It is truly an odd thing that life is so much more chaotic than comics. Despite chronicling the darkness and light of a universe filled with colorful superbeings, gods and near-gods, world-shattering disaster and universe-ending war, comics continue a more-or-less (this year admittedly less) steady routine Wednesday after Wednesday. Meanwhile in the existing world the turmoil of careers, holidays, and family defies any such regularity. So, after a disruptive interlude of real-world events, let’s turn our attention once more to an examination of Batman and Robin Eternal.
The story has settled into three parallel plotlines, each proceeding forward at a steady pace, which shows that DC’s Batman Office learned well the lessons of Batman Eternal. The first, at least in the time-frame of the fictional universe, involves the pursuit several years ago of Scarecrow by Batman and Robin, that is by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The chase has taken them to Prague, where Bruce plays an elaborate deception on his young partner, using the search for Scarecrow to mask his investigation into the activities of Mother, a human trafficker who uses the trauma of parental death to shape children into designer products for any number of customers, from lecherous billionaires to ambitious ballet impresarios. This modus operandi is a very sensitive topic for Bruce, who very uncomfortably compares it to his own training of Dick Grayson.
This particular plotline is interesting for its character analysis and because it allows a look at the early days of Bruce and Dick’s relationship, a period that has been cast in shadows by the 2011 reboot of the DC Universe. Unfortunately, the actual story is rather a disappointment. As scripted by Ed Brisson and James Tynion IV, the flashback arc shows Batman making a deal with Mother for a new Robin, a deal that involves his personal involvement in finding and acquiring a candidate. This, of course, calls back to the closing page of issue #1 where we see Batman standing before an orphaned child. And his dead parents holding a smoking gun. Now, show of hands from those who think this is what it seems. I thought not.
The second thread of the flashback story is more promising. Batman confronts Scarecrow, who informs the Dark Knight that Mother has refined her methods. Rather than using actual trauma to shape her Children into obedient and deadly servants, with Dr. Crane’s help she has developed a Trauma Serum that duplicates the effects of wrenching loss and horror on the nervous system without the need for actual destruction. Scarecrow, horrified at the extent of Mother’s influence and revolted by the idea of a world filled with people grown numb to fear due to trauma and training, asks Batman to take him to the safe confines of Arkham. Batman refuses, telling Scarecrow he will act as the Bat’s eyes and ears inside Mother’s operation.
Brisson provides much more interest with another major plotline, the quest by Dick Grayson, Cassandra Cain, and Harper Row to defeat mother. This has led them to the home of Mother’s chief assassin, Cassandra’s father David, also known as the Orphan. There, they meet another of Mother’s servants, the telepath called Sculptor. It seems that Sculptor provided the psychic manipulation for Mother’s development program, but has turned on her employer as the next phase of Mother’s plan requires the sacrifice of the Children that Sculptor has shaped. The encounter leads to Sculptor’s melding her mind with the Hypnos-enhanced brain of Dick Grayson and revealing the history of Cassandra Cain. Here, Brisson serves up a new version of Cassandra’s origin, one that is made bigger and better (or more horrifying) in this continuity. It seems that David Cain still believed in the old methods and used a regime of murder and abuse to shape Cassandra into the ultimate weapon, a gift for Mother. Neither Cassandra nor Mother was appreciative of this, leading Mother to punish David and Cassandra to seek out Batman, who assures her that her life is her own to shape. It also seems that one of Cassandra’s mission was the murder of Harper Row’s mother, an event that will doubtless lead to much drama when Harper, who has shown great affection for her new friend, learns the truth.
Grayson, et. al., then set off for Mother’s nursery, arriving too late to save the Children there from the deadly attentions of the Orphan. It does allow Grayson to confront David Cain, defeating him in a titanic brawl that, in an odd editing decision, take place mostly off page. Grayson then observes that the flaw in Mother’s understanding is that she thinks Batman’s associates fight out of blind loyalty to the Bat, when in fact it is their awareness of his humanity and fallibility that is the basis of their strength, and his.
The third main plotline, concerning Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and their struggle with Azrael, Bane, and the Order of St. Dumas, is not a thread in these issues. It has been the most confused of all, but like the Cassandra Cain story promises to introduce a traditional and well-liked character back into continuity.
#11 - B, #12 - B, #13 - B+, #14 - B+
The three main storylines of BATMAN AND ROBIN ETERNAL are proceeding at a quick if uneven pace. We have now heard what will likely be the twin messages of the series, Grayson's observation of Batman's humanity and Batman's affirmation that everyone can and must shape their own destiny through their decisions and actions. This will probably become the clear opposition to Mother's philosophy of shaping her Children against their will with the goal of transcending humanity. The flashback story seems rather predicitable in its outcome, but then, a story, like a human, is fallible and may be forgiven if its heart is in the right place.