Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal trade paperback (DC Comics)

November 18, 2018

The DC Rebirth title most dedicated to celebrating the past doubles down in the final volume of this run, but ends with an embracement of the unknown future. In Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal, James Tynion continues his ode to the 1990s/2000s Bat-family by actually pitting that continuity against this one. It is somewhat confused and troubled, especially against the backdrop of the wider DC Rebirth universe. But as before, what Tynion loves is what we as readers love too, and so we can't help but cheer even as even as the reality grows ever more muddled. This has been a stellar run by Tynion and I'm eager to see his next big project.

[Review contains spoilers]

The conceit of James Tynion's Detective Comics has been to reestablish and reunite in the Rebirth era some of the most popular characters of Batman's No Man's Land/Murderer/Fugitive periods — (Red) Robin Tim Drake, Spoiler Stephanie Brown, Orphan (nee Batgirl) Cassandra Cain, and Azrael Jean Paul Valley, plus Batwoman, Batwing, and villains like Anarky and the General. For me, Detective has been a guilty pleasure; often I found myself cheering when Detective redressed a wrong of the past or paid deference to a character harmed by continuity, even as Detective's backward-looking seemed sometimes repetitive or contrary to the DC Universe's need to expand and grow.

Brilliantly, Tynion's final volume presents a war, of sorts, between the Rebirth and pre-Flashpoint continuities. Armed with knowledge of the alternate continuity, the Rebirth version of "the General" Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong attempts to make the pre-Flashpoint continuity manifest in various ways, including releasing Infinite Crisis's Brother Eye on the Rebirth reality. This comes to a head, among other times, when Brother Eye tries to distract Spoiler and Orphan from an attack on his mainframe by showing them visions of when they were each, pre-Flashpoint, Batgirls.

So even as the pre-Flashpoint continuity has been Detective's stock-in-trade, the villain of the piece turns out to be (Superboy-Prime-esque) a fan too in love with the way continuity used to be. The heroes embrace but ultimately reject the promise of "an old dream," resolving that "the future comes later ... we need to dream up a better now for ourselves." With that, Tynion seemingly waves readers off the very kind of path this run has travelled, though Tynion can't let it go entirely — Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown still end up together, and Cassandra Cain is once again under the tutelage of Batgirl/Oracle Barbara Gordon.

I'm the kind of fan for whom this Detective run was specifically meant, so I can hardly complain about the choices Tynion makes. At the same time, I recognize there's an exorbitant amount of insider baseball at play here, more than a casual fan who just wants to read a Bat-family book should have to deal with (the kicker, again, being Spoiler's and Orphan's Batgirl personas coming back to haunt them). When the existence of the previous pre-Flashpoint continuity is this great of a plot point in the middle of a prominent Batman comic (following, even, The Button), it would seem DC should just revert to post-Crisis rather than continually telling stories shaded with so much affection for the alt-past.

At the same time, almost no one is on the same page. Tynion treats pre-Flashpoint as an alternate reality while Benjamin Percy's recent Teen Titans Vol. 3: The Return of Kid Flash had Beast Boy referencing his Changeling days as if Rebirth and pre-Flashpoint were now one and the same. Essentially DC's answer to continuity these days is for the characters to occasionally remark, "I'm not really sure what my origin is; something must be wrong with time" — having no continuity and being proud of it.

That is a solution, I'll grant, but it seems far less elegant to me than the prestige two volume History of the DC Universe (and subsequent Zero Hour timeline) that were at least based in published comics rather than retroactive continuity between the pages (if not also agreement as to the founding members of the Justice League and Teen Titans). Sure, post-Crisis looked back to and even acknowledged pre-Crisis continuity, but with nowhere near the constancy of the equivalent in Rebirth comics. Say what you will about the New 52, but at least at the outset it focused on the new instead of the old; how much longer will we go on with a bifurcated DC Comics continuity that seems to value the continuity we're not in greater than the continuity that we are?

We're in an era of markedly optimistic Batman stories, from Scott Snyder's Batman run to Metal, and through to Tynion's Detective. Those who remember the heyday of the Detective characters will also remember the dourness of the time — Tim and Stephanie's ill-fated romance, her supposed death, Cassandra Cain turned villain, Batman pushing his family away ad nauseum. Tynion has righted much of this, from Tim and Stephanie riding off into the sunset to the simple coexistence of Spoiler and Orphan as not-Batgirls. The "Gotham Knights" do not end up together and there is not even a closing group shot, but they all part as friends, at least; on the final page, Batman swings towards the audience with the words, "Everything's going to be all right." It's been hard to push the pendulum quite this far, reasonably and credibly, and Tynion deserves due recognition for it.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal

With Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal, we lose James Tynion's run on this title — seven volumes, but what feels far too short — and also the Detective Comics team book aesthetic. Bryan Hill will be on with a short team-type run, but James Robinson and etc. seem to be getting the book back to its Batman-solo roots. That's unfortunate, as I thought writing Detective in a manner that might previously have been done in Gotham Knights or the like gave Detective an identity and an importance that it has lacked over the years; I'm not sure "just another Batman book" suits it. I'm hopeful that Hill's Batman and the Outsiders satisfactorily picks up Tynion's Detective's torch, but again, expectations are high for what Tynion does next, too.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

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