Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and a host of other DC Comics regulars tackle DC’s first weekly series of the New 52, but Batman Eternal gets off to a disappointing start.
Contrary to popular belief, storytelling decisions aren’t (or shouldn’t be) random. Take, for instance, the ‘flash forward’. Opening the book with a flash forward to some shockingly dire events in the future is one of the most overused storytelling devices in serialized fiction. It is intended, I suspect, to make use of the old chestnut that you only have 3 pages to hook a reader who picks the book up blind off the shelf. Why not just skip right to the climax (or some other major event in your story) as an explicit promise that things will get good?
Batman Eternal #1 is, it turns out, an excellent case study on why you shouldn’t do that. Much of the drama of this debut issue hinges on a case gone horribly wrong for Jim Gordon, one in which he made a mistake that cost a lot of lives – one in which he was seemingly manipulated into making that mistake. Who could be doing this to him? An old enemy he arrested? Someone from within the force unhappy with his do-gooder crusade? Why hatch such a complicated plan? How did they pull it all off? Or is he hallucinating? Was it just a simple mistake with calamitous consequences?
Nope. Some Batman enemy, looking to strip Bruce of his allies because it’s been almost a year since the last time we had that story, and God forbid something happen in Gotham that isn’t all about Bruce Wayne.
Do you see how that drains the drama from that initial premise? A good flash forward typically creates tension or mystery, often building to an act of sublime misdirection. The reason, for example, the flash forwards in season 2 of Breaking Bad, with its obscure images of devastation, worked so well is because they lent an air of doom over Walt’s every decision. We knew he would do something, make some kind of mistake, that would bring this about, but we never knew what decision that would be. It teased us, mercilessly, before changing the game on us completely in the season finale.
Batman Eternal #1 makes it crystal clear that Jim Gordon is innocent. It makes it clear that someone with supernatural powers is framing him. It makes it clear that this is about Batman. It answers all its questions before it even asks them, leaving us with nothing to hold onto but “Who?” which is, ultimately, one of the least interesting questions there is.
Look, Batman Eternal has definite promise. I like the focus more on the police than on Batman himself, since that’s a milieu that – outside of the excellent Gotham Central – has been largely under-explored. Jim Gordon is a character who can hold interest, and the idea of framing the story through the eyes of a new detective just arrived in Gotham has a lot of promise, even if the issue drops that conceit too often for it to feel important.
Indeed, that introduction was the strongest part of Batman Eternal #1, because it felt like, for a brief moment, the series would be about Gotham City. And in that moment, I felt like it was a series of infinite potential. A genuine exploration of fiction’s most famous city? I’d buy every damn issue of a series like that. And it is that brief snippet, the idea that this will be about Gotham and its residents on some deeper level, is probably what will have me coming back next week, because that’s a powerful hook.
But Batman Eternal #1 is sadly weighed down by catastrophic silliness, not the least of which is the fact that the dramatic hook of the series as presented here depends on a whole lot of stupid being taken at face value. The book strives for bigness where it needs to strive for intimacy, and fails at both. Its strengths are undeniable, and the creative team assembled to push it forward is top-notch – Snyder, Layman, and Seeley in particular are working on some of my favorite books right now. But Batman Eternal #1 was largely inert, coasting on the charm of its legendary cast and a ‘shocking’ twist defanged less than a single page into the issue.
Written by: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman, Tim Seeley
Art by: Jason Fabok
Colors by: Brad Anderson
Letters by: Nick J. Napolitano
Published by: DC Comics
Published on: 4/9/14