Halfway through Issue #21 of Batman Eternal, you think that you are reading a filler comic. It isn’t bad, but is one of those issues that this series churns out every now and again, where the story is slowly built upon, but is mainly an excuse to add some character development to proceedings. Good, but not essential. However, when the comic hits the halfway point, it speeds right up to the maximum, hitting us with a terrific scene with Alfred, a brand new villain entering the fray (no spoilers, but he is one of my favourites!), and a twist that will shake the foundations of this story.
Tomb Raider is back, with a brand new story. The series is on shaky ground right now, not winning over any new fans, but partially annoying the current Tomb Raider crowd. A new story could be just the ticket to make Gail Simone’s series feel more best-selling. While trekking through Snowdon, commemorating a touching childhood moment she had with Roth, Lara is struck with a vision. The vision includes her dead friend, Alex, begging her to save his sister who is in peril from something.
Harley Quinn finally goes to Skate Club, where she is allowed to unleash her full Harley carnage on her opponents, without any repercussions. I had dedicated this entire paragraph to explaining the plot, but… that is about it. Um… next paragraph! There Are No Rules is a pretty weak addition of Harley Quinn. I just don’t like the skating stories I think. They are predictable and don’t hit the mark quite as well as you want them to. I still stand by my point of the jokes being the same, but slightly bigger each time.
Wild Animals continues the streak of action-packed fight scenes. I slightly prefer the last issue, but at least Eternal seems to be picking up the pace at a rapid rate. Here, we get the conclusion of three storylines and the birth of another one. We start off instantly with Batman, Croc and Bard taking on Ten-Eyes and his army of spectres. This storyline is tied up a little too neatly for me, but it does feature some neat set-pieces.
Out of all of the upcoming Harley Quinn issues previewed online, this was the one that I was a little unsure about. The brief summary tells us that Harley Quinn will be covering as a burlesque dancer at a bar. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes; I love Harley Quinn, but I really didn’t want to see the writers try and use the comic to act out their Harley Quinn skin suit fantasies.
This was quite a jam-packed issue, but in the right way. It cleverly picks up three stories that each have something different to offer. Batman carries on from last issue, tracking down the mysterious kidnappers in the sewers, teamed up with Killer Croc and Bard. It is nice to see these three great characters, even if they do little more than lurk around and look awesome (the artwork for Croc is terrific). Then we have a brand new plot-line with Jim Gordon.
This was a much stronger effort from Batman Eternal, mainly because we finally got to see Batman be Batman for an extended time. The issue is split fairly between Batgirl’s investigations in Brazil, as she teams up with Red Hood and Batwoman (why did Batgirl and Batwoman have to be sent on the same adventure? This is far too confusing for novices like myself!), and then Batman’s pairing with Bard. There is also a nice sprinkling of Jim Gordon, a character we must not forget is at the heart of this entire saga.
This week, Harley Quinn backs away from story-telling and returns to its usual nonsense self. The issue pretty much just has a few sketches of Harley getting up to mischief. While it is a little disheartening that little happens here, it still provides enough laughs to keep us invested in the story. First Harley takes on some thieves who break into a pawn shop, which she is selling some jewellery stolen from a dead victim in one of the previous issues.
Last issue, Deacon Blackfire was revealed to be the master behind the strange going-ons at Arkham and this issue handles his further invasion of Gotham. Jim Corrigan and Batwing try to fend off the first wave of his minions from the deep, but with the Joker’s Daughter and the endless numbers pressing against them, they are really struggling against the odds. Also, in other news, Bluebird and the Red Robin confront the man behind the nano-technology, always pushing closer to discovering if Jim Gordon really did hallucinate the gun in the man’s hand.
This issue focuses more on Arkham Asylum, keeping other stories to a few pages, but there is so much going on in the Asylum that this issue feels just as all over the place as some of the other comics. Jim Corrigan takes on Mr. Bygone, a cursed man who has become maddened and vengeful from his incarceration in Asylum. He wants to inflict his hordes of spectres on Corrigan and make him unleash the Spectre, his alter-ego that he seems terrified of letting out into the open.
What a finale! I will be the first to admit that it could have been better. Matsu’s daughters have been bigged up for quite some time, yet they never really come into play, other than some creepy frames. Mathias feels like a cash-in to the old game. The fight is good, but not as climatic as I would have liked it. However, it could also have been a lot worse, which is my overall opinion of the first season of Gail Simone’s Tomb Raider series.
Batman Eternal once again decides to go through several plot lines at once, rather than knuckling down and truly getting to grips with a specific set of characters. I partially expected this after the gang war story was brought to a close; we need to be reminded what is left to do for the next set of issues. However, a bit more tack would have been nice.
The problem with handling a franchise as massive as Batman is that it leaves you very restricted with where to take new stories. For example, the writers here felt very restricted by the fact that they were unable to kill off Falcone or the Penguin. It would have made a very bloody end to the gang war and would have made the build-up justifiable. However, seeing as there is the possibility that the fan base (as well as the writers themselves), would revolt if one of the more intriguing bad guys was written out of the canon, they felt unable to make that risk. As it stands, the gang war fizzles out rather than coming to an explosive end.
For once, I am more than happy to let Batman take the back seat on this issue. Jason Bard is a very fun hero to spend this issue with, especially as his plan goes full throttle and he turns into the smartest guy in the room. The writing, pacing and dialogue of the thirteenth issue of Batman Eternal is terrific. I love Jason Bard as a character; he is the newcomer to the Batman franchise, but he instantly becomes a success with the reader.
The Good Man tackles far more of the ongoing stories than any of the other issues so far. Jim Gordon makes a return after a long absence. His trial gets underway and we get a savagely delicious courtroom scene. Meanwhile, Penguin and Falcone are going to greater lengths to win the city back, the first page showing Penguin’s thugs getting mown down by armed thugs. Jason Bard, Harvey Bullock and Captain Sawyer get together and come up with a plan to end the gang war once and for all, but it requires a risky step which is revealed in the last few pages. Also, Batgirl and Red Hood’s encounter is carried on from the last issue, but without the distracting art or silly humour.