Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Eternal Torment

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 13th, 2014

Variant coverBatman Eternal #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Consulting writers: Ray Fawkes, John Layman & Tim Seeley
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Jason Fabok (regular)/Andy Kubert & Jonathan Glapion (variant)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I wasn’t planning on picking up this weekly series, but a light week at the comic shop, an appreciation for weekly titles and a somewhat deluded sense that a $3 comic is a bargain in the 21st century all converged to get me to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found within — a story that focuses on supporting characters in Batman’s world rather than the title character himself. I was also expecting a simpler approach in the artwork, given the tight publishing timeline on which is series is set to unfold, but artist Jason Fabok has injected a meticulous level of detail into this inaugural issue. The comic definitely has its flaws, but it succeeds in the most important aspect for a weekly serial: it had me curious about what happens next.

A police detective from out of town comes to Gotham City after having been recruited by Commissioner James Gordon. Upon his arrival, though, he’s met not by Gordon but Detective Harvey Bullock. Gordon’s busy, you see, trying to rescue a busload of schoolchildren from the latest demented scheme and rampage of Professor Pyg. Given the chaos and cruelty Pyg always brings with him, Gordon would no doubt come out on the losing side of the conflict, but he has a powerful and resourceful ally who’s only just a Bat-signal away. But even the Dark Knight can’t protect his friend from what appears to be Gordon’s own deadly mistake.

This opening salvo in the oddly titled Batman Eternal is replete with Batman-related clich├ęs. One could argue, I suppose, that there are conventions, foundational building blocks of Gotham. The opening flashforward teases us with a villain bent on destroying the titular hero’s entire world, with Gotham in ruins. There’s a reference to Batman escaping a deathtrap just in the nick of time. There’s Gordon’s willing involvement of a vigilante in law enforcement. Perhaps what grated on me the most was Jason Bard’s introduction to the GCPD. You’ve got a Gotham cop trying to corrupt an ideological new recruit. It’s something we’ve seen a few times with Jim Gordon origin stories, but here, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially in that the crooked cop trying to influence and tempt the newbie right in front of two of the most principled members of the supporting cast. Forbes all but announced he’s on the take, and all the good guys do is tell Bard to pay him no heed.

That being said, when I finished this comic book, I definitely wanted to read the next issue. I wanted to know who’s pulling the strings to taint the main in charge of the Gotham police department. I wanted to know how he did it. I wanted to know why. The opening scene, teasing events later in the series, makes it clear the mastermind knows who the Batman is, so that makes for a relatively short list of suspects, but I’m happy to give myself over the story and allow the secrets to reveal themselves slowly rather than to engage in speculation at this early juncture. I also appreciated the close friendship, respect and reliance Batman and Gordon exhibit here. Gordon is depicted as being as much a member of the Batman family of heroes as Robin, Nightwing or Batgirl.

Furthermore, Batman Eternal makes for an interesting counterpoint to the events of the “Zero Year” storyline unfolding in the main Batman title. In that flashback story, we see Batman hunted by the GCPD. We see Gordon viewing the costumed vigilante with suspicion. We see someone pulling strings in an effort to control/cripple the city. There are parallels and role reversals at play here, and given writer Scott Snyder’s role in both titles, I can’t help but think the synergy and contrasts might be intended.

Fabok’s hyper-detailed linework serves the story well in two regards. It reinforces the dark and tragic tone of this opening chapter, and more importantly, his realistic approach works to bring credibility to an incredible story. Fabok’s work here reminds me of the story of David (Forever Evil) Finch, although Fabok’s work isn’t as exaggerated and obviously doesn’t look as rushed and sketchy in tone. Like Finch, though, he falls into the trap of having characters whose faces all look the same. Jason Bard, the crooked Forbes and Gordon all look like the same guy, just with different hair colors, facial hair and other accoutrements.

The color palette here is understandably dark, given the nature of the main plot (which doesn’t emerge until the final pages of the story), but visually, there’s little sense of fun at play here. When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely introduced Pyg in Batman and Robin v.1, while there was a grotesque quality to the new villain, there was also a hint of oddball, twisted playfulness as well. The more realistic look here and muted colors don’t really allow for any kind of atmosphere of fun or adventure. Now, it’s clear this story is meant to be a brooding one about personal and literal disasters in the lives of these familiar Gothamites — I get that. It’s a shame, though, there wasn’t some room in here for the kind of energy and flair of the super-hero genre beyond the grim-and-gritty approach that’s become ingrained in the medium over the past three decades. Maybe brighter or at least slightly more positive elements will arise in subsequent issues. Thanks to the effectiveness of the more mysterious aspects of this first issue, I might even around to see that come to pass. 6/10

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6 Responses to “Eternal Torment”

  1. Eric Says:

    Great review, Don. Glad that you are back!

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks, Eric. Trying to get back into a groove. Got a couple of new reviews almost finished, hope at post at least one of them later tonight.

  3. Kimothy Says:

    WOW, I had given up hope. Glad you are back.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Again, thanks for the kind words. I’m surprised people even noticed I was updating again. I figured Eye on Comics had been purged from many people’s bookmarks…

  5. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    Not true. I check every week or so for updates.

  6. Ismael Says:

    Me too!!! Welcome back