Today, Mark and Andy are discussing Batman & Robin Eternal 1, originally released October 7th, 2015.
Mark: Last year DC debuted three different weekly series, Earth 2 Worlds End, New 52 Futures End, and Batman Eternal. Where the former two had shorter runs and were used to set up the events of Convergence, Batman Eternal was a 12-month affair that told its own story (though there were a few spin-off titles based on the events of the series during that time). Frankly, 12 months was way too long a time to tell the story Eternal wanted to tell, and the amount of juggling it had to do to keep all of its narrative balls in the air made for a sometimes boring, occasionally incomprehensible read. Now, six months after the title’s conclusion, I could hardly tell you much about it and actually had to look up how it ended.
But for all of the title’s failings, there’s no denying it was a commercial success. The same probably can’t be said for the less-loved Futures End and Worlds End. Everyone loves Batman, and even though readership dropped steadily over the year, enough folks were willing to spend more than $200 to read it all that we’re getting a sequel of sorts, Batman & Robin Eternal.
And based on this first issue, the creative team learned a lot from the mistakes of Batman Eternal. In Batman & Robin Eternal 1 the focus is almost exclusively on Dick Grayson, and I’m hoping that continues as the series moves forward. With Bruce Wayne out of commission and Jim Gordon acting as a poor would-be-facsimile in the other Batman titles, DC is putting all of their Bat-eggs in the Dick Grayson basket, and as a huge Grayson fan it’s a move I’m fine with.
After a fun prelude that finds Grayson working with Jason Todd and Tim Drake to take down a futurist weapons designer, the bulk of the issue follows Grayson as he’s back in Gotham on Spyral business— investigating the threat of a dirty bomb supposedly poised to go off at the grand opening of a Gotham State University facility. But the threat turns out to be a ruse to corner and murder Grayson, all in the name of a mysterious new villain, Mother, and her heavy, Orphan.
What we do know is Batman was involved in some way with Mother, and that his involvement now puts Dick, Jason, Tim, Harper, Cassandra, and countless others at risk. Was Batman collecting Robins for Mother? The issue is bookended by an incident years ago in Cairo, Egypt. A young boy watches his parents be murdered by a gunman, but instead of Joe Chill it’s Batman himself who pulled the trigger. So who is Mother and why would Batman align himself with her? That’s the central mystery of the series, so don’t expect concrete answers for the next six months.
As a first issue, Batman and Robin Eternal 1 does a great job of selling me on the series as a whole. James Tynion IV takes lead on the script here, and he once again shows himself to be one of the more unsung heroes of the Batman-writing family. There’s a great sense of fun here, and the banter and interaction between Grayson, Todd, and Drake is a highlight, illustrating succinctly the brotherhood they have. Hopefully we get to see a lot more of them working together. Tony Daniel’s pencils are equally strong, with a great eye for action throughout.
What’d you think, Andy? Did you make it through Batman Eternal? How does this compare for you so far? Any wild speculation on Mother?
Andy: Having not pierced Batman Eternal (although after this I think I might), I’m coming into Batman and Robin Eternal completely fresh. With this story centering around Dick Grayson, first Robin and tragic remaining member of the ‘Flying Graysons,’ I love how James Tynion, script writer, and Tony Daniel, pencil artist, give so much of the book that Flying Grayson perspective.
Here we see a motorcycle chase up the side of a skyscraper (cool, I know, but not the coolest part), where Daniel keeps the surface of the skyscraper parallel from panel to panel, even though he makes liberal use of that angle to spin around the subject, Grayson in pursuit of some Gotham baddie. Even though the reader’s sense of grounding is thrown off by this intense perspective change, the consistency in this abstract relation to a building makes it clear and almost natural. There are many times throughout the issue where Daniel goes out of his way to make linear parallels from panel to panel and increasingly disorienting angles. This takes us along with Grayson as he bounds through space, perfectly comfortable in his acrobatic style paths around the world. In the same way, this high angle in the top panel below downplays the difficulty of this flip, bringing Grayson back into us, back into a more ‘natural’ relationship with the frame. Setting up this rhythm early and confidently spells good things, for they retain the choice to break it for powerful effect.
We don’t see Orphan until the full page spread toward the end, but I love this impressionistic way of teasing the ominous foe: Grayson’s feet dashing to escape a crowd of children, the Orphan’s feet approaching the crowd of children, and a shadow to imply presence but not identity. Not only is it a clever way of concisely showing the most important dynamics of this mini escape story, but by focusing on the ground we get a sense of where Grayson’s focus is. The confusion of a sudden confrontation has put him to miss all the details that might be important to finding out who this mysterious Mother is or why they are out to get Grayson. Besides that, it’s amazing to me how much character we get out of these deft little panels. Between the cool combat boots of Grayson to the muddied boots of the Orphan, we don’t even need the speech bubbles to tell us what happened. Using feet to describe character is such a rarely seen angle and it’s this kind of variety that really make this story bounce.
By my bet, all fingers point to Scarecrow as the origin of this cultish Mother figure, but their exact relationship to each or to Grayson or to Batman is speculative at best, but the inclusion of a Scarecrow type villain in this Batman and Robin tale lacking on the Batman is interesting. As Tynion narrates through Grayson on page 14:
“When Fear Toxin Hits you, it’s paralyzing…it shakes through your entire body, and you doubt every thought in your mind. All you want is someone to tell you what to do. Someone to shape you into something that won’t be afraid anymore.”
As Grayson grapples with Bruce’s absence, these lines evoke in my mind exactly what Batman does to Grayson as a kid. Acknowledging his fear following Dick’s parents’ deaths, and molding him into his sidekick. Grayson has donned the cowl in the comics before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this run saw him adopting the cowl and finding a Robin of his own. That journey to assume the role of the Batman in spite of a Scarecrow type that calls into question Dick’s own relationship to the Dark Knight is a meaty story indeed.
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