As Batman Eternal enters its final act, subplots come together and the puzzle begins to unravel, as the Riddler has been revealed as a key player in this week's issue, and the Bat-family joins forces to save Gotham.
The four writers behind the series — James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins, and Tim Seeley, who are scripting the series from concepts by Tynion and Batman scribe Scott Snyder — have built a series of subplots into the weekly series, mysteries that have been challenging Batman since the weekly launched earlier this year.
And although some story beats may have been known by readers ever since Batman #28 exposed them in February, the writers told Newsarama the story is now heading toward "epic reveals and major twists and turns" that haven't been "even remotely" hinted at in Batman #28.
This week's Batman #36 also emphasized that the Riddler has solved the puzzles plaguing Batman, and according to Tynion, "he's definitely been aware of something, going back to the very earliest issues of the series," and "that is crucial to understand, in what we're about to do."
So what's next in the series? Is the title "Eternal" as important as some speculations have made it out to be? Why is the introduction of Harper as Bluebird solicited as something that may have an unhappy "ending?" And what's the deal with Julia's feelings for Bruce? Newsarama talked to Tynion, Fawkes, Higgins and Seeley to find out.
Newsarama: We've been seeing indications in past issues that the Riddler's noticing the thing's happening in Gotham — and at the end of this week's Batman Eternal #36, it seemed that he figured the entire thing out. That reveal seemed to hint that the Riddler is, perhaps, more involved than we suspected. Point blank: Is Riddler part of the plot — maybe even behind it? Or is he just an interested bystander who's figuring out the mystery?
Ray Fawkes: I don't think it would be best, at this point, to say whether the Riddler is the man behind all this or not. But I think one thing we can say is, no matter who's out there, with whatever crazy plan they've got, personally, I don't think there's anyone who can get the jump on the Riddler, as far as making a complicated puzzle which has to be figured out.
James Tynion: Ray was the crucial figure in helping us lay out the pieces of the Riddler's messages over the course of the full year.
Now we're finally going to see that come to a head in a pretty spectacular way.
Nrama: That sounds like, if the Riddler isn't behind this, he's going to become part of it, even if it's only to add to the mystery.
Tynion: Everything behind the Riddler is mired in questions and riddles. And he's not going to give you the answer in the clearest possible form.
But he's definitely been aware of something, going back to the very earliest issues of the series.
So I think that is crucial to understand, in what we're about to do.
Nrama: Obviously, when Hush was introduced in 2003, in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's story in Batman, the big twist at the end of that story was that Riddler, not Hush, was behind the whole thing. Was that part of your consideration as you brought both these characters into this story?
Tynion: I would say it was more organic than that, in the sense that, bringing Hush into the story comes down to something very simple, which was the fact that, in a story of this scale — up until Hush showed up in Eternal, he was probably the most recognizable, large-scale Batman villain not to appear in the New 52.
So we know, based on everything we were building in this story, that he would be perfect to be the lynchpin of the second act of the story, and be a part of the whole emotional through-line, all the way up to the end.
If you got through every issue of Eternal, we've used so many of the biggest and best Batman villains out there, and I think the Riddler and Hush were just two of the ones that we knew we wanted to get our hands on over the course of the year.
But using both of them was not a deliberate reference to the original Hush storyline. What we wanted to do was build something entirely new and entirely our own with these characters.
Nrama: Looking at the solicitations coming up for the last few issues in 2015 — with the tease that there will be a "twist" we won't see coming, and that when Bluebird is introduced, it won't necessarily have a "happy ending" — it looks like there's more to this story than the things that were kind of spoiled in Batman #28. How would you describe the surprises you've worked into the mix in Act III and their relationship to Batman #28?
Tynion: Eternal is such a huge monster that, to get to the point where things have changed so dramatically — where you have Selina as a crime lord, where you have Bluebird in the costume, where you have Spoiler active and on the streets and wanted, where you have martial law on the streets of Gotham — to get to that point, it was going to take time. But we wanted the readers to know how crazy we were going and how willing we were to break all the rules in the story.
At the same time, we knew we had epic reveals and major twists and turns that we weren't even remotely hinting at in that issue #28 — even down to the fact that we had a shadowy figure in the cave in issue #28, but there was no reveal about who that figure was going to be. And now we know we have Julia Pennyworth in the cave, and we see how exciting and different that can be. And we're already seeing an endgame that spirals out into the main Batman series.
The whole point of Eternal, from the very beginning, was to completely change the groundwork of Gotham City and set things up for a generation of stories that have never been told before. And I think that's exactly what we've done.
Nrama: I see that coming up, we're going to see a bit more Catwoman. We haven't seen a lot of her lately. There's even indication that Julia and Selina might be at conflict in the future. Do those two characters clash because they have similar skills, or is there more to it?
Tim Seeley: Yeah, you see this simmering dislike of each other, especially on Julia's side. You just have to listen to those two talk to each other — Batman and Selina — and just listen to all the innuendo and the flirting. And Julia's just rolling her eyes the whole time. So by the time she sees Catwoman, she's just ready to kick her ass anyway.
But I think, yeah, we do see a cool contrast between the two of them, and obviously one of them is military and very organized and very law-and-order, and Catwoman's obviously on the other side of that sort of stuff.
So yeah, they have a cool encounter coming up.
Nrama: In this week's issue, we saw Julia use something called "Blue Rose" to free Batman. I get the feeling we'll never find out what that is, exactly? Just a secret Pennyworth maneuver that's named for the type of rose he created?
Tynion: I think the idea of that whole piece, in #36, is that Alfred is the guy who has the fail-safe that no one else is going to think of, and it's his fail safe. And yeah, the blue rose is just a keyword, it's the little pass code that references something that is only connected to Alfred, the Pennyworth blue rose, the kind of rose he cultivates himself at Wayne Manor.
Seeley: It's also James' safe word. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Was that Tim who said that?
Tynion: Yeah, you can always count on Tim. [Laughs.]
Nrama: I have to ask about Julia's motivations here. She obviously wants to do a good job for him, but this issue made it very clear that she likes him quite a bit. Should we be reading more into that? What kind of relationship is forming between them? I mean, is there jealousy involved in Julia's dislike to Selina?
Kyle Higgins: Catwoman does have better outfits, I will say that.
Tynion: [Laughs.] I think what Julia's been looking for, and what she's been missing in her life for a very long time, is a sense of family. She's been completely shut off from her father; we don't know much about her relationship with her mother at this point. But she's not someone who's grown up within this kind of tight family environment.
Seeing the Bat-family in action and becoming a part of that — and a crucial part of that, because they need someone at the computer; they need the person who's guiding their hands, and she's much more active than Alfred with her skill set, so she has a wider array of what she's able to do and the way she's able to help Batman. She's very much a part of the action.
I would hesitate to start reading beyond that. But she is very much a part of this unit right now. And any threats to that unit, especially a flirty person who's taking over the entire criminal underworld, is what sets off Julia.
Seeley: I tend to think of her as — if I was writing her for a scene — I tend to think of her as… you know, Alfred acted as sort of a father figure for Bruce, and so she's kind of, by proxy, this sort of sister. Like a little sister to Bruce.
So I didn't see it as any kind of a romantic thing at all.
And I've never seen that for Batman. Like, I've seen Batman be very fatherly, and I've seen him be a son, but I've never seen him have, like, a kid sister sort of character to react against. So at least in my mind, that was the relationship.
Fawkes: Yeah, I was seeing it the same way — she's almost like a sisterly figure to Bruce. So any irritation she has with Catwoman is more likely that she doesn't like Catwoman's style.
Nrama: Well, I'd like to talk about the Bat-family. In the last few issues, the focus has shifted a little bit from the mysteries they were pursuing to really hone in on what was going on with Batman, Hush and Wayne Enterprises. And in this issue, Batman chastised them a little for not getting answers quicker. Can you describe what that scene represented and what we'll see from them coming up?
Fawkes: I think what we're going to see is everyone getting to work. They've all been pretty scattered. They've all been trying to help, but they've been all over the map.
Batman may not be the cuddliest boss in the world, but when he tells you to snap to it, pretty much everyone in the Bat-family will respond.
Except Tim. Tim won't respond.
I mean, Tim Seeley of course.
Tim Seeley: [Laughs.] When we did their arcs [in the first couple acts of the series], we had them teaming up, and you had each individual characters [with individual story arcs]. Now, because all those plots are coming together, so are the characters.
So you do still see them in the story, but everyone's part of the larger plot now. So you'll be seeing them coming back in the story, in new configurations and team-ups and stuff.
Higgins: I think the big thing, in the early portion of the final third, is the emergence of Harper as Bluebird. Those are issues that I wrote. And they take a look at the sequence of events that lead Harper to don a costume for the first time.
Obviously we saw her in the suit in Batman #28. But getting to explore a hero's first outing is something that's pretty exciting, and hopefully I was able to turn it on its head a little bit.
Nrama: Uh oh. That doesn't sound good.
Higgins: It doesn't go nearly as smoothly as she would like it to.
Going forward, her role within the Bat-family — she's not a fully formed hero by any stretch of the imagination. If she's going to continue doing this, there's still a very steep learning curve. So that's the undercurrent for her in the last third here.
It really is a trial by fire. With where the events are going and the events in Gotham, you really couldn't ask for a worse situation, you couldn't ask for a deeper end of the pool to be dropped into.
Nrama: The end of this issue said next we'd see "villains united." Can you describe what's coming toward Batman?
Seeley: Yeah, I wrote those issues, and the set-up is sort of, OK, now that everyone has access to all this stuff, how do they react to each other?
Obviously, the Bat-family has come together really well, but how do the bad guys come together?
Nrama: There's also ongoing speculation among fans about why this series is called Batman Eternal. Should we be analyzing the title of this comic that way? Is it a clue?
Tynion: Yes. [Laughs.]
Fawkes: I think that's the question that's been at the crux of the series for us and what we started with, which is, what makes Batman eternal? What makes the idea, the concepts, depending on who's writing it, the character itself, eternal? And that's something that, going into the final issues here, is a big focus.
Nrama: Then to finish up, anything you want to leave with fans as we head into the final part of the story?
Tynion: Right now, we've just entered the third act of a story that we've been working on now for over a year. We've seen all the threads, we've seen all these pieces and how they come together from the very beginning.
Now the fans are getting to see it all wrap up.
If anyone thinks that all our chambers are empty, in terms of the numbers of crazy twists and turns that this story can take, they're absolutely wrong.
There are major turns coming and major surprises up until the last issue.
This is the book, alongside Batman: Endgame, that will set the stage for everything that's happening in Gotham for the next year and beyond.
So readers should gear up for something exciting and fun, because this is going to be the biggest, most bombastic arc of the story. You're going to see all your favorite characters, and good things aren't going to happen to a lot of them. But it's going to be a really fun read. So stay tuned. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.