Written by Joel T. Lewis
In my excitement to talk about silly gadgets in my last All-Star Batman article I may have neglected to fill in a few plot details that are crucial to following the story. So here’s a quick recap of the rest of Part 2:
In a flashback Scott Snyder reveals that Great White, Black Mask, and Penguin have hired Anatoli Knyazev (KGBeast) to kill Batman in order to protect their secrets from seeing the light of day. Knyazev agrees provided he is allowed to be messy about it. Also, we see Alfred and Lark discussing the difference between the cartoonish villain that Lark grew up seeing on TV and the twisted evil Two-Face that Batman faces today. Alfred believes that the good half of Two-Face causes the evil side to act more extravagantly so that he can be caught. The transition between the two personalities seems to begin just before some of Two-Face’s more cartoonish crimes. While discussing Harvey and Batman’s plan to cure Two-Face, Lark is shocked to see the molecular structure of the cure Dent was working on is very similar to the substance that drove his family crazy. Lark tells Alfred that Bruce is walking into a trap and rushes off to warn him. After trading blows and quips with Two-Face, Batman ends up tied up in the back of a police van speeding toward the shadowy outline of KGBeast. He opens fire and issue 2 ends by showing the Beasts standing in the wreckage of the police van.
As issue 3 begins Batman is tasked with fighting the artificially enhanced KGBeast one-handed as the unconscious Harvey Two-Face is tied to his left hand. Snyder treats us to a detailed catalog of the Beast’s weaponry and superhuman reflexes as he and Batman trade blows wielding only a gauntlet of bat-symbol brass knuckles. As Knyazev closes in for the kill, Lark appears and drives a car into the middle of his back. Batman helps Harvey into the vehicle and they escape, headed for a nearby safe house. As the Beast staggers to his feet, Snyder adds an especially playful element to the issue: the Royal Flush Gang appears on their signature Flying Ace hovercraft in the sky above the Beast asking which way Batman has gone. Knyazev says nothing and blasts them out of the sky. One of my favorite aspects of the All-Star Batman series has been the freedom that Snyder exercises with Batman’s Rogues Gallery. By setting up a narrative where Batman and Two-Face move rapidly from place to place dodging new threats left and right, we can see a complex, recognizable team like the Royal Flush Gang for a panel or two without feeling cheated when they are dispatched so quickly. Snyder barrels over and through villains the way Batman has to, and it’s awesome to see little cameos like that.
Speaking of cameos, the host that welcomes Batman and company to the safe house was an unexpected surprise that made me smile as a Batman fan. The mute inventor Harold Allnut is not one of the more famous members of the Bat-Family but in his early days as Batman, Bruce Wayne relied on Allnut for his gadgetry and the maintenance of his vehicles. Every character in All-Star Batman is given a detailed caption almost like what Batman would read through a heads-up display, and the one Snyder gives to Allnut could not be more appropriate: “Harold Allnut: Genius Inventor. Mute. Family.” By including Allnut in this issue, Snyder reinforces something subtly different about Batman in this series. By choosing Duke as a sidekick, but not as another Robin it seems that Batman is attempting to break a cycle of sidekick dysfunction that has plagued the Bat-Family for years. Dick Grayson’s rebellion, Barbara Gordon’s paralysis, Jason Todd’s murder and sinister resurrection, are all examples of the dark shadow Batman has cast over the people he allows closest to him. Harold’s inclusion here is not just a nod to the die-hard fans who will remember the quirky inventor but an example of a relationship of Batman’s that has not ended in ashes. The warmth and gratitude that Batman expresses to Allnut shows camaraderie and compassion in a character who too often appears as an alienating ivory tower.
As Allnut tends to Harvey and Bruce’s wounds, Duke reveals the formula Harvey was working on to include a volatile ingredient that led to his mother’s current insanity. Batman is convinced that the formula will work and is hell-bent on completing the journey. After a fair amount of prodding Duke manages to get the answers from Bruce we’ve all been waiting for: where is this house they’re heading for and why is he so determined to get there no matter the cost. Apparently, Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent bonded over their trauma as boys at a summer retreat for struggling children. Bruce’s anger at Joe Chill for the murder of his family and thirst for revenge worried Alfred so he sent him off to the Arkham Family Mansion where he met young Harvey Dent. Dent’s father was an abusive drunk and the boy was sent to the retreat for surprising his father one night and leaving him tied up for a few days. The boys became as close as brothers and though the retreat was closed after the summer they met there, they planned to reopen it when they became men so that others might benefit from friendships like the one they shared. But then Dent’s accident turned him into Two-Face and the vision the two boys shared was shattered. That house was where they were going, and their boyhood friendship was the reason for Bruce’s determination to help Harvey.
In my article on the first issue in this series I was struck by the intimacy that we were going to get from the road trip scenario. By positioning Two-Face and Batman so close together and isolating them from the towering spires of Gotham City, Snyder set up a dynamic rarely seen in Batman comics. But with this brothers-in-trauma history between young Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, Snyder adds so much weight to their relationship and so much intimacy to the men that they grew into. It really makes you reevaluate your perception of Harvey Dent. To me he has always been the upstanding Public Defender twisted by a cruel accident that fractured his personality, but now I see a boy who could’ve grown into a hero very similar to Batman himself if not for some tough breaks.
Patched up and nearly to their destination Batman, Lark, and Two-Face continue their journey via fan-boat only to be ambushed yet again. As the battle rages on Two-Face hints to Batman that he and Harvey may not be so split as he once thought, that perhaps when Bruce thought he was talking to Harvey it may have been Two-Face playing a part. Two-Face also reveals that he was listening to Bruce’s touching story about two struggling kids and their pure friendship and accuses him of polishing a tale that might not be so savory. Batman barely has time to process this horrible thought before Two-Face treats him to an acid bath straight into his eyes. Bruce’s eyes go dark as the issue ends. Will Batman ever see again? Is there indeed a cure for what Harvey has become? What didn’t Bruce tell Duke about his and Harvey’s friendship? Until next time, Geek On!