I have to imagine there were almost as many forehead-slaps as high-fives in the room at the meeting where someone suggested DC Comics devote their next weekly comic to the Batman franchise. There had to be as many people thinking, "Why didn't I think of that?" as there were people saying, "Good thinking!"
"More Batman" has rarely been a bad business decision for the publisher, and not only is the franchise carrying more than its fair share of the 52-ish books that make up the DCU line, the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo flagship title continues to perform at crazy-high numbers. So why not produce another Batman book, and rather than sticking it in a corner of the franchise, far from the main book, the one that seems to "count" the most, why not tie it closely to Snyder's book? And hey, why not ship the thing weekly? Again, high fives!
I really love weekly comics, although the format has some pretty unique pressures, which we've seen play out various ways as DC has tried different routes over and over to get to weekly comics, with no two efforts—52, Countdown, Trinity, Wednesday Comics, and the bi-weeklies Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost—really being produced in quite the same way.
The most obvious pressure is that getting these things to ship on time like clockwork often means sub-par art, so as much as I was personally looking forward to Batman Eternal, I was frightened as much as disappointed to see the art starting out bad; this was, after all, the issue that should be the best looking.
Departing Detective Comics artist Jason Fabok provides the art for this issue (with Brad Anderson coloring it). As for the rest of the creative team, Scott Snyder and his frequent collaborator James Tynion IV are credited for the story and script, while Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley get "consulting writers" credits (for this first issue, at least).
As far as a stylist goes, Fabok is a strong practitioner of the Jim Lee-derived house style that accounts for the median of DC books at the moment, to the point that it can occasionally be quite distracting—there's an image of Batman running that looks to be a straight swipe of Lee's cover for Batman #615—but he's one of the better at the draw-like-Jim Lee game.
There are a few instances in this issue where the visual story-telling is so important that its imperative; not simply in the generic way that a good comic should be a good combination of good writing and good art, but in that the comic doesn't really make sense if the visual information isn't clear.
And it's not.
The fourth page of the book begins a scene in which Commissioner Jim Gordon is pinned down behind an airplane, protecting a group of children from gunfire emanating from the mouths of some sort of robot pigs (They seem like neat, creepy designs, but Fabok only shows them in rather extreme longshot).
Professor Pyg's voice shouts from off-panel, "You can't trust what you see!" Given that there are repeated references to his drugging victims and his chemicals, one might assume that Gordon has been drugged as well...especially considering what follows.
I've read this issue three times now, and I'm still not clear on what happens during this action scene. In addition to some gun-wielding things and the robot pigs, Pyg himself is shown flying a biplane around—indoors!—at Gotham City's aviation museum. When we first see him, he is firing an enormous belt of syringes filled with a green chemical out of machine guns mounted on the plane. Is that really happening, or is it only in Gordon's mind? (Fabok fills the background with planes hanging on wires from the ceiling, making an indoor biplane fight seem even less likely).
Batman then arrives in his giant robot suit and punches Pyg's plane in half in the most confusing passage of the entire book (Page 6, if you've got a copy to read along with), but the plane itself appears in both the second and third panel...and elements from all three panels overlap in a cluttered, hard-to-read way.
The art is sort of unclear in this manner throughout, from the opening, in which a "camera" appears to be slowly zooming in on a battered, shirtless Batman struggling with a chain atop a skyscraper while Gotham City burns...but the building seen in the longshot doesn't match the one in close-up.
This is really only problematic at the book's climax, which DC has been showing in its jokeless Ambush Bug "Channel 52" teaser strips. Gordon is pursuing one of Pyg's henchmen into a subway station, and the suspect appears to be carrying a gun to Gordon (and the reader). Everyone else says he wasn't. Gordon tries to shoot him, and Gordon says "What the--? It passed right through..." The art, on the other hand, shows Gordon's bullet passing by rather than "through" the guy he shoots at.
That shot causes an explosion, which somehow causes a blackout, which then causes a subway collision. It's the crux of the first issue, and, coupled with the strange opening scene labeled "The End..." (in which a voice says scary things to Bruce), the apparent hook for the series.
And it's unclear what's going on, as the art and the words don't quite match up: We're not being shown things objectively, nor are we being shown things as Gordon sees them, but a little of both, sometimes within the exact same panel.
I don't want to damn the entire endeavor based on some weaknesses in the first issue, but that's a pretty deep weakness, and one endemic to DC's weaker book: The art looks good without working right.
As for the rest of the story, between the teaser and the Gordon scenes, we're introduced to Jason Bard, a brilliant young cop from Detroit recruited by Gordon to join his Major Crimes Unit (Many readers will recognize Bard, a long-lived if minor supporting character who was introduced in 1969, and has appeared sporadically ever since. He's usually a private investigator and has close ties to Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. If you don't count his cameo in Scooby-Doo Team-Up #2, then I think James Robinson used him last, in his 2006 "One Year Later" Batman/TEC arc, "Face The Face").
His first night on the job? He has to arrest the man who hired him for the crime of...accidental train crash causality, I think. I don't know; I'm a comics critic, not a Gotham City prosecutor.
One issue in, Batman Eternal seems like it's a well-written comic with sub-par art, a bad comic that should be better. The good news is that there's only six days before the next issue arrives, and the creators get a second chance almost immediately (and readers don't have the full month they usually get to decide to drop a book or not).
Meanwhile, further down the new comics racks, in the L's, we find another highly anticipated new series debuting its first issue— Lumberjanes, from BOOM! Studios' new Boom Box imprint.
The book is written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, and drawn by A Home for Mr. Easter's Brooke Allen, and there's a "created by" credit that includes editor Shannon Waters with the writing team, but does not include artist Allen.
So, what exactly is a Lumberjane, aside from a clever bit of wordplay that results in a distaff version of the word lumberjack? Well, they are apparently a Girl Scout-like group of girl scouts...but they're not called "Girl Scouts," because that's trademarked (And isn't as grabby or funny a word as "Lumberjanes" anyway).
We're introduced to five teenage friends—Mal, Molly, April, Ripley and Jo—deep in the woods one night, where they are searching for clues to...something, when suddenly they are attacked by a pack of large, three-eyed saber-toothed foxes.
Using some pretty bad-ass fighting skills, they fight the creatures off, only to be rewarded with two strange clues and, upon sneaking back into the Roanoke cabin they share at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqil Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, they are promptly caught in violation of curfew by their advisor Jen.
She takes them to Camp Director Rosie for a good scolding, but, when Rosie hears what they've been up to—including some back story involving an old woman who turned into a bear—she confides in them that there's some stuff going on in the woods this summer, and they're going to see some crazy stuff, but being Lumberjane scouts, they should do okay.
And that's the first issue. It should appeal to the adult and all-ages fans who have been digging BOOM!'s many Adventure Time books, as it covers some of the same ground in terms of visual style, tone, spirit and even dialogue (I particularly enjoyed the way the girls swear, substituting bad words with the word "junk," and occasionally taking Joan Jett's name in vain).
The characters are remarkably diverse, not in a Captain Planet sort of way—although few readers should have trouble finding a character they can't visually relate to on some level—but in a the sense that they all look wildly different, as befits a group of comic book or cartoon characters.
They are all also highly animated, with most actions and expressions falling somewhere between exaggerated and highly-exaggerated; there are several scenes where one can almost here a Carl Stalling composition playing in the back of one's head as the characters simply move around in their space.
It reads a lot like the sort of comic book Oni would have published maybe five years ago, and it is therefore very interesting to see it coming from BOOM!. Unfortunately, that means it's selling at the BOOM! price point of 22 pages for $3.99, which is a higher price point than I'd like (particularly for an all-ages comic), and there are of course scads of variant covers (10, according to the credits page, many of them exclusive to particular conventions).
What is also interesting is the way it seems like an entire troop worth of people contributed in some form or another. In addition to the four primary creators, colorist Maarta Laiho and letterer Aubrey Aiese, and all of the artists who contributed the many variants (Writer/co-creator Stevenson and artist Allen each draw one; others are from artists as diverse in style as Jess Fink and Stephanie Buscema), there are also credits given for badge design (Emerald City Comicon Exclusive Cover artist Kate Leth), book design and a "special thanks" to Kelsey Pate for coming up with the name "Lumberjanes."
That's a lot of talented folks, all of whom have earned their Created a Cool Comic badge.