Batman: Eternal #4 continues the more refined narrative present in the weekly series’ last entry while also continuing to slow its pace down considerably in the process. Former Detective Comics writer John Layman steps in to write under the already established framework formed by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and keeps the focus limited to only a few of the series’ already established characters. Instead of bouncing around from place to place as we’ve seen in the issues prior, Layman centers the plot around two members of the Bat-family investigating the crime for which James Gordon has been convicted. In terms of actual development, the issue doesn’t offer the most engaging narrative arc and certainly fills like a filler until the next big reveal, but the character moments are able to shine through without the presence of constant cliffhangers or other game-changing reveals.
At the center of the story are Batman and Batgirl, two characters with the closest ties to the now disgraced and ex-commissioner Gordon. Barbara’s excessive diligence grows a bit grating as she beats thugs to near-death and makes accusations on the fly, but her interactions with the level-headed Batman provides a necessary balance. Batgirl’s presence also provides an interesting foil for Batman, who has so far been surrounded by those that have followed his orders without resistance. Yet both characters, despite not seeing eye to eye on one another’s methods for investigation, are being forced to work outside the law, which has undergone a drastic change since the series began. As we see in this issue, the GCPD is being manipulated by their crooked new commissioner Forbes, a character that has become a solid sub-villain but here teeters dangerously close to over-the-top parody when he screams, “Not on my watch!” While Layman’s plot doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises, it is the most focused issue in the series so far.
Another new face to join the team for this installment is Dustin Nguyen on art. Nguyen’s pseudo-whimsical character designs doesn’t entirely fit the seriousness of Layman’s script but it’s hard to argue with how well he draws Batman and Batgirl. Being that both are the focal point of the issue, it means there’s a lot of good that vastly outweighs the bad. Nguyen heavy use of shadow works perfectly with the scenes between Batman and Batgirl, but his lack of detail on characters’ faces is problematic at times. It took me several panels to recognize Carmine Falcone when Batman was speaking face-to-face with him due to the fact that the three scars featured so prominently in Falcone’s depictions in prior issues was not as noticeable under Nguyen’s pencils. But with Batman: Eternal being a weekly series, I’m all for seeing a regular change in both writer and artist.
GNN Rating for Batman: Eternal #4: [usr 3]
Batman: Eternal has been an interesting experiment for the last month. On one hand, it has delivered four solid Batman stories with the narrative focus getting more and more refined each week. On the other hand, however, this fourth issue lacks the kind of excitement that is necessary to make a reader want to spend another $2.99 the following week. Batman: Eternal #4 is a good read regardless, so those that have made the commitment to the weekly series will still be glad they did.