If there are schools and traditions of modern comic book writing, Tim Seeley stands solidly in the lineage of Grant Morrison, a set of practices that emphasizes playful originality with heavy intertextual references and metatextual musings. In this tradition, any given character or event or theme references multiple levels of meaning, plots wind in dizzying spirals on their way to shattering and unforeseen resolutions, and jokes always lurk among tragedy. All of these qualities show clearly in this issue as Seeley asks the deceptively simple, and long-delayed, question, “Is Batman Eternal?” The profound nature of this inquiry reaches far beyond the pages of Batman Eternal. It speaks to the place of Batman and his family in a world populated by gods and those who might as well be gods. How can Batman hope to continue his battle, how can he keep up his fight, when he is only a mortal man? If, that is, he is only a mortal man. In a less philosophic, but more concrete, vein, this issue provides a rich theme for Scott Snyder’s current explorations in Batman, and for the possible future he has teased in the pages of Detective Comics, a future where Bruce Wayne has turned to cloning technology to transcend his mortality and carry his mission into the far reaches of time. In this vision, Batman finally solves the challenge of his membership in DC’s superheroic trinity, namely how he can match the advantages of Diana Prince’s divine nature and Clark Kent’s Kryptonian genes. In accordance with Morrisonian precedent, we don’t get a straight answer regarding Batman’s mortality in Batman Eternal #46. Instead, we get a spectral vision of Batman’s possible futures, any or none of which may be his destiny. Batman has crossed the world to confront Ra’s al Ghul, having determined in the last issue that the Demon’s Head is the ultimate author of the troubles that have been plaguing Gotham. This sets the stage for welcome appearances by Ra’s’ henchmen, Ebeneezer Darrk and Lord Death Man, the latter a particular specialty of Seeley’s.
During the battle, Batman is exposed to hallucinogenic gas that sends his mind wandering through time. Here, Seeley plays with different themes and symbols from various Bat futures we have seen over the years. Batman has visions of Dick Grayson once again taking up the cowl as he did in Grant Morrison’s epic run. He sees himself, old and broken from the world of Kingdom Come. And he sees Damian from the Batman 666 world. The culmination is, ironically, a confrontation with Ra’s that plunges Batman Eternal’s own timeline into turmoil. The Demon’s Head, it turns out, is still recovering from wounds received during Robin Rises: Omega. That means that Damian Wayne returned to the living many weeks ago in Batman continuity. Where has he been all this time? Matters of life and death seem to sit very lightly indeed on the Bats of Gotham. Neither Dick Grayson’s death in Forever Evil nor Damian Wayne’s resurrection in Robin Rises appear to have made the slightest impression on this uncaring crew.
Ra’s, in true al Ghul form, denies involvement in Gotham’s troubles, saying that striking Batman in such a fashion would be beneath him, as he would only come for his foe when Batman is in top form. This leaves the reader no closer to solving the mystery of the series than when we began this issue, although a scene with Catwoman shows that matters in Gotham continue to deteriorate.
Three artists contributed work to this issue. That might have served as a visual metaphor, a showing forth of different futures with different flavors and tones. In fact, it only muddles the story’s impact even further.
Is Batman eternal? No, but he is likely as close to it as any of his colleagues in the DC universe. In a narrative so heavily influenced by the traditions of Morrison, it is appropriate to make the metacommentary that Batman is eternal so long as the readers' interest remains steady, and there is little sign of that waning. Within the close bounds of the story, Seeley may be playing with themes to be explored later by Snyder. Or perhaps he is just playing with words. In any case, whether Batman is eternal or not, this particular book is soon coming to an end, and we still have no sign of a conclusion.