Just as in Batman #28, we are propelled into the future of the Eternal storyline, promising wild international action as well as interpersonal intrigue between Batman and Robin.
Five years ago, as the captions proclaim “The End of the Beginning,” Batman roars into the Batcave, bloody and tattered. He orders the Batcomputer to access shadow file 141287, which is a collection of missing children reports and a audiovisual file of a woman with white hair, digitally blurred. The audio in the file warns Batman that if Robin knew the truth about how he had been made into a crimefighter, rather than having a true choice, everything Batman had built would fall apart.
Slamming into the present, captioned “The Beginning of the End,” Dick drives a snowmobile towards a fortress of ice, as radio reports from the Batfamily pour in begging for help from locations as diverse as Paris and Tokyo. We see Red Robin, Bluebird, Red Hood, Jim Gordon as Batman, Duke Thomas, Spoiler, and Damian spread across the world fighting furious mobs of children, as Dick asks the absent Bruce how he could let this happen.
Shifting back to the Batcave five years ago, Bruce makes a copy of the file on a flash drive and erases all traces, just as Dick as Robin, perching on the top of the computer, greets him. Dick jumps down and tells Batman that he’s worried about how distracted Batman has been since their adventure in Prague. He reminds Batman that they are partners, and Batman can share anything with him. As Batman leaves, he promises that Dick will never have to worry about the secret.
It’s that time of year again! Not a particular season, but flash forward previews for the forthcoming Eternal series, now hitting round two with Batman and Robin Eternal. February 2014, we got a full issue (Batman #28) which previewed the future of Batman Eternal a month and a half away, including the heavily promoted reveal of the New 52 continuity version of Stephanie Brown as Spoiler on the final page. This time around, we have eight pages, borrowing the format of the DCYou soft relaunch of their line in June of this year, and we only have a week and a half to wait before the main series starts.
To get some things out of the way – unlike Batman #28, we do not get a glimpse of Cassandra Cain, though her introduction to mainstream continuity has been one of the loudest talking points of the series whenever series co-creator and show runner James Tynion IV is interviewed about it. While Tynion’s bringing back Stephanie Brown was generally successful due to his careful updating of her origin story throughout the year-long Batman Eternal epic, it did have some fan pushback because of the somewhat messy way the mystery of the Big Bad resolved. Some trepidation remains among fans of Cass, since other than a brief appearance in Batgirl: Future’s End, she has been almost entirely absent from major Batman publications since before the New 52 reboot.
Long-awaited returns aside, this issue functions very similarly to Batman #28. We get a sense of the world the Eternal series will explore from the future – in this case, we know that Batman’s secret concerning Dick Grayson will lead to wild mobs of children attacking the Bat-family all around the world. Furthermore, though the villain’s name won’t be a mystery this time around (we can make out the word “MOTHER” in the shadow file Bruce accesses), her aims, power, and motivation will definitely be shrouded. Interestingly, the missing children who are connected with the Mother could fit into Cassandra’s updated origin, since in post-Crisis continuity, her father David Cain kidnapped many children to run his twisted experiments on until he decided to father her himself.
Solicitations for the series have been cagey, but the presence of Jim Gordon in the Robo-Batsuit in the present indicates that Bruce Wayne will still not have returned to the cowl, and also that part of the mystery will revolve around Bruce’s darkest night. Additionally, since Batman #50, the current expected end of Scott Snyder’s run on the main Batman title, will likely coincide with the ending of Batman and Robin Eternal, it seems more than likely that the resolution of how they will restore Bruce Wayne’s mind will at run parallel in both series, similar to how Batman Eternal and the Endgame story line ended together and led to the current Superheavy, Jim Gordon as Batman status quo.
Hopefully, within all the chaos and secrets revealed, Tynion and his team of writers and artists will take a cue from the recently released Grayson #12, and remember that part of the strength of the Bat-family is their love and trust in each other, not just the secrets they keep from each other.
Tony Daniel takes on a role combining that of Dustin Nguyen and Jason Fabok in Batman Eternal. While Nguyen drew the preview issues and did some major designs for the series, including the new Spoiler uniform, Fabok set the tone of the series by drawing the first three issues of the series. Daniel will be drawing not only the preview and first issue (and doing many designs for the series’s new characters and returning Cassandra Cain), but will also draw several issues throughout the series and conclude the final issue, providing a sense of visual continuity that was sadly lacking in much of Batman Eternal. His art here is vigorous, ably assisted by inker Sandu Florea and colorist Tomeu Morey. Morey provides appropriately vivid and subtle coloring in these eight pages, including cleverly having the mobs of children on the often-shared two page spread have a generally monochromatic sense while the heroes fighting them pop in full color, allowing them to stand out in an extremely busy page. Sometimes Daniel’s close-ups of Batman’s cowl feel a bit awkward or repetitive (the panel break in the second flashback is odd), but on the whole, it’s an exciting visual direction for the series.
In interviews, Daniel has been most proud of the improvement in his facial expressions, and it shows in small moments like Dick’s final closeup:
Dick’s face conveys wistfulness and humor, a nice note that draws you into his perspective as we prepare to spend six months with him. Daniel demonstrates this kind of subtlety when he has the Batmobile driving away from the reader, but Dick driving towards us, indicating not only a change in time, but also Batman and Dick’s attitudes towards the audience.
Bursting into the past and the future of Batman and Robin, this preview promises intensity in both action and the emotional lives of our favorite crime-fighting duo.