Three weeks ago I wasn't sure whether Batman Eternal was going to become a weekly purchase. Well, I've just finished the fourth issue and next week can't come fast enough.
Because this is a cracking read, with strong, colourful characters fleshing out a plot that twists and turns through the concrete canyons of Gotham with pace and style. The main story thread concerns the framing of Commissioner Gordon for the deaths of 162 Gotham citizens who died in a subway horror. Gordon's removal has allowed the corrupt factions of Gotham Police Department to take control, working to help returned crimelord Carmine Falcone take the underworld back from the Penguin.
This issue's marquee event is the disagreement between Batgirl and Batman over how to approach proving her father's innocence. We don't get a full-on fight as teased by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson's cover, so much as a fun spat. It is, though, rather delightful to see Barbara treat Bruce with as much brusque disdain as he does others.
The best scene this issue follows on from teenager Stephanie Brown's discovery last week that her father is costumed criminal the Cluemaster. Scripter John Layman - working to the narrative laid down by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV - makes us feel Steph's plight, and really nails one particular bit of business. The elegant writing makes me sad Layman decided to leave the Eternal project to focus on his other work, such as Chew, after turning in four scripts ... who knows, though, he may yet come back.
Fabok has drawn the first three issues, but this time the interior penciller is the differently excellent Dustin Nguyen. Working with regular partner Derek Fridolf, on inks, he produces art which, with its deceptively spare lines, evokes the legendary Alex Toth. The Nguyen/Fridolf take on the characters - Barbara with a throwback bun, old school tec Harvey Bullock, suavely sly Forbes, warped prison governor Zorbatos - is refreshing in a world of artistic clutter. Credit, too, to colourist John Kalisz, for bringing the mood without sacrificing 'pop', and Rob Leigh for sharp, bold lettering.
If you've been on the fence about Eternal, believe me, it's worth your cash, and your attention - Gotham has rarely been so absorbing.