There are some writers who seem to have been born to sing the epics of alternate worlds. Frank Miller was one such, his Dark Knight Returns establishing him as the Homer of the Elseworlds saga in the DC cosmos. Alan Moore probably should have been another, and indeed intended to be, except that The Killing Joke turned into an exercise in canonical controversy. Scott Snyder should have been a third, for all his success at writing two different in-continuity Batmen in two different books. His instincts have always tended toward separate creation, toward worlds that exist within their own sealed boundaries.
All Star Batman #1 opens Snyder’s latest series, likely as most of his efforts to run to several issues. He is missing his partner of the Batman run, Greg Capullo. John Romita, Jr., provides the pencils for this book, and Dean White the colors, although Danny Miki is still present with his ink work. Romita has a more classic style than Capullo, and his drawings provide a greater sense of concrete physicality. White and Miki enhance this by providing vivid colors and luminous backgrounds against which the action unfolds. This Batman is a creature of the day, a hero of the light.
But it would not be a Scott Snyder story without the overwhelming tones of fate and doom along with the strong subtext, and indeed text, of an almost intelligent corruption infusing nearly every panel. The plot is simplicity itself. Batman has captured Two Face and is escorting him to a facility upstate that will, supposedly, cure him. Exactly what the nature of this place is we have not yet discovered. But Two Face has decided to use this journey to construct a gauntlet. He has put out a reward for Batman, backed up by threats. It seems that everyone is out to collect, from D-list supervillains to the denizens of a truck stop on the outskirts of Gotham to Alfred Pennyworth (the last cliffhanger revelation sure to be expanded on in the next issue).
Snyder loves his themes and philosophical musings. This time, it is the idea that everyone has two faces. One is the public visage of respectability, at least in most cases. The other is the face of secrets and sin. Whoever finds your second face has control over your you by way of your deepest fears and desires. It isn’t an original idea, but it is a powerful one, and useful as a structuring device for a Batman story.
There is a backup tale in this issue concerning the training of Dean Thomas. Snyder has a troubled relationship with the Bat Family, except for, at times, Dick Grayson, and this shows in his tendency to readily categorize Batman’s various allies in glib ways. In this case, the device he uses is a color wheel, with each segment representing the traits of one of the Bat Family. Dick Grayson in blue, as his Nightwing colors would suggest. Damian is green, and Barbara Gordon purple.
ALL STAR BATMAN moves swiftly in the way of a racing journey. Romita uses a series of cascading horizontal panels to suggest rapid progression, punctuated by square frames and spash pages as exclamation points. The narrative, filled as it is with tension and physical action, carries the somewhat wooden themes. The use of Two Face in a story about duplicity and secrets and the dark side of each individual is a bit too on the acid-scarred nose. Likewise the Duke Thomas backup comes off as more than a little artificial, more a working out of Snyder's thematic experiment than an actual narrative. But the movement carries us on, regardless. This is a journey that will have its end, probably at some place more interesting than a mental hospital upstate.