Better late than never, disCONTINUITY brings to you a series review of Batman & Robin Eternal, the sequel to last year’s mess, Batman Eternal. With expectations low, Batman & Robin Eternal surely had to have been better, right? Let’s dive right in with reviewers COLLIN COLSHER and PARAMVIR SINGH RANDHAWA.
First, a look at the art. Despite being narratively awful, Batman Eternal has an edge over Batman and Robin Eternal in regard to art. While inconsistent, the first series featured a bunch of star artists doing their best illustrations from week-to-week. B&R Eternal‘s art was underwhelming, especially with Paul Pelletier, Fernando Pasarin, and Scott Eaton getting a lot of work. B&R Eternal is even more inconsistent and sloppy then Eternal One, especially towards with some of the fill-ins—multiple artists are filling in as early as issue #5, and it shows. But in the title’s defense, any time you have a weekly schedule to stick to, the art will always suffer. Overall, Tony Daniel, Roge Antonio, Alvaro Martinez, Marcio Takara, and Fernando Blanco shine as the best pencilers and I can’t complain about Gabe Eltaeb and John Rauch’s colors. I know Singh and I share the same thoughts on the art matter, so I won’t step on his toes more than I already have.
The best way to describe the artwork of Batman & Robin Eternal would be: imagine Ludacris’ dog ate one of his diamond chains. In the dog’s crap you’re going to have mostly crap but there’ll be these diamond studs. Those studs are Tony Daniel’s pencils, which end up drowning in the midst of the terrible and inconsistent artwork usually given with this series. Remember Helena’s face during most of the St. Hadrian’s arc? She looked more like Bruce Banner than she did Helena Bertinelli.
Art can be improved for future weekly series if DC utilizes a “cyclical approach.” If they hope to make each issue’s art look polished, then they have to treat each issue like they would a monthly: the first issue of the month goes to one artist, and then the first issue of next month goes to the same artist as well. Of course this requires scripts to completed much faster and the only solution is that series should be completely planned out months before release. Writers and editors should not be contemplating a series’ conclusion while in the middle of writing issue #3—everything should already be planned out beforehand. This would make it easier on the artists. And say there’s a plot point that inadvertently gains traction; changing the series so that plot point gains more traction should not be difficult because you know where you can divert your story’s vision and where you cannot afford to sacrifice. To re-iterate, my suggestion for comic book companies, in regard to future weeklies, is to stop writing them like so much stuff you see on TV and instead start writing them more like most monthlies or films. Then the art would surely improve across the board.
While the weak weekly week-to-week art left us feeling a little flat, Batman and Robin Eternal trumps Batman Eternal in every sense of narrative development. The first series was shit, constantly falling to pieces and shark-jumping, while this one holds together decently. It helps, of course, that the second series was half as long as the first. The same temporal-logic problems, seen in the original series, have crept up with B&R Eternal as well, though. It just doesn’t mesh with the other stories that are happening around the DCU, especially with Grayson and, to a certain extent, Batman—which is ridiculous because both of those series’ head writers worked on B&R Eternal.
I’m surprised that Snyder never lost some credibility with a bomb like the original Eternal, but I guess it is easy to pass blame when you are with a team of co-conspirators. Plus, he’s pretty beloved by fanboys. I was secretly hoping that Snyder would have lost some credibility after Eternal because then it would have exposed his general weaknesses as a writer and maybe lessened the power he had as a “main architect” of the Bat-line. But anyway, Eternal Two was hands-down way better than Eternal One primarily because it captured the Robin boys in a heartfelt way. And it did so within the confines of the tight New Age timeline. Cassie Cain and Jean-Paul Valley are back and Harper’s secret past is explained. Also Cullen Row and MIDNIGHTER in the Fam! The Bat Family is definitely swollen, but it feels RIGHT. Heart and charm both go a long way in comics. Well done.
My other favorite thing about B&R Eternal is that it functions as a direct sequel to Snyder’s “Zero Year.” The flashbacks from B&R Eternal are literally Snyder’s (et al) “Year One.” I dig it. If Snyder has been one of the main quarterbacks/architects of the New 52—and he definitely has been for Batman—then this was him attempting to shore up continuity and shut up the haters. I’ll admit, he really succeeds in this regard.
Mother is an excellent psychological foil for Batman in Year One—the person that is a catalyst for both the creation of more Bat-kids AND causing Batman to question his use of children on his own war on crime. (This last thing is something that was never explored enough in previous comic book eras, which I’m SO glad to see done fairly well in B&R Eternal.) Mother’s actions also help explain how/why, despite the timeline being so short, there could be so many young heroes and “intern” Robins. B&R Eternal very specifically shores-up shakier aspects of the new timeline, helping us to not only suspend our disbelief, but to buy into the idea that there might have been multiple Robins in only a few years.
HOWEVER, Mother as a current villain is weak. Year One, great, but Year Eight, not so much. My biggest gripe with B&R Eternal (besides the aforementioned continuity issues and some of the art, which I will get into below) is the creation of yet another decades-active super-villain that lurks in the shadows, operating a clandestine secret society. This has been done, and recently, numerous times. Mother uses brainwashed child soldiers; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. Mother nearly fucks up the world and nearly leaves Gotham in ruins; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. (Oh, not to mention, Snyder pens Mr. Bloom to do it immediately after Mother as well, and using a semi-brainwashed army of citizens too.) It is ludicrously trite (and boring). It’s just like the South Park episode “Simpsons Did It.”
I agree, Mother is a weak villain for Batman in his eighth year of operations, especially with the entire Family after her. In the flashbacks she worked, especially with the moral dilemma. I found that David Cain functioned as a better antagonist than she did in the main storyline and that’s kind of a surprising thing. He was a better threat, had more motivation and could have been turned into a villain of Shakespearian levels had more emphasis been placed on him. I personally would have had Mother be the villain for the flashbacks and Cain that of the main storyline, since that is where they both worked best. B&R Eternal also should have avoided the entire Gotham City is under attack… again. I can imagine living in Gotham, talking to somebody and saying, “Remember when Leviathan took over the kids? You think Mr. Bloom’ll do that too or is it too soon after Mother’s attack?”
B&R Eternal definitely has a better narrative sense than Batman Eternal because it does not have to insert filler issues, where story happens for sake of story. Instead it is able to use its shorter length to give characters nice arcs while also utilizing the past in an effective way (even though it fell apart around the end). While I still don’t really enjoy Tynion too much as a writer, he has certainly buckled down on improving the weak narratives that previously existed in most of his stories that weren’t three-page backup features.
B&R Eternal handled the concept of Batman’s child soldiers extremely well by pushing it away from what we see in The Dark Knight Returns and other Frank Miller stories, but while still respectfully referencing Miller’s work at the same time. I love The Dark Knight Returns—I still say it is one of the best Batman stories of all time. But here’s the thing, though: characters must evolve over time. Miller’s Batman was certainly needed and foundational, but many new stories today approach their narratives in either one of two ways: 1) continuing with a version of Miller’s Batman or 2) evolving the character into something fresh (as Miller himself was doing in the 1980s). B&R Eternal takes the latter route and does it well. B&R Eternal shows Batman struggling with the idea that the Robins he trains make him no better than, say, an African warlord who makes child soldiers fight for him. This is a thoughtful evolution of the character that is beneficial to both he and his kids, as opposed to what we see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which did not evolve or grow its characters, but copied Miller’s ideas instead. I won’t lie, I really liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you can clearly see Zack Snyder’s love for Ayn Rand in it all throughout and, from that, you can tell that his Batman is ripped out of the pages of The Dark Knight Returns. The idea of evolution is what makes the final scene in B&R Eternal so poignant to me; Batman rushing off into the night to stop criminals with the Robins. They are his Family as opposed to his soldiers—a thoughtful direction that does not devalue that which has come before it.
As for the portrayals of the main characters, I thought Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were both handled wonderfully. Tim Drake fell a little flat at times, especially his whole bit with Azrael. Reinventions of characters like Azrael and David Cain were done well for the most part—I mean I’d rather they have gone with Jean-Paul Valley’s original hairstyle, but that’s a minor point.
Batman & Robin Eternal made me understand the New Age more. And it even made me respect and believe in the New Age more. (The total opposite of Batman Eternal.) I’m still not a Scott Snyder fan, but Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando killed it here. Not sure how much Valentine, Lanzing, Kelly, or Brisson contributed. And not sure how much of B&R Eternal‘s “quality” can be attributed to Snyder. I’m sure Snyder was point-man and orchestrated many of the bigger story-beats, but from what I understand, Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando had a lot of input. No matter the case, B&R Eternal might be some of Snyder’s best work to date. I still say defiantly and adamantly that the dude has never written anything truly worth a damn on his own—and this includes his entire mind-bogglingly and undeservingly praised run on Batman for the past five years. But I digress. Singh usually knows more about how the writing work collaboratively functions on these team-authored weeklies, so I’m curious to see his opinion and learn what he knows about the distribution of story in B&R Eternal. What do you think, astute colleague of mine?
The way the story distribution was handled in B&R Eternal was probably better than it was handled in last year’s Eternal, but still not like it was handled during The New 52: Futures End—which I maintain would have become one of the best weekly series had it not ended like it did. I still got the nagging sense that each of these writers tried to tell their own story which often ended up being bogged down by the narrative. Again, Orlando and Tynion were not bogged down, but Valentine and Lanzig’s issues did not feel as connected as they could have been. Just like Batman Eternal, this was not the collaborative process that it could have been, but was much better than expected.
Since Batman & Robin Eternal focused on the Robins in the present and Batman in the past, this weekly series was given the breathing room to amount to more than just a prequel to Snyder’s next big Batman story. It became its own strong and independent story. While I would not call it a masterpiece, I would give it a strong B since it certainly was an enjoyable ride.