This adventure encompasses everything that I have come to expect from Batman Eternal: abounding action, elaborate schemes, and shadowy villains!!!!  Another penchant this issue displayed in abundance was the use of villains with no attempt to reference who they are or what their deal is.  I love how Eternal is completely unapologetic in this manner:  they expect you to know your stuff and don’t candor to the uninitiated.  Not that it is 100% necessary to know the  references in order to follow the plot but I do feel that it adds a deeper level of enjoyment.  With this strength in mind, I find that Eternal is aptly suited to deliver entertainment to both casual fans and those well versed in the lore.  Moreover, the one pitfall that this issue avoided quite markedly was the overcrowding: as a matter of fact 80% of this issue is solely devoted to Spoiler and I  welcomed that change, since it allowed her story to breath unimpeded.

The thing that I appreciated most from this issue is that Stephanie was not treated like some super ninja right out of the gate.  There was definitely an element to her encounter that was largely believable.  Even the moment that occurs at the climax of our story seems more like a happy accident than as a result of any kind of intentional display of skill on her part.  I felt this played out very well, and her combat approach seemed very improvised and spur of the moment, the way you would expect it to be. The flashback at the beginning of the book, which I did not catch until the second reading, gave us an inkling of a notion that she had some amount of competence in her final acrobatic attempt, however, I thought the flashback was an unnecessary justification as I was accepting of her feat even without it. It also provided her with a moment of  witty repertoire, which made sense, for us, since we had just seen the flashback but for the Cluemaster was referencing an event from a decade ago so I’m not sure he would have gotten the dig.  I also loved the quick little reference to game boards, and how it was a callback to when Bruce and Thomas Elliot used to play Stratego together.  That is just another example of how fans who are in the know are able to enjoy all the nuances and tiny layers that Fawkes and team were able to craft into this story.

In this issue, we get to see another big piece of the puzzle and I was beyond happy with it.  A lot of times, in recent comics, there is a tendency towards the epic.  Every story must out do the last and be bigger and bolder for some reason.  While the plan definitely has consequences on a vast scale there is something about it that feels far more realistic and believable than any of the other over the top, less than subtle, story lines we have been treated to in the last couple of years.  Don’t get me wrong, I like epic, I just don’t want my story experiences to be nothing but bombastic.  I’m enjoying the slow burn that Eternal is providing.

I really love Andy Clarke’s work!  He just puts so much detail into his stuff that it is almost unbelievable.  I think it is that same level of detail that has resulted in us not getting to see more of his work.   When he was doing his Man-Bat backups they weren’t 20 pages in length so he had more time to do the work he does, but when he has to produce regular length issues I’ve noticed that he will only do one and then be absent for awhile (most likely hard at work on his next issue).  I guess his stuff is just more labor intensive but it definitely shows in the quality of his images.  It was also very interesting to see his flashback work with less refined pencils and diminished sharpness.  I liked how it not only gave us a view as to how our memories themselves can be foggier than the present, but also gave us a look at what was probably just a lesser stage of somewhat uncompleted work by Clarke.  A quick note about the cover: much like the Catwoman one from last week by Fabok and Anderson, this one, depending on where you chose to focus, also gives you varying images to enjoy.  Perhaps with all those lenticular covers floating around this month, Eternal felt the need to compete in some way!

Spoiler

  • I have several small nitpicks about this issue and they all involve the scene where Stephanie is hiding in the piping not even 5 feet above the Cluemaster/Hush meeting.  Why exactly is she talking?  I tried to put myself in this situation…and there is no way in hell I would even be breathing, let alone whisper to myself.  How could they not hear her?  I’m guessing background noise coming from the pipes… but if they wanted us to know what she was thinking why not put her comments in thought boxes?  Then she has her phone on to record stuff.  I don’t know about you but the light on my phone is so bright I can use it as a flashlight.  When I am in a movie theatre and someone pops open their phone I can always see the light haze coming from it.  Since she is hiding in the shadows I would think that, even on the lowest setting, it would cast some sort of noticeable glow.  Lastly, on the bottom of page 8, we see a panel from Hush’s POV as he talks to Cluemaster.  I can see Stephanie, how is Hush not?  Like I said, these were just nitpicks but with sooo many all in one spot I couldn’t help but bring it up.  Just seemed a little unrealistic to expect me to look past all of those elements.
  • What do you guys think Lockup is up to?
  • Wow!  I didn’t know rats had teeth strong enough to chew through pipes!
  • Did anybody else think that the picture behind Batman in the museum looked like one of those Magic Eye pictures from the early 90’s?  Other than the image itself, the thought box statement made me wonder even more if it was a subtle message to the reader, that some hidden message was imbedded within.
  • Anybody else notice that Cluemaster’s goggles spelled out the word clue?

Interesting Facts:

  • Simon Ecks (Doctor Double X) first appeared in Detective Comics #261 (1958).  This actually isn’t X’s first appearance in Eternal, he was one of the doctors seen when Batwing penetrated the caves beneath Arkham and I just missed it until a reader called it to my attention.  I’m not sure if the “ghost” we saw was actually a ghost or if it was the New52 version of what they have decided to make Doctor Double X look like.  The main thing you need to know about X is that he developed a way to create a non-corporeal twin of himself in order to perpetrate crimes.
  • Phillip Cobb (Signalman) first appeared in Batman #112 (1957).  He was just a lowly thug who decided he needed a gimmick to make it big and so he chose signs, signals and symbols in order to do so.  One of the things that I find interesting is that Signalman once tried to kill Batman by trapping him inside the Batsignal so that when the police turned it on to summon Batman, it would kill him.  Having Batman chained to the Batsignal in the opening pages of Eternal calls to mind the Signalman’s attempt on Batman’s life, to me at least.  I’m sure they will have someone more interesting doing the deed in the actual story but I thought it was an interesting connection worth mentioning.
  • Oswald Loomis (The Prankster) is some Superman villain who made his first appearance in Action Comics #51 (1942).  Batman lovers however are probably more familiar with the version of the character who recently appeared in the pages of Nightwing (#19-24).
  • Otis Flannegan (The Ratcatcher) first appeared in Detective Comics #585 (1988).  Flannegan worked for the Gotham City Sanitation Department.  One night at a bar a fellow patron told him he smelled, so Flannegan stabbed him to death.  He was sentenced to 15 years at Blackgate but when he got out he systematically kidnapped the Judge, arresting officer, key witness, and his prison guard who were connected with his case.  He felt that he was in the right in killing the man and wanted revenge for being locked up for 15 years.  He kept them locked in the Gotham Sewers where he kept them alive but in deplorable conditions for 5 years.  At this point the Judge escaped, which led to the opening of issue 585.  (I’ve had this bit in another interesting fact section before, but in case you missed it I decided to post it again).
  • Harley Quinn isn’t the only character to have a debut on Batman: The Animated Series before making her way to the comics;  Lyle Bolton (Lock-Up) first appeared in an episode back in 1994, and then in 1996, he made his comic debut in Robin #24.  The tenants associated with this character are advanced security systems and excessive force.  You see, he was a guard who kept prisoners in line through any means necessary and lost his jobs when the higher ups found out about his methods.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a fan of Stephanie Brown and have been patiently waiting for her to do something other than blog.
  • You love Andy Clarke’s artwork.
  • You want to read a nice little tale that doesn’t stretch the boundaries of believability.

Overall:

This issue was everything that I have come to expect from Batman Eternal: abounding action, elaborate schemes, shadowy villains… and more! This was a great reintroduction of the Spoiler and I appreciated that she was not depicted as more skilled than she should be at this point in her career. So whether you have been waiting for the return of Stephanie Brown or enjoy solid/focused issues of Eternal, this one is for you!

SCORE: 8.5/10