Publisher: DC Comics
Story: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Release Date: 9th March, 2016
Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed BATMAN ETERNAL Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are working with an all-star cast of writers and artists to bring you BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, a brand new title that sees its first volume – collecting issues #1-12 of the weekly series – hit shelves this week.
The series alternates between flashback sequences where Batman and Robin face the Scarecrow for the very first time and the present day, where Dick Grayson leads a group of Bat-allies as they try and track down the mysterious “Mother”, a powerful new villain who seems to be able to use trauma to effectively program people, turning them into puppets, pawns and “sleeper agents”.
The mystery at the heart of the series – has one of the “Robins” been manufactured by Mother as a custom-made sidekick for the Caped Crusader? – keeps the pages turning, but the story meanders down too many side-streets along the way, diluting the focus of what should be a tense, urgent situation.
Visually, the book definitely has its moments, particularly with the work of Tony S. Daniel, but the rotating cast of pencillers, inkers and colourists give the book an uneven quality, with the lack of a cohesive style making it feel disjointed. The same can also be said for the writing, with an admittedly impressive ensemble of writers including the likes of Tim Seeley, Ed Brisson and Steve Orlando competing to stamp their own mark on the series and ultimately getting lost in the shuffle in the process.
What this series does manage to do – and do incredibly well – is (re)introduce Cassandra Cain to the New 52. Retaining several of the key traits from her previous incarnation, Cass rapidly becomes one of the most engaging aspects of this series. A mute assassin with a troubled past, Cassanda proves to be something of a lynchpin for the entire volume, and stands out impressively in what is otherwise a pretty damn overloaded cast of characters.
The only other character to really get a fair shake of the stick, besides Grayson himself, is Harper Row, whose frustration that the apparent death of Batman has robbed her of the opportunity to become his latest sidekick provides a lot of tension as the series progresses. Her dynamic with Cassandra throughout is intriguing, particularly during their visit to the Opera, as are her exchanges with Grayson, and while the bulk of the characters fall into familiar stereotypes (the bickering Tim and Jason, the wide-eyed, geeky Spoiler), Harper is perhaps the only one to undergo any significant development over the course of these twelve issues.
Therein lies the problem; while it has an undoubtedly strong premise and introduces a chilling new villain in “Mother”, BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL ultimately stretches itself far too thinly to have any real resonance, and struggles under the weight of its bloated cast to keep the narrative flowing smoothly and cleanly throughout. It almost feels like Snyder and Tynion have tried to pad things out unnecessarily in order to have enough content for the weekly format, with throwaway moments including the “We Are Robin” gang, Batgirl, Spoiler, a poorly-judged team-up between Red Robin, Red Hood and Bane, and many, many more along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some impressive moments to be had here, and there’s a fond similarity to the globe-trotting, ensemble style of Morrison’s Batman Incorporated, but to me, BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL ultimately feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, and perfectly highlights the significant drawbacks of the weekly format.
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