Written by Joel T. Lewis
There are two Batmans as far as I’m concerned. There’s the dark, brooding titan of Justice whose shadowy silhouette strikes fear into the heart of Gotham’s criminal underworld, and then there’s the campy, silly, gadget-toting Batman portrayed by Adam West in the live action Batman T.V. series and the Batman ‘66 comics. I love them both dearly. Somehow Scott Snyder found the middle ground between these two portrayals in All-Star Batman and it is so much fun to read.
As Batman and Two-Face continue their journey cross-country they find themselves on the top of a high-speed train. Batman trades blows with villains whose size and madness increase as the train accelerates through scenery reminiscent of the old west. Killer Croc, King Shark, and Amygdala (a trio I was excited to see working together) attempt to rescue Two-Face from Batman with little success. With scenery whizzing by Batman dispatches each muscle-bound foe while balancing atop the speeding train in panels that feel like an old west train robbery sequence. Once free of the hulking villains, Batman scarcely has time to breathe before being accosted by toxin specialists Cheshire and Copperhead. The issue is fast-paced and exhilarating, and Snyder continues to do interesting things as he jumps back and forward in time. By showing us Commissioner Gordon just a few days in the future preparing a raid of Wayne Manor, Snyder expresses how tight Two-Face’s hold over Gotham really is. Even Gordon, Batman’s greatest ally in the GCPD cannot allow Gotham to weather the storm of what Two-Face can reveal. These jumps in time also build up tension, giving each panel set in the present a sense of immediacy and narrative weight. These glimpses of the future deepen our understanding of how corrupt and broken Gotham is and how desperate its citizens are to hide that fact.
Batman’s greatest asset is that he is always prepared for every situation so, naturally we have seen some strange and silly gadgets throughout his history. Snyder references two of Batman’s most ridiculous gadgets in two consecutive pages and elevates them, basking in their silliness. Issue no. 22 of the Batman and Robin (2009) series found the Dark Knight in a last ditch effort to come out on top while grappling with the White Knight. Out of options, Batman triggers spring-loaded ears which shoot up into the Knight’s head. Robin’s question in the following panel echoes the voices of the audience unsure of what just happened, “Are those your cowl ears sticking in his head?” Yes Robin, they are, and while silly, of course Batman has spring-loaded bat-ears! Snyder plays a variation on this gadget in All-Star Batman No. 2: as Amygdala holds Batman up to meet the fast-approaching tunnel roof on top of the train Batman reaches up and detaches his ears, revealing them to be wicked-looking knives. The panel transition is so quick that you nearly miss what Batman has plunged into Amygdala’s arms but after a double-take you accept the truth: of course Batman’s ears are knives!
When you think of silly Bat-Gadgets none is more infamous than the one that caused such an uproar in 1966’s Batman: The Movie. While dangling from the Bat-Copter and grappling with a blatantly rubber shark Batman calls for the one thing in his arsenal that can vanquish his finned foe: Shark Repellant Bat-Spray. The inclusion of this silly gadget in the movie from 1966 has endured years of criticism but it is not the first appearance of Shark Repellant in Batman canon (it appears in Batman No. 117). Nor was it the last.
Now remember that in this issue Batman finds himself on top of a speeding train, facing Amygdala, Killer Croc, and King Shark. After dispatching Amygdala with his cowl-knives Batman turns to King Shark and he’s got an old trick up his cape. Batman aims a few smoke pellets at King Shark’s head and he recoils, unable to handle the stench. This sends King Shark and Amygdala over the side of the train. In the next panel Killer Croc asks the question on all our minds, “What were those things? Shark-Repellent? Smells like--” Batman responds, detailing the exact formula of what he threw at King Shark, “Dead Shark Matter? Copper Acetate mixed with Boric Acid.” It’s shark-repellent Batman, we all know it’s shark-repellent.
Snyder continues to intrigue and innovate in his All-Star Batman series. Some have balked at the $4.99 price of every issue, which can be steep for DC fans tracing the lines of the Rebirth comic event. However, if you can swing the extra $2.00 per issue, at the end of every issue Snyder tackles the training of Batman’s newest sidekick Duke Thomas AKA Lark in little mini-issues. It’s very refreshing to read about Batman’s new training method and a new hero following the legion of Robins we’ve had over the years. Lark is all that you want and more in a Batman sidekick: complex, tragic, and rebellious in that classic Bat-Family way. Until next time, Geek On!