Scott Snyder wrapped up his run on “Batman” only three months ago, but the high-powered intro to “All-Star Batman” #1 feels like his long-awaited return. With fan favorite artist John Romita Jr. illustrating the title’s kickoff, it’s an all-star title indeed, as the two acclaimed creators unite for the first time to deliver an intense opening number with an in-your-face, caffeine-driven road trip packed with familiar but surprising characters.
The confines of Gotham are left behind as Snyder takes Batman out on the open road, although the reason for this trip is grimly revealed in a flashback sequence where the city and its people have once again been victimized by one of Batman’s foes. Snyder isn’t afraid to take Bats out of his element and does so with full confidence; he knows you can take the Bat out of the city, but not the city out of the Bat, and many of his foes aren’t far behind.
“Initially, my idea was to do stories with villains I hadn’t used yet,” Snyder said when asked about his idea for the title. “I started thinking it would be about each character attacking Gotham in different ways, but it just somehow felt too easy, like I wasn’t challenging myself to the degree I wanted.” Thanks to Snyder’s new initiative, Batman finds himself in a number of bizarre new situations. For instance, it might be hard to picture the Dark Knight engaging in battle at a rural roadside diner — in broad daylight, no less! — but that’s the kind of confidence Snyder brings to the story, breaking tradition but knowing full well it can work — and that’s thanks in no small part to Romita’s dynamic layouts, which put some high-octane fuel into this road trip.
Romita captures the kind of claustrophobia that’s familiar to anyone who’s endured a long, slow journey in close confines, especially with someone they’d rather not be stuck with. As Snyder sets up a kind of hostile “Batman and His Rogues Do America,” Romita’s tight, close-up panels evoke that sense of hostility, where pretty much the only sights are the long, open road and each other’s faces. “A lot of us… feel so crammed together in this elevator of a planet, that there’s this feeling of urgency towards fixing things and taking on these large problems,” Snyder explained. “This arc is largely about Two-Face saying it’s the end of times and the fall of law and order, and he thinks that everybody wants these things to fall so they can reveal their true desires.”
Two-Face is accordingly grisly, thanks to inker Danny Miki’s embellishments, with Harvey’s detailed disfigurations making him look genuinely threatening rather than gimmicky, while the break in tradition on his usual suit gives his heightened villainy some atypical style. The layout and structure of the story give it a cinematic flair; readers will feel like they’re jammed in the cockpit of the Batplane between the two foes and might be tempted to dodge shards of glass as Batman flies through a window.
Romita’s imposing image of a capeless Batman brandishing a chainsaw might already be the iconic representation of the character out of his comfort zone. Separate images of Batman and Two-Face as they move across a tall, grassy field are cleverly composed to look as though the characters are standing in the light of a flaming foreground, as effectively colored by Dean White.
Snyder also teams with artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire for an eight-page backup story that develops Batman’s relationship with Duke Thomas. This deliberately colorful, psychological feature is another departure from tradition, as Batman takes on an entirely different approach and attitude in training his new partner, who he pointedly does not refer to as a sidekick. Snyder also drops an intriguing new mystery that hints at an untold story from Batman’s past.
“All-Star Batman” #1 is deliberately crazy and offbeat, making it genuinely unlike any other modern Batman story, but it manages to stay in tune with the character nevertheless. Snyder and Romita prove there is indeed room for another Bat-title by carving out a nice space for it.