Review: All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth (Rebirth) hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Scott Snyder's All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth is in parts more accessible but also more wonderfully esoteric than the previous volume. Snyder still gives us this series's fantastically profane Batman, though the coarsely madcap violence (even for a Batman story) is less than it was in My Own Worst Enemy, making this feel in some ways like a more tonally-normal Batman book. At the same time, Snyder's heavy use of prose and nontraditional narrative style, as well as the presence of artists Jock, Tula Lotay, and Giuseppe Camuncoli, distinguish this book as something more than just the everyday. Here too, Snyder begins to show his hand with overt ties to the upcoming Dark Nights: Metal, though in this aspect Ends of the Earth is not as strong as it is elsewhere.

[Review contains spoilers]

A motif we began to see grow in the later parts of Scott Snyder's Batman saga was the use of illusion, hallucination, and false or alternate realities; that's in the opening sequences of Endgame, giving that whole story a dream-like, unreal quality, and it's heavy in the conclusion of Bloom too, among other places. Ends of the Earth upholds this, from Mr. Freeze's vision of an icy world reborn to the multiple alternate takes on reality in the Mad Hatter story, to the constant reversals in Ra's al Ghul's conclusion, all presented as pseudo-fact before they're brushed away. Even the Poison Ivy story deals with layers of truth, seeing Batman lie to the villain again and again before she digs down to actuality.

That Ends of the Earth contains so much nuance -- that the Ivy story is told partially backward, even -- continues to distinguish All-Star Batman as something different. That it takes a separate series for Snyder to do these kinds of things suggests this kind of storytelling as too out of the box for a title like Batman proper (arguably one could also say Snyder doesn't need the distraction of having to lead in to Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, for instance, though that's less convincing when Snyder himself ties this in to Metal). At some point it seemed we'd hear Snyder was moving these All-Star kinds of stories to a graphic novel series -- news, we might worry, that seems to have dissipated all of the sudden -- but in fact I might've preferred this storytelling remain in All-Star; to tell complicated stories "only" in the realm of original graphic novels seems to suggest a distinction as to what each kind of venue will tolerate, when in fact I'd be happy to see this kind of storytelling push much closer to the mainstream.

Still, what remains entertaining about All-Star is its mix of mature highbrow and (also mature, I might argue) lowbrow. Batman sees through the illusion of soldiers disguised as his family because, he narrates, "my family knows how to #$%^ fight." In the same way Snyder cuts through the ordinary theatrics of a Batman/Ra's al Ghul encounter when Batman tells Ra's he's "not here for a #$%^ duel." There is a great deal, don't mistake, that goes into DC Comics allowing Snyder to put those faux-words into Batman's mouth; the effect is a series that feels looser and less buttoned up. Assuredly we don't want every Batman story to be like this, nor most Superman stories -- one might think the World's Greatest Detective smart enough to spread fear in the hearts of villains without vulgarities -- but an occasional Batman story with some extra bite is a welcome thing; see also Jock's grizzled, unshaven Batman on the covers.

Snyder famously cut his teeth in the Batman world with Joker stories, but one perhaps hasn't really written Batman in the modern era until they've written their Ra's al Ghul story -- Chuck Dixon did it, Greg Rucka did it, Grant Morrison did it (of sorts), and now Snyder's done it. Snyder's is a particularly modern take on Ra's, involving not alchemy but technology; it is perhaps a dubious distinction here that Snyder has Ra's strip Batman of the long-time "Detective" title, but equally that's a strong moment of Snyder breaking with forty years of history and moving the Batman/Ra's relationship a step into the future. Though this iteration of All-Star has one more volume to go, this climactic fight felt very conclusive, reiterating some of the common themes of Snyder's Batman run, that Batman is a symbol of human perseverance and that there's power invested in aspirational stories like the Batman mythos.

Of Snyder's connected-but-independent stories in Ends of the Earth, I thought the Poison Ivy story came off the best, with art by Tula Lotay. Again, Snyder employs here an effective backward storytelling method; his Ivy is formidable and villainous, an anti-hero but without the apologetic streak of the Amy Chu miniseries. Lotay draws Ivy as obviously sexy without being sexualized, and the gray dirt mask, distinguishing Ivy as a "supervillain" but not a traditional one, is a smart touch. Snyder's Mad Hatter issue with Giuseppe Camuncoli is also good; there's a point at which Snyder stretches the alternate reality so far that one knows it can't possibly be real, but Snyder actually had me going there for a second with the suggestion of Jervis Tetch standing at the "I shall become a bat" window. (Snyder is also fantastically loose with the idea of which villains do and don't know Batman's identity, which I guess goes all the way back to Black Mirror and other suggestions that even ally Jim Gordon knows.)

Ends of the Earth concludes on high and low notes with the finale of Snyder's Duke Thomas "Cursed Wheel" backup stories. It's a high note because Francesco Francavilla's noir art and distinct paneling are always welcome, but a low note because Snyder really does not bring "Cursed Wheel" to a satisfactory end. There's a Riddler puzzle here not fully explained, nor does Snyder even actually involve the so-called "cursed wheel" in the story, and the final page is exceptionally confusing -- I only know we're supposed to understand that Duke has gained metahuman powers from reading such online. It all follows to Dark Nights: Metal, but Snyder doesn't deliver a complete story here on its own.

There is much I like about how Snyder writes Batman and Duke together, in line with some of Batman's emotional growth in James Tynion's Detective Comics; that Batman lets Duke off the hook for a serious mistake, admitting that he himself makes mistakes too, is a far cry from when Batman would ground Tim Drake or strip him of the Robin mantle. At the same time, Snyder's conception of Duke is odd; as a smart kid with some time spent on his own as a vigilante, Duke is no less worthy of working with Batman than some of his allies (and probably more so at the start than Jason Todd, for instance), and yet the insults against Duke often bandied around in-story seem to revolve around that he doesn't "fit anywhere," that he's a "charity case," "no one's hero," and a "placeholder" (that one comes up twice).

Duke is for all intents and purposes the first black Robin (except that he's not "Robin" because there's already a glut of those, and I agree; I'd as soon see Duke take another identity than DC have two Robins running around or figure out what to do with Damian Wayne). This has come with a certain amount of backlash -- not exorbitant, I don't think, but it's undoubtedly there. In some respects, in Snyder's writing of Duke he seems to be addressing that backlash or the expectation of that backlash, even when it doesn't make sense in the story. Where this self-doubt comes from for Duke, or others' expectation of Duke having this self-doubt, isn't clear except in answer to voices outside the story.

Related, I'm somewhat disappointed to see Snyder imbue Duke with metahuman powers. As the first black Robin, I'd like to see Duke be the first black Robin, a young man trained in the shadow of Batman with the physical prowess to fight crime in Gotham, not for Duke to be "something else" that separates him from most of the rest of the Bat-family. I'll read with interest Metal and Snyder and Tony Patrick's Duke Thomas miniseries, with an eye toward whether someone can convince me giving Duke extra-normal powers is an improvement.

As with the first volume, Scott Snyder's All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth remains a powerful alt-take on Batman by a writer who's earned the opportunity to offer this alt-take. There's plenty here to enjoy, and I'm glad Snyder is leading the instruction of DC's next generation of writers; I'd be happy to see more books be more like All-Star rather than All-Star being the exception.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth
Author Rating
4 (out of 5)
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2 comments:

  1. I really liked this arc (though it's not really an arc) until the last issue. I thought Jock's art was very underwhelming compared to his prior works, and Snyder pulled his trick of hiding Batman's ace-up-the-sleeve from the audience until the last second just one too many times.

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    1. It felt rather Morrison-ian to me. You know, that was always Morrison's trick, Batman always had a greater plan outside his enemy's plan, to the point where I started to expect it. I didn't really think Ra's had offed Duke here, but Snyder drove home so well "This is not a car, this is not a phone, this is not a Batman story," etc. that I did have a moment of "How's he going to ..." before the reveal. And I also liked Snyder and Jock's businessman Ra's, though I do get what you're saying.

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