Moth. Batman fends off the villains, but is then attacked by a third.

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Then a series of flashbacks fill us in on how the story started. Apparently, Harvey Dent had sent Batman a message that he needs Batman to take him to a location where he could be rid of his Two-Face persona. Instead of this happening, Two-Face attacks Gotham with literal acid rain. Batman stopped that with the help of Duke Thomas.

Despite Commissioner Gordon’s insistence that Two-Face should be put in Arkham Asylum, Batman has decided to take him to this location, and they set off in the Batplane.

Batman finds that Harvey is a relatively complacent prisoner, who warns him of what’s coming, but Two-Face is actively trying to keep them from reaching their destination, and Batman finds it difficult to tell when Dent slips back into being Two-Face.

Two-Face has broadcast a message across Gotham and its surrounding state that if Batman and him are not stopped, then he will reveal all the secrets he as accumulated (It is implied that he knows the secrets of many regular citizens as well as criminals). Also, he promises a huge cash payoff to whoever does manage to stop them.

This means that Batman and Harvey will have to deal with small time criminals, heavy hitters, and even ordinary citizens all out to prevent them from getting to this mysterious location.

Returning to the present, we find that the third villain in the fight is Black Spider. After defeating him, Batman returns to the Batplane to find Harvey gone. Before he can react to this, he finds himself confronted by the people he saved in the diner, who have turned on him, so they can get the money promised by Two-Face.

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At this, Two-Face appears. Batman manages to slip away, dragging Two-Face with him. Batman chains him up in the back of a truck and continues the voyage with that truck, abandoning the Batplane. He notifies Alfred that he will be cutting off contact, as he fears that there is a leak feeding his location to the villains after him.

At this point, we find out about a surprising betrayal, even though Batman is not yet aware of it. In what way this person betrayed Batman and what the motivation was is not revealed. Instead we are left to wonder.

As the story concludes, we see the truck pulling away, but with the Gentleman Ghost clinging to the back.

The backup story focuses on Duke Thomas and his training as Batman’s new partner. It starts as he and Batman arrive at a crime scene where a number of people have been murdered.

Then we flash back to Batman and Duke in the Batcave. Batman shows Duke a multi-coloured display on the Bat-computer, which Alfred refers to as “the Cursed Wheel.” Bruce tells Duke that it represents a condensed version of Batman’s own training. Every section of the wheel is designed to test part of Duke’s psychology. Bruce goes on to say that every ally that he has trained has undergone the same training, and that it will form Duke into the hero or villain that he will eventually become.

Then we return to the crime scene where it turns out one of the victims is still alive. Batman prompts Duke to ask her the question that is on his mind. So Duke asks her “Why You?”. Her only response is to scream for Duke to kill her.

The Positives

This is an interesting new take on Two-Face. Harvey Dent and Two-Face are now two separate personalities sharing the same body. When Harvey is in control, he acts relatively sane, but he seems to gradually be losing control to Two-Face. This would put a new light on the role of Harvey’s two-headed coin. It’s less likely that Two-Face is leaving things up to chance, but rather it’s a way of breaking the perpetual tie between Harvey’s two personae.

Speaking of the coin, an interesting motif in the issue is that despite Batman’s attempts to get rid of Harvey’s coin, it always seems to find its way back to him as if it is fated to be with him.

There is also much philosophical talk about Two-Face’s role in Batman’s rogue’s gallery. It is revealed that crime spikes when Two-Face is in town. Batman claims that Two-Face facilitates crime in Gotham. Two-Face also claims that the era of the clown has ended and that his era has begun – indicating that Two-Face is the true archenemy of the Batman, not the Joker. This fits in with the idea that Two-Face is more aptly considered Batman’s dark reflection than the Joker would be.

Another thing is that although Batman is still a dark avenger, he now seems to be occasionally being friendly or cracking a joke. He is still focused and carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, but it’s nice to see his human side peek out once in a while.

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I also find myself wondering what is so special about the house that Batman and Harvey are travelling to. What or who could be there that would be capable of removing the Two-Face persona from Harvey’s mind? And would doing so make Harvey sane again as Batman believes, or make him even worse?

The Negatives

I didn’t really find anything I disliked about the issue, but I find myself unsure of Duke Thomas. It seems to me that he hasn’t quite earned his current role as a partner-in-training for Batman. I hope that he will get a chance to prove that he belongs in the Batman family.

Also, they should give him a superhero codename already. I find it unlikely that Batman wouldn’t insist that he have a name that can be used in public before allowing him to go out into the field. I can’t really see Batman having to say “Hey you!” to get Duke’s attention.

The Verdict

Definitely a strong start to a new series. There’s a lot packed in this issue, but it all fits together to tell a compelling story. I can’t wait to see where Batman and Two-Face’s journey takes us.

4outof5

 

 

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Derek McNeil

I have been an avid reader of DC Comics since the early 70s. My earliest exposure was to Batman and Superman comics, Batman (Adam West) reruns, and watching the Super-Friends every Saturday morning.