Friday, 8 July 2016

Batman & Robin Eternal, Volume 1 Review (James Tynion IV, Tony Daniel)

Years ago Batman & Robin/Dick Grayson worked a case on a human trafficker known only as Mother who “made” children into sleeper agent assassins. Now, Dick learns Mother never went away and that Bruce actually hired her to provide him with an “heir”! But which Robin is the sleeper agent and why would Bruce do this? 

Like the current state of the Batman universe, Batman & Robin Eternal Volume 1 is a convoluted mess! Context-wise, this story takes place post-Endgame, around the time of Superheavy/Grayson/We Are Robin. But if you haven’t read those Bat-books, all you really need to know is: Bruce Wayne currently has a beard and isn’t Batman, Jim Gordon is mecha-Batman (and thankfully isn’t in this story), Dick Grayson is a hot secret agent for Spyral, and there’s a group of kids running around Gotham calling themselves Robin.

Couple things to note before delving into this book: Scott Snyder’s name is on the cover but he only co-plotted the series with James Tynion IV – he wrote no part of this book. And while Batman is in the title, Bruce Wayne/Batman only appears in flashbacks – this is basically a Robins book. 

That’s right, the main cast are Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown (all of whom were Robin at some point), and Snyder’s character Harper Row/Bluebird. Cassandra Cain is introduced and there’s no sign of Damian Wayne as he’s off gallivanting with bat dragons (check out Robin: Son of Batman if you want to see that but it’s not a great book)! 

The Robins do have good chemistry together that I noticed was similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dick is the natural leader like Leo, Jason is the hot-headed rogue like Raph, Tim’s a techie like Donny, and Steph’s the silly comic relief like Mikey (with Harper as the Casey Jones of the group). Batman didn’t really need to be in this one at all as the Robins carried it just fine themselves. 

If only they were in a story worth reading! Bruce was looking for an “heir” when Dick was Robin – what?! It’s such a vague and stupid idea not least because Batman attracts capable young people who could take up the mantle of the Bat all the time – just look at the number of Robins in this story! Then there’s Cass, Babs/Batgirl, Harper/Bluebird – there’s no end of potential “heirs”, Bruce! 

The fact that the story centred around child abuse gives the book an unpleasant taste. So why would Bruce associate with a human trafficker/child abuser to “make” him an heir? He wouldn’t really – it’s clear to anyone that he’s using Mother to find out all the branches of her insipid organisation in order to shut them down. That’s the only reason that makes sense but it’s like the writers think the audience are stupid and keep playing up the “Bruce is secretly bad” angle throughout. Also Mother just isn’t a very compelling villain – she’s a bitter, evil old woman. Such an ordinary addition to Batman’s colourful rogues gallery. 

And speaking of the writers, DC trot out some of their worst to handle this title. Tim Seeley, the crap Grayson writer, Genevieve Valentine, the crap Catwoman writer, and Steve Orlando, the crap Midnighter writer, all chip in boring pages along with unknowns (for a reason) like Jackson Lanzig and Collin Kelly. James Tynion IV writes a couple of decent issues while Ed Brisson, usually very capable, contributes a couple of very gloomy and uninteresting episodes. Despite the number of writers, the writing is consistent in that it’s really low quality throughout! 

Same could be said about the art – Tony Daniel draws the two Tynion issues and Aquaman artist Paul Pelletier draws the Seeley issues before a revolving door of no-name artists takes over. The series is drawn in the usual unexciting DC house style but looks more rushed given the title’s silly weekly release schedule. 

The story is a rambling, meandering, unfocused, overlong, and extremely unengaging one. The Robins sort of look into Mother and her organisation while we get dull flashbacks with Batman and Robin also sort of looking into Mother and her organisation. Despite being a longer-than-average Batman book, barely anything seems to happen. Bane and Azrael/Jean-Paul Valley cameo, probably to wake the reader up, though their appearance is pointless. 

Some of the Robin interactions are good but even if you’re a Batman fan this series hasn’t got nearly enough on offer to make it worth reading. Like its predecessor, Batman Eternal, Batman & Robin Eternal is a bloated bore of a book.

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