By: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seely (story), Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: Never get between a girl and her dad.
The Review: The downside to a weekly comic is the same as its upside: getting four (or five, depending on the month) comics a month. You’re talking about a quad-/quintuple investment than your ordinary monthly comic. So it had better be good! I don’t mind if one issue is slower or less substantial than another, but I won’t be able to abide a weekly series if it’s badly or even just blandly written. Contrary to the impression I give on this site, I am not made of money.
That’s why I’m a little iffy about the multiple-writer situation on Batman Eternal. While I have the utmost confidence in Snyder’s plotting, I have less when it comes to his co-writers’ abilities to execute it. Having read the superhero works of Tynion (Talon), Layman (Detective Comics), Fawkes (Constantine), and having unceremoniously Dropped them after relatively brief periods of time, I’m naturally wary about the idea of reading them week after week. Unfortunately, this Layman-scripted issue does little to alleviate that concern.
For any Batgirl fan, his characterization of Barbara Gordon is troubling on a lot of levels. I have to be careful here, because every writer is inevitably going to spin a character his or her own way, but there has to be some consistency when it comes to the iconic figures, right? And I just don’t buy Layman’s rage-driven portrait of Babs here. Her anguish and fury over her dad’s frame and lock-up, I get. I’m just not convinced that she’d display it so brazenly. Essentially, Layman infantilizes Babs. Her hysterical outburst to the judge who denies Gordon’s bail has all the hot empty air of a child’s tantrum, which only grows as she mercilessly beats down on Pyg’s henchman to no apparent purpose, raging, “No… No… Not true… Not right…” When Batman tries to interrupt, she lashes back with several misdirected punches, exactly as a child too caught up in her emotions would.* At one point, Layman even has her refusing to go to sleep, like a good little girl, before she departs from the Batcave with this totally inspiring line, “I’m going to get to the truth, Bruce. See if I don’t.”
Not only does all this seem out of character for Babs, it also creates unnecessary complications for the plot. Once Bruce declares his determination to save Gordon, that should be a cue for the two of them to put their marvelous brains and brawn together on a comprehensive investigation. Instead, they just get in each other’s way, with Babs brushing off Bruce’s reasonable doubts and Bruce failing to see his own hypocrisy in doubting her. “You don’t even know who that is, and you’ve already declared him guilty?” he protests. But isn’t that exactly what he’s doing, using the presence of Falcone’s former henchman to corner Falcone himself?
There’s a lot of paper-thin character work going on, but even the plotting has gotten a little shoddy. Mostly, I’m just taken aback by how much Steph knows even though last issue, we only saw her walk into her dad’s house, get knocked out, then barely escape after coming to, moments later. So when did she ever hear him or anybody else discuss “plans to burn down all of Gotham”? How does she know that she “can’t go to the police because they’re a par—”? Or that “Dad’s friends…they have a long reach“? These are strangely discontinuous revelations from Layman, who was always so careful about continuity in his Detective Comics days (indeed, at times he seemed concerned about nothing else).
Nguyen’s art is slight and willowy, almost too much so for the heavy stuff going down in Batman Eternal, although he’s more than capable of using shadow to create atmospheric moodiness when the scene calls for it (especially with Kalisz’s haunting glows). Still, Nguyen’s naturally lighthearted style isn’t always up to the task of conveying serious drama. At best, it nearly rises to the level of Bruce Timm’s convincing work on Batman: The Animated Series, but without the benefit of music and acting to give the scenes heft.
Conclusion: One thing’s for sure; if too many issues of Batman Eternal are like this, I won’t be able to tolerate it for very long.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * And having dealt with too many children’s tantrums to count, I should know.
– Raise your hand if you can’t wait for Forbes to get beaten to a pulp by the entire GCPD. You can’t see me, but I have both of mine ceiling-high!