Can lighting strike twice?  After last week’s near perfect chapter of Batman & Robin Eternal, I had high hopes for continued success going into this week’s follow up, and I am happy to report that my expectations were blown out of the water.  Ominous, elegant, sophisticated, intelligent, cultured, and mysterious are all words I would use to describe the most recent exploits of our globe trotting band of heroes.  This issue also boast plenty of excellent character building moments that bring further depth and realism to the cast.  If you were undecided about Eternal, then debate no more!

bre7.4Is Harper’s dialogue an error or is she trying to make a joke I just don’t understand?

The main through line of this tale involves Grayson, Cassandra, and Harper tracking The Orphan to The National Theatre in Prague.  As if that wasn’t enough (and trust me, it is), we also get more flashbacks featuring Bruce and Richard along with a quick snippet featuring Tim and Jason.  Genevieve Valentine manages to script a tale full of mounting suspense and intense uneasiness.  Right from the beginning, a sinister mood is set when we are introduced to the Prague Batcave (see Interesting Facts and above picture).  That general sense of dread and apprehension never really goes away and culminates in a fairly intense double cliffhanger that has me on the edge of my seat waiting for next week’s installment.

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While the vibe that the story gives off helped tremendously in garnering my approval, the focus on character was also highly paramount in my decision to laud this particular chapter of Eternal.  Everyone gets a moment to shine: Harper displays a continued disregard for authority while snarking it up in the most biting way possible; Jason carries himself with such a nonchalant attitude, that when he does deliver a downright enlightening comment, it really takes you by surprise; and Cassandra has her first taste of what it means to live like something other than an assassin.

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It’s these moments with Cassandra that provided the most heartfelt interludes of character development.  From the glowing smile on her face upon wearing something other than her battle togs, to seeing the beauty of the ballet for the first time and being awe struck.  It goes a long way to inform you of the pleasures she has been denied.  This scene also serves to remind the reader that Cassandra connects and understands the world around her through body language.  While many are emotionally moved by ballet, I’d like to think that Cassandra’s special circumstances allow here to garner far more from the experience than you or I would be able to.  I’m not sure if it was intentional, but highlighting Cassandra’s interest in dance reminded me of the time she performed an interpretive dance piece for Jean Paul Valley as an impromptu gift.  Whenever a story can take an established character trait and breathe new life into it in an original way, I’m always ecstatic.

bre7.8From Azrael: Agent of the Bat #61 (1999)

Not only do we see how the will of Mother has hampered Cassandra’s development and joy as a person, it seems that her other pawns are also not entirely willing participants to her machinations.  As events unfold, we see how newly introduced characters are forced to comply with Mother, undoing their own personal achievements.  It’s rather tragic really.

Another thing that really stood out to me was all the real world places and things that were incorporated into this piece.  It added an extra touch of realism to an already borderline realistic book.  I can’t be certain, but I am guessing that some of this must stem from Genevieve Valentine.  If you didn’t have the opportunity to check out her run on Catwoman, she often incorporated historical writings into her story when they were relevant to the situation.  Given her penchant for doing that, it seems plausible that she had a hand in incorporating these elements into the story that had already been formed by Tynion and Snyder.

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On a personal note, Sleeping Beauty (1959) has always been my favorite animated Disney film.  What is presented here is Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet.  It’s highly likely that most of you are more familiar with the film, but keep in mind that the film borrows heavily from the ballet.  To the point that the film even utilizes the music from the ballet.  So try and hear that playing in your mind as you look at the images.

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Speaking of images, Alvaro Martinez handles art duties for this issue, and if no one else has said it yet, allow me to be the first.  “Give this man more work!”  His art goes from strikingly beautiful to disturbingly haunting, sometimes within the same panel (just look at the shot above.  Actually, just look at any of the ones I posted in this review).  He also has a really good grasp on telling the story through nothing but visuals.  A skill that I think more artists need to master in this medium.  If I had to pick one criticism, it would be that he draws Jason way too pretty.

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The only thing I didn’t really care for from this issue was the cover.  It doesn’t do justice to the amazing story that is beneath it.  It’s also rather peculiar in and of itself.  What exactly is Cassandra Cain doing on this week’s cover of Batman&Robin Eternal?  While Grayson and Harper are actively headed toward the danger, it looks like Cassandra is engaged in some kind of panicked ducking.  An uncontrolled flailing of terror if you will.  I’d be more inclined to think she would swat or catch those shuriken/throwing knives out of the air, instead of looking like a 3rd grader in the middle of a dodge-ball game.  Perhaps Dan Panosian, who provided art for the cover, got Harper and Cassandra mixed up.  The actions of the characters would definitely make more sense if you swapped the two of them out.

Interesting Facts:

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  • In this issue, we find out that Batman has a Batcave in Prague.  The cave bares a striking resemblance to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, also known as The Bone Church.  For those of you unaware, an ossuary is a burial site used in locations where space is limited.  The remains are usually stored on mass in one giant pit/room/chamber.

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  • In the case of the Sedlec Ossuary, they decided to use the remains to decorate the building.  The most prominent feature is a massive bone chandelier, but you can also see bones used to create sconces, candelabras, crest, and various other wall decorations.

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  •   Seeing as how both Prague and Kutna Hora reside within the Czech Republic, it seems the intent was to highlight notable landmarks from the region.
  • Gamorra Island is a fictitious location in the DC Universe.  It is synonymous with biological experimentation, terrorist activities, and generally questionable activities often associated with the criminal element.

bre7.9I know that the ballet they are performing in this comic is The Sleeping Beauty, but the set design looks an awful lot like the one from Giselle.

  • Giselle is about a woman who dies of a broken heart when she discovers that her true love is betrothed to another.  In the story, women who have been jilted become vengeful spirits in the afterlife who seek out men and force then to dance themselves to death.  When the spirits set their sights on Giselle’s former lover, she intervenes and saves him from certain death.

Recommended if…

  • You like your stories to have an underlying creepy vibe to them.
  • You garner enjoyment from plenty of character defining moments.
  • Having Cassandra as a focal point of the story is a deciding factor for you.
  • You want to check out rising super star artist Alvaro Martinez.  (at least I think he is)
  • Theatre/Ballet/Opera culture appeals to you.
  • You enjoy having things in your stories that more closely tie them to the real world.

Overall:

Genevieve Valentine lends her talents to Batman&Robin Eternal and completely nails it!  Add to that the artistic stylings of Alvaro Martinez (who wasn’t on my radar till now) and you have a duo that delivers an unbeatable tour de force.  Valentine provides deep character building moments coupled with genuine suspense, while Martinez provides hauntingly beautiful art that easily guides the reader through this fully realized world.  Seriously looking forward to next week’s issue brought to us by Valentine and Martinez.

SCORE: 9.5 / 10