A weekly title. Another in a long, long line of Batman-centric titles that come out every month. A shifting creative team. BATMAN ETERNAL has a great deal working against it, and yet here I am truly enjoying the title. The strong foundation that James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder have started with is being built upon by some truly great creative teams and this week’s scriptwriter is Ray Fawkes, which suits the title just fine as it goes in a much more supernatural direction with its main plotline. We also get Tim Seeley and John Layman receiving co-writing credits. Our main plot sees Jim Corrigan and Batwing investigating the strange, seemingly supernatural things going on within the walls of Arkham Asylum. Having to keep track of 14 issue’s worth of content over 14 weeks isn’t easy, but I definitely remember seeing this stuff hinted at, almost as an aside, but not so much directly confronted, so seeing it come out like this is a great payoff that hits very quickly and only twists darker and darker as the issue goes on. We also get to see Harper Row finally come out of hiding to team up with Red Robin...on the latter's own plane. Though Drake would certainly prefer to work alone, there's no getting rid of Harper and while all this goes on, Batgirl (with Red Hood in tow) encounters Batwoman and Jason Bard has another run-in with the Bat. Whew, that’s a whole lot to cover, but more on that later. The characters are all extremely well-written, even the ones whose storylines only get a couple of pages, and in a cast this big that is critical. If things start ringing hollow, that would be the death of a book that comes out this often. Ironically with so many more issues coming out per month, the team has to be completely on-point or risk losing readers rapidly. They definitely deliver, though.
Dustin Nguyen handles the pencils and makes this book, with all its differing tones and themes, and does a completely stellar job. This can’t have been an easy one as the disparate parts have some similarities, but far, far more differences and it’s critical that each one have its own tone or the book will become needlessly chaotic. Especially praiseworthy are also Derek Fridolfs’ inks and the colors by John Kalisz. The former gives definition and impact to the visuals, parsing and sharpening the already jagged visuals of Nguyen’s pencils. The latter, of course, adds vibrancy, dark though it is, to the story, communicating without saying anything. This is something that these three do amazingly well as there’s a good amount of dialog this issue, but so much more is communicated through its visual language.
There is SO MUCH going on in this book and it doesn't always balance out. I talked around it above, but there are, no kidding, four storylines across twenty pages that have little to do with one another directly and have no point of intersection. What happens across three of the four threads only gets a few pages, with some transitional panels, in the entire issue. The Batwoman/Batgirl one, especially, seems disconnected and in need of more development, which I’m sure we’ll get to in subsequent issues, but at that point it would have been better off waiting until more could be said or shown. As it stands we get two pages of chatter with a reveal and then it’s back to the main story. As well written as the characters are, a lot of them feel like they miss out on the attention they deserve.
This book is shockingly consistent given its hectic release schedule. While the book may try a little too hard at being all things to all people and all storylines, the visuals and dialog more than make up for the scattershot approach and even poke a bit of fun at the chaos. There’s still an intriguing mystery at the heart of this tale, and whatever’s going on in Arkham seems to be absolutely brimming with potential, to the point that I’m already ready for more.