[Obscuring] Place in All-Star Batman 13

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

When I was a kid, my family used to spend parts of our summer vacation at a cabin in the woods outside of Hayward, Wisconsin with our good family friends, the Pfarrs. The Cabin — which was all we ever called it — had a kind of romantic mythology about it, slowly crafted by years upon years of family bonding. There was a ill-used road into town that we had nicknamed “sneak path,” and which carried a (probably bogus) story about a young couple driving too fast along it and slipping in raccoon guts and driving off the road. We were all told that the Cabin itself was drunkenly constructed backwards, so that delightful front porch was meant to be in back, overlooking the lake. I have no idea if that last one is true, but to this day it feels right. I close my eyes and I see this space – it’s a comfort, a complete flash-memory, and the most common setting for my dreams. It’s a place of subconscious and unconditional love. In All-Star Batman 13, writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque tap into the connection between place and relationships.

I really like the way this issue opens, with Alfred and Batman tumbling toward the pavement amid the ruins of the Wayne Hotel. Alfred’s narration is thorough in its description of the building, getting so clinical as to tell us the tons of steel and the yards of concrete they’re falling through. But Alfred is also sentimental enough to clue us in on what the location means – it’s the suggestion of a world without a the stresses of Batman. To borrow Alfred’s language: “Beach, baseball, history…” Those are lovely ideas that connect place with a feeling of acceptance and love. The thrust bulk of Briar’s argument is that these connections to people — father figures especially — end up making sons weak. Snyder’s words are at odds with Albuquerque’s imagery during this scene: the more Alfred describes, the less Albuquerque draws.

Albuquerque revisits this idea of totally obscured backgrounds in Alfred’s flashback, this time diagetically justified by a sandstorm. Both the reader and Alfred are so blinded to the sense of place that Briar gives directions as specific as “…at your six-fourty-five and seven-ten.” (Side note, damn that is some specific clock positioning. I’d be at a loss for the difference between “on my six” and “on my seven,” never mind the fifteen minute increments. Plus, 6:45 and 7:10 suggests that Briar’s got this down to five minute intervals? He’s got 144 points on his compass now, it may as well just be degrees!)

Later, Batman chases Briar’s chopper to Silent Key, a vacation home for the Elliots that reminds me of my own childhood vacation destination (only, y’know, in Florida). Albuquerque is still withholding in the physical details of the space, even as Batman himself says what the space was supposed to mean to Tommy. Of course, Tommy’s a fucked up psychopath, so maybe it’d be disingenuous for the reader to really connect with this space. Throughout the issue, Snyder and Albuquerque insist on the muddiness of these locations as they insist on the muddiness of these relationships.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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