Review by Frank Plowright
Batman Eternal begins with a teaser page of Gotham ablaze, an unmasked Bruce Wayne strapped to an arc light while a villain crows that he’s taken everything from him. As Batman Eternal was a 52 chapter project, the return to that moment is a long time in coming in what was conceived to celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary and all that’s been added to his legend since 1939. It’s masterminded by then Batman writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with contributions from Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley, then writers of Batman’s other core titles.
New Police Department recruit Jason Bard receives a shocking introduction to Gotham as an accident kills dozens of people, and rapidly thereafter the effectiveness of Gotham’s police is severely compromised. Carmine Falcone, the Roman, a mobster run out of town five years previously, has returned, but his influence remains, and the police are ordered to concentrate on capturing Batman instead of dealing with the gang war he instigates.
Batman Eternal is an immense undertaking, and that it’s so wide ranging leads to a considerable number of diversions. Indeed, over this opening segment Batman’s role is relatively small, with Alfred, Batgirl, Robin, Red Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Bard and Vicki Vale all having roughly the same time in the spotlight. The writers also throw the international Batmen from Grant Morrison’s memorable Batman run, but this isn’t just homage as they add their own nips and tucks to Gotham’s legend, adding new characters and reviving some real obscurities. It’s bravura, but after a sparkling start, the contrasts begin to dilute the effect, with different characters involved in different moods, the horror section in Arkham Asylum dragging when it should sparkle, and the time taken to return to some subplots too long. This leads to repetition, the scenes between Alfred and his daughter being an example.
An even dozen artists also contribute, Ian Bertram the most distinctive of them, his a strange, but appealing method, very stippled and including some mad faces. The sample art is from Jason Fabok and Dustin Nguyen on the basis of them supplying slightly more chapters than anyone else. Nguyen has a stylised looser approach, but most of the other artists take Fabok’s lead by pouring in the detail. Batman’s always adapted easily to different styles, and while some artists will be a matter of personal taste, none are poor.
While 21 chapters of a 52 chapter arc might not be neat mathematics for a three book series, it completes a neat narrative arc. Much has been resolved and much has been revealed, but there’s still a mastermind to consider. Unusually for a Batman epic, Snyder and Tynion IV deliberately sideline Gotham’s major villains, only Penguin and Catwoman qualifying, and possibly Killer Croc. Instead we have Cluemaster, Deacon Brimstone, Doctor Phosphorous, and three rampages by Professor Pyg. Perhaps Pyg could have given someone else a chance, as his is a repetitive presence, but otherwise the policy is intriguing and makes good use of comparative nobodies. Another big hitter appearing in the final pages and a bombshell revelation lead us thrillingly to Volume 2.
British editions of Batman Eternal published by Eaglemoss as specials in their Legend of Batman partwork spread the story over four hardcovers rather than three, each organised to run a quarter of the story, but the US version is better narratively. Alternatively the Batman Eternal Omnibus gathers the entire saga.