Spencer: I’m impressed by how quickly Batman Eternal is moving along. A year-long story with new chapters releasing every week could easily fall into the trap of being slowly paced, or even worse, of using filler to stretch out the story to fit into 52 issues, but if anything, the creative team of Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman, Tim Seeley, and Jason Fabok seem to be speeding through the story at an alarming rate. I’m starting to think that “the end” teased back in issue one may come sooner than we think; at the speed they’re throwing out ideas, the end may very well be the beginning of the story.
Batman’s trying to figure out Carmine Falcone’s plans, beginning by shaking down his old enemy, the Penguin, but he’s one step behind the Roman; Falcone’s men have already begun attacks on Penguin’s weapons caches, triggering the start of a gang war. Batman reaches out to the police, but they’re no help; The Mayor — who’s in cahoots with Falcone, of course — has appointed the corrupt Jack Forbes to Interim Commissioner, and Forbes forbids his officers from intervening in the gang war, instead declaring their new focus to be on capturing/killing the Batman.
Like I said, Falcone’s plan has sprung to life with alarming speed. It’s not quite Ozymandius-level — although the Penguin does get to have an “I did it thirty minutes ago” moment — but it is rather disarming how Falcone seems to be several steps ahead of Batman, who has only just begun to search for clues while Falcone has already completely infiltrated the GCPD and instigated a full-scale gang war. Batman’s still at the beginning of the story, while Falcone’s skipped ahead to the story’s climax.
It isn’t just how thoroughly Falcone has Gotham under his thumb that’s creating this issue’s foreboding tone, however; much of that comes down to how zealous Falcone and his men are in their convictions that their plans will make Gotham a better city.
Throughout this entire series Forbes here has had an outspoken contempt for, well, pretty much everything that’s often been flat-out uncomfortable to read, but his sentiments this issue — especially in the second of the images I posted above — sound like the ravings of a brainwashed cult member. I fully believe that Forbes and the others are mainly concerned about lining their own pockets, but Forbes also seems thoroughly convinced that the city was legitimately in better shape under Falcone’s rule; in fact, he seems to believe that Gotham exists only to benefit the corrupt, that Gotham under Gordon’s command was an affront to the natural order of things, and that kind of fatalism — and perhaps even madness — makes Forbes an especially scary opponent.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Brown makes her New 52 debut! Stephanie sneaks into her dad’s house to retrieve her tablet, only to discover that her father is the D-List supervillain known as the Cluemaster. Cluemaster’s meeting with a bunch of other low-tier villains — led by an unseen figure — seemingly discussing plans related to the train crash and Falcone’s gang war, and Stephanie sees and hears things she wasn’t meant to. Cluemaster has no qualms about murdering his (in his opinion) “failure” of a daughter to protect the plans, and Stephanie barely escapes with her life.
The Batman Eternal sneak-peek in Batman 28 already revealed that Spoiler was the key to this entire plot, but I still found it extremely gratifying to see just exactly how Stephanie came across such vital information. When I first read Batman 28 I thought perhaps Stephanie had some sort of skill or ability that would be vital in the new version of Gotham, but instead she simply knows too much, and while that now makes her a target, it also puts her in an unique position to help out the other heroes.
This role as an underdog suits Stephanie Brown, and in general I’m quite happy with how Snyder and his team have reimagined Steph’s origin. In fact, very little’s changed; she’s still the daughter of a supervillain, and she still becomes the Spoiler in order to “spoil” his plans, it’s just that before the reboot Cluemaster was a pretty pathetic villain, meaning that Spoiler spent much of her career as the sidekick-of-a-sidekick (the then-Robin, Tim Drake). Now, though, Cluemaster’s gotten himself mixed up in plans that could destroy the entire city, and if Steph’s gonna spoil those plans, she’ll have to throw herself into something far bigger than she’s ready to face at this point in her career. Fortunately, Steph’s always been a tough, resourceful, tenacious girl, and this might be just the crucible she needs to become the hero we all know she’s capable of being.
Patrick: This series is really about giving all the nerds something to cheer about, isn’t it? I’m happy to see Steph’s treatment here, but mostly because I know people are so excited about her. Personally, I’ve got very little stake in her as a character. My Batman experience is too old or too animated or too New 52 to know her in any context other than “relic of a different era.” What I do get to geek out about are the references to the established New 52 continuity — where even references to books I didn’t much care for get a giddy little chuckle out of me. The Penguin’s Cadre of Weirdos shows up, and while I hated that issue of Detective Comics, I get a special pleasure out of seeing those characters staged similarly again. I guess they didn’t learn their lesson about working with Penguin last time. But the best, single coolest piece of “hey look at this thing” in the issue is the whiteboard that Jack Forbes erases to declare war on Batman. It’s an Easter-Egg-A-Palooza!
Okay, upper right corner is a list of Cold Cases that include Joker and the Court of Owls, nods to Snyder’s first two Batman story arcs. There’s the not-all-that-spoilerific “Dick Grayson = Nightwing (deceased) as a reference to the end of Forever Evil. There are also references to Batgirl (Charise), Detective Comics (Icarus) and Batwoman (the Wolf Spider). It’s a feast of on-going Gotham conflicts, and if you’ve been reading your way around DC lately, you’ve encountered these things already. That makes it all the more distressing when Forbes straight up erases it all and targets Batman. It’s an awesome way to both acknowledge what’s going on elsewhere in the Gotham books while firmly asserting this series as it’s own important story, independent from all those other things you love.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?