In “Batman Eternal” #15, Ray Fawkes, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Tim Seeley and Dustin Nguyen pick up the neglected story thread about Batwing and Corrigan at Arkham Asylum. This subplot may be set a few days before the other recent events, but it’s hard to tell since there are no date/time stamp textbox clues.
There is a noticeable lack of screen time for title character or Jim Gordon, whose imprisonment drives a large part of the action. This isn’t a problem by itself, since more than any other Bat-book, “Batman Eternal” has a large ensemble cast. But in “Batman Eternal” #15, the supporting characters fail to still the stage, captivate the reader’s attention or unite the book’s disparate elements. “Batman Eternal” has pulled off juggling many storylines at once, but here, the pacing and structure doesn’t feel as well thought out. The action feels like a jumble rather than coming together through thematic unity or by the overall shape of the story arc.
After the satisfying two-birds-with-one-stone victory over Penguin and Falcone last issue, Fawkes and the rest of the writing team have a tough act to follow. “Batman Eternal” #15 suffers by comparison. Last month’s plot twists and personalities were sharper, and the emotional payoff was much more significant.
The Corrigan and Nightwing portion feels like a classic Spectre tale, but set in Arkham. The genre shifts into horror instead of urban crime. Fridolfs’ inking skills assist Fawkes in a tonal shift into spookiness, shadows and the supernatural. Nguyen’s art sometimes renders adults with child-like bodies, an unintentional tendency that serves him well in “Lil’ Gotham” but looks off in real Gotham. However, he and Fridolfs do an impressive job of changing the style up for different scenes. Nguyen’s linework is more aggressive, nervous and thicker for the Corrigan and Batwing sequences. Combined with Fridolfs’ wet-looking shadows, they convey disturbing anxiety and gritty dankness, but they keep both line and shadow thin and delicate for Red Robin’s arrival in Tokyo.
The other scenes are both shorter and weaker. The scene between Bard and Batman is confusing, since it’s a reversal of the confrontation last issue and feels duller as well. Harper Row and Red Robin’s scene is the most casual and fun, but it’s also rote. It’s fun to see Red Robin in the role of an experienced hero advising safety to counter the ingenue hero’s reckless enthusiasm for action. The Batgirl and Red Hood encounter has even less panel time and depth. The appearance of Batwoman feels welcome as an interesting surprise, but the action doesn’t yet justify her presence and adding yet another major player to the mix.
After several strong issues, “Batman Eternal” hits a weak note in an uneven issue with too much connective tissue and exposition, but on the other side, it picks up a dangling plot thread and the tonal shift and the fusion of Arkham and the territory of The Spectre is successful.