Saturday, 1 October 2016

Batman Eternal Vol. 1 (The New 52) Review

"Hey buddy! Wanna buy a supporting
character?"
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seely and Kyle Higgins.

Artists: Y'know what? There's a lot- let's leave it at that.

Collects: Batman Eternal #1-21

Background Information:

Every now and again, DC will release a weekly series. If they have faith in it, that series will last 52 issues. If not, It will end around the 40-45 mark. By the time Batman Eternal was in full swing, DC were publishing no less than three of these series; the aforementioned Batman title, The New 52: Future's End and Earth 2: World's End. These were all billed as big deals for the DC universe, but only one series found people who actually cared about it. Guess which one it was?

...the Batman one. It was the Batman one.

Review

There have been complaints aplenty made about Batman Eternal; it's chaotic, there's a lot of plots going in different directions at any one time and there's more filler than the teeth of a sugar addict following fourteen consecutive Halloweens. These complaints though, are best attributed to all DC weekly series and it seems a bit harsh to slag Batman Eternal for doing what series like 52 were already doing. That said, Batman Eternal's major selling point is that there's a lot of it- even if some of it isn't all that good, which is worrying considering how much they're asking for a trade paperback.
We currently have no idea what's happening here and we read
this scene twice!

So Forever Evil has just finished and Batman is back to his old games again- chasing criminals, recruiting minors to fight dangerous battles and trying his best not to refer to Alfred as "mummy" when a train accident finds Jim Gordon arrested for causing the death of hundreds. It's at this time when Gotham's criminals decide that when the cat's away (I'm not making a reference to Catwoman- she's in this one) the mice will.. well, start a massive gang war and cause death and destruction everywhere... y'know- typical mouse stuff.

This leave various Gotham heroes frantically running around the city to do typical hero stuff; Batgirl and Red Hood search for whoever set Jim Gordon up for a fall, Red Robin and Harper Row track a nanobot virus that's doing all sorts of evil things and Batwing joins up with the Spectre to set up Gotham at Midnight investigate strange going-ons at Arkham. This leaves Batman having to deal with the gang war and I have to say that it's cool to see old Bats with white-knuckles as he frantically rushes from one place to another to just barely avert disaster. You really get the impression here that he hasn't slept in days, which is great because I don't think we ever see the line "I haven't slept in days". It's show-don't-tell at it's finest.

Oh, and Stephanie Brown is in this one. Yep, that character that people demanded be brought back has indeed... come back. Honestly, that's all I can say about her at this point, because Batman Eternal seemed only interested in doing that with her character. She constantly pops up to remind us that she is indeed there and that DC are very sorry; please take them back, they love you and really that fling with the new readers didn't really mean anything! To say that she propels the plot forward in new and interesting ways is like saying Thomas the Tank Engine runs on Coca-Cola and Mentos; It's something we may really want to happen but when it comes down to it, we need to accept the fact that reality isn't going to pander to us in that way.

Weirdly, the most interesting plot seems to be that of Vicki Vale and new detective Jason Bard. There's a lot of solid detective work done by these two and seeing their relationship is absolutely the books sweet spot. There's enough space to argue that these two people matter more to the plot than any of the superhero characters combined. You know how people are all impressed that Batman's on the Justice League even though he has no powers? Vale and Bard, in this sense are Batman Eternal's Batman- no intense combat training (beyond what a cop can do), no high-tech gadgetry and yet they rattle cages like a blind parakeet on a sugar rush.
One day, I'm going to find whoever gave Red Hood's helmet
that stupid mouth and maim them.

With a book that has 13 artists, do I need to say that the art is a mixed bag? Or remind you of an idiom about too many cooks? None of this is to say that the art is bad for a weekly series (except for Ian Betram's, who makes every character look like they gained 20 kilos just for the issue and have blackheads all over their faces), But you're more likely to notice the change in artist than the change in writer. Otherwise, it looks how a Batman book should- dark, gritty, and intense as anything.

Now, as I mentioned, this is a 52-issue weekly series which means that the old weekly-series problems still apply (sing along if you know the words): Many issues feel like they're there to fill in gaps in the publishing schedule, there's no sense of a complete story arc in this volume, and too many things are happening at once. That's not a fault of Batman Eternal so much as it a fault of the weekly format; the book is very much a slave to its publishing schedule, so there isn't that feeling of tightness you get from an monthly ongoing. Batman Eternal does its best to still make those problems somewhat enjoyable, even if it can't negate them completely, but fair warning; I'm not anticipating a fully satisfying plot until the end of the series.

Thankfully, as I said, there's a lot of it, so you will be kept busy reading a series that is actually okay. Batman Eternal gets a three out of five Coca-Cola/Mentos-powered steam engines.

***
+ Chaotic in the best way.
+ Bard and Vale.
+ A lot of story.
+Stephanie Brown is in it...
-... but she's just "there".
- Not all art is good
- The usual weekly series problems.

Alternate Option: 52

Takes a MUCH broader swing at the DCU, even if the book itself isn't as good.