Spencer: Last time I wrote about Batman Eternal I praised how quickly the plot seemed to be coming together, but in the five issues since, things have slowed down dramatically. The end of issue three saw the genesis of a brutal gang war that threatened to rock Batman’s city down to its core, but the resulting conflicts haven’t looked all that more dangerous than any typical Gotham evening. There’s a lot of fun stuff going on in Batman Eternal 8, but these pacing issues sap much of the tension from the developments, leaving a final product that’s not quite as awesome as it should be.
Batman’s a one-man army as he takes down legions of Falcone’s thugs, but his efforts are for naught since Commissioner Forbes — who’s in Falcone’s pocket, of course — won’t allow the cops to arrest any of Batman’s victims. Falcone’s still pissed, though, and he gets Forbes to arrange a deadly little welcoming party for Batman on the roof of police headquarters. Batman knowingly walks into the trap, hoping he can reason with Forbes, but that man’s long past the point of reasoning. Batman’s surrounded, but Jason Bard steps in and allows him to escape; feeling like he’s hit a dead end in Gotham, Batman leaves for Hong Kong to search for clues about Falcone’s sudden return.
I grew to like Bard quite a bit over the course of this issue. Bard’s obviously the second coming of Jim Gordon, but the writing team (Layman, Fawkes, Seeley, Tynion and Snyder; the usual suspects) balances his characterization so that he doesn’t come across obnoxious or too good to be true. He could easily be a Lisa Simpson here, incessantly jumping down Forbes’ throat every time he breaks the law, but Bard seems to have quickly realized how that route leads to a shallow grave, so instead he saves his questioning or rebellion for more discreet, important moments.
Artist Guillem March does a lot to make Bard appealing as well, giving the kid a softer face, largely devoid of shadows or any of March’s typical creases and detail lines — in fact, unlike the rest of the cast (and especially unusual for both a Batman book and a March book) Bard is almost always depicted with bright colors, almost always in the light. It’s not subtle, but it is effective.
Besides Bard, though, I’m also rather charmed by the writing team’s interpretation of Batman himself. It’s easy to think that this Batman is a little too naïve, a little too trusting, perhaps even a little too weak (I like to think he could have fought his way off that roof just fine, but it is Bard who not only facilitates his escape, but also corners him in a compromising position), but that all makes Bruce seem a little more human, and I’m all for that. There’s something refreshing to me about a Batman willing to walk into a trap just because he respects his friend Jim Gordon.
March’s art is also a boon for this issue; colorist Tomeu Morey helps alleviate some of March’s wilder impulses by keeping the colors brighter (although they occasionally come across too bright in the daytime scenes, but that’s a minor complaint), but March’s line-heavy style and more horrific tastes still come out at just the right times to create some legitimately creepy images. Moreover, March seems to be having a blast bringing Gotham to life.
As much as I like this issue, though, the pacing of the series as a whole is rather strange. The gang war erupted in issue three, but it’s been preempted by the supernatural and nanotech stuff, and minus an exploding Iceberg Lounge here or there, it’s essentially taken place off-screen, talked-about but not seen, causing the bare minimum of damage or panic to Gotham and its citizens. This gang war is supposed to be a big deal, but it comes across like just another night in Gotham, and that’s unfortunate, as it undercuts a lot of the tension the writing team’s trying to build.
Also, what’s up with Batman taking off to Hong Kong in the middle of a gang war? That’s the bit of characterization that bothers me — perhaps it’s the more prudent course if he wants to take down Falcone, but the Batman I’m used to would never abandon his city in the middle of a (supposedly) catastrophic gang war. Again, it undersells the threat of Falcone if Batman can just leave the city for a few days and think nothing of it. Characters are saying that the gang war has pushed them to their limits, but they’re not showing it; it’s a strange bit of dissonance that unfortunately dilutes what is otherwise a fun and effective issue.
Drew: I’d even argue that the bits they do show make no sense. I mean, I suppose blowing up the Iceberg Casino was a legitimate tactical move — it destroyed an important money laundry/legitimate source of income for the Penguin, while also making an attempt on his life — but basically none of the other crimes we see taking place make sense for a crime organization that has the run of the city.
What? Why are they stealing safes/running illegal casino games/driving around with automatic weapons? They seem to have unlimited power and resources, so why not buy the things in the safe? Why not open their own casino? Why not ditch the guns? I get that they can do these things with impunity, but if they have as much control over the city as they seem to, there’s no need.
Maybe I’m just frustrated that this was a missed opportunity to comment on actual corruption — the kind that is obviously immoral, but perfectly legal. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if Falcone wasn’t threatening his pet politicians with violence, but instead holding political contributions over their head? Wouldn’t it be interesting if, instead of committing a string of obvious and nonsensical petty crimes, Carmine was winning all kinds of development contracts? I’ll admit to kind of wanting to read a Batman series set in the Baltimore of The Wire, but it sure seems like the writers aren’t being particularly ambitious in their conception of villainy.
Then again, seeing Batman clunk some goons’ heads together is a lot of fun, so maybe I need to reexamine my expectations. It’s also fun to see him defying a corrupt police force again, though Forbes feels a bit too much like Gordon for this to not feel a little stale (March even goes so far as to give Forbes the classic Gordon “one lens of the glasses reflecting the light” affect). The scene isn’t quite a recreation of Batman’s battle with the SWAT team in Year One, but it’s close enough that I’m kind of on the fence as to whether it’s an effective tribute, or if it suffers from the comparison. It’s certainly less badass.
For me, the real highlight of the issue is the budding romance between Forbes and Vicki Vale. Layman (credited here for scripting) never quite lets the sparks fly, but I’m intrigued by their seemingly combative relationship. There’s just enough chemistry there for me to want to see more, and I’m excited to see how the writers develop this particular corner of the universe.
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