I keep looking at DC’s new weekly series, Batman Eternal, which finally had its first decent issue by linking its many disparate stories together, a tried-and-true method of serialized storytelling.
It’s clear to me now that Batman Eternal is a book that wants to have a fairly epic scope. This isn’t just Batman vs. Carmine Falcone, it’s Good vs. Evil on the streets of Gotham, and everyone – from a high school girl on the streets all the way up to the Mayor’s office – is going to have to choose a side. Snyder loves this kind of big, epic struggle for the soul of the city, a war that gets bigger and bigger every time he does it. Tellingly, however, he still hasn’t topped the disturbing intimacy of his best Batman story to date: “The Black Mirror.” The bigger he gets, the more he loses sight of the men and women who make up the city. And Batman Eternal looks big.
The reason Batman Eternal #3 works where the first two issues did not, however, is that it has an active incident linking everything together. The first two issues were too busy letting us know that characters existed to actually do anything with those characters – The Spectre and Vicki Vale had just as much page time, and did just as little with it. I realize the difficulty of packing a reasonably amount of story into 20 pages, but with solid pacing, it can be done.
Batman Eternal #3 is actually fairly successful at this. There are two new characters introduced here, but both are tied in pretty well to the events of the story. Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, was mentioned by Falcone as an enemy he would have to deal with; it makes sense to bring him in here, then, and he fits naturally into the story as a character. Falcone is old Gotham: Brutal, simple, effective (though from that opening flash-forward, of course, we already know Falcone loses). The Penguin controls organized crime in the city, like Falcone did, but he’s colorful, given to elaborate schemes and themed costumes. Slightly less dangerous, significantly more insane.
That corruption, the corruption of Gotham’s Batman-inspired madness, runs deep. Even erstwhile father figures, once the province of drunkards and con-men, are now costumed villains. Stephanie Brown – former lead of the most iconic Batgirl run of all time – is a high school girl whose father, she learns, is a D-list criminal who calls himself Cluemaster. He has some part in Falcone’s plot against Jim Gordon – though how Steph learned about it is far beyond any reasonable person’s guess – but Falcone being forced to turn to men like the Cluemaster shows why he has no chance of winning. The Cluemaster is more than just a staggeringly incompetent henchman here; he’s part of the very sea-change Falcone so badly wants to fight.
The uniting incident here is Falcone’s first move against Gotham. For the issue’s stupidest story, set at the police department, Falcone’s strike against the Penguin provides us an opportunity to see why their first move was against Gordon, and how easy the police department was to subvert. I say stupid because, in the era of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, a move as blatant as Forbes makes would get him canned and the mayor investigated in about 30 seconds flat. It brings Batman and the Penguin together, and sets the Penguin down a path that’s sure to end up poorly. It crystallizes the relationship between Falcone and the Mayor as similar to that of Batman and Gordon. The way these stories combine make it feel focused in a way previous issues never did.
Batman Eternal still isn’t a good comic, but it is slowly fixing many of the most obvious missteps that have plagued the series to date. Despite the persistent but deeply rooted logic problems of the series, it is beginning, at least, to develop some sort of thematic unity – and, perhaps, even a little tension. There are still some storylines that simply don’t work yet (Forbes, for example, is a truly senseless creation, and he tends to bring down every scene he appears in), but Snyder, Tynion and the writers are at least figuring out what Batman Eternal is about. The series is finally showing some improvement. Let’s hope that trend continues.
My Rating: 5.5 / 10