Batman and Robin Eternal #1

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Batman and Robin Eternal #1

Writers: James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder
Artist: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: October 7, 2015

I have a confession: I didn’t make it through Batman Eternal.

BatmanRobinEternalProper.jpgThe title was successful enough among fans. It sold well—obviously well enough to support a half-sized sequel in today’s release, Batman and Robin Eternal—and its premise warranted the pulp and drama of a weekly comic book. Jim Gordon was on trial among Gothamites after triggering a mass-casualty subway accident. His prosecution would lead to a much broader, deeply-embedded mystery within the city’s past, but Eternal wasn’t exactly an exploration of the city. Eternal was primed as a tale that would fully explore the relationship between Commissioner Gordon and Batman, which was a nice set-up, in hindsight, before Gordon took over the Bat mantle earlier this year. But for all the promise of a deep-delve into the Wayne/Gordon saga, Eternal became a who’s who among current Gotham heroes and villains—Killer Croc, Joker’s Daughter, a particularly memorable Professor Pyg sequence toward the beginning and a ghastly looking Scorpiana&#8212. The series also carried readers across the globe: from Gotham, South America, Tokyo and back. Running for a full 52 weeks, the series bulked up your pull-list considerably if you missed even a few comic-runs.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

For me, the appeal was simple: A new, guaranteed-to-be-okay Bat-tale appeared in my stack every week. Bare minimum, it’d probably be chock-full of action sequences. You can’t exactly expect a purely shined piece of comics gold, here; it’s not possible to have a completely unified vision with such a demanding schedule and an extensive creative team, but DC did a respectable job across the bulk of the issues. But through the course of the series, I was reminded that Batman Eternal was absolutely a weekly comic—even with all the hype, reassurance, and an all-star team. At its worst, Batman Eternal jammed an overstuffed cast, weak dialogue and a few tough-to-look-at issues—but, again, with a weekly schedule, it’s hard to demand perfection. By signing on for an event like Batman Eternal, I believe that these are things that you accept to be true. Arguing otherwise, you’re kind of a jerk.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

There are two ways you can do an event like this: A slow-burn, which has quadruple the pages to unfold a deep-rooted tale. Or, you can let the action do the talking and turn the event into an Event, which is the target Batman Eternal seemed to focus upon. I’d give a 1:1 ratio of lines of dialog-to-punches in certain issues, a two-to-three-issue average for any tie-in character, and a 25 percent inflation of any character’s pre-existing muscle tone. Eternal felt like Snyder’s Batman for the refresh-and-it’s-over Internet crowd—which felt kind of funny, with the writers tackling click-bait journalism in the opening few issues with Vicki Vale’s hot scoop on a drug cartel.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

But in the proper Batman world that Snyder’s constructed, the whole deal felt like an awkward fit. His Bruce Wayne is, for the most part, a character that thrives as a solo-artist—one who seems more alive when joined by the sole crackling of Alfred in his headset and the here-and-there rooftop cigarette dates with Jim Gordon. His relationships with characters and Gotham itself has been fleshed out over long periods of time. It’s thorough. It’s soaking with symbolism. In my eyes, that’s why his relationship-destroying Death of the Family run paid off: it liberated the Dark Knight’s tale from becoming a foray into too-frequent guest-spots and team sports. Batman Eternal ran in the other direction with a paper-thin exploration of its supporting cast. In the small-picture, I was tickled at the opportunity to read Batman once a week without delving into the not-as-great titles. Big picture, I started to bury my new issues under any other series that required catching-up after about 40 issues.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

And yet, here I am: curious about James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder’s Batman and Robin Eternal, something of a sequel to last year’s Batman Eternal. It promises a deconstruction of the relationship between Bruce Wayne; a frequent Robin, Dick Grayson; and a new baddie that’d make Freud proud. They’re calling her “Mother.” The first issue is about as vague as you’d expect: a panicked Wayne from the past unpacks a deep-buried secret, which appears to be hidden carefully from Dick Grayson. It launches with the same urgency of Eternal; one Bat-character has seriously wronged another, and the consequences appear to be—uh, maybe not eternal in the physical sense of the word, but long standing.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

Without giving anything away, Wayne’s been reduced to a rarely seen anxiety mode. Battered and bloody, we see the hero in the bat cave losing his shit over some looming secret—and why wouldn’t he be? The current Bat-operation is run on a need-to-know basis, which leaves Wayne in charge of the keys to the Batcave, the supplies behind it and the skills it takes to succeed out on Gotham’s streets. The Bat-team is often more in the dark than not under Batman’s cape, which has always felt advantageous for the Bat-team. By Batman and Robin Eternal’s final panel, however, we understand that we’re dealing with a side of Wayne that no character—foe or ally—completely understands. And that’s the central hook: Within the 20-something issues of this run, Robin and Batman are either going to dissolve completely or bond permanently—an allusion that’s slapped in our face mid-issue with a Schumacher-worthy line from Robin: “Batman and Robin forever,” he says, managing to cram in the titles of both shitty Batman movies into one line. “Rah rah rah.”

I’ll also cut out any spare Batman and Robin references after this, but did anyone else find it weird to see “The End of the Beginning” as a leading line of narration at the start of the book? I assume it’s alluding to The Smashing Pumpkins’ dual contributions to the Batman and Robin soundtrack: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” but who knows. It definitely felt like a weird throwback in a series that should run like Hell from connections with that movie.

Schumacher comparisons aside, I’m intrigued enough for a new weekly comic, even if that last one didn’t quite adhere. The first issue has workman-like art from Detective Comics artist Tony S. Daniel, which feels like a safe bet to kick off the long-running series. Readers who are stopping by comic shops for events like this one will feel right at home: Daniel’s renderings are slick, classic and easy on the eyes. The narration, conversely, doesn’t feel as reliable. Tonally, Eternal toes between goofy, slapstick introductions and Doomsday epiphanies, like: “Can you imagine for a second what might happen when it all finally comes out? When he finally pulls the thread and all the pieces are laid bare? Everything you have built…it’ll all fall apart.” And as fun as the mega-sized opening issue is to read, it doesn’t feel comfortable in its own skin quite yet. We’ll see where it’s headed, though, after spots from writers Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando, Genevieve Valentine, Ed Brisson, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

I have to commend DC for shortening the run to six months. Sales might’ve reinforced the reaction I had to the first Eternal, showing that readers didn’t have the stamina (or spare dough) to stick with the weekly comic over an entire year. In that regard, the series feels sustainable to at least try. With Batman Eternal, there was a point where keeping up felt exhausting. Cutting that in half could remedy this problem, but only time will tell.

The bottom line is, readers have an option for a concise, weekly Batman story. That’s a cool option to have, and has always been an affirming option, but whether you’re willing to stick with it over half a year is up to you. From what we’ve got here, I’m definitely open to taking that chance.

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

Batman and Robin Eternal Interior Art by Tony Daniel

Cover Preview of Batman and Robin Eternal #3 by Tony Daniel, and featuring a much missed member of the Bat family