All-Star Batman #1 comes with a lot of baggage. First, it’s written by Scott Snyder, who just completed a five-year run on the main Batman title which could be best described as seminal and may arguably be the definitive take on the modern iteration of the character (until the next one comes along). Snyder’s mission for this All-Star book, in part, is to work with the best artists in the biz, and issue one finds him collaborating with John Romita Jr. And the title of the book comes dangerously close to recalling “All-Star Batman & Robin,” the infamously controversial mini-series by Frank Miller and Jim Lee that saw the Caped Crusader such utter immortal lines as, “I’m the goddamn Batman!” and “Are you retarded?” Both of which he said to a child.
So, yeah, All-Star Batman #1 a fraught first issue. Luckily, what we get is a debut that reads as a fun and exciting opening chapter that also pushes some structural envelopes. It feels like classic Batman even as it tries to take the Dark Knight out of his comfort zone while facing off against one of his great all-time villains. Snyder effectively crafts an issue packed with action, utilizing non-linear storytelling to intrigue and unsettle the reader, allowing the exposition and set-up to be handled in an innovative and compelling way. The issue concludes with an intriguing revelation I didn’t see coming at all, and the self-contained and tightly focused scope of the title’s mission statement means that Snyder can focus less on building or defining the overall mythos and just creating a big, bold, exciting Batman thriller, which this issue showing a lot of promise in that regard.
Snyder’s aim for the book is to take Batman out of Gotham City and focus on just the big-name villains, in this issue’s case, Two-Face. He does provide a pretty fresh take on the character here, establishing him as an unparalleled threat that may have finally gone too far. He takes Dent’s penchant for relying on chance or fate more into the realm of a person with a gambling addiction, who is willing to risk his life on the belief that even ordinary people can become monsters if properly motivated. The inciting element of this, that Two-Face has somehow uncovered the deepest, darkest secrets of everyone in Gotham, is frankly kind of too fantastic to believe, and doesn’t quite pass the suspension of disbelief tests. However, Snyder seems to know this, as the issue doesn’t detail the specifics of Two-Face’s rise to ultimate power and secret knowledge, which made it easier for me to accept it as simply the inciting element to a far more interesting story.
The art by Romita is great, showcasing all the skills that have made him a legend. His control of pacing is superb here, knowing when to make the action frenetic and when to slow things down for emphasis. There’s elements of his work here that are far more impressionistic than he usually is. I’m thinking of a particular panel of Bruce and Alfred watching a video of Dent in the cave, where the background is only half-detailed in an interestingly artificial way. He pushes himself in small ways here, while still delivering exactly what fans of his artwork like.
We also get a back-up story showcasing Bruce’s evolving mentorship with new protege Duke that is not exactly earth-shattering, but does show a lot of promise nonetheless, particularly Declan Shalvey‘s moody and expressive art.
The self-contained, tighter focus of All-Star Batman #1 allows for Snyder and Romita to be both more innovative and also more tightly focused. As a companion piece to the regular Batman titles, this book looks to be the one you can weave in and out of, enjoying stories that don’t have the burden of continuity but rather the burden of simply telling a great story. In that way, it lives up to the All-Star imprint in more ways than one, and that’s why I’m giving it a 8/10.