In a weekly series, it's all right if every once in a while one installment doesn't have quite the luster of those surrounding them. That's the case with "Batman Eternal" #22, and while Kyle Higgins, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes and Tim Seeley's story feels like it's lagging a bit, there is a bright spot in the form of Jorge Lucas's art.
The problem with "Batman Eternal" #22 is that this recent shift, bringing the Architect (from the "Batman: Gates of Gotham" mini-series that ran right before the big DC Universe reboot of 2011) and Hush back into continuity, hasn't had time to settle in with everything else around it. Dealing with the crime war or the strangeness under Arkham Asylum, bringing the characters in feels out of place, almost like an entirely different comic. While the connection is there, it's still such a thin line that for the moment it's hard to adjust to a proverbial jumping of the tracks into something else. The tone is different, the characters we've been reading about are suddenly all absent, and this just doesn't quite work.
On the other hand, Lucas's art is a pleasant surprise. He's not someone I'd necessarily associate with a "Batman" comic, but his rough, slightly (and deliberately) misshapen forms are fun to look at and they bring a slice of a visual difference to the comic. Almost like a cross between Richard Corben and Howard Chaykin, his characters have faces that are craggy yet rounded; scowling yet capable of bug-eyed moments. When Julia is first talking to Batman from within the Bat Cave, for instance, her moment of disbelief as she sputters, "Are you serious?" is wonderful. You can just see the irritation and anger radiating through her body; it's not only in her face, but the way that Lucas shows her entire body stiffen in response. Likewise, the cut to the next panel where she's raising her arms up in disbelief is played perfectly; with just the barest hint of a speed line from under her arm, you get that feeling of motion without it being overdone.
Brett Smith also deserves some kudos here. A red-lit scene could easily be murky, hard to follow, or (worst of all) garish. The scenes inside the Batmobile are in fact none of the above thanks to his work with Lucas. The faint red glow illuminates just the right amount of detail, while still keeping everything else plunged into darkness. The light itself is also nice; it's genuinely feels like a red light bulb, with the faint hue coming across in a realistic manner. This isn't an easy look to get so perfect, but Smith's colors nail it just so.
"Batman Eternal" #22 will hopefully work a bit better in the collected version of the series, but for now I'm still feeling a bit whiplashed from the sudden change of story and scene. (When do we get to see the Secret or Batwing and Jim Corrigan again?) Still, the surprise arrival of Lucas makes things not quite as disappointing as it otherwise might have been.