Comics are a visual medium; take out the art and it's just a prose story or a script, after all. It's frustrating, then, when a comic's script and art aren't at the same level. "Batman Eternal" #20 is a great example of that gulf in action; Tim Seeley's script does just fine, but Emanuel Simeoni's stylish art falls down in multiple points throughout the comic, and ultimately drags it down.
The story itself chugs along well; Seeley (working off a plot developed by him, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes and John Layman) resolves the current elements spinning along in Brazil and the Gotham Underground, as well as gives us a big step forward in the Blackgate Penitentiary section as well. There are no real complaints here; I like that Seeley's able to juggle not just Batman but a supporting cast that includes Batgirl, Batwoman, Red Hood, Jim Gordon and Jason Bard. Everyone has something to do in "Batman Eternal" #20, and with a large cast that's a fine attention to detail. There's also a nice setup for a piece of plot that has been off-panel for the past month or so, and the final page is going to make a lot of readers very happy as that element bursts back into the foreground.
On the other hand, Simeoni's art -- which I enjoyed last week -- isn't quite up to snuff this go-round. At a glance, the overall look of the art here isn't bad; it's a dank, dirty sort of style that fits the tone of the script. The Tijuca Rain Forest's muck you can almost smell thanks to Simeoni, who uses dark shadows and slightly twisted forms to his advantage. You can certainly see why he was chosen for this title.
It's when the action kicks in that everything goes south. The entire Gotham Underground fight scene is a big jumbled mess, and not in a deliberate fashion. Characters who should be the focal point of a panel are so small you can barely see them, for example, and attacks seem plastered across the page in an almost random fashion. This is a fight where the script is carrying the heavy load to explain to the reader what's happening; with confusing page layouts and poor choices on what to focus on, the scene loses most of its impact because it's an exercise in frustration rather than exciting.
"Batman Eternal" #20 is a comic that is all right when everything evens out, but it should have been great instead. I'm not sure why the art came across so much more jumbled than last week, but in the end it just doesn't come together. In a weekly series, this sort of event is going to happen from time to time; here's hoping it's a while before the visuals fall down on the job again.