Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Batman Eternal 52, originally released April 1, 2015.
People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.
Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins
Spencer: Throughout all of the many different storylines in Batman Eternal, one theme has steadily built under the title’s surface: the idea of Batman’s legacy. While it was never something addressed all that directly (at least until R’as al Ghul flat out asked “Is Batman eternal?” a few weeks ago), the creative bullpen has steadily been building up Batman’s team of allies and investigating just what effect Batman’s presence has had on Gotham City. With this massive weekly series finally coming to an end, Batman Eternal 52 aims to show exactly the power of that symbol on Batman’s chest, and it does so in spectacular fashion, pulling together nearly all the threads that have been cast throughout the last 52 issues into one show-stopping finale.
In case you’ve missed the last few issues (or haven’t been following our coverage in our Weekly Round-Ups), the mastermind behind Batman Eternal all along has been Stephanie Brown’s father, the Cluemaster, who hoped to use his Z-List status to take down Batman from the shadows. It worked, too, at least until he was killed by his financer, Lincoln March — a.k.a. Owlman a.k.a. Thomas Wayne Jr. March is now literally a man with no identity, and he wants Batman to go down the same way, all so that March can prove that Batman never meant anything to Gotham City. He believes that with Bruce murdered and unmasked, the name Batman will mean nothing, and eventually be forgotten altogether, but Bruce’s allies prove him wrong. March is taken down by the combined might of the Batfamily — old and new — but it’s the people of Gotham, inspired by the symbol of Batman and all he’s done for them, who ultimately save the city from the Cluemaster’s chaos.
Batman Eternal has been a messy series, with plots that, at times, have felt overlong or too distant from the book’s overarcing story. So I’m impressed by the way that James Tynion IV and the rest of the writing bullpen pulls together almost every character and story that’s been established in this series and makes them essential to this final issue’s message. Jason Bard, for example, came to Gotham because he felt that Batman was a dangerous example, but the way that the citizens of Gotham unite under a sky full of Bat-Signals prove him wrong once and for all. Selina Kyle too gets a bit of redemption; she sends her men on search and rescue missions, showing that even under that new mob-boss exterior there’s still some goodness left in her heart.
It’s the Batfamily — Red Hood, Batgirl, Red Robin, Batwing, etc. — who best exemplify the power and longevity of the concept of Batman, but the two most important characters in this respect are actually the newest: Bluebird and Spoiler. From the second Scott Snyder first introduced her, Harper Row seemed destined to take up a superheroic mantle. She grew up in a rough part of town and led a rough life, and she witnessed the power Batman has to make that life better first hand, to the point where she had to be a part of it — and, of course, now she’s taken up his mission in her own fashion.
Stephanie Brown, though, was never on that path. While this issue shows that she always believed in the power of Batman, she only became the Spoiler to save her own skin and stop her father. In fact, last week, when all seemed hopeless, she was ready to skip town entirely. But then she was rescued by a random young man who reminded her of the part every single person has to play in saving the city. So she turns back, and for a brief, shining moment, she too is Batman.
If March was out to prove that Batman means nothing and could easily be forgotten, then he’s dead wrong. As these two young women — and, to a lesser extent, every single person in Gotham — have shown, his legacy and example will live on long after he’s gone. Likewise, I think it’s fair to say that Batman’s legacy in the real world will continue on much in the same way. Bruce Wayne will never die — at least not permanently — but I can’t imagine Batman books going anywhere anytime soon. His adventures will continue to entertain and inspire new readers for generations to come.
With that message firmly established, Tynion and the rest of the writing bullpen spend the last third of the issue on a lengthy (but satisfying) epilogue that checks in on every single significant protagonist in Batman Eternal (with the exception of Alfred and Julia Pennyworth, who appear to still play prominent roles in the post-Eternal Batman books). Now that he’s shown the importance of Batman’s family, he wants to leave them in a better place then he found them, be it by wrapping up their stories (as he does with Jason Bard, who doesn’t get off scott free), reminding us of the growth they’ve undergone (Barbara and Jason), or just by continuing to write them better than any other writer in the New 52.
Seriously, that’s the most “Tim Drake” Tim’s been in years.
Michael, a little birdy told me you weren’t happy with this ending. To an extent I can understand your frustrations — Batman Eternal often seemed like it was going off on tangents and spent too much time on some of its weakest stories, such as Batwing’s adventures in Arkham — but this final issue redeems most of the series for me. Knowing that these stories were never meant to be anything more than diversions for Batman puts them all in proper context, and the overall theme of this issue really pulls the whole series together for me in a very satisfying way. But that’s just my take, so I’m curious to hear what it was about this issue that left you cold.
Michael: Ooo very nice with the little birdy/Twitter joke Spencer. Despite having read every issue, I have been a pretty silent detractor of Batman Eternal because of all of those tangents and weak storylines you mentioned. I haven’t thrown my hat in the ring to write an AC on this series because of all of this. For me, a conclusion rarely redeems an overall weak series; especially one that that spends the majority of its time stumbling along as much as Batman Eternal has. So I’ll try to tone down the negativity a bit and focus on some more interesting ideas I observed…but I’ll still probably be a little negative.
DC has tried to make an engaging weekly comic book series nearly every year since 2006 with 52, and in my opinion has never touched the golden standard of that book. TV shows like The Sopranos and The Wire laid out sprawling stories with scores of characters and subplots that only converged successfully with great care. It is an incredibly difficult task to juggle a cast of characters that big, which is very much what the storytellers of Batman Eternal tried to do. As Spencer said, it seems that the conflicts that the Bat family faced throughout the story were intended to be diversions but they were more like a shuffling of Batman names and cards. Carmine Falcone is a big threat until he’s not. Bane is a big threat until he’s not. Hush is a big threat until he’s not. And so on and so on. The extensive reach of Cluemaster/Lincoln’s overall plan is intended to be a “wheels within wheels” kind of thing but it read like a bunch of subplots thrown into the book to fill up a year’s worth of issues.
The reveal of Cluemaster was a little silly to me, but I will say that his refute of the Batman myth in Batman Eternal 51 was a very clever and unique approach by the writers. Calling out Batman for not paying attention to “the little guy” (minor villains) is an interesting, fresh idea. When Lincoln March is revealed to be the ultimate man behind the curtain, he somewhat reiterates Cluemaster’s philosophy, which doesn’t really work for me. Lincoln makes the claim that, unlike Cluemaster, he wouldn’t cash in on the fame of defeating Batman, saying “I’m happy being invisible. I have come to like my shadow life.” I couldn’t stomach this, because as we saw in “The Court of Owls” story, an essential chunk of the character of Lincoln March is that he spent his entire life being invisible. He claimed that he was the forgotten son of Thomas and Martha Wayne; he wanted to be the Wayne that he believes he was always destined to be.
Another thing that I could never buy into was the fact that Lincoln or Cluemaster believed that Batman and his legacy would become footnotes as a result of their scheme. Really? REALLY? I’d have an easier time believing that if this was Zero Year and Batman was just starting out, but “5+ years” into his career we already have scores of heroes and citizens inspired and directly influenced by Batman. Even within the confines of The New 52, we have had the very public structure of Batman Incorporated. Maybe it’s because I’m a firm believer in Batman myself –- his myth inside and outside the comics –- but the question of Batman being “eternal” or not was never a question at all. There will always be a Batman, no matter who, no matter what.
To Batman Eternal’s credit, the writers obviously know the power of Batman’s legacy, evidenced by the big finale. In an echoing of Batman stories past (more recently, The Dark Knight Rises), when push comes to shove, the city of Gotham will always unite under the symbol of the Bat to defend their home. This finale decided to throw some romances our way in the forms of Barbara and Jason and Tim and Stephanie. I’m actually not opposed to either of these relationships but I don’t know how well they track over the course of 52 issues. Jason and Barbara is an interesting tease, whether or not they follow through with it. If/when Dick comes “back from the dead,” I’m sure he wouldn’t be pleased to see those two together. Tim and Stephanie have pre-Flashpoint history of course, but the way that he had been working so closely with Harper, you’d think his attention would’ve been focused in that particular direction. Speaking of the Stephanie/Tim/Harper dynamic, I could see that being a more youthful and comical series a la Gotham Academy.
At the end of the day I’m not sure what the takeaway from Batman Eternal is supposed to be — I guess just what the title implies? The series ends with Gordon talking to Batman about how Gotham throws so much at its people and how it “refines” them.” How exactly is that different from the theme that Scott Snyder has been building for the past few years in Batman? I think that Batman Eternal, like many DC Batman cash cows, takes most of its ideas from Snyder’s Batman, milks them dry and doesn’t add much else to them. I am anticipating a lot of flak here, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. This is how I felt when I was reading Batman Eternal:
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