Reading the two part All-Star Batman storyline “Ends of the Earth” has been a treat. The elevated, poetic mode of storytelling from Scott Snyder and the artwork from Jock in Part 1 and Tula Lotay in Part 2 has been not only immediately stunning but memorable and powerful.
In two comics, the creative team managed to compress a great deal of the potential of the Batman mythology as well as of comics as a mode of storytelling. Snyder illustrates pretty deftly that just about any situation can be a discussion of anything a creator finds significant and wants to share, and Jock and Lotay have shown that hidden, haunting significance of things can lie just under the surface, waiting to be teased out and revealed.
It’s no exaggeration to say that reading the two-parter feels like you’ve read an entire collection or original graphic novel’s worth of mood and struggle. Part 1 takes Batman to Alaska where he battles with Mr. Freeze to try to prevent him from release a deadly ice-bound pathogen into the world exposed by the melting icecaps. Part 2 follows Batman to the desert in search of Doctor Pamela Isley, Poison Ivy, to try to secure her help in halting the pathogen that is potentially deadly on a global scale.
In All-Star Batman #7, Part 2 of our story, released February 8th, the modes of storytelling are so intrinsic to the plot of the story that simple descriptions fail to convey what the comic is really “about”. Part 1 of this arc by Jock felt like a “mood poem”, but Part 2 by Tula Lotay feels like a stream of consciousness short story told from more than one vantage point. The comic opens with some quotes from Doctor Isley from a lecture given to Gotham University about how one approaches “discovery” in the sciences, but her comparison is to how you get to know people, or specifically, to fall in love with someone, starting from the “outer edges” and moving inward.
Visually, Lotay guides us through a vibrantly arid desert landscape as we watch Isley engage with an ancient tree with whom she communicates and sets up experiments. Intercut with the scenes, we find a “countdown” effect. In affect, the reader is part of the “countdown” of moving inward, further toward the center of the character of Isley, and further toward the heart of the plot. The countdown forms a really intense framing device that adds a quiet sense of progress and also a strange sense of urgency to the narrative.
Another key feature of the comic is that even more than in Part 1, Batman feels slightly ancillary in Part 2. Isley is really the key to everything. We watch her when she’s alone, unlike Batman. We see her choices and mode of being. Lotay brings us an enthralling, mysterious, and personally driven individual—the individual we are really trying to get to know through this countdown. By the time Batman turns up, he’s arriving on her terms, and in the power play between them, she seems to call the shots, and it even seems like he’s ok with that.
Part of our movement further in getting to know Isley is the parallel between her own origin and childhood and the suffering of a young teen female botanist who has been infected with Freeze’s pathogen. In many ways, this girl is a victim, someone whose passion for the natural world has led to her illness, and Batman is keen to present that aspect to Isley and appeal to her sympathy. But Isley instead identifies a commonality in her own lack of choice in her condition as Poison Ivy. And it’s that which captures her attention the most and compels her emotional connection to the story Batman hopes will reach her. We’ve been counting down and counting inward for Isley, and this is where we reach her truest core. And it’s Isley’s reactions regarding the girl that seem to lift her own victimhood and empower her identity.
In Part 1 of “Ends of the Earth”, Batman tries to make a human connection with Doctor Freeze through reminding him of his beloved wife and her suffering, as well as what her wishes would be. He fails to reach Freeze because Freeze seems to have re-written his own story to justify his actions. In Part 2, Isley seeks out her own truth and taps into her true story to make a connection, though it may not be exactly what Batman intended. These are really brave choices for Snyder to make in showing Batman’s failures and his resulting desperation but they make for a richer Batman mythos and a wider understanding of the connections comics can make with readers.
[Variant cover for All-Star Batman #7 by Francesco Francavilla]