DC Entertainment’s Batman Office begins their next weekly with themes of trust and doubt, themes that will undoubtedly continue throughout the entire six-month run of the series, not least because many the writers and artists have telegraphed that fact in interviews done to promote the series in advance of its début.  In the end, trust is likely to win, if only because the lead character of Batman and Robin Eternal is Dick Grayson, the DC Universe’s very embodiment of good faith.

The presence of Dick Grayson, the former Robin, the former Nightwing, and the present Agent 37 of Spyral, as the clear center of the story is one example of lessons learned from the Batman Office’s last weekly, Batman Eternal. Although certainly a commercial success, and possessed of many artistic merits, that series was over long and too vague in its focus with an organizational structure that encouraged the different writers to speak in differing voices and contribute three-issue mini-arcs that didn’t come together into a complete whole.  This time we are told, once again in the aforementioned interviews, the entire series will consist of one integrated, tightly focused story with authors switching off more rapidly and trying harder to blend their voice into the chorus.

Try as they will, it is impossible to eliminate all idiosyncrasies from individual creator’s efforts, nor is it desirable. Batman and Robin Eternal #1 features James Tynion IV on scripting duty and Tony Daniel on pencils.  Daniel is an inspired choice to lead off a series based on themes of mystery and confusion and betrayal.  He wisely uses relatively simple panel layouts to allow the information in this issue to flow smoothly and in a more-or-less natural reading and visual rhythm.  There will be time later for formalist experiments once we are fully invested in the story.  Most of all, Daniel is a master of faces.  His drawings do not have the classical beauty and dynamic harmony of Mikel Janin’s, or the subtle power and majesty of David Finch’s.  But his expressions convey all the complex emotions of joy and fear and hope and horror of characters faced with doubt and threat from unexpected angles.

James Tynion IV’s script is less successful.  Tynion has a fondness for melodrama that serves him well in shorter projects and horror-tinged genres.  His two Batman annuals were excellent, and his series Talon showed great promise before sputtering out.  However, on longer series with more traditional heroes, his plots and characterizations can feel forced and artificial.  Here, we begin with a couple of set pieces.  In the first, a Cairo family re-enacts the tragedy of the Waynes, complete with the movie theater and the dark alley.  The second is a Robin team-up featuring stylized combat and snarky introductory subtitles that certainly gets the job done but feels extremely mundane.

The story picks up with the introduction of a group of spooky kids right out of Village of the Damned who set on Grayson as he attempts to complete a Spyral mission, a mission that coincidentally (or, as it turns out, perhaps not) takes him to the room that was the starting point of his first major adventure as Robin, an international adventure featuring the Scarecrow.  The children inform Grayson they are speaking for a strange new villain called Mother who wants him killed as a way of cleaning up unfinished business.  The kids imply, with the none-to-subtle dialogue that is one of Tynion’s weaknesses,  that Batman had a history with Mother, a history involving his protege.

Dick manages to escape that trap just as Mother’s main weapon, a bruiser named Orphan who has a passing resemblance to the Heretic from Batman Incorporated and who is perhaps the grown-up version of the luckless Cairo child in the opening, arrives.  Dick is then set on by his ally, Dr. Poppy Ashemore, known to Grayson fans as everybody’s favorite cannibal physician (and for those of you who don’t read Grayson, yes, you read that right).  Evidently Mother’s reach extends into Spyral.

The central encounter of the book comes next as Grayson faces a ninja who turns out to be the long-missing Cassandra Cain.  She defeats him rather easily, as defeating people in hand-to-hand combat is, well, the very essence of her character.  The entire scene is yet another set piece designed largely to show that Cass’s defining characteristics, her powerful skills and paucity of speech, are intact.  She then hands Grayson a thumb drive given to her by Batman and is off to save Harper Row, who meanwhile has had her own set piece introduction with snarky subtitles, from the Orphan.  Evidently Harper has an especially close and dangerous link with Mother in her past.  Also, evidently, Mother is the reason Cass had to fight Grayson instead of just handing him the drive.

Dick returns to the Bat Cave and accesses the drive, discovering it contains a list of seemingly thousands of names.  At the head of the list are him, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Harper Row, and Cassandra Cain.  There is also a partially obscured named that might be Jean-Paul Valley.  Then a hologram of Batman appears, confessing to a great and terrible sin.  He warns Dick that no one can be trusted, that Mother can make people do terrible things. A message floats above the list saying “Mother’s children must be eliminated before Phase III.”  We flash back to the alley in Cairo, where Batman stands over the dead parents, gun in hand, communicating to Mother that the child is ready to be collected.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

So, a story of trust and doubt. Likely the best policy is to trust in doubt. Mother is a mind-controller. Add to that the lead character in this series is Dick Grayson, whose current employers are all about misdirection and deception. Nothing should be taken as it appears. It seems obvious that the Orphan in the child from Cairo, but is that necessarily true? I don't think anyone for a moment actually thinks that Batman was willingly working with Mother to create new Robins, so was he mind controlled in Cairo? Was he even there? Might not that be a case of implanted memories? And why should we think that the information is genuine? It's implied that all of the names are Robins or possible Robins with dead parents (thus the absence of Damian's name). Yet, Tim Drake is on the list, and in this continuity his parents are still alive and Timothy Drake is not his actual name. We may well be dealing with a retcon, but still it gives one pause. From this moment on, we are in the land of shadows and lies. It's a fun place.