[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for "All-Star Batman" #1.]
There's no beginning without an end, and the same is true of DC's latest initiative, triggering a "Rebirth" across all its major titles as part of a new chapter returning the company's biggest heroes to their roots, embracing legacy, love, and an uplifting sense of optimism and hope. But for the ongoing "Batman" series, the new shift is a bittersweet: with new writer Tom King taking the reins, it's Scott Snyder - the man who delivered one of the Dark Knight's greatest runs in history since the New 52 launch - handing them over.
He's not straying far from the hero, however, but taking a new direction with Bruce Wayne as his mission with the aptly-titled "All-Star Batman" calling on some of the industry's most accomplished artists to bring tailor-made stories to life. The book's first issue hit physical and digital shelves this week, putting Batman and a classic villain on a treacherous path fraught with dangers, mysteries, and a back-up feature unraveling the "secret history" of the Dark Knight and his past partners.
But for those looking to get a handle on Snyder's new venture, or current "Rebirth" writers curious to see what's happening in the company's third, fourth, or fifth comic book starring the caped crusader, allow us to break down the basics in "All-Star Batman" #1.
Given the language and legacy of DC's overall "Rebirth," it was assumed that some classic villains would be called upon to launch "All-Star," and it's the man with two faces himself, Harvey Dent, who provides the thrust of the first issue. The timeline is actually inconsistent through the issue, jumping backwards and forwards to give a snapshot of the events and horrors that have led to the moment the comic begins. From what we can glean, the story ("My Own Worst Enemy") was set in motion when Two-Face's latest attempt to scar the citizens of Gotham - by using acid rain to mutilate all walking the streets - was averted by Batman and his new partner, Lark.
With the threat defeated, Batman informs Commissioner Gordon that Harvey Dent's secrets and influence make it impossible for him to be successfully imprisoned for more than days. The only answer is to transport Two-Face to an unknown, mysterious location (or "house," as it's referred to) that only he and Bruce know of. The problem? That was Dent's idea, having contacted Bruce before his plan was launched, warning that he was once again losing control of his mind and faculties to the villainous identity inside of him.
The only good news, Dent revealed, is that he "finished what we started," meaning Bruce and Harvey had once conceived of a plan, at least, to "burn Two-Face out" of the attorney once and for all. Since Dent eventually did succumb to his darker side, Bruce is both legally AND morally obliged to find a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, it isn't just some mistrust that Bruce will have to overcome (even though Alfred also doubts the plan, since it may all be an elaborate trap set by the villain to play upon Bruce's softer side).
No, as Batman and Two-Face begin their trek of 500 miles in one of Batman's many aircraft, he learns that Harvey Dent has also prepared for this outcome. The acid rain plot may have been foiled, but by trying to defeat Two-Face once and for all, Bruce Wayne has made himself more vulnerable than ever before. And thanks to artists Declan Shalvey, Danny Miki, and John Romita, Jr., this Batman is no nightmare brought to life, but a man potentially outmatched in broad daylight.
As the pair are in flight (having covered just a single mile), Alfred informs Bruce that a message from the two-faced villain has just been broadcast: calling upon each and every person within the sound of his voice to free him from the Dark Knight's clutches - and kill the Bat. As fond as we are of comic book storylines lifting plot beats from the criminally-underrated Colin Farrell/Jeremy Renner flick S.W.A.T., the idea that the average person could actually bring down Batman is a little far-fetched. But as Batman soon finds out, he may have enemies much closer than he thinks.
Being shot down out of the sky should be impossible enough. Being swarmed by a team made up of Black Spider, Firefly and Moth should be just as unlikely. But a mob of innocent bystanders Batman fights to keep out of the melee, seeing this heroic legend being overwhelmed... would they, too, turn on him for the promise of wealth (and getting to keep their darkest secrets hidden from the light of day), proving they are just as corrupt as Dent's darker half presumes? Well, in one word: "yes."
The moment Batman realizes he may have misjudged the goodness in those around him is executed to perfection. Obviously, Batman regains the edge, and recaptures the briefly-freed Harvey Dent, returning to the trek across the country with... just under 500 more miles to go. And as simple a task as it may seem, the questions are already piling up. Is Harvey Dent dead within Two-Face's form? Was he ever attempting to seek Batman's help in defeating his evil side for good? What is the mysterious "house" the pair conceived, and Dent constructed, and how will it bring the latter rest? And perhaps most interestingly for the reader, who will surface to take their shot next?
The story ends with Batman assuming he's escaped the villain in immediate pursuit, but in fact carrying one along for the ride. And as much as comic readers may have hoped to see some darker, tentpole moments in "All-Star Batman" #1, it's obvious that Snyder is out to tell a far larger, more nuanced, and enticing story (and at this point, every reader will trust his judgment). But for those hoping to see a massive cliffhanger, you're not robbed of one, either.
The Shocking Twist
That's right, the reason Batman's aircraft was shot down - despite stealth technology which should have rendered it invisible to all but allies - was due to a betrayal... perhaps. Alfred is shown to have shot the pair out of the sky, but it likely isn't the kind of reveal some readers may feel it to be. After all, Alfred feared that this journey would claim Bruce's life. And, having regained contact with Bruce once he reacquired Two-Face, Alfred asks if Bruce will be giving up the mission, having encountered trouble so close to home.
At this point, we would suggest that Alfred was simply too afraid of what might happen to Bruce hundreds of miles from home, and was forced to take drastic action and return him to Gotham City. But Bruce is clearly too motivated to finish the job, even if readers don't yet know what lies at the finish line. But knowing how many unforgettable story arcs, climaxes, and twists Snyder has concocted to date, it's hard not to think he may have saved one of his best for last. And with a name like "All-Star," it seems he's wearing those expectations proudly - and is off to an intriguing start.
All-Star Batman #1 is available now.
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