The 6 Biggest Problems of Batman Eternal
The final issue of Batman Eternal came out today, and I am not proud to say I have read all 52 issues. I am disappointed in myself for going through with it. I wish I had allowed myself to quit reading a long time ago. But for some insane reason, I just kept buying, just kept reading, and documented my thoughts in my weekly Hench-Sized Reviews every Saturday. I would say this was a Herculean effort, but it’s probably more like Sisyphus.
Still, I read the entire series, and I’m more than ready to plow through the final issue. But a feat of this magnitude deserves a little something extra. I have hated Batman Eternal since the beginning — but plenty of other reviewers around the web have loved the comic. So I’ve decided to do my best to explain why I hated Batman Eternal so much. This was a popular comic, and DC is already planning Year Two. A lot of people loved it, but why did I hate it so so much?
Join me after the jump to find out!
6. The Stop/Start Storytelling
Despite running for an entire year, Batman Eternal did not have a year-long storyline. This comic was told in starts and stops, in random swerves, pointless interludes and more hiccups than a person with a case of the hiccups. This was not a year-long tapestry, this was a bunch of random stories crammed together and forced to fit. I’ll try to list as many as I can remember.
There was the framing of Commissioner Gordon, the return of Carmine Falcone, the gang war between Falcone and Penguin, the introduction of Jason Bard, the Gordon mind-control investigation in South America, Barbara Gordon’s anger, Catwoman’s criminal empire, the nano tech plague in the Narrows, Killer Croc’s sewer people, the training of Harper Row, the introduction of Julia Pennyworth, the corruption of Jason Bard, Catwoman’s daddy issues, Vicki Vale’s newspaper stuff, the haunting of Arkham Asylum, something with the Spectre, the destruction of Arkham Asylum, the shuttering of Wayne Enterprises, the introduction of Stephanie Brown, the Cluemaster’s League of Losers, the redemption of Jason Bard, the overall big bad mystery, there were ghosts at one point, and then there was that time Batman fought some kind of monster in an art museum.
Very few of those storylines ever had anything to do with one another, and very few of them lasted beyond a few issues. Carmine Falcone was gone before he had time to make an impact. That nano tech plague got a total of three random issues spread out over 50 or so. Individual issues of Batman Eternal jumped around plots at random, checking in with Professor Pyg in one issue, then Batwing and Spectre in Arkham Asylum the next, then Catwoman in the next. And Batman went wherever he was needed, checking in at random with each little storyline here or there.
There was no overall flow to Batman Eternal. Instead of weaving a year-long tapestry, instead of focusing on a singular story and giving it the depth and breadth it needed, the writers had a ton of plots and subplots and juggled them as inefficiently as possible. Maybe year-long storylines are just not the way to tell a good Batman story.
5. That Stupid Transparent Cage in the Middle of the Batcave!
This complaint gets pretty specific, but goddammit, I hate this thing so much! It all starts when Batman finally defeats the super-villain Hush in the middle of the series. We’ll talk more about Hush further down the list, just know that Hush is a bad guy who knows Batman’s secret identity, and he was the major foe for the middle section of Batman Eternal. What does Batman do with this intelligent, psychotic villain who knows his deepest secrets? He can’t take Hush to the police, because the cops are corrupt and are working with Hush. So instead, Batman locks Hush in a giant, transparent cage in the MIDDLE OF THE BATCAVE, where Hush can see, hear and comment on EVERYTHING BATMAN AND HIS ALLIES ARE DOING!!
This may be the dumbest thing I have ever read in a Batman comic. Why does nobody realize how insane this is?! Hush is right freakin’ there, in the middle of the action, and can see everything that Batman and his allies are planning to defeat the other villains! Hush is allowed to just sit there and pester Julia Pennyworth when she’s trying to help Batman in the field.
I mean, come on! This is Batman! He doesn’t have ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD where he can store Hush? The Batcave doesn’t have any other prison cells that are deeper in the cave and out of the way of the action? He doesn’t have holding cells in the Justice League Watchtower that he can use? He does’t have a secret island prison somewhere? This is Batman! Come on!
And sure enough, what happens when they lock Hush up in a prison in the middle of the Batcave? He escapes! In Batman Eternal #47, Hush gets a little help from his allies and just waltzes right out of the prison cell, immediately attacking Julia and Alfred.
Hush then proceeds to take total control of the Bat-Computer, putting Batman and all of his allies in immediate danger. All because Batman couldn’t be bothered to put one of his most dangerous enemies in a safer holding cell. It’s not like this big bubble cage is a Batcave staple. I don’t think it’s ever been seen before. But all of a sudden it’s the only place to hold Hush. Because of course it is.
4. Julia Pennyworth
Don’t get me wrong, I like Julia Pennyworth as a character. She’s a pretty cool person. My problem with Julia Pennyworth is in how little the creators seem to have thought her through, and how little they gave her to do. Julia was a brand new character introduced in Batman Eternal, and as the name implies, Julia is the daughter of Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s longtime butler. And that’s fine. It’s a little jarring that Alfred suddenly has an adult daughter he’s never mentioned before, but that’s not a big deal. My problem is that Julia was almost immediately pigeonholed into being Alfred 2.
When Batman first met Julia in Batman Eternal #8, she was a British spy fighting bad guys in Hong Kong. She got injured, so he rushed her back to the Batcave to recover, and that’s when we all found out that she was Alfred’s daughter. A short time later, Alfred was attacked by a bad guy and was out of commission. But rather than force Batman to get by without Alfred watching his back, which would be an interesting dynamic, the writers just slotted Julia into the open Alfred role — and she was forced to stay in that role for the rest of the series.
Julia Pennyworth is a highly trained spy with a young lifetime’s worth of skills, but Batman repeatedly insists she stay in the Batcave to be his new Alfred. She was a field agent when he met her, but Batman only wants her as logistical support. And it’s not like Batman doesn’t employ a whole team of field agents. He’s got a bunch of Robins working for him these days. And parallel to Julia’s story in Batman Eternal is that of Harper Row, pretty much rubbing salt in the wound. Harper is a streetwise kid with some skill in electrical engineering, and she gets the full sidekick treatment, including extensive training, her own costume and the codename Bluebird. By the end of Batman Eternal, Bluebird is one of the family, going out to fight guys like Mr. Freeze on her own.
But Julia, the adult, the highly-trained spy, is told to stay put in the Batcave. Even when Alfred is on the mend, Julia is still stuck on logistics. She doesn’t get a costume and she doesn’t get a bird-themed codename. It seems she was created to just be a hot, lady Alfred, which is the last thing the world needed.
3. The Misused Supporting Cast
Speaking of the Bat-Family, the writers on Batman Eternal never seemed to know what to do with them. Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl popped in and out of the series seemingly at random, and rarely in a way that ever contributed to the story. Whatever random subplots they had on their own were minor, at best, and icky at worst. A romance between Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd? Ugh. The trio were just there to use whenever the writers needed a few extra characters. That was incredibly disappointing, because I’m a big fan of the Bat-Family, and surely with an entire year to play with, the writers could have come up with something meaningful for these people to do in the long term.
But nope! None of them had an ongoing story of their own, not even Barbara Gordon, whose father’s arrest was a big deal at the beginning, but faded into the background about midway through. Barbara started off very angry about it, but she seemed to forget about her dad as quickly as Batman Eternal did.
The biggest supporting cast fluke came in Batman Eternal #33, when the villain Hush started sabotaging Batman’s hidden weapons caches around Gotham City. In a desperate race to shut the caches down before Hush could get his hands on them, Batman turned to Julia Pennyworth for help instead of the Bat-Family. Julia had no knowledge of the caches, so Batman had to take the time to map out their locations and tell her how to disabled them. Then the two of them left the Batcave together to get to Gotham City. The Batcave is rather far from Gotham City. It’s why Batman has a car.
Why not call on Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl in that instance? Time was of the essence, with Hush doing major damage with each cache he found. Not only would that trio already know the locations of the caches and how to disable them, but they were likely already in Gotham City, much closer than the Batcave. But nope, Batman didn’t even think to call them. He just dragged Julia along, without even giving her a mask.
Yet he apparently needed their help in Batman Eternal #36 to intimidate Jason Bard on a rooftop.
Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl are great characters, and as members of the Bat-Family, they should have had a lot more to do in Batman Eternal. Each one could have carried their own subplot. Instead, there was no rhyme or reason on how or when they would appear. Batman Eternal wasted these important characters.
2. The Misused Villains
Speaking of wasting important characters, Batman Eternal has been putrid when it comes to using Batman’s infamous Rogues Gallery, on a number of levels. Unlike just the one Bat-Family, there are actually several different layers of villains in Batman Eternal, and almost all of them were misused. There were a few OK villains, like Catwoman’s turn as the new kingpin of crime, and the Penguin doing his thing, but mostly the villains all fell flat in Batman Eternal.
Let’s start with the minor villains, guys like Professor Pyg, who burned bright and then faded away into nothingness in record time. Pyg was there at the very start of the story, everything kicked off with him being crazy and evil. But after a bit of Pyg-style killings, he just disappeared into the ether. Same with the Mad Hatter. Red Robin and Harper Row were given this very minor storyline about some kind of nano tech mind control cloud, engineered by the Mad Hatter, and it was trounced in two random issues. And I forgot that the Architect was even in Batman Eternal until I started researching this list. Guys on this level just pop up and pop out, barely a bump in the road.
Then there are the medium villains, who by any other understanding, should be major bad guys. The likes of Bane, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy could easily carry a story like Batman Eternal on their own, but instead were grouped together to be little more than an annoyance to Batman and his people. They were filler.
If we ignore their random and sporadic appearances in the first half of the series, this group really came to prominence in Batman Eternal #37, when the lot of them escaped Arkham Asylum and hid out in an abandoned building or two. They were little more than a blip on Batman’s radar, and he took them down (without backup) just to keep the story moving along. Those were some of the worst, and worst drawn, issues of the series. Then Batman Eternal decided to weave these people into the larger narrative in the finale and give them all a power upgrade. This led to a somewhat entertaining series of showdowns, with each member of the Bat-Family taking on a member of this upgraded gaggle of bad guys. But again, they did little more than grumble and grouse until Batman showed up and smacked them down without a second thought. They weren’t a threat, they were just taking up space and waiting around for Batman to punch them.
And finally, there were the major villains, all of whom were wasted. I won’t even acknowledge guys like the Riddler or R’as al Ghul, who had little more than single-issue cameos. I’m talking about the villains who we were led to believe were a big deal, only for them to be little more than a cog in a larger plan. First there was Carmine Falcone, who got a big push at the start of Batman Eternal, as well he should have. Bringing Falcone back was a big deal, and he could have made waves for years.
Instead, Batman Eternal randomly tossed him off to the side after a few issues, having served his purpose. They brought Carmine Falcone back from the shadows to wreak havoc, then discarded him just as quickly. Then came Hush, who served as the big bad through the middle of the series, and who really gave Batman a run for his money. Only to reveal that Hush was also just another cog in the wheel, and he too was cast aside (into a giant, transparent bubble cage).
Then we came to the big bad behind it all: Owlman, otherwise known as Thomas Wayne Jr., Bruce’s long-lost older brother. Owlman could very easily be an A-List bad guy. He could be a villain to stand the test of time, and definitely works as the mastermind behind Batman Eternal. Except that he only showed up on the last page of issue#51, so what all has he done? In order to preserve the surprise, the readers had no idea who was pulling the strings behind the scenes. We knew somebody was there, but he was just a shadowy mystery, and not a very good one at that. Owlman is responsible for Batman Eternal almost by proxy. As far as we’re concerned, he didn’t do anything himself. He just claims he pulled all these strings behind the scenes, but there is little to no proof or build-up. His reveal might as well have been a retcon.
And all he got was a single fistfist with Batman in the final issue this week. The big bad, the guy behind the whole thing, gets a single fight. Sigh.
From top to bottom, none of the villains used in Batman Eternal had much of an impact. They all troubled the Dark Knight a little bit, sure, but none of them played a memorable role. The minor bad guys came and went without a fuss. The medium bad guys were little more than watered down punching bags. And the major bad guy, the one behind it all, only showed up in the last issue, so we never actually got to see him in any real action.
Honestly, the only thing Batman was fighting in Batman Eternal was Batman Eternal itself. And they couldn’t even get that right.
1. It’s Not About Batman
Batman was not the star of Batman Eternal, but the comic wanted us to think he was. The plot was the real star, that’s what the writers really cared about. They thought they were clever, they thought they were masterminds, they thought they’d woven this intricate, elaborate, carefully detailed web, and they couldn’t wait to impress all of us with how cool their plan was. They thought they were clever with how they used Riddler and R’as al Ghul. They thought they were geniuses with how Hush became part of the story. And I bet they were patting themselves on the back with the reveal that Cluemaster was one of the masterminds in Batman Eternal #50.
The villain’s master plot was the star of Batman Eternal. Batman was just along for the ride. Cluemaster spends nearly that entire issue just going on and on, bragging about how awesome the plan was.
Obviously, Batman was the main character of the comic, and he featured in nearly every issue. But Batman Eternal wasn’t about him or his journey. There is little to no exploration of Batman’s character over the course of Batman Eternal. Even with an entire year’s worth of stories, Batman doesn’t change or learn anything new about himself. And he is always Batman. There are few moments where he settles down long enough to take off his costume and be Bruce Wayne, let alone be a human being in general. Instead, he’s always ‘on’, he’s always doing Batman things.
From the very beginning, Batman is in constant motion, reacting to the latest twist or subplot. There are times where we see him trying to deduce the master plot and the major villains, but due to the nature of wanting the surprise reveal in the end, it becomes a story point that Batman doesn’t figure out the truth. Batman never solves the case. The answer is revealed to him at the same time as it’s revealed to the reader.
Batman is just a passenger in Batman Eternal. He doesn’t free Gordon. He doesn’t stop the major bad guys. He doesn’t save his company. He doesn’t build a better relationship with any of his allies. Yes, he beats up the various villains that pop up throughout the series, but that’s the equivalent of playing Whack-a-Mole.
Batman Eternal is not about Batman. It’s not about him as the World’s Greatest Detective. It’s not about the showdown with some of his classic villains. It’s not about the strength of the Bat-family. Batman Eternal is all about Batman Eternal.
And I just didn’t like Batman Eternal.
Tune in this Saturday for my review of the finale issue, Batman Eternal #52!