The first four issues of Batman Eternal have been a welcome return to the gritty Gotham City that focuses not only on Batman, but on the cast that surrounds him. Previously, the Batman Eternal has enveloped the lives of Batgirl, Batman, Stephanie Brown (yes, that Stephanie Brown) and others, but the primary focus has been on Commissioner Gordon. While that story has been driving the narrative, we get a deviation from the main thrust of the tale here in issue #5.
For fans of Tim Drake, this is one of the few times we have seen him in the New 52 where he actually resembles the Tim Drake of old. This issue begins with Tim employing his detective skills at one of his Robin's "nests" in the company of Alfred Pennyworth. While Tim has been doing some detective work in Teen Titans, it has been mostly computer hacking and other technology-focused endeavors. Here, Tim is actually showing signs of being the master detective that fans of the old DCU knew him to be. The same Tim Drake that was more like Batman than any of the Robins that came before, or after, him. It's nice to see him like that again here in the New 52, even it only for a few pages.
From there, we see the first appearance of Harper Row here in Batman Eternal, and eventually, she crosses paths with Red Robin. In the interim though, Vickie Vale dominates numerous pages of this book at the Gotham Gazette, and later on the streets of the Narrows. It is here in the Narrows, while trying to get details regarding the city's ongoing gang war between the recently returned Carmine Falcone (The Roman) and Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin), that she runs in to Harper Row.
Harper takes Vale and her photographer back to her apartment after dismantling some street thugs that were about to make Ms. Vale's visit to the Narrows very unpleasant, and this is where the story gets really wild.
Red Robin previously discovered that it wasn't Professor Pyg that made the children of Gotham ill in the previous issues of Batman Eternal, but something else that happened previous to Pyg's involvement. What Red Robin discovered was that it is somehow related to nanobots, a type that he had never before seen.
In Harper's building, as the street thugs invade her apartment in pursuit of Vicki Vale, Red Robin crashes through the ceiling, engulfed in some sort of nanobot electricity generated by one of the sick children. After circumventing the nanobot's programming and redirecting the flow (unintentionally) to Harper's brother, the issue ends with Vale getting her story, and a plot thread that is sure to be picked up later with Harper and her now-infected brother.
I'm not sure what all of this has to do with Commissioner Gordon's plight (he's currently locked up in Blackgate Penitentiary for his role in a subway disaster), but I'm guessing that the mysterious appearance by an old villain on the final page has something to do with it (duh).
This issue throws readers for a complete loop. So much has happened at such a rapid pace in the five weeks that Batman Eternal has been on the stands, that it's hard to recap it all in one review. This issue is so different from the others, but the quality is still high, that it really is difficult to review on its own.
Batman Eternal has proven to be a very worthwhile read so far, but the weekly pace might be too much for many readers. Couple the frequency with the fact that DC is going to be doing two more weeklies this year, and it's possible that DC editorial has bitten off more than they can chew.
Thus far though, it's going well in my opinion, and the caliber of creators involved so far has been top-notch. DC has proven before that it can do a weekly (52, Countdown, Action Comics Weekly and Trinity), but will they be able to sustain this across three titles at once? I guess we'll know by this time next year.