Thursday, April 16, 2015

Batman Eternal #51 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whether you enjoy this issue is going to depend entirely on whether you buy Cluemaster becoming a Bond villain during it.

The tension in the issue lies in the fact that Cluemaster doesn't immediately kill Batman.  As expected, he delivers his expository speech explaining how he and his merry crew of misfits came to realize that they could use Batman's obsession with his A-List adversaries to distract him while they wrecked havoc on Gotham.  Cluemaster tells Batman that he got the idea at a poker night with other C-List villains; the Joker was in the middle of launching one of his schemes, and Arthur realized that they could take advantage of Batman focusing on the Joker to pull off a major heist.  To give credit where credit is due, it's actually a pretty believable twist, to be honest.  (Look, I said something nice!)

The problem is that, as he walks us step-by-step through his plan, we never learn why Arthur did what he did.  After all, he didn't pull a heist, at least that we've seen.  The only motivation that he provides is that he wanted to show Batman that he wasn't a small fish.  But, it just seems too over the top to be believable.  He was willing to destroy Gotham just for his ego?  Are we really supposed to believe that he's that evil?  Snyder and Tynion haven't really done anything to introduce us to Cluemaster or his motivations, so it's hard to make our own judgment on that.

Moreover, this revelation speaks to Snyder's defining take on Batman, of him as an incompetent bungler.  Once Stephanie alerted Batman to the fact that her father was Cluemaster and allegedly colluding with Bruce Wayne, you have to wonder why he didn't send anyone after him.  Even if he thought that Hush was the guy posing as him (and we learn at the cliffhanger that ends this issue that it was his other doppelganger), it's pretty standard police work to go after the small fish first.  Sure, the fact that he didn't go after Arthur proves Arthur's point that Batman did consider them beneath his notice, but it does require you as the reader to believe that Arthur is actually right.  Would Bruce really ignore the C-List so entirely, even if they could offer him valuable clues?  I'm not sure that I buy that.

But, Cluemaster becomes a Bond villain not just because of his intricate scheming or excessive exposition, but because he doesn't kill Batman when he has the chance.  He even (somewhat erotically) strips Bruce of his chestplate and cowl, but doesn't kill him.  Tynion actually adds a clever twist in here, implying that Cluemaster wanted him to break free and punch him so that he could show the boys that they did really spar.  I laughed at that, because, honestly, Tynion really sold it.  But, it's the moment at the very end, when he's literally talking about the fact that he's going to shoot Batman where you have to decide if you buy it or not.  If not, this issue is just one more disappointing issue among many disappointing issues.  If so, then you're ready for the surprise.  After all, Arthur can't possibly survive knowing Bruce's identity.

Enter Owlman.

*** (three of five stars)

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