All-Star Batman has been one of DC Comics standard bearers, which is saying a lot given the quality since the Rebirth relaunch. Moving the series into the direction of one-shots featuring Batman’s incredible Rogues Gallery has done wonders for the series. Following a confrontation with Poison Ivy, Batman now moves on to face-off against Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter has always been a hit-or-miss character when it comes to being the main villain of a story. Hopefully Scott Snyder is able to deliver a strong modern story involving the Mad Hatter with All-Star Batman #8. Let’s see if that is the case.
Writer: Scott Snyder (Ends of Earth and The Cursed Wheel)
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Ends of Earth); Francesco Francavilla (The Cursed Wheel)
Inker: Mark Morales (Ends of Earth)
Colorist: Dean White (Ends of Earth)
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: At the Batchaloo Swamp in the Mississipi Delta, Batman steps out of the swamp and searches the forest area. As he searches Batman thinks about what he calls a “window moment,” an instant when everything becomes clear for him as a detective, which is happening to him right now as he is making sure he isn’t late to his meeting with Jervis Tetch (Mad Hatter).
As Batman comes across a large mansion he thinks about how with Poison Ivy’s help he and Duke were able to contain the damage Mr. Freeze’s spores has done to the world to a 500 miles in diameter radius. As Batman and Duke work to contain the spores a team calling themselves Blackhawks continue to hound them. It’s to the point that Duke has recently gone missing.
Batman is suddenly attacked by a net pinning him to the ground. Batwoman, Nightwing and Red Hood step out of the shadows. Before they can do anything to him Batman breaks free and quickly knocks Batwoman out. He then proceeds to use his knowledge on Nightwing and Red Hood to knock them out as well. Batman rips off their costumes to reveal that they are just Blackhawks in disguise, which Batman already figured out given that his family knows how to fight.
Batman enters the mansion and finds a room of Mad Hatters hats. Batman thinks to himself how he found the location thanks to Mad Hatter using the name of something he pitched to Wayne Enterprise’s a long time ago for a shell company. He then thinks back to the meeting and how just like then he has less time to deal with Mad Hatter.
Mad Hatter appears from behind a curtain. Even though he knows Mad Hatter has probably laced the atmosphere with something Batman lunges in to attack his villain. Batman slams Mad Hatter against the wall and says he knows he was responsible for Mr. Freeze’s escape and the Blackhawks attack. Mad Hatter smiles and denies his involvement.
Batman continues to attack Mad Hatter but is somehow to slow to connect with any of his punches. Mad Hatter then says that Batman is responsible for everything that has happened.
Mad Hatter explains how Batman as Bruce Wayne turned down his pitch for creating a hat that would interact with the wearer’s neurology before he could even finish the pitch. Batman tells Mad Hatter that he planted explosives around the mansion that will blow up all of Mad Hatter’s work. Mad Hatter takes out Bruce’s old hat, which Batman throws away.
All of a sudden Batman and Mad Hatter are inside Batman’s head. Mad Hatter revealed that back in the day he planted his device in Bruce’s hat to show Bruce that his tech works. He goes on to say that his tech had a built in safe phrase from ‘Alice In Wonderland.’ One night, Mad Hatter snuck onto Wayne Manor’s grounds and spoke the phrase to make Bruce see Batman in his reflection.
Batman does not believe Mad Hatter’s speech. Suddenly Batman finds himself in a field surrounded by Catwoman, Joker, Riddler, Bane and Harley Quinn. Mad Hatter continues to mentally break Batman by talking about how all he villains have tried to “help” Batman by getting inside his brain in one way or another.
The villains appearances suddenly start to morph from Alice In Wonderland versions of themselves to their normal human appearances. Mad Hatter tries to get Batman to sit on a nearby chair to strap him in. Batman tries to fight back and ends up going to blows with all the villains that he sees.
Eventually Mad Hatter is able to get Batman on the chair and straps him in. Mad Hatter tries to break Batman mentally. Instead Batman takes out the detonators to the bombs he placed earlier. Mad Hatter tries to get the detonators but Batman is able to mentally overpower him and push the detonators buttons.
An explosion is set off and Batman is finally able to break free and take out all his villains, which turn out to be more Blackhawks in disguise.
As Batman takes out the Blackhawks, Mad Hatter ties some chains around Batman’s neck and tries to choke him out. Another explosion suddenly sends the two flying out of the mansion and into the swamp area.
Batman is the first to recover and pushes Mad Hatter’s face into the swamp water. Mad Hatter finally gives in and reveals the information that Batman was looking for quickly. End of main story.
The Good: Scott Snyder continues to do something that is completely different in terms of story structure with the ‘Ends of Earth’ arc. This time around having Batman narrate everything that happens in this issue provided us with a different look into how Bruce Wayne approaches everything. It’s the type of insight that in other hands would’ve come off as to heavy handed with a writer speaking to the reader. Fortunately Snyder is able to use this story structure to present Mad Hatter as a different type of threat.
Though we’ve long since seen how Batman thinks through all his actions we’ve never really seen how he perceives other’s speeches to him. With All-Star Batman #8, Snyder does just that with how Batman sees added aggression it what others tell him. In response we are able to see how someone like Mad Hatter continuously talking gets him angrier. This all helps give us a better idea of why Batman will be more aggressive in his fighting at times.
It’s through this way of storytelling that Snyder is also able to develop Mad Hatter and his origin in a much more compelling way. While he is not a sympathetic character Snyder does get us to understand why Mad Hatter made the turn he did with his technology. Making it have a greater connection to Bruce’s early years, right before he became Batman, also made it easier to see how Mad Hatter was able to use his tech on Bruce. It also cleared things up with how Mad Hatter knows Bruce and Batman are one and the same, giving him an added reason to go after Batman as it is a personal matter for him.
Making Mad Hatter’s plot in this issue feel different than before is the choice of not going heavy with the Alice In Wonderland references. That has always been something that has hamstrung Mad Hatter and placed him inside a box with storylines. With All-Star Batman #8 we get to see Mad Hatter use his tech in a bit differently as he gets inside Batman’s head and uses images of the other Rogues Gallery against him. It all feeds into how crazy Batman can be sometimes. It also gave Mad Hatter a shot to actually do something before being defeated by Batman as we see that he almost choked out the Dark Knight.
Intigrating the Blackhawks into Mad Hatter’s plotline was also a good way to use a set of characters that DC has in their vault left untouched. This new version of the Blackhawks did have a more dangerous quality to them, even if Batman was quickly able to defeat them. Their presence at the very least gave us a great line from Batman as he called them out for not being anywhere near the fighters his family is.
‘The Cursed Wheel’ back-up continues to get better with each part that Snyder delivers. Snyder has done a very good job exploring the difficulties that Duke is finding with becoming one of Batman’s allies. Bringing in Julie Madison and Izzie back into the fold helped naturally push Duke to continue to find his own path as a hero. It at least acts as a good wake up call for Duke to not try to compare himself to Robin and the others. Izzie mentioning that he should not make going out during the day to save people a bad thing is another reminder of how different Duke’s development is and that when he finds who he will be as a hero it won’t be like other Batman allies.
It was great to see Giuseppe Camuncoli as the artist for All-Star Batman #8. Camuncoli has really come into his own with his work on Amazing Spider-Man. Seeing him get the chance to draw Batman was a good change of pace for Camuncoli. He was able to adapt his style to fit the world of Batman nicely. It was especially cool to see how he drew how crazy things got when Mad Hatter went inside Batman’s mind. His design for Mad Hatter was also great with how insane he drew Hatter’s appearance at the end of the issue.
Francesco Francavilla also continues to deliver some stellar artwork with his work with the ‘The Cursed Wheel’ back-up. His style is very unique and captures how lost Duke currently feels as Batman’s ally. The hook ending really got me excited to see Francavilla draw some more horror stories with where Duke was left alone.
The Bad: One part of Snyder’s choice of storytelling that did hinder the main story a bit was the two different inner monologue forms that he used. At times seeing both at the same time took me out of the issue while trying to figure out who was talking to us. It did get better as the issue went along but still a strange choice since it all came from Batman’s head.
Overall: All-Star Batman #8 continued Batman’s journey through his Rogues Gallery in a fascinating way that elevated Mad Hatter’s stature as a villain. Scott Snyder’s choice of storytelling was unique for this one issue, as he provided us with greater insight into Batman’s mind. At the same time, Duke’s back-up story continues to add value to this series as a whole with Snyder and Francavilla giving us more of a reason to get behind whatever Duke decides to become in the future.