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All-Star Batman #6 kind of exemplifies the unique approach writer Scott Snyder is taking to this unconventional Batman series. With one arc already under his belt (a hellish road-trip with collaborator John Romita Jr), Snyder takes an entirely different tack with this issue, a new arc with Jock leading the art team. It confirms the jazzy, experimental and unconventional approach Snyder wants this series, ostensibly his last kick at the Bat-can, to have. And like many great, bold, experiments, All-Star Batman #6 doesn’t always succeed. But its ambition is a sight to see.
The issue is a text story with accompanying art, a style that we don’t often see any more, but which was once more common than it is today. The plot follows Batman to a remote corner of Alaska to confront Mr. Freeze. The tortured genius may have finally gone completely off the deep end, as he is using people who have opted to be cryogenically frozen as a kind of zombie army and new race that will populate the Earth following an attempt by Freeze to thaw prehistoric ice and release a a primeval bacteria upon the Earth against which modern humanity has no defense.
Snyder uses the text story format to maximum effect, playing with the reader’s perception of the narrator and using the strengths of prose to get inside the heads and hearts of Batman and Freeze. While Freeze’s motivations, namely the obsession with curing his wife Nora, remain the same, Snyder approaches them from a slightly different angle, giving Freeze just enough of a new spin.
But, while I admire Snyder’s approach, his facility with the text story medium, and the ambition of All-Star Batman #6 as a whole, I have to admit it’s pretty damn weird. It’s become clear that for Snyder, this series is a way to tell stories that are untethered from the larger Batman-continuity, to not allow convention and expectation to prevent him from taking his stories into new areas. In the previous arc, that meant embracing a kind of overwrought, fever-dream, crazy concept kind of pace. In this arc, there’s a similar feel of unreality, of embracing a more dream-like version of Batman. It almost works, to be honest. Snyder is simply too good a writer, and too good a Batman writer in particular, for it not to work. But I was strangely disconnected from the story by the end of the issue. I didn’t really understand Batman’s plan except in the broadest strokes and the sketchy dream-like and subjective quality of the storytelling meant that things came off as kind of undefined.
Part of the issue is the pairing with Jock’s art. I’ll admit his style is not my favorite. One of my problems with his art is that I find it hard to follow sequential action, and when paired with the more subjective quality of the story (complete with a dream sequence smack dab in the middle of the book that Jock doesn’t really delineate via art) things came off as almost too ephemeral and undefined to follow.
There is a great back-up story, with art by the amazing Francesco Francavilla, that continues to tell the story of Batman training Duke to become his latest ally. These back-ups have all been amazing thus far, and the art is, as is customary when you’re talking about Francavilla, simply superb. The whole “Wheel of Color” thing still works as a framing device, though it’s kind of becoming a bit more of an indicator of how cuckoo Bruce Wayne is through the fact that it’s not terribly well-defined. But that’s a minor thing, and the story is great.
I’ll always point out that I much prefer an ambitious book that doesn’t quite work than a conventional one that is merely mediocre. All-Star Batman #6 is part of a bold and ambitious approach, one that is almost certain to have some readers vehemently disagreeing with me. But when I finished this issue, I wasn’t really excited to see further issues done in this style, unless Snyder and Jock make things a bit more clear and defined than they have been here. And they are much more clever than I am, so that could very well occur. But as an opening issue, All-Star Batman #6 left me cold. 6/10