With no less than five writers and eleven artists on this issue alone, the creative team, much like the story they tell, is a group effort that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. A love letter as much to the fans as to the entire mythos of Batman, Eternal made great strides to incorporate the entire tapestry that many writers have sewn together over the years.
Starting with the framing of Commissioner James Gordon for a murder he did not commit, Eternal is a clockwork of Machiavellian subplots and deception, a Russian nesting doll that reveals layer under layer. The master detective must uncover not only who framed James Gordon, but who is portraying the Batman as a reckless murderer as well. By keeping the ultimate villain a mystery to both the reader and Batman, Eternal creates a dynamic tension that best serves its speedy weekly release. First it appeared that the mobster, Carmine Falcone, instigated everything. The next week we learned the Mad Hatter had a hand to play, followed by the Cluemaster who was revealed behind them both, and so on and so on for fifty-plus issues. What should have read as reductive and repetitive found amazing action pieces and inter-connected revelations that reached new heights week after week on a pace not seen since Lost went off the air.
One of Batman’s only friends not wearing tights, James Gordon crystallizes what it means to live and die by a code of honor. He is portrayed with an iron will that cannot be broken, even while unjustly convicted and locked in a super maximum security prison with those he put away. Once released, he provides light in the city’s darkest hour, inspiring every man and woman on the streets to answer the Bat-signal’s call. He speaks to the power of the individual, the ability and responsibility of one person to make a difference. “This is our city,” he barks over pirated radio waves, “we don’t run and hide, we stand up… there’s a symbol we all know stands for what we can do… tonight, we all need to be Batman.”
Perhaps Eternal’s greatest strength is its supporting cast. Batman has always had Alfred and at least one Robin in his corner, but Eternal reminds us that Batman has inspired numerous heroes to don a mask and bat symbol in the name of justice. Here, we see new players emerge; Alfred’s secret service-trained daughter arrives, fan-favorite Spoiler makes her first debut since the 2011 relaunch, and we see new sidekick Harper Row, alias Bluebird, take her place among the pantheon. Once the final card is played, we learn it was Bruce Wayne’s long-thought dead brother, Thomas, behind everything. Beaten and bloody, without a resource at hand, Batman is at the mercy of his estranged and twisted brother. Alone, he has no chance of defeating him or saving his city. When his compatriots show up in full force to support their leader, if nothing else, this title reminds us that Batman is never alone.
There were times in the series where it felt like the narrative was drifting, spinning wheels to stretch it to 52 issues, but readers who stuck with it were well rewarded with a heartfelt story that was never short on action or suspense. It proved that Batman is more than Kevlar and gadgets, more than flesh and bone. He is a relentless and uncompromising ideal we should all strive toward. The import of his presence is timeless—in a word, eternal.