Chapter 5 doesn’t really feel like any issue of Batman Eternal before it. There aren’t several different subplots to follow, Batman is hardly featured at all, and almost every major storyline running through the first four issues is missing. Instead, we’re turning our attention to Tim Drake and an investigation into a mysterious disease plaguing The Narrows that may or may not have something to do with the still-missing Professor Pyg.
Tim Drake has more to do and say in the first page than in any other New 52 Bat-comic in the past 2 and a half years outside of Teen Titans and for that reason alone issue #5 “Disinfect” will be worth picking up for many. Writer James Tynion IV recaptures the same vibe of the 90s Robin series with this one and even artist Andy Clarke pitches in by giving Drake his classic spiky hairstyle back. We don’t just check in on Tim for a moment and then leave him behind until some other week, he and three other curious parties are the only focus of this issue. All three of them are investigating The Narrows and we watch as their stories converge. It’s probably the best structured of the Batman Eternal comics so far with a done-in-one feel that makes it easily accessible to new readers, but it also has the air of a filler episode because all the prime-time players are absent and the nanobot plague really comes out of left field. We only know that the little robots matter because we saw something about it in the Batman Eternal spoiler issue from Batman #28.
Speaking of past comics, “Disinfect” is tightly knit with continuity and doesn’t hesitate to reference preceding sagas. There are references to the Batman Incorporated death of Damian, whatever happened to Dick in Forever Evil (what Tim says here sounds pretty cold, but then again it would be nice to actually see that last issue of Forever Evil eventually so we can fully grasp the context of scenes like this), a particular Batman: Zero Year backup story, Batman: The Cult (bold move referencing a story that’s not been in print since 2009), and Batman: Death of the Family. Unfortunately, we also get another instance of Alfred being called “Penny-One” and I swear it’s like they’re doing it just to infuriate me. It’s also the 2nd issue in a row in which a member of the Batfamily behaves like a jerk to Batman and Batman just sort of takes it. Seriously, the guy just lost his son and as far as they know he lost Grayson too and Grayson was in many ways more of a son to him than Damian– lay off, Batfamily.
Here are the three converging narratives you’ll follow in Batman Eternal #5:
- Tim Drake (I try to avoid calling him “Red Robin” as much as possible. It’s just a really lame name. Just calling him “Drake” and giving him a duck emblem would even be preferable to something that makes a restaurant jingle chime in my head) is investigating the ill Narrows children who are currently hospitalized. He’s using the sci-fi projector thing that Batman had in the Gotham morgue back in Batman #2, but I didn’t care so much for its use in this scene. I mean, it’s one thing to have a projector/camera setup in a morgue, but Tim’s got this stuff pointed at 7 different hospital beds 24/7? How is nobody noticing these devices? Anyway, he watches them via hologram and then travels to The Narrows himself. At a glance it looks like Drake is doing some real detective work here, but his reliance on the computer in his gauntlet really diminishes the effect. And at the end of the day? It’s the technology that saves the day, not Tim. The real hero of the issue is the gauntlet computer.
- Vicki Vale is chasing the story of Falcone’s gang war, which comes as a surprise to her and I found that odd. It’s one thing for the cops to not show up at the scene due to Forbes’ interference, but the public and the press are unaware of all the chaos going on in Gotham? Weren’t there massive explosions? Either way, Vicki sets out to uncover the truth and a new photographer tags along. Vicki Vale doesn’t seem very smart by any stretch of the imagination and you gotta wonder who she’s managed to survive in Gotham for this long. And there’s a bit of a hint at a possible romantic angle between the photographer and Harper’s brother, Cullen. I liked the scenes with the Gotham Gazette quite a bit as it gives us a chance at an everyman perspective in Gotham outside of the GCPD. This is initially what I had hoped for from Harper, but she took the Tim Drake route and is quickly turning into a costumed hero. Let’s hope that the employees of Gotham’s top newspaper don’t become vigilantes and super villains anytime soon
- Harper Row has taken to patrolling The Narrows and with everyone else coming to The Narrows to check in on the plague it only makes sense for her and her brother to meet up with the likes of Vicki Vale and Tim Drake.
It all comes together well in the end, but the nanobot plague just never hooked me. The final page, however, piqued my curiosity once again.
As for the artwork, this issue is penciled by Andy Clarke, who you’ll know from the Villains Month Joker #1 and various backup stories in Batman and Detective Comics, most notably the Man-Bat tale. I was caught off-guard at first since I could’ve swore I read in a Scott Snyder tweet or something a few months ago that art for Eternal would be handled by an artist for around 3 issues straight before passing the torch to another (like what Fabok did), but Dustin Nguyen only delivered a single chapter. It could make for a bumpy ride when this saga finally goes to trade paperback. Clarke has a different style more akin to what we saw from the gritty and realistic Fabok than the more smooth and animated style of Nguyen.
Clarke creates a vivid Gotham City populated with unique and expressive characters. His fondness for crosshatching makes for richer textures and an all-around dirtier look that work great for this town, but he definitely tones it down when necessary. For instance, the offices of the Gotham Gazette look far removed from the streets of The Narrows, as they should. Every character looks very distinctive and its impressive how much detail was put into the clothes. The artist seems to take special care in ensuring every seam is correct. However, Clarke does a better job with the uglier characters– his Man-Bat in Detective Comics is one of the best– and the more feminine characters look a little rough. Vicki Vale, for instance, looks different from page to page and it isn’t until the second half of the book that she and Harper really start to look more consistent. Smiles also seem to be a bit of a problem for the girls. There’s something slightly creepy and unnatural about the smile, yet all other facial expressions are perfectly executed. As for the comic’s action, I would’ve liked to have actually seen it go down. During the climactic nanobot swarm everything exciting occurs off-panel and that’s a let down after all that buildup.
- You’re nostalgic for the Robin series of the 90s
- Andy Clarke is one of your favorite Batman artists
- Taking a break from the plot threads of the previous 4 issues sounds nice
- Tim Drake, Harper Row, and Vicki Vale are three supporting characters you’d love to see more from
- You’re okay with the segue from Long Halloween-esque Gotham gang war to Doctor Who-esque nanobot invasion
It’s kind of disappointing to desert the Jim Gordon and Falcone storylines, especially for something as bizarre as a nanobot plague. It can feel a bit like a filler episode at times. However, it’s totally cool to finally see Tim Drake doing something of note in a Batman comic and Andy Clarke’s artwork looks great! Fans of Tim Drake should definitely check it out and readers anxious to see more from Vicki Vale and Harper Row.