Review – All-Star Batman #2 (DC Comics)

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Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist(s): John Romita Jr, Declan Shalvey
Colours: Dean White, Jordie Bellaire
Release Date: 14th September, 2016

After an incredibly strong opening issue, Scott Snyder’s passion project anthology “All-Star Batman” surges into its second chapter here as Batman continues to run the gauntlet of villains, all anxious to take him down before he can deliver Two-Face to his final destination.  On paper it’s a simple enough story, but Snyder manages to pack in some wonderfully nuanced storytelling here, with moral dilemmas and intriguing twists and turns aplenty.

The dialogue, while perhaps a little ‘on-the-nose’ in the case of several of the villains, is absolutely sizzling when it comes to Batman and Two-Face themselves.  Two-Face’s attempts to goad Batman lead to some surprisingly humorous comebacks from the Dark Knight, and while there’s a definite sense that Bats hasn’t really been tested thus far as he dispatches rogue after rogue with consummate ease, Snyder shifts things up by throwing in a truly worthy adversary at the end of the issue, raising the stakes considerably in the process.

One of the little things that I’m enjoying most about this story so far is the way Snyder is grouping the Bat-villains together into different “categories”.  Sure, it doesn’t necessarily add much to the narrative, but dammit if I’m not enjoying it. Whereas last issue we had the ‘flyers’ – Firefly and Killer Moth – this issue we get to see some of the “muscle” like Killer Croc, King Shark and Amygdala combine, and even a couple of the poison specialists team up as Cheshire and Copperhead hooking up to try and take Bats down.   It’s fantastic stuff, and the intro panels for each villain provide a nice additional touch.

While John Romita Jr has drawn criticism from certain fans for his work in recent years, there’s no denying that he’s doing a truly impressive job here of capturing both the larger-than-life spectacle and the quieter, character-based moments.  Yes, there are occasionally uneven moments along the way, with the odd awkward facial expression or eyebrow-raising anatomical contortion, but for the most part Romita Jr manages to give this series the in-your-face dynamism it truly deserves while still managing to respect the emotional and storyline beats along the way.

Over the last five years, Snyder has cemented his Bat-reputation by making subtle tweaks to existing characters, forcing the reader to view them in a whole new light. Well, midway through this issue he strikes again, dropping in a truly inspired theory about Two Face that gives a whole new perspective to the iconic villain’s previous exploits.  It’s not quite a full-on “retcon” as such, but it does offer up some fascinating questions about the duality of Harvey Dent and his ongoing battle with the monster inside.

The backup story – “backup” in page count alone, I assure you – also improves in leaps and bounds here, giving a far more emotional, far more personal look into Duke’s mind as he continues his “Cursed Wheel” sidekick training.  Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire combine once again to add some wonderful visual punch to Duke’s already troubled backstory, particularly in the first page of the chapter, and the appearance of  another somewhat underutilised Bat-villain in the closing pages gives the strip an extra sense of urgency as it progresses.  Yet another fascinating wrinkle being added to the established Bat mythos from Snyder then, and with this issue effectively confirming that the events of this story occur prior to the events of the main story, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see how things unfold here in the issues to come.

All-Star Batman continues to deliver a fascinating look at the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery, providing a fresh new interpretation of Two-Face in the main story while shining an extra storyline spotlight on new “sidekick” Duke in the “backup” strip.  Since it was first announced, the hype generated by the, yes, “all-star” creative team almost seemed to be setting the bar a little too high, but to this point in the series, Snyder, Romita Jr, Miki, White, Shalvey and Bellaire have somehow managed to exceed expectations, resulting in an absolutely essential purchase for any and all Batman fans.

Rating: 5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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