NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for “All-Star Batman” #1
Fans have been kept largely in the dark on the plot of DC’s brand new Dark Knight series, knowing only that “All-Star Batman” would be giving writer Scott Snyder a new chance to tell a different kind of Batman story, calling upon a variety of artists not quite possible on his previous run on the character. But the hopes and expectations of seeing Snyder taking charge of a title dubbed “All-Star” – when most of his “Batman” tales in DC’s New 52 would have been deserving of an “all-star” badge in their own rite – was never going to be kept in check. And with the first issue, Bruce Wayne’s road trip of treachery and betrayal with Two-Face at his side seems poised to be a story worth remembering. But it wasn’t the only story begun in the issue.
Along with the Two-Face story came a back-up addition, beginning with Bruce Wayne and his new ally/sidekick/partner, Lark (formerly known as Duke Thomas). The partnership had begun in “Batman: Rebirth” as Snyder handed writing duties off to Tom King, but from the first chapter offered here – and the “secret history” teased by Batman himself – it appears fans of the caped crusader and his past allies and sidekicks may have another irresistible reason to get on board “All-Star Batman.”
To get your own glimpse of the secret, we’re breaking down the closing chapter, dubbed “The Cursed Wheel,” and what connections it may have to other fan-favorite members of the Batman Family.
Duke Thomas a.k.a Lark
For those who may have followed Snyder to “All-Star” and missed out on the beginning of the story, we’ll keep it short. “Batman: Rebirth” #1 featured Bruce recruiting Duke (Gotham youth vigilante and possible Robin in an alternate future) into the Batcave, agreeing with the young man that he didn’t intend to make him his sidekick or second-stringer. In other words, the star of the “We Are Robin” comic series, in which young do-gooders adopt the idea of Batman’s sidekick for themselves, doesn’t actually need a Dark Knight to play the role. But it isn’t a future as ‘Robin’ that Bruce is aiming for, explaining that he’s “trying something new,” with later scenes showing that his bond with Duke was beginning as equals from the outset; not as a child to be mentored, as had been the case with Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon… take your pick.
That’s the exact moment that “All-Star” begins its back-up feature, showing what happens after the scene (in “Rebirth,” the action was interspliced with a strange new Calendar Man attack). But readers had no idea that the clarification of Duke’s training would be followed by the one teased in “All-Star,” as Batman begins by telling Duke that the next year of his life will be spent in training. Not training to be Batman’s sidekick, but the training “that comes next.”
The Cursed Wheel
The “training” is represented in a fairly… unexpected way. Not as writing, diagrams, or regimented disciplines, but a circle of fragmented colors. A circle that Alfred has come to call “The Cursed Wheel” – after all, Bruce Wayne’s faithful servant and Bat-ally helped him to create it. In short, the Wheel is a condensed version of the lifetime of training and discipline Bruce underwent before becoming the Bat (combined with the wisdom Alfred all-too-often offers into villains, their motivations, and the sides of humanity that Bruce is usually blind to). Arranged in sequence, the Wheel would, in theory, take a potential crimefighter through the hardest truths, and the most necessary ones, all needed to become the analytical, truth-seeking and unshakable figure that Batman has become. At least, that seems to be the plan.
But before Duke can even respond with whether or not he’d be interested in undertaking the process, Batman reveals that he wouldn’t be the first to do so.
The Sidekicks Who Came Before
Any longtime fan of the Batman Family could point to some formative moments or missions for every sidekick or ally, from Tim Drake down to Damian Wayne. Moments that dispelled their illusions about criminals, evil, or superheroics (perhaps scarring them in the process). But as Snyder’s Batman now reveals, not all of them were aware that they were being put through The Cursed Wheel as they did so. And, Bruce teases, not all of them wound up heroes by being exposed to the wheel’s horrible truths: one became a villain. Duke suggests Jason Todd, the former Robin turned Red Hood, but Batman shoots it down. Unfortunately, that new tease will have to wait.
The most interesting part of Batman’s brief explanation is that it’s the colors that matter, since they should be familiar to any reader. There are the blues adopted by Dick Grayson for his ascent into Nightwing, the purple chosen by Barbara as the color of Batgirl, and the green of Damian (and, possibly, the red of Jason, and the yellow of the brand new Lark). The choices are no accident, but an indication of the parts of the wheel which most clearly connect to these heroes, linking them together as separate, but inescapable parts of a whole – as Bruce puts it, “a secret history” their experiences form in total.
And with Duke now prepared to start his own Wheel turning, the grisly scene that opens the ‘present’ part of the story will be what’s needed to get him through the worst… and the first.
It only seems right that in the world of Scott Snyder’s Batman, the color of the Bat himself should come first, as the hardest, cruelest, and most challenging part of the Wheel to be faced. As Batman explains, the first lesson (which, apparently, Bruce took as his own color?) is about one thing: evil, pure and simple. And not abstract evil, either: but the evil of one human to another. And more importantly, the ability to see through the madness, and mindless evil done by one person to another to answer the real question that drives the World’s Greatest Detective: “why you?”
The first lesson happens to coincide with Bruce and Duke’s first case together (how fortunate), arriving in a colored-cloth-encircled table of high end fabric importers, stripped, sliced, and left for dead. It’s a dark scene, driven home by its closing image of one of the victims crying out for the release of death, opening the wounds left behind by the killer. It’s a cliffhanger if there ever was one, but a somewhat unnecessary one – readers fond of Snyder’s many insights, updates, and contributions to the growing Batman mythology will already be hooked.
What do you Bat-fans make of this new addition to the Batman mythology? Are you eager to see the stories, villains, and hard truths of humanity that Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, Barbarage Gordon, and one mystery villain went through to become the heroes they are today? Let us know your own theories and reactions in the comments.
All-Star Batman #1 is available now.