When the announcement came down from DC that Rebirth was happening there was one title that stood above the rest as one that fans couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into. Scott Snyder was coming off of the hottest run in Batman’s history. For 52 issues Snyder had redefined what could be done with the Dark Knight. Fans knew that an ultra-secret Batman project was just the news they wanted to hear when the Rebirth news broke. Add in established and famed artist John Romita Jr. and the expectations grew. That’s the thing about expectations though, they are rarely met.
After reading this long-awaited comic I feel underwhelmed. I had much higher expectations. Instead we get a rip off of “16 Blocks”, a Bruce Willis movie, where he plays a cop protecting a key witness and they have to traverse the city after a crime lord has put out a huge bounty to anyone that kills the witness. Instead of 16 blocks Batman has to travel 500 miles. (Which only makes me think about The Proclaimers hit song)
There are a few things that don’t really hit the mark with this series. One is the art. I know that Romita is one of those artists that divide his audience because of his style and design. He is a take it or leave it artist. Unfortunately, for me, I fall on the leave it side. I’ve never seen the genius behind his blocky, stiff, and unflattering approach to every character. I get that he has a large group of supporters out there, I just do not happen to be among them. In my mind DC has about 20 artists on staff that I would rather see tackle this project.
So right out of the gate, this issue and series are soured on me. The director’s cut doesn’t do Romita any favors either. Where some of his flaws can be covered up by a talented colorist, here they are laid bare before the reader and leave you wondering just how he got this gig. Working with Snyder right after Batman is akin to working with a Director right after they’ve won the Oscar. In this case it was like working with a director that had won 52 Oscars straight. This was going to be a major project for some lucky artist, how did Romita work his way into this? What incriminating evidence does he have against Synder or the Editors at DC? Does Jim Lee owe him money? Does Dan Didio have one of his kidneys? The world may never know.
OK, so enough of breaking the artist’s balls. Let’s move on to the second misstep; the Villain. Snyder made his bones on Batman by showing that he could write a Gotham that seemed to exist solely to torment Bruce Wayne. Snyder proved that he could make almost any member of the caped crusader’s rogue’s gallery a lethal threat and when he wasn’t playing in DC’s sandbox he created the Court of Owls and fans lost their minds. They loved it. So it makes me wonder, “Why Two Face?” Out of all the villains that Batman creators have at their disposal why do so many reach for Harvey Dent? Two Face is just a lawyer who also happens to be 50% burn victim. He doesn’t have any special powers. No super healing. He can’t even jump high like Mario; so why the constant interest in making him a thorn in Batman’s side?
Then it hit me and my opinion on this series changed in a heartbeat. The genius of Snyder came blazing through my mental fog and the whole thing became crystal clear. It’s symbolism. In a comic book! It’s been so long since a mainstream writer has reached into the literary trick bag for any other tool aside from foreshadowing that I almost completely missed it!
Two Face is the villain because of what he represents. It’s not about how lethal Harvey Dent is or how much of a threat he poses. It’s the duality in human nature that he represents. By placing a bounty on Batman that he will pay secretly to any citizen in or outside Gotham, Snyder has accomplished a multitude of story elements in one foul swoop. He has taken what he does best, and instead of Gotham, it’s the entire county that is set against Batman. That’s pretty clever. But there is also the added theme that everyone has a darker side; another face that most of us hide away from civilized society. We in essence are all two-faced. We are all the potential villains in this story.
Snyder lays down the gauntlet for each reader. “If it was you, and you had the chance to take out Batman and become richer than your wildest dreams, would you do it?”
That’s the twist that I missed the first time. When you change your perspective slightly and allow this to be your point of view for the issue it changes the complexity in which you see the details of what Snyder is laying out for Batman. It’s him against us; all of us– against our greed. Against the corruption that dwells in all of our hearts. No one is above it. A point that is driven home and hits harder than the Mack truck that Bruce is driving at the end of the issue, as we see a tear-stained Alfred is the one guilty of giving away Batman’s initial location and sending the entire world chasing after a bloody and beaten Bruce.
This series has the potential to make a comeback and win me over. I would never count Snyder out, but this series is not the end-all-be-all Batman story I was hoping for. I definitely think it’s worth giving a chance. I’ll ride with Batman for a few issues and see where these 500 miles takes me.
Final Score 3 ½ Stars
All-Star Batman #1- Director’s Cut
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Danny Miki
Letters: Steve Wands
Publisher: DC Comics