Decompression is the very essence of modern sequential art, at least that part of it that consists of superhero stories told under the auspices of the big two comics publishers.  Still, Batman and Robin Eternal #4 takes this phenomenon to extremes.  The book is two extended scenes.  The first details the attempt of Mother’s agents — or perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to them as her children — to kill an amnesiac Bruce Wayne at his Welcome Back gala. The second examines the relationships among the various members of the extended Bat Family left behind in the Bat Cave, particularly Harper Row, Stephanie Brown, and the freshly reintroduced Cassandra Cain.

The new weekly from the Batman Office has started strongly, but still has fallen into some of the same problems as the original Batman Eternal.  Perhaps that was inevitable, given the dynamics of this kind of book and the unique challenges of the current Bat books.  Like its predecessor, Batman and Robin Eternal aims to tell a particular story, but also has to serve the greater strategic needs of DC Entertainment and the Batman Office.  To elevate the challenge even more, the weekly has to fill a function left vacant by the insular nature of Scott Snyder’s Batman.  Ordinarily, one would expect the flagship book of the Batman line to do the heavy lifting with regard to the main continuity of the Bat Family.  However, for better or worse, the last couple of years of Batman have concentrated on the narrow subject of Gotham as dark mirror to Batman, a focus that allows great leeway for philosophical and mystical speculation but not for serving the quotidian timeline of the Bat characters.  That job falls to the weekly in addition to all its other responsibilities.

In truth, the Batman line over the last 24 months has often lacked a sense of unity.  The editors have obviously decided to correct this with a vengeance, and the Bat books are starting to positively bristle with interconnections among the weekly, the various monthly ongoings, and the upcoming Robin War event.  To that end, this issue features major appearances from Batgirl and the aspiring Robins from We Are Robin. The greater Batman continuity is strengthened, but at the cost of a certain unavoidable business in this book.

On the other hand, the writers take advantage of having a strategic main narrative to come to grips with one of the thorniest and most controversial issues of the New 52, the origin and history of Tim Drake, aka Red Robin.  The “witness protection” background crafted by Scott Lobdell conflicts with both fan preference and the current storyline, particularly since it appears that Mother was interested in Tim, by that name, for many years before he supposedly adopted that moniker.  There is also the problem that Mother is interested in orphans, and Tim’s parents are supposedly alive, albeit in hiding.  Dick Grayson decides to visit the Drakes to get to the bottom of these seeming contradictions, while Tim gives us reason to believe he may have been under Mother’s control all along.

Grade

B

Conclusion

This is a difficult issue to judge. It is surely the case that little occurs to move the greater story along. But the connections and building of a greater continuity are very welcome, as is the hint that Tim Drake's problematic history may be due for revision. In the end, this is one if those issues that promises and leaves it up to later pages to deliver. But, given the nature of the problems the Bat Office is finally addressing, even a promise is a victory.