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Batman turned 75 this year (2014) and, among the many things DC put out to celebrate their biggest moneymaker’s anniversary, they launched Batman: Eternal, a weekly Batman serial. Plotted by current Batman writer and DC’s MVP, Scott Snyder, and his regular collaborator, James Tynion IV, Eternal is a sprawling mass of comics that includes nearly as many creators as it does characters!
Snyder and Tynion IV actually write very little of the book with the bulk written by Ray Fawkes, John Layman (who left DC shortly after this series launched), and Tim Seeley. Among the artistic talent is Jason Fabok, Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, Mikel Janin, Andy Clarke, Trevor McCarthy and several others.
Even if you didn’t know Snyder plotted this series, it becomes immediately apparent that this is a Snyder Batman book because of all of the references to his previous Batman work that keep cropping up. Tyger Shark, Roadrunner and James Gordon Jr. all make appearances, as does Snyder’s Harper Row character (who’s taken to wearing a hideous blue Grifter mask), and another character who isn’t revealed until the end. Snyder’s Batman books are definitely worth reading but, if you haven’t already, check out The Black Mirror, The Gates of Gotham, and The Court of Owls before jumping into Eternal to get the most out of this book.
But I’m getting ahead of myself - is Batman: Eternal worth reading? It’s a hefty first volume with the first 21 issues collected and weighing in at 450 pages - it’ll take you a while to get through! And the answer is yay and nay. Because it’s not a great story and won’t go down as a classic but, if you’re a fan, it has lots of neat moments and scenes within it that many Batman readers will like.
The overarching story is that Jim Gordon appears to cause two subway cars to collide head on and kill over 100 people. Gordon goes to Blackgate Prison, a new, corrupt Commissioner takes over, and Carmine Falcone, the Roman, returns to Gotham. Suddenly it’s like the bad old days have returned. Batman and the Bat family split up to keep the gang warfare that’s exploded between the Roman and the Penguin’s forces from spilling over, while Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon, spearheads the investigation to clear her dad’s name.
Right away, the main story bothered me with a pretty major flaw. Gordon chases one of Professor Pyg’s goons (Pyg is one of MANY bad guys in this book), through the subway system. The man is unarmed by Gordon is made to believe he’s holding a gun. He fires, the bullet hits a fuse box, which then causes the rails to change and put two trains on a collision course.
Except hitting an exposed fuse box in the subway wouldn’t affect the rails. This is even mentioned in the comic itself! So it’s clearly an act of sabotage that had nothing to do with him but, regardless of this, Gordon is still tried for the murders of everyone who died in the crash. It doesn’t make sense. Sure you could try him for shooting what appeared to be an unarmed man, but the deaths of over 100 people? Where’s the evidence? This wouldn’t have gone to court because the charges wouldn’t stick.
That’s the overarching story to Batman: Eternal - and it’s not a great start.
From then on it’s a grab-bag of hits and misses, though Eternal does contain a number of awesome characters that are reintroduced to the Bat universe. Biggest of all is Stephanie Brown, one of Batman’s former Robins, making her New 52 debut. I was delighted to see her again but she was woefully underused. She finds out her dad is Cluemaster (the poor man’s Riddler) and hides out in a library for the entire book - that’s it.
It’s also cool to see Alfred getting more story than usual when his daughter, Julia Pennyworth, shows up in Gotham. I don’t think the writers get the most they can out of her as all she and Alfred do is argue, mostly because she doesn’t understand why he would settle for being some rich playboy’s butler, unaware of said playboy’s vigilante lifestyle and the major role her dad plays in it. It gets a bit repetitive after the first couple times.
I also loved seeing some of the Batman Incorporated crew pop up again, like Gaucho, the Batman of Argentina, and Jiro, the Batman of Japan, neither of whom I thought I’d see quite so soon.
The couple of new characters that are introduced are ok. Warren Spacey is a crime beat journalist at the Gotham Gazette who has the superpower of changing his hair from white to brown in between panels! (It’s an artist’s mistake in colouring) The major new character is Jason Bard, or young Jim Gordon, an idealistic young cop handpicked by Gordon, who arrives the day of the subway trains collision.
I felt that his character was a bit too much like Gordon’s, from behaviour to looks, for me to say he was a great new addition to the cast, though he becomes more different as the story continues.
But, along with the good, come the bad. The awfully named Joker’s Daughter has a role to play in Eternal as leader of the Gotham Underground (whatever that is) underneath Arkham, and the villain of one of the worst Batman books ever, The Cult, makes a reappearance: Deacon Blackfire. I’ve also never liked Carmine Falcone, the star bad guy of The Long Halloween, or Hush.
Notice that I’m mentioning characters and not story because there really isn’t any. There are only fragments of story here and there. Batgirl, Red Hood and Batwoman team up to find clues in South America. Penguin and Falcone’s forces fight each other. Batman temporarily fights the GCPD. Harper Row and Red Robin are doing something somewhere. Jim Gordon and James Jr have a bitter reunion. Batwing and Jim Corrigan aka The Spectre investigate stuff. Meh. It doesn’t add up to much besides the obvious page count!
I wish the writers had chosen to focus on the characters they had rather than continue to lob in character after character. I mean, when you’re including Z-list characters like Dr Phosphorus, Mister Bygone, Dr Falsario, it’s time to stop. There were also baffling hints of storylines that went nowhere (alien gateways!?) that added nothing to the book.
Not to mention how stupid it was that a corrupt Commissioner could allow obviously guilty criminals to walk free without anyone else in government, or in the news, saying anything - and did we need to see ANOTHER scene where the Bat signal gets smashed?
The art, like the writing, is agreeable but no great shakes. Jason Fabok’s work is very solidly mainstream Batman, as is Andy Clarke’s. Mikel Janin and Guillem March produce satisfactory work but nothing spectacular, and Dustin Nguyen’s work is dependably brilliant. The standout for me was Ian Bertram who drew the Batgirl/Red Hood/Batwoman in Rio section. He’s an artist I’ve only seen once before briefly in Detective Comics #27 earlier this year, but whose style immediately stands out as unique and interesting.
I think the idea of the various writers was that each would contribute a different quality to the tale as each supposedly has distinct voices that excel in different areas of interest. But so much of the book is generic superhero fare that you don’t really notice the changes between writers. Generally though with this many creators I think there was more or less a consistency of decent quality throughout, which has to be applauded for such an ambitious project.
Still, I’d describe Batman: Eternal as a shedload of Batman things rather than a story and that’s where it falls down. The Gordon storyline was stupid and yet became the backbone of the series. The rest of it became the usual Batman stuff that makes up most of the Bat-titles.
Though a lot of Eternal is forgettable, little bits and pieces here and there kept things entertaining and in this way is a fine celebration of Batman and his world. 75 years isn’t an eternity but Batman will keep going for many, many years to come - if any character has a shot at eternal life, it’s Batman!
Happy 75th, you miserable emo git - have a drink and cheer up a bit!