All-Star Batman #4
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by John Romita, Jr., Declan Shalvey, Danny Miki, Dean White and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“What am I seeing?!”
Scott Snyder and John Romita, Jr.’s All-Star Batman has been, at its heart, about the duality of man, about whether or not people can transcend their demons or fall prey to them.
Given the results of this week’s United States presidential election, it feels especially timely to get discouraged about the two-faced nature of humanity - and unfortunately, Snyder and Romita doesn’t provide much of a respite this issue, as things go from bad to worse for Batman and Lark during their road trip from hell with Harvey Dent.
In similar fashion to Heath Ledger’s Joker, the Two-Face in All-Star Batman isn’t dangerous because of any weapons or physical attributes - he’s dangerous because of his ideas, of what he represents. Two-Face is the pessimism on the dark side of the Batman’s dream, saying that heroism is all but meaningless, that everyone’s dark side will inevitably win out. And with this fourth issue, the darkness is certainly getting its licks in - Batman has been blinded with acid, stabbed through the wrists, nearly drowned by the inexorable hordes of the Court of Owls. And it’s telling that with Snyder’s grittier, snappier take on Batman that the Dark Knight is certainly starting to feel it - he might be a relentless crimefighter, but as Two-Face says, even he’s running out of road.
Yet this issue does feel a slight bit choppier than previous installments, bouncing from the Court of Owls to the KGBeast - while the actual damage done might liken All-Star Batman to the being akin to the 'Passion of the Dark Knight,' the transitions feel a bit jumpy, particularly when Batman and Lark are ambushed and trussed up by the Beast. (Which brings them almost full circle to where they were to begin with.) But Snyder, who comes from a horror background, treads that fine line between superheroics and torture porn - we know that as bad as Snyder might set things up, in the end, the good guys will come back with a vengeance. Given today’s news, it’s a story readers might need now more than ever, but at the same time, you might be troubled seeing the sight of a horde of masked and armed malcontents ready to storm the gates.
This issue also represents a slight slowdown for artist John Romita, Jr., who had been killing it in the previous three installments with his dynamic layouts and his bone-crunching fight choreography. Here, he and inker Danny Miki seem a bit hamstrung, particularly in the cramped opening scenes where Batman is pinned in a sewer by the Court of Owls. Part of this might just be the esoteric concepts Snyder is playing with - blasting Talons with hypersonic metal music is a tough thing to portray visually, especially when all the characters are underwater - but it also stems from a reliance on horizontal panels compounded by a number of crowd scenes. That said, when Romita is able to zoom in on Batman as he fights through his agony, it’s some powerful, visceral stuff - from the stubble on his face to the cracks around his cowl’s eyes, this is a hero at the end of his rope.
Yet it’s Snyder’s backup story with Declan Shalvey that might be the most memorable of the bunch, as Duke wraps up his first mystery featuring the sociopathic killer Zsasz. While it takes awhile for Duke to put the pieces together - and admittedly, Zsasz’s takedown is a little bit of an anticlimax, even despite a very cool-looking sequence from Shalvey featuring Lark jumping through a window - it’s the finale at the end that’s both insightful and truly chilling, as Duke looks back at his Jokerized parents. “He attacks what he loves. His serum makes people do the same,” Duke says. “So my parents? Every horrible thing out of their mouths? They’re actually telling me how much they love me.” It’s a brutal finale, but one that gives Duke a bit of his own identity - one that not only evokes the same scars as the other Robins, but also provides him with a unique entree into the psychology of Batman himself.
In some ways, it feels like All-Star Batman #4 is eerily prescient - and depending on your political stance, perhaps even more unrealistic than a guy who already dresses up in a Bat-suit and fights criminals for fun. But the Batman’s mission isn’t just one of hope - it’s about trudging through the darkness, about pushing through the pain, and not letting even the worst horrors keep him from fighting back. Yes, humanity has a dark side - and at times, they even succumb to it. But All-Star Batman #4 is a book that is about persistence, about commitment, about seeing things through even past the bitter end. If Bruce Wayne can take the pain and still keep standing, Snyder and Romita might be asking the most timely premise of all: if he can do it, maybe so can we.