“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” T. S. Eliot likely would never have considered working for DC Entertainment. Then again, he was a very surprising man, so nothing should be ruled out. Certainly, the end of the New 52/DC YOU era mirrors the insight of The Hollow Men, Eliot’s 1925 meditation on hope and failure. As the DC Universe shambles toward it’s coming Rebirth event, the elements that had characterized its past two incarnations are beginning to fray and unwind. It is difficult to say whether these shifts represent eagerness to launch into the new world to come, whatever form it may take, or weariness with a creative regime that, whatever its virtues, had overstayed its welcome both in terms of economic success and reader popularity.
The last iteration of the old universe, the DC YOU, proclaimed the philosophy of story over continuity. It seems safe to say that idea sounded better in theory than it played out in fact. With Batman and Robin Eternal #23 continuity returns to the world of the Bat Family with banners flying and trumpets blaring. In a way, there was never any way for this weekly series to avoid continuity, DC YOU or not, given that it was from the beginning a celebration of history. But with this issue, recent developments and characterization, especially from Grayson and Batman Eternal, become tightly wound into the ongoing plot of Batman and Robin Eternal in a way that bespeaks a sharp shift in outlook and editorial practice, and may well presage things to come after Rebirth.
The issue is scripted by Genevieve Valentine, and is quite different from the somber reflections on power and responsibility that she crafted during her all-too-brief run on Catwoman. However, she does make use of the talent she honed on that series for managing a large cast of characters involved in a complex plot, albeit the action in Batman and Robin Eternal moves much more quickly than on her previous book. We begin with Cullen Row and Stephanie Brown, but then are quickly swept by way of teleportation doors to the apartment of Midnighter of all people. Grayson and Red Robin have tracked the mind controlling signal Mother projecting via the Somnus Satellite. The signal requires ground stations for reception and rebroadcast. Midnighter has agreed to use the teleportation doors to transport various Bat allies to the receiver sites while Grayson mounts a solo attack on Mother’s arctic stronghold to rescue Harper Row and Cassandra Cain.
Valentine shows a deft touch with the details on which continuity rests. She perfectly captures the complex relationship between Grayson and Midnighter that has developed across their eponymous books. She flavors that with fascinating hints of Cullen Row’s developing fascination with Midnighter, a relationship that has the potential to explore many facets of interaction between a younger and older gay man.
Valentine also deftly handles the interactions among Stephanie Brown, Red Hood, and Scarecrow. Scarecrow’s fear formula is the key to breaking Mother’s control. He is initially reluctant to cooperate, but finds himself faced with heroes upon which his attempted manipulations don’t work for very different and well realised reasons. It turns out that, when presented with his probable fate in the event of Mother’s victory, that Scarecrow is himself quite vulnerable to fear.
The issue ends with Dick Grayson on the threshold of Mother's icy fortress, a kind of warped Fortress of Solitude. Except it isn't solitary. It is the center of Mother's dysfunctional family of suffering and murder. The three main protagonists of the series, Dick Grayson, Harper Row, and Cassandra Cain, are gathered in the enemy's lair. Let the final act begin.