Okay then, here goes – are you ready for a year of Batman recaps? Because DC brought together several writers and a small army of artists to publish a weekly comic about everyone’s favourite Batting Gentlemen – it’s time for Batman Eternal #1!
Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Consulting Writers: Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Batman Eternal’s first issue starts with a scene that’ll probably be revisited once we finally reach issue #52 in a year’s time: way into the future, somebody has chained Batman to the Bat-Signal, and is boasting to him about their glorious victory. Batman has his mask off and his symbol carved into his chest – so whoever has captured him must be somebody who knows who Bruce Wayne really is. I’m not sure who actually does know that secret by this particular reboot point – Bane? Riddler? Is Harold alive again yet? More will be revealed in due course, I expect.
The issue quickly then returns to the present day, opening with some overwriting of the nature of Gotham which establishes that yes, this is a comic by Scott Snyder. The building Batman is going to get chained up to is still in the process of being built by Wayne Enterprises, and is called ‘The Beacon’. It looks a bit like it’s intended to be a lighthouse, but for planes. “Turn around, planes! Don’t fly directly over Gotham, lest you be besieged by Man-Bats!” etc. A new police recruit is arriving at Gotham train station, and he meets Harvey Bullock off the platform.
This new kid looks a fair bit like a young James Gordon, with glasses and short hair but with the potential for future moustaches only a distant hope at this point. Bullock gives the kid a bit of banter, and the kid gives a little back – this is Jason Bard, a character who has appeared in supporting roles in Gotham for decades. He’s almost always either a police officer or an inspector, and in past universes he was engaged to Barbara Gordon for a little while. Wikipedia suggests that the character tends to get horribly injured every time he appears, so I hope you’ve all got your death-pool cards ready. I’m going to guess… issue 12.
Gordon wasn’t able to meet up with Jason Bard because he was busy being pinned down at an aviation museum by Professor Pyg, who has been up to his old ‘kidnapping children and horribly mutilating them’ tricks again. Since he was created by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, Pyg’s become this sort of storytelling shorthand for future Batman writers. He’s a manically written and depicted character, completely kinetic but with off-kilter mannerisms which render him one of the most purely eccentric characters in comics. By including him in any story, you can essentially say ‘we’re not shying away from anything here’ and indicate to the audience just how all-encompassing and unpredictable your story is going to be.
The Batman cartoons have used him in this way, as well as the video games – by including him, the writer is allowed to think up some really messed-up ideas for their story, but without having to worry about logic. And so here we have Pyg flying a biplane, coating children in toxins, and enabled by an army of robotic pigs whose bellies are full of knives and which blow up seemingly for no reason. If you want to immediately soak readers in a sense of full-on continuity, Professor Pyg is your go-to choice. He can show up, be incredibly weird without being out of character, and he can then be locked up and removed from the story without anyone worrying.
Anyway, Pyg’s latest attack is cut off by Batman, who had to escape a death-trap off-panel which apparently involved an acid which ate away his suit. To compensate, Batman appears in this comic wearing a robot suit of armour, which is certainly one way of solving that costumery issue. He beats up the, uh, robotic pigs, and smashes through Pyg’s biplane, causing the villain to crash – although sadly Pyg doesn’t oink as he sails downwards, which seems like a missed opportunity. Pyg goes running off alongside a previously-unseen human minion, who gets given some dialogue AND a distinguishing rose tattoo for good measure.
Batman steps out of the robot suit to reveal that he has another suit on underneath. So his costume got destroyed, and his reaction was not only to put on a new costume, but to then put on a robot suit over the top of that? Batman, you’re overcompensating, and you’re really very lucky that none of the children were harmed whilst you were busy putting on two suits at once. On the other hand, it would probably be hugely uncomfortable to be naked inside a giant robot suit, so I can understand why he might choose to go that way. He heads off after Pyg, whilst Gordon heads off after the goon.
Pyg is dealt with easily, but Alfred cameos into the issue to warn Batman that Gordon has chased the tattooed man into subway – and two trains are apparently heading straight for one another. I was going to write about how the subway is weirdly empty as Gordon heads into it, but after hearing that apparently they regularly schedule head-on crashes, perhaps that’s not quite so surprising. Don’t they have conductors in Gotham?
Back at the police station, Bard and Bullock – Bardock? – meet a pretty hugely unlikeable fellow officer called Forbes. He brags about a time he mistakenly tackled a woman in the street whilst he was working a beat, and subsequently not only wasn’t fired, but got promoted up to Major. Maggie Sawyer briefly appears to tell all three of them go head on down to the train station, because plot developments are ahead and they all need to be eye-witnesses in order for subsequent issues to be more dramatically charged. They do so, but not before Gordon’s stand-off with the tattooed goon goes very wrong.
Basically, Gordon shoots at the other man’s gun, but his bullet seems to fly straight through the barrel of the gun like it wasn’t there and hits an electrical box. The box explodes for some reason, killing the goon, and making it impossible for anyone to switch the tracks and prevent the two trains from colliding at high impact, killing possibly hundreds of people.
It’s a dramatic scene, and also one which seems absolutely like some kind of set-up. For one thing, the goon outright says he doesn’t have a gun and that Gordon is seeing things – but also, why would an electric box blow up after being shot once? And more importantly: why are the trains running at each other to begin with?
None of this is dealt with as the police arrive and Major Forbes orders Bard to arrest Gordon. After a little resistance (none of which is from Gordon himself), Bard complies and spends his first day on the job arresting the man who hired him. That’s certainly one way of opening up your career options, at least. As the police officers walk away without making any real attempt to help with rescue efforts, Batman watches on. He also makes no attempt to help rescue any of the passengers, and sadly he hasn’t stripped down to his civilian clothes. I was really hoping he’d be wearing those underneath the Bat-Suit, but alas the dream of a Bruce Wayne nesting doll must wait for another day.
Hundreds of people are dead! Pyg is probably back on the loose! Gordon is under arrest! Batman’s got a lot of stuff to deal with already, it seems. I’m very excited to see him refuse help from any of his allies as he spends the next 51 issues setting himself up to be chained onto his own Bat-Signal, and I genuinely have no idea what could be coming next. In that respect, it remains to be seen whether I share that in common with the writing team. Will this be more like “52” or “Countdown”? Only time will tell.
51 issues to go.
Want to read along with Shelfdust? You can pick up Batman Eternal Vol 1 from Amazon here – and buying it from our link helps us out too!