Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon are tackling the latest schemes of Professor Pyg, the madman who turns humans into 'dollotrons'. Pursuing a member of his gang, Gordon makes a decision that has catastrophic consequences.
That's the condensed action in the first issue of Batman Eternal, DC's latest attempt to get readers to the comic shop weekly. As debuts go, it's efficient - a new cop at Gotham PD becomes our point of view character, introducing us to the city and colleagues Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer and the oddly named Major J Forbes.
Said newbie is Jason Bard, a name which will have longtime DC readers waiting for a certain something to happen. Unlike the original and later version, this bespectacled Bard is positioned as a younger version of Gordon, as one panel makes particularly clear.
The obvious thing is that good cop Bard will fight like crazy to clear Gordon of his apparent wrongdoing, so let's hope the writers subvert every expectation we have - make him the mystery man behind Gotham's troubles, perhaps.
Mystery man? Indeedy. This issue is framed by a sequence headed 'The end', which sees Batman helpless amid an apocalyptic scenario. Just another week in Gotham, really ...
Whoever's mocking the hero knows his identity, making Thomas Wayne Jr or Tommy Elliot likely candidates, so Bard would be a decent surprise.
The demands of a weekly mean Batman Eternal has a bunch of writers. Scott Snyder, of the marquee Batman monthly, is shaping the overall arc, with other writers scripting runs of issues. James Tynion IV shares the top credit with Snyder this time, hinting that the main part of the script is his; it's good work, with an especially creepy Pyg making the biggest impression, and hinting at what's going to happen with Gordon. Batman uncharacteristically going down the 'This is the part where I could make a joke...' route makes for a clunky moment, but doesn't detract hugely from the fast-paced narrative.
Jason Fabok's artwork is a huge plus. His Gotham looks great, detailed and real, while his characters are familiar without seeming tired. An aircraft museum set-piece, involving a biplane and cyborg sows, is excitingly well choreographed, and Gordon's final mixture of despair and stoicism well described. There's a Brian Bolland feeling to the finish that appeals to me.
There's a disconnect in the post-prologue opening, as Bard calls his mother and tells her how Gordon described the city to him. It's a fascinating picture, more poetic than you'd expect from grizzled Gordon, but nicely ambitious.
Unfortunately, colourist Brad Anderson either didn't get the note, or more likely - because he's a talented artist - realised that the sweeping skyline wouldn't allow him to match the literal highlights. As it is, we get an impressive streetscape from Fabok, hitting all the right visual beats and existing on more than one plane, but none of the magic described. One to tweak for the collected and digital editions?
And Nick J Napolitano's lettering is as sharp as ever, though a wee typo has slipped past editors Katie Kubert and Mark Doyle - again, something to fix for reprints (and I won't spoil the fun by pointing out where it comes - make those editors work!).
Fabok's cover has a good idea behind it - Batman and the allies he's taken under his wing - but Red Robin and co get rather lost under the furniture. Losing the cliched gargoyle and lowering the main image would help. And do we really need a bloodied Batman on the front? On the positive side, colourist Tomeu Morey's lighting work is first rate, and the overall effect powerful.
I wasn't blown away by this debut, but I'm not really the target market. One or two great Bat-books are enough for me, and I'm getting that with Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman, and Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin. But a weekly needs a few issues to find its rhythm, show its shape, so I'll give this a month, maybe two, to make a big impression. There's a lot of talent involved, so perhaps I'll be persuaded.