Sunday, November 8, 2015

Batman and Robin Eternal #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm going to warn you now:  this review is not short.

Yes, I've returned for the second season.  After the unmitigated horror that "Batman Eternal" was, I pledged that I wouldn't do it to myself.  I all but took a blood oath.  Then, I discovered that it was going to be about all the Robins working together.  I still resisted subscribing at that point, because I figured that it'd be more of Bruce acting like an asshole and Jason fighting back tears all the time.  Then, I realized that Bruce wouldn't be part of the story (at least in the present) because he was no longer Batman.  Suddenly, I just couldn't help it.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for sidekicks.

The good news is that it's a great start.  For one thing, DC (at least initially) avoids the mistake that it made with "Batman Eternal," where the cast of thousands of authors and artists made for inconsistent storytelling.  Instead, we've got some of the best doing what they do best here:  Snyder and Tynion on the plot, Tynion on the script, and Daniel on the pencils.  You can tell the difference immediately.  The guys sound like the guys.  Dick is charming, Jason is snarky, Tim is arrogant.  Most importantly, they interact in the way that you want them to interact.  I don't have to worry about Bruce's shadow remaining ever present.  When Dick talks about Alfred leaning on him to clean out the Batcave, Jason calls dibs on a few Batmobiles and suggests that they all hit a bar.  Tim reminds him that he's only 16 years old, and Jason tells him that they can find somewhere in Gotham for him to drink.  Tim asks Dick respectful questions, and Dick clearly exults in sharing the experience with the guys.  It's all exactly how I wanted it to go:  they're brothers on the town without dad watching over them (perhaps for the first time).  Moreover, Daniel is maybe the first artist that draws them in a way where they look different:  Jason and Tim are no longer just clones of Dick.  They're visually distinct, and it helps you seem them as clearer individuals, making for stronger bonds between them.  As I said, it is tight storytelling.

But, it's not all family reunions.  As happy as I am that the tone and tenor of the relationships are exactly how I want them to be, we also have a pretty intriguing plot.  I'm going to deliver a detailed summary here, because, if I learned anything from "Batman Eternal," it's that small details are going to be really important later.

The issue starts with a kid in Cairo seeing his/her parents killed in an alley, mirroring Bruce's story.  We then return to Gotham in the present day, where Dick is in a motorcycle chase with, in the words of his partner, Poppy, a "drugged-up techno-futurist weapons designer that has nothing to do with what Spyral sent [them] there for."  Tynion doesn't exactly make it clear why Dick is chasing the designer, since he doesn't seem at all connected to the subsequent plot.  But, it does set up the aforementioned reunion of the Robins, so I'm not complaining.  He narrates that he pulled in the Robins for help since he was working on a deadline:  his mission for Spyral was preventing someone from detonating a dirty bomb during the reopening gala of Gotham State University's Tower of Enlightenment.  (Dick wonders why Spyral would send him after such a small target, but Poppy tells him that it's not their job to ask questions.)  Once the guys finish the job, Dick changes into a professorial costume and arrives at the gala.  He also enters a long flashback sequence, telling Poppy that the Dynamic Duo confronted the Scarecrow there years earlier.  In fact, it was Dick's first case with Bruce, and they later traveled the world trying to find the Scarecrow after he slipped through their fingers that night.  Dick gets lost in the memory, until a group of armed children try to kidnap him.  (Ah, Gotham.)

The children tell Dick that Bruce never respected him and, ominously, that he paid "top dollar" to "upgrade" to the new model.  Dick evades their gunfire, and the kids tell him that they're not trying to kill him:  someone named "Orphan" will do that.  They tell him that "Mother" needs to tidy up her mistakes and that Dick is exactly that type of mistake.  Dick leaps through the window and heads to Poppy's van, but we learn that she's working for Mother as well when she opens fire on him.  He manages to grab the motorcycle in the van and flee.  Poppy notifies Orphan that they may now need to take "the others" off the table immediately.  Orphan reminds her that s/he doesn't work for Poppy as s/he watches Dick drive from the scene.  Poppy asks which target is the priority, and Orphan announces that s/he's going to take out the one that could lead them to Mother if they knew "how to look."

In flight, Dick finds that his communications are blocked (just as his hypnos failed against the children).  He's then knocked off his cycle by Cassandra Cain!  She makes short work of him, but he realizes that she's pulling her punches.  He asks why she is, and she then hands him a thumb drive.  (She also merely responds, "Mother," whenever he asks her a question.)  Elsewhere, Harper Row uses a device that she created to fry the computer in Batman's suit, preventing him from detaining her.  (He's still hunting down costumed heroes in Gotham.)  She goes home, and Cullen tells her that Spoiler left in a huff after Harper went patrolling on her own.  Cullen expresses concern that she's going to wind up dead like their mother, since she's insisting on going on patrol without the training that she was supposed to receive from Batman.  Harper tells him that she'll be fine, only to find Orphan waiting for her in her bedroom.  S/he announces that Harper is the "key to everything they cannot know" and the she must correspondingly die.

At the Batcave, Dick asks the Batcomputer about Mother and the Orphan, but it reveals that it has no records on them.  He then loads up the thumb drive, and a list appears.  It says that Mother's "children" must die before Phase 3, and it has a list of names that includes Dick, Jason, Tim, Harper, and Cassandra, as well as other names that I didn't recognize.  Dick expresses shock, and his voice activates a recording of Bruce.  Bruce tells him that this recording is his confession.  He sent Cassandra with the thumb drive if he fell "tonight," and he tells Dick that their international journey to capture the Scarecrow all those years ago was cover for a mystery that ran much darker.  Bruce thought that it was over, but he realizes that it wasn't if Dick had gotten this recording.  He warns Dick that Mother is more dangerous than he can imagine and that anyone could be under her control.  He tells Dick that Mother is his greatest sin and beseeches him to stay alive.  In the epilogue, the kid in Cairo kneels over his/her dead parents, and Batman is revealed to be the gunman.  He tells Mother via a comms link that everything went according to plan.

Honestly, I don't have all that much more to say, since Tynion is really just setting up the mystery here.  The big questions are obviously the identity of Mother and why Bruce would help her in killing the kid's parents.  (It seems possible that the kid is either Orphan or, a more remote possibility, Harper.)  But, we also have a more immediate mystery here, in the form of the recording.  Bruce seems to imply in the recording that he was going to confront Mother the evening that recorded it.  If he died, he left instructions for Cassandra to provide Dick with the thumb drive.  However, it's clear that he didn't die, raising the question why Cassandra is just now providing Dick with the information.  Did she hear Bruce had died and figured the instructions stand? 

As I said, it's too early to talk about the mystery, because it'll probably be a few issues before we understand the full extent of it.  But, if this issue is any indication of the story that we have coming, we really could be onto something here.

**** (four of five stars)

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