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All-Star Batman #4 is kind of a crazy book. Sometimes I’ll mean that in a good way. Sometimes I won’t. This is leaning a bit more towards the latter, I’m afraid.
I’m not sure what it is about the All-Star title that convinces Batman writers to opt for insane excess, but like Frank Miller before him, Scott Snyder seems to have succumbed to just doing whatever cuckoo thing pops into his head. Let me get this out of the way, first though. This issue is nowhere near as bad as the tip top best issue of Miller’s “All-Star Batman and Robin”. In fact, this issue is perfectly readable and occasionally enjoyable.
But we’re now on our fourth issue of Batman running a gauntlet to get Two-Face to a destination outside of Gotham while the pair are pursued by a multitude of people eager to preserve their secrets (as Two-Face apparently somehow knows everything about everybody….somehow) and/or gain monetary reward and/or wreak revenge on either Batman or Two-Face.
Early on, there was a great, bonkers “Mad Max” thing going on; a story built on pure kinetic action and a simple but effective plot. Batman needs to get Two-Face out of town, and the whole world wants to stop him. But after four issues, I’d like to see some kind of twist or turn to the story. The arc has indicated some twists, including a couple revelations and flash forwards that were mentioned once and haven’t been revisited since. It’s not as if I believe that Snyder and artist John Romita Jr won’t return to them, it’s that so much of what they do in this issue they’ve basically been doing for the three previous ones, and it just felt like the momentum stalled a bit here.
What Snyder does do is take things way over the top as Batman deals with acid and nearly drowning and flying a bi-plane before being captured and put on a floating riverboat casino. The action that happens in the book is nuts, and while I think it’s fun for sure, it’s also kind of bananas, structurally. There’s yet another heretofore unseen plot development introduced in the first page of the issue that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t tie back into the rest of the issue or anything that’s come before either.
At the end of the day, I do admire the audacity of Snyder’s work here. And Romita makes sure the arts meets the challenge. This might be the most visceral Batman book to come along in a good long time, and it’s certainly I think Romita’s best work since coming to DC. Danny Miki‘s inks give the art good clean lines and fine details, while Dean White‘s colors bring a vibrancy to the issue that matches the boldness of the pencils.
But it’s an issue that finds the characters continuing to run a gauntlet. And they’ve been doing that for four issues now. The little tidbits of story progression that we’re being fed should start to feel meatier soon, or else what started off as so refreshing an approach is soon going to feel stale and stalled.
Luckily the back-up story focused on Duke as drawn by Declan Shalvey and colored by Jordie Bellaire is terrific. It’s the concluding chapter to “The Cursed Wheel” arc, which has been a really effective tale that has deepened the reader’s understanding and attachment to Duke. Far from feeling disposable, this arc has felt intrinsic to the enjoyment of the book.
As I said above, I still think All-Star Batman #4 has enough positives going for it to be counted as an enjoyable one, I just am now eager to see the narrative move a little bit past this brutal road-trip and start actually revealing things. Still, I’m choosing to believe this is just the last momentary blip before moving into the next act where things will change and develop. 6.5/10