Entering the second month of "Batman Eternal," readers probably think they know what's going on. The return of Carmine Falcone and the framing of James Gordon are the two big plot points that carry the entire series, right? Well, as it turns out, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley continue to roll out pieces of information, and "Batman Eternal" #5 gives us a better idea of what's still to come. With a mysterious flu bug that's affecting not only people who were in the station at the time of the subway car crash as was originally thought, readers are starting to see other plot threads crop up. Harper and Cullen Row begin to have an important role in "Batman Eternal" as well, as their paths intersect with other characters from the earlier issues; at the same time, Red Robin enters the picture, with his own sleuthing turning up some critical information.
While I can see readers initially being a little disappointed that there's no traction on the Gordon storyline, this is actually a very good thing. A weekly series needs to have three to four times as much plot as a monthly book, in order to keep from feeling padded. With this issue, we're starting to enter the outskirts of "epic" levels of plot, and that's a relief. Tynion takes on the scripting for this issue and it flows well, introducing the new elements without feeling like we've been left hanging for what's come before. It's also good to see characters like Vicki Vale continue to get a strong outing in "Batman Eternal." She's a character that's been in mothballs for a while, and in the changing world of journalism, Tynion and company have found a good role for her to play as she tries to adapt to what's happened to her profession. It's also nice for Cullen Row to have a bit more of a role here than we've seen in the past; while it still feels like his main purpose is that of beloved victim, so far it's working in a way to trigger some good plot progression.
The best thing about "Batman Eternal" #5 is having Andy Clarke draw the issue. Lately it's seemed like his art has been consigned to backups, so getting a new full issue from him is reason to cheer. His art looks as great as ever; highly detailed, with strong texture to provide an almost 3D-like quality on features like hair or clothing. Clarke's art is a little less slick than I'm used to, but this feels like an evolution of his art rather than a shortcoming; that slightly lumpy and more-rounded look that some of the characters have make them feel less perfect and more realistic. These are some gorgeous pages, and hopefully we'll see some more issues from Clarke before long. With artists like Trevor McCarthy and Guillem March also on deck for this month, DC is clearly trying to show that it wants this series to look great.
"Batman Eternal" #5 trucks along well, still giving readers a good reason to check in on a weekly basis. That's exactly what it should be doing. Once again, nicely done.