Weekly comic book series used to work like gangbusters for DC. 52 – a 52 issue series chronicling a lost year in the lives of the company’s characters – came out at the peak of DC’s last creative renaissance during the mid-2000s. 52 was bold and daring, but most importantly it was entertaining. The editors in charge tried to recapture that magic the following two years with different characters and creators in Countdown and Trinity, but the spark was missing. Eventually DC shuttered their unofficial weekly comics division. Until now. This week saw the release of Batman Eternal #1, the company’s first weekly series since its experimental Wednesday Comics wrapped in late 2009.
I’ve harped on DC’s reboot on many occasions in my comic reviews, almost always negatively. My main problem with the “New 52,” as it is known (referring to the 52 issues of comics DC publishes every month) is that it was a bit of a cop out. Sure, the executives restarted the universe, but everything is pretty much the same. The only difference really is that your favorite stories didn’t happen anymore and your favorite characters aren’t really friends yet. While sales have been fine, critical response has not been stellar – outside of a few books like Batman and Wonder Woman – so it makes sense that DC would try to recreate some of what made the “old 52” so great for them.
Unfortunately, Batman Eternal is not what they should have offered. I understand the impulse – Batman is their most popular character – but the book (so far) is not taking any significant chances. The first issue opens with a flashforward, before jumping back to “months earlier,” which is a lazy storytelling convention that gets used way too often. The majority of the issue though, is spent with the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department. For those who don’t know, the GCPD is super corrupt, and luckily one of the characters basically lays that very premise out early in the issue. The GCPD was the focus of its own comic series back in the early 2000s, and will presumably be the main focus of the upcoming Young Commissioner Gordon Chronicles TV series. The inner workings of that organization is a surprisingly rich vein, and it is great to see writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV tackle it here. In a nutshell, big time trouble erupts when Commissioner Gordon gets separated from Batman during a firefight and attempts to apprehend a criminal himself. The storyline is set up well and I’m interested to see where it goes.
So what’s the problem? Well, that’s all that happens in the issue. A series like 52 worked so well because it had several interlocking storylines that wove through each other, tangentially hitting similar points and influencing the grand narrative in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. In that way it was very reminiscent of the best serialized dramas, like The Wire. Based solely on the first issue, it seems like Batman Eternal will be focusing on one story at a time; once this Gordon-based arc wraps up in four to five issues, Snyder and one of his collaborators will move on to a different story. I will give Snyder the benefit of the doubt and believe that he is building to something here, but the lack of perspective is disappointing, especially when dealing with a superhero with one of the largest supporting casts imaginable. If the creators aren’t going to experiment with the form, how is this book different from any of the other regular Batman series? Of which there are many.
But I suppose it is not fair to judge this issue by the series it may spawn. Hell, it probably isn’t even fair to judge this issue without reading the rest of the storyline, but I’m not just going to waste my precious time here. The issue is very enjoyable. The writers have a good grasp on Gordon’s essential goodness, though I hope they can add a little dimension to his characterization as the arc continues. The art by Jason Fabok looks good, but at times it sacrifices perceived movement for realism.
I look forward to seeing where this set of issues leads, but I cannot commit to a weekly Batman comic just yet. I guess we will have to wait and see where everything goes from here. The good news is, if Batman Eternal doesn’t please you, the brains behind DC Comics have two more weekly series waiting in the wings; see you in May for the debut of The New 52: Futures End.