I've expressed how much I've been having problems with the cohesiveness and overall structure of this series since I started reading and I would like to state from here on out that the writers never should have chosen to bombard us with so many story arcs happening all at once, and then place them alongside each other in a single issue (a mistake committed several times) which just overcrowded the narrative, weighing the elements down. But it already happened and now the writing itself and the stories suffered, and readers just need to adjust to the confounding and uneven quality of Batman Eternal.
We should have just focused on the gang war in Gotham City first, and wait for that arc to resolve before we head on with the next plots. Issue #2 showcased the five story arcs we have to follow in Eternal and the result of which was a mess. I just re-read that issue again after I finish issue #14 and the flaws became even more apparent the second time around. But fuck it, dudes. Not every collaborative project is perfect and we can always take comfort in the fact that the last three issues (#12, #13 and #14) were superbly written, resolving the Falcone-Penguin and GCPD story arc in a satisfactory way.
I'll discuss the three story arcs enclosed in this issue now and give their merits so far because overall this issue was pretty great. Not exactly excellent, but it wasn't so awful than expected. I have a few nitpicks as always. So here we go:
- The paranormal storyline with Batwing and the Spectre exploring the dark corner of Arkham Asylum was probably the one that I can follow and enjoy the most in this issue. There's a build-up of suspense and snappy dialogue going back and forth between the two characters. Nguyen's artwork was amazing, giving each panel in the page an unforgettably haunting presence. I'm perfectly fine when a Batman story becomes a cosmic horror as long as it's played straight which this one was. The dichotomy between the voice of the scientific and the enigma of the mystical is formed in the roles of Batwing and the Spectre respectively. Batwing is the one who questions the events unfolding and not readily accepting them while the Spectre was patient enough to help him figure things out. Their camaraderie was organic and therefore eases the readers into caring what happens to them and the discoveries they may stumble upon. I can say that their arc is easily the strongest of the three as featured here so far.
- Red Robin and Harper Row's puzzling adventure is something that's so awkwardly executed that I try not to wince too much while reading. I understand why Harper wants to come along (to find a way to save her brother) and why Tim is dismissive of her (either because he's just not comfortable having another headstrong teenager that kind of reminds him of himself when he was a novice; or he's just not sure how to normally interact with a person of the opposite sex who is not a teen titan/superhero). I just feel like it's really taking them too long to get past their hang-ups. If we're going to see more of them in the next instalments, meaningful interactions must occur. Just look at Batwing and the Spectre. In their own way, they're both getting to know the other and learning to establish some sort of working trust between them. I guess I shouldn't make comparisons between fully grown men who are more used to professional interactions and two teenagers (is Tim still a teen or near his twenties now? I can't be sure because I don't really follow him in his own titles) who are obviously uncomfortable with social interactions in general, considering they're both introverted and too individualistic for their own good sometimes. I suppose I just need to wait it out. I just hope it gets better later on.
- Batgirl and Red Hood working together is...pretty bland. At this point I'm just getting tired of Babs running around, interrogating people violently and NOT TALKING TO HER FATHER OR STAYING BY HIS SIDE IN HIS TIME OF NEED. Seriously, Barbara. You'd be helping more as yourself than as Batgirl. Am I the only one who sees that? I understand the need to portray a heroine be all kick-ass because it makes for great action and drama. Also, females in comics have come a long way and need to be shown throwing a punch and solving crimes by themselves. But it just doesn't work for Batgirl here in this story. It just doesn't feel real or genuine in any way for her to be so abrasive like this all in the name of finding evidence to disprove her father's crime. Her motivation since issue #4 gets diluted the further we get to her arc. I find myself caring less which is odd because I have to care about Barbara. But, just like with Batman and Red Hood, she's not allowing any of us to understand what she's going through. I don't know what other direction Batgirl is going after this issue and I frankly don't want to know. If it's going to be the same shit again, then fuck it. And can Red Hood do something Jason-Todd and not just tag along with Babs like he's some neutered guard dog?
We get something about Bard and Batman in Gotham for this issue which I believe we could have done away with. They had this fantastic moment of tension and shock in the previous issue when Batman realized that Jason Bard is the man who may resemble Jim Gordon in a lot of ways but is also most definitely a hardened version who won't be afraid to bend the rules further than Jimmy ever did. I think it was a bad move to make them interact so soon after that earth-shattering quiet moment. I would have preferred that Batman stayed away from Bard because of the discomfort he felt after the rooftop scene. It would make more sense for Batsy to just lurk around and watch Bard work, gauging his reactions, observing him in action. So this scene they have in this issue had no impact and was so forgettable. Let's just end this review before such minor mistakes annoy me more. Like I said, this issue wasn't that bad. The Arkham storyline with Batwing and the Spectre pretty much saves it from being a bore.