One great strength of a weekly series such as Batman and Robin Eternal is that it is, at least in theory, a coherent story in twenty-six parts. That is also a major drawback of the book. When telling a story with that many chapters, it is inevitable that some installments will be utilitarian sections devoted to moving the pieces of the narrative around into configurations for the next major character event or plot revelation. Batman and Robin Eternal #5 serves such a purpose, although the end of the story sets up a potentially interesting conflict between two characters who have long begged for major interaction.
The plotlines of this issue center on two locations. The first is the Church of St. Elijah, a shady Gotham house of worship that figured into Bruce and Dick’s investigation five years ago. In the strange temple, Dr. Crane, aka Scarecrow, met the Orphan and Cassandra Cain and demanded to be taken to Prague to meet the mysterious criminal known as Mother. So much for the past. In the present, Harper Row follows Cassandra to the abandoned church, now tantalizingly the property of the Order of St. Dumas. We get no hint in this issue whether the Order’s most famous member, Jean-Paul Valley, will be making an appearance, although his name did seem to appear on the list of possible Mother acolytes that Cassandra handed to Dick Grayson earlier on. What we do get is a fight between Cassandra and the Orphan, a battle Cassandra wins easily. For the chief representative of this book’s main villain, the Orphan has not been very impressive.
Meanwhile, Dick Grayson visits the parents of Tim Drake, Red Robin, whose name was also on the list. Steve Orlando partakes somewhat of the Tim Seeley school of writing and characterization, emphasizing the weird and the comic, albeit with a darker edge than Seeley. Unfortunately, he lacks Seeley’s comfort with dialogue and his sure feel for Dick Grayson, who comes off as awkward and obvious in his attempt to gather information about Tim’s past. We get a hint that Red Robin may have been adopted, but the conversation is interrupted first by renegade Spyral operative Poppy Ashemore, then by Tim Drake himself, who is understandably annoyed by Grayson prying into his past.
This issue uses four different artists and the differences in style and approach are all too obvious, almost jarring. One wonders if the need for this many artists this early in the run signals problems with scheduling and pacing. The production schedule of a weekly series must be harsh, a fact which likely also partly explains the expanded roster of writers.
There is little to say about an issue that is almost pure transition. The conflict set in motion at the end of the issue between Grayson and Red Robin may be an important piece of the story. The relationship between these two, so deep and well described in the previous continuity, has languished for lack of attention the last few years. The fact that Red Robin believes that Dick's behavior is too reminiscent of Batman could be expanded in very interesting and complex ways going far beyond this series. This is, after all, a story about both Robin and Batman. With Bruce Wayne currently lost in amnesia, Batman's influence has largely appeared in flashback. Perhaps it is time for that to change, and who better to transmit that influence than the oldest and most iconic Robin of all?