Creatively, the book was always fairly solid, but the second story arc--which ended up being a Ra's al Ghul story with a different artist on each chapter--faltered somewhat after the amazing first volume, a John Romita Jr-drawn Two-Face epic for the ages. This final story arc, "The First Ally," had the benefit of a a single artist in Rafael Albuquerque and a tight focus on a single character and that character's relationship to Batman, but perhaps it was just a little too little and too late.
Anyway, this concludes "The First Ally," which revealed the probably way-too-convenient secret history of Alfred Pennyworth, who was once in training to be the United Kingdom's Dark Knight before he came to Gotham. Like much of Snyder's Batman writing, there were some big ideas that are a little too big, and sound somewhat silly in blank summary, but the text itself does a rather remarkable job of selling them and making them fit into a newer-feeling Batman mythos. Honestly, almost any post-Flashpoint Snyder Batman story you described to me would sound dumb in a simple synopsis, but once one actually reads the damn things, Snyder and his usually quite high-caliber collaborators generally pull them off, and even make me feel a little embarrassed for doubting them (In general, there are often still some rough edges, and I don't think he and his co-writers quite pulled off Batman Eternal and Batman and Robin Eternal, though I had a blast reading a weekly Batman comic while those were things).
"The First Ally" is actually a nice little conclusion to Snyder's Batman run/s, but surely it's not really the end; I mean, Dark Nights: Metal is just getting started. The last scene was pretty great, and there's an all-time-great Alfred-is-a-badass moment in this issue.
Also concluding is the back-up story, by Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone and Sebastian Fiumara. As I've said repeatedly before, this was the weakest of the back-up arcs, and read like a rather random done-in-one (or two) story from the old Legends of the Dark Knight. Quite well-drawn, and all-around well-written, but also sort of generic, with nothing to it. It's just a plot for a story with Batman in it, rather than a Batman story, if that makes sense. It does finally connect to "The First Ally" on the last page, but it seems like a retroactive connection, a justification for this story running on the last eight pages of the last few issues of All-Star Batman.
My main problems with the story were, as you're no doubt sick of hearing, the way in which writer Tom King has almost all of the players acting radically out of character (particularly The Riddler, who it's hard to square with pretty much any earlier version of him, and Batman, who seems both incredibly ineffective and unconcerned with the crimes of his villains), and the fact that he skips over the inconvenient parts of the story, like explaining why the villains are fighting, why so-and-so signed up and how they chose a side and why everyone seems so powerless to, like, fight crime in Gotham City, which is what Batman and the GCPD do, like, constantly.
On the one hand, I suppose King is sticking to the "good" parts, attempting an "all killer, no filler" kind of story and leaving the boring details to the imagination of the reader, but that sort of thing--which Grant Morrison does a lot with his big DC superhero stories--only really works if the stuff you leave out is easily intuited and makes sense to readers well-versed enough in the milieu that they can fill-in-the-blanks themselves so easily they don't really notice there is a blank. Not so here.
This issue, like most of the ones before it, is really well-written though. The bulk of it involves the climax of the story and the story-within-the story. In the "War," this means Batman, Riddler and The Joker alone in a penthouse office, fighting one another with their fists (Not sure why The Riddler doesn't carry a gun or gimmick, and why Batman doesn't just Batarang them both and call it a day; drama, I guess). During the course of the fight, which King and artist Mikel Janin devote enough space to and choreograph in such a way that it it's an actual action scene, something so rare in American comics as to be noteworthy, The Riddler reveals his dumb-ass motives for the "war."
So, hey, um, spoiler alert. (Are we still doing that?)
It turns out that The Riddler doesn't really consider Batman some enticing riddle, but he does consider The Joker some great riddle to be solved (which is why he has traditionally been The Joker's archenemy and not a Batman villain...wait). To that end, all of his plotting has been an attempt to give The Joker back his lost smile. This was all just a really elaborate joke being told to The Joker and, if that's the case, it had even more set-up than Norm MacDonald's joke about the moth or his running gag about someone or other being "a real jerk."
The Joker doesn't laugh, of course. And then Batman tries to murder The Riddler by stabbing him in the face with a knife but The Joker stops him and starts laughing again, knowing that he stopped Batman from murdering someone.
Now, I suppose with all this new information, I will someday wan to re-read this whole story and see if the ending transforms the earlier parts, but as read here it just seemed artificial, like the things happen they do for dramatic effect, and not because that would, say, be realistic or natural.
Here's Batman explaining his decision to pick up a knife and stab The Riddler through the face to Catwoman:
It wasn't an accident. I didn't think I'd fail. I wasn't out of control or insane. I knew who I was. I knew what I was doing. I understood the choice I'd made.Batman coolly, calmly, logically deciding that the best way to deal with a mass-murderer and/or terrorist is to kill them rather than knock them out, tie them up and leave them on the steps of the police station is realistic, of course, and the fact that Batman doesn't do that with many of these guys is one of the things that makes Batman seem completely insane. It's something people who have any experience with the character at all think about and talk about and argue about all the time.
What is weird here--beyond what King wants us to focus on,that it is The Joker that seems to have reinforced this behavior on Batman--is the fact that when Batman decides to kill one of his foes, he does so by picking up a giant knife and trying to stab him in the face. That doesn't seem very...Batmanly, does it? Wouldn't he just snap The Riddler's neck? Hit him so hard in the face that he shoves skull fragments into his brain? Throw him out the fucking window? Shoot him in the eye with a grappling hook?
No, he chooses the knife, because that allows Janin to stage a splash panel so it looks as if he has really stabbed The Riddler in the face, and it allows The Joker to more easily intercept a killing blow in dramatic fashion.
The acting and action are superb, both in the multiple, silent panels in which Bruce Wayne struggles to go on with his story and Selina Kyle tries to comfort him, and, as I mentioned, in the fight itself. I'm sure this story arc will ultimately prove very popular with a lot of Batman fans. It just didn't sit well with me. It's technically very well constructed in an issue-by-issue basis, some more than others (this one in particular, as with the dinner issue), but the whole thing has read more like an "Elseworlds" story to me than anything else. I can't really seem to attach this version of The Riddler or this version of Batman to the dozens of different takes I've seen before...in the case of Batman, he doesn't even seem like the character King was writing before this arc.
By the way, since when do the Tweedles eat people...? What the fuck, guys?
With this issue, writer Tim Seeley launches what I am assuming is his final arc on the series. Entitled "Raptor's Revenge" and featuring the character from Seeley's first "Rebirth" arc, the issue seems like the set-up for an arc that will call upon elements from his entire run on the series so far, which is a pretty good way to end a run, really. Let's hear it for long-term planning!
I'm not entirely sure how this is going to all work out. I wasn't a fan of the Raptor character, nor the first story arc "Better Than Batman," but have liked pretty much everything that followed well enough. Will Seeley be able to synthesize everything, to my personal liking...? I don't know, maybe? The first chapter is fine.
Pencil artist Miguel Mendonca and inker Diana Egea show up for this one.
This doesn't really meet the conditions I apply to this particular EDILW feature, but given how short this week's post is I might as well also link to my review of another comic that came out this week: Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica #1, which was actually pretty good. The only serious problem I noticed was that Hiram Lodge goes from traditional Commissioner Gordon white to New 52 Commissioner Gordon Ginger for a few panels, a color issue that I assume can be fixed for the trade. Well, that and the fact that Lodge and Gordon haven't met one another, and discovered they are long lost brothers. Of course, it's a six-issue series, so maybe Paul Dini and Marc Andreyko are saving that plot point for a later issue...