Mark: In a few weeks, the Batman Eternal creative team will have produced more issues than even the longest running New 52 books. With the task of producing so much content, the challenges of serialization in a weekly title are magnified compared to a monthly title. Plot and action have to be metered out very carefully as to not burn through too much too fast, but at the same time every issue still has to feel like an event as readers have been trained to expect by monthlies. With that in mind, it’s enjoyable for me to watch the writers of Batman Eternal juggle the many, many plot threads they have introduced over 30 issues. I’ve read every issue since the title launched, and every few weeks I have a good “Hey, remember when this thing was about NANOBOTS?!” moment when something introduced months ago and seemingly dropped suddenly comes back to the forefront. The narrative whiplash is part of the fun.
We didn’t cover it on the site, but Batman Eternal 29 dumped us right into one of those moments, with the return of Deacon Blackfire, Batwing, and — oh right — The Spectre. You can be forgiven if you forgot they were even around, since I don’t think they’ve shown up at all for like three months, and back in our discussion of issue 22 I wrote about Blackfire’s presence seeming like a weird, inconsequential digression. But he’s back, having taken over the body of Maxie Zeus (Batman Eternal seems pretty impenetrable to casual readers. If you haven’t read every issue, good luck understanding any of this), and trying to use Jim Corrigan and The Spectre as the key to unlock Hell on Earth.
As Batman Eternal 30 begins, Blackfire has completed his ritual with Corrigan as his vessel and the gates of Hell are open. Just when Blackfire’s domination appears complete, The Spectre is awakened in a deus ex machina flourish. He contains the breach between worlds, and damns Blackfire’s soul once again.
So while the demise of Blackfire is pretty anti-climatic, it does set up the next big Batman Eternal plot development: With Blackfire’s magic no longer holding them in place, the tunnels deep below Arkham begin to cave in. The entire asylum collapses in on itself and fall into the abyss below, taking poor Fear Toxin-stricken Alfred with it.
Also caught in the collapse, Batwing barely manages to push Corrigan out of the way of falling debris, but his arms are pinned by rocks. With his armor losing power, Batwing goes into shock and fades to black, his fate in question (i.e. not dead).
At the same time, Batman arrives on the scene just in time to see Arkham Asylum disappear into the chasm. Pursued by the police, he dives into the wreckage and runs into Joker’s Daughter, earlier beckoned by a shadowy figure (surely Hush) and given a suicide vest, who confronts Batman and presses the trigger on her bomb.
Batman Eternal is framed as the story of Batman’s downfall, and with that we get the fun of watching the creative team tackle the narrative problem of a Batman title where week after week Batman spends most of his time on the sidelines of his own title. Confused and reactionary, he fails time and time again to be heroic. In a normal Batman title the action would consist of Batman solving a crime, being a hero, and kicking the bad guy’s ass. Not in Eternal.
In this issue Batman is at least thrown a bone at the beginning when a LexAir 737 aircraft is caught in the path of Blackfire’s ritual and begins falling to the ground with over 100 passengers onboard. It’s a completely random moment, an attempt by the creative team to give Batman something heroic to do. Hilariously, it’s not even Batman who saves the airliner from crashing as his main contribution is yelling at Julia Pennyworth to deploy an unmanned Batplane to intercept it. He doesn’t even need to tell her how to launch it. She figures it out on her own.
Creatively, the rotating artists on Eternal have been hit or miss, and for my money the more straightforward style of Fernando Pasarin (who handles pencils for the first time this issue) is one of the more successful. It’s not flashy, but it’s not distracting and you can actually tell who each character is supposed to be. There have been issues in the past with more than one “That’s Bard?!” moments.
Batman Eternal 30 fits in perfectly with the rest of Eternal so far. It’s a series I enjoy, but one that’s not particularly exciting or interesting on an issue-to-issue basis. Part of it is that I’m not really emotionally engaged. With so many moving parts, the intended emotional moments like Batwing’s “death” are lost when he’s been absent from the series for months. Or maybe I’m an unfeeling monster.
How about you, Suzanne? Did the emotional beats of the issue work for you? And remember Nanobots?
Suzanne: Nanobots in The Narrows? Is that a thing? Oh wait, Batwing and Jim Corrigan are still in this series? It probably doesn’t help that I fell off reading Batman Eternal a few weeks ago (which feels like six months in weekly time).
Mark, I admit to having a lukewarm relationship with this book lately. My level of satisfaction directly relates to the characters and my interest in them. I’m totally onboard for Bluebird, Spoiler, even the slightly retconned version of Hush. Casual readers like myself may feel left out with obscure characters like Maxie Zeus or Deacon Blackfire though. Two issues ago, I completely forgot about Jade and her relationship to Catwoman and Killer Croc. Should her death really tug at my heartstrings when I don’t know a thing about her? In turn, Selina’s rise to Kingpin of Crime and head of the Calabrese crime family seemed similarly rushed and lacked the emotional weight it deserved to re-launch her title.
This series also marks my introduction to Batwing as a character. Initially, I looked forward to getting to know another member of the Bat Family and following his development. Yet he’s been so sidelined that I didn’t feel any emotional resonance with his plight at all. Why was he reciting The Lord’s Prayer during the collapse of Arkham Asylum? It feels like a writing shortcut unless there’s something I’m missing about his characterization (and his spirituality). I’d like to see a more nuanced portrayal beyond the one-note I don’t do magic comments he made in previous issues. Or maybe this is Ray Fawkes’ way of integrating another aspect of Luke Fox into a very crowded series.
What about Joker’s Daughter’s role in this issue? She fits in nicely with all of the madness and destruction of Arkham Asylum, like she finally finds her niche. And the shadowy figure’s easy influence on her only reinforces how deranged and unpredictable she is. But how far can you really take that character without feeling sympathy because of her profound mental illness? Can Batman really punch that problem in the face?
For all of you Joker’s Daughter fans, is this her first run-in with Batman? I’m interested in seeing his reaction to her wearing Joker’s ripped-off face as a mask. That is, if they both survive her suicide vest long enough to exchange pleasantries. The threat of a character death in Batman Eternal seems to be just that — a threat. Not for a second do I think this is the end for Batwing, Batman or even Joker’s Daughter. Unfortunately, the stakes have to at least feel real for readers to invest in the bigger picture. This doesn’t mean that every issue includes a major character death, rather the stakes have to fit the context of the book. What does the destruction of Arkham Asylum really mean for Gotham City? To sum things up — if you don’t have extensive knowledge of the Bat Universe in hand, this might not be the book for you.
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?