[24 February 2014]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Just as Zero Year’s second chapter was beginning to pick up momentum and move beyond the essential, but stalling, moments of character developments, namely the story behind Jim Gordon’s camel-colored shame coat, there’s a pause for Batman #28 to flash forward to the near future. It’s a fuzzy picture of Gotham City in shambles yet again, and while we see some major plot points to come for a related title, it’s a frustrating picture painted with broad strokes on what looks like a recycled canvas.
To call Batman #28 an issue of spoilers is a misuse of the word. It’s a story-length advertisement for the upcoming weekly Batman: Eternal, designed to pique interest and get people talking. It picks up in the latter half of the proposed 52 issue run, minus the evolving narrative of the previous installments, so for instance you have to take it on faith that it’s completely reasonable for character Harper Row to put on a costume, call herself Bluebird, and shoot a ridiculously big gun. Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion do their best with the dialogue to establish plot point tent poles, but it’s hardly enough to resolve the inherit problems of dropping in an issue from the back-half of the run before the debut. I’m certain there’s a belief that this is some sort non-linear narrative technique, similar to what Image’s Chew did the other year. It’s not. It’s a shock-and-awe advertisement.
Zero Year as a story arc has used some non-linear narrative techniques to overall excellent effect, namely the updated Batman origin opens with Gotham in some sort of post-apocalyptic state. We have an understanding of how that comes to be, and as we left off in Batman #27, the storm-of-the-century hurricane was about to descend on Gotham and make the Riddler-caused blackout that much worse. Batman #28 shows that Gotham is yet again in some quasi post-apocalyptic state that will unfold within the pages of Batman: Eternal. Is there any other state Gotham City can be in? Make no mistake about my point, the hurricane ravaged Gotham is only slightly different from the infected Gotham. While there is a difference of six story years, within the course of two actual years Gotham will once again be in some terrible state – by some accounts it always is. Art can mimic life, and we’ve been in a state of perpetual disasters for over a decade, but at some point art has to move beyond the life inspired.
It’s true that not all urban disaster stories are the same, and the difference comes in space between the plot points. I have to withhold judgment on whether these two scenarios are too similar until the creators have been given proper time to show how they are different, but to ignore the similarities even at this point does a disservice to the study of perpetual fiction.
There are surprises within Batman #28, but Stephanie Brown/Spoiler showing up on the last page is not one of them. It was revealed months ago that she would return in Batman: Eternal—a spoiler if there ever was one. The surprises to me were seeing Harper Row in costume-and-codename mode and Selina Kyle/Catwoman committing a 180 degree character turn.
Selina is the new kingpin of Gotham, and while it’s a role she could wear well like that pants suit she wears in this issue, it’s a big surprise. Done with the pseudo will-they-or-won’t-they state of play Batman and her have been in for far too long, it is time for Selina to have a prominent villain role. There’s a hint that her turn is the result of something that Batman did or didn’t do, and that certainly creates a personal reason for her new status. It establishes a conflict that could create some real tension, a type of tension that hasn’t really existed since the return of Jason Todd.
But while Selina’s new status has many possible story directions, it’s almost disheartening to see street-level character Harper Row succumb to the flash of vigilante duds. It shouldn’t surprise me, if you’re a character in Batman comics who isn’t a high ranking cop or doesn’t have a handicap of some kind then you’ll eventually end up in a mask with a colorful codename. But for once, I had hoped that that cliché would have been broken and turned on its head. Of course her character journey to Bluebird has yet to be revealed, but the initial impression is mixed.
And that is the real truth about Batman #28 and Batman: Eternal—initial impressions are mixed. To say this issue is good is a difficult judgment to make. There is not enough to go on. And by the same account I can’t say that it is bad, despite the criticism I’ve leveled above. This is a teasing advertisement for another title, and while that title will supposedly have an effect on the main Batman comic, this story is more of an interruption to the story taking place at present. That is frustrating to an extent. While it gives us a peak at what Batman: Eternal could be about, and by coincidence give the authors time to adjust if there was a bad reaction to the material, it’s hardly doing Zero Year any favors. But sales charts don’t lie, and I’m sure everyone involved took that into account when putting this issue together. Spoiler: these Batmans will sell.