On the heels of the blockbuster series Batman Eternal, DC Comics is giving Batman and Robin a team of writers and a weekly — that's right, weekly — series that promises to rock the Bat-family to its core. Dick Grayson will take the lead in a globe-trotting mystery that only Bruce Wayne would know the answer to, if he hadn't forgotten it. Fortunately, Dick, the first Robin, has backup: all of the other people who've used the name ... and then some.
In a Gotham City where Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman, Batman and Robin Eternal follows his allies as they unite to combat a threat from his past — one he found so frighteningly dangerous that he never told any of them about it. In honor of the 75th anniversary of the debut of Robin, Dick Grayson will take a starring role in the series' twin stories: one taking place in the current events of the DC Universe, and one from the first year he spent as Robin.
"What if we created a threat from the past," writer Scott Snyder told Polygon about the idea for the series, "from one of the first cases with Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne as Batman and Robin, with parts that Bruce had never told Dick — and not only never told Dick but that would terrify Dick based on what Bruce had actually done during that case?"
Mother stands for everything Batman does inverted
That threat then remerges in the present, "but Batman cannot tell the rest of the Bat-family what to expect," writer James Tynion IV told the audience at DC's Batman Universe panel at New York Comic Con. "He cannot tell them who this person is or how to defeat them or any of that, because he currently doesn’t remember anything."
"They have to assemble all of the Robins," writer Genevieve Valentine told Polygon, "in an attempt to break down what turns out to be a global threat."
That threat is "Mother," a new villain from the mind of writer James Tynion IV, and from deep in Batman's past. Mother's exact identity is understandably under wraps for the moment, but Snyder described her as best he could:
"Batman, Bruce Wayne, is this parent to the Robin family, he’s this stern father. We wanted to try and create a figure that would parallel that in some ways, and James came up with this idea of this villain, Mother, who stands for everything Batman does inverted, when it comes to his proteges."
That's the story so far. Let's talk numbers and names. Batman and Robin Eternal is a 26-issue series by eight writers that will be told in weekly installments rather than monthly ones. The first issue came out last week, and the second is already out today! It's a spiritual successor to Batman Eternal, last year's 52-issue weekly series. This story isn't just shorter, said Snyder, but is also meant to be "more contained and more focused."
Snyder is serving as "show-runner" alongside Tynion, with a "writers' room" comprised of Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando, Genevieve Valentine, Ed Brisson, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. It's a team with a lot of recent, successful and critically-acclaimed DC Comics titles under their belts, like Batman, Grayson, Midnighter, Constantine and Catwoman.
It is a Bat-family with no one at the head of the table
"The writing team has just been fantastic," Snyder, the star writer of Batman since the beginning of the New 52, insisted. "I feel like kind of a parent, where I’m watching them make this thing — and honestly it’s probably better for me not being involved, the way that they’re all just killing it on the book."
Of the good portion of the writing team Polygon talked to this past weekend at New York Comic Con, each had their own high point on the project. For Valentine, it was all about getting a large cast of characters together and seeing how they bounce off of each other. "It is a Bat-family with no one at the head of the table, necessarily, and I think it’s very interesting to watch."
Orlando mentioned a particular fight scene he'd baked into one of his issues. "This is straight out of Kill Bill, straight out of The Raid, just a massive group fight that I thought [artist] Scott Eden was going to come and want to fight me after receiving the script."
Orlando added: "But he did not."
Perhaps most excitingly for fans, Batman and Robin Eternal promises to bring characters into current continuity that haven't been seen since the New 52 reboot. Cassandra Cain, who was once Batgirl, is finally returning to the DC Universe. Snyder promises that Mother's own henchman, Orphan, is the return of a "an existing Bat-character" who's been missing from continuity for a while. Valentine couldn't even reveal the names of the characters she'd be focusing on in the series without giving away plot events.
In this year's Batman #40, Bruce Wayne died in a battle that also took the life of the Joker. But, both men died awfully close to a pool of scientifically supernatural healing ... substance. And while the Joker hasn't been seen since, Bruce's living body was pulled out of the rubble days later. The pool restored him, but was unable to recreate his higher-level neural connections. Physically, he is Bruce Wayne, but he remembers nothing about his life.
Also, he grew a beard.
Naturally, Bruce's surrogate father and lifelong friend Alfred Pennyworth filled him in on his family relationships, his past and his civilian identity; a history this new Bruce appreciated intellectually, but had no emotional connection to. Inferring that Alfred was walking him up to a big, dark secret, Bruce declined the opportunity to know more in favor of embarking on a path of personal discovery for his new, unique self. Snyder, who crafted the storyline, characterizes this as Bruce being "healed of Batman."
At the moment, Bruce Wayne does not know that he ever was Batman, and with even deep muscle memory and combat instincts erased from his brain, its seems unlikely that he ever could be again (inside the fiction of the comic world, of course. In reality, well, we all know how superhero stories go). The wider Bat-family respects Alfred's wish that his surrogate son be given the opportunity to figure out who he is now, before finding out who he was before.
Also, his new suit looks kind of like a blue bunny.
Gotham City can't be without a Batman for too long, but the face under the new, robotic cowl is an unusual one. Commissioner James Gordon is currently acting as a new, state- and corporate-sponsored Batman, funded by Powers Industries and aided by Wayne Enterprises experts. Gordon took the job over younger police recruits out of an appreciation for how dangerous the work would be.
Even more than his predecessor and friend, Gordon does not look particularly kindly on the idea of teenagers and other untrained individuals independently fighting crime, and he's been cracking down on other vigilantes in Gotham. This has caused no small amount of angst among the Bat-family, particularly for Gordon's daughter Barabara, the current Batgirl.
During 2014's Forever Evil crossover, Dick Grayson (formerly Robin, then Nightwing) was captured by supervillains, who exposed his identity and publicly murdered him — or so they thought. The secret identity thing was definitely true, but the death thing ... hadn't really stuck. Batman saw an opportunity for a classic maneuver: faking your own death to infiltrate an evil organization.
Since then, Dick Grayson has simply been Grayson, Agent 37 of Spyral, an evil spy organization attempting to discover the secret identities of the world's most powerful heroes. Hopping around the world with slick spy gear that hides his face and playing double agent for Batman has kept him pretty busy, so busy that he only recently found out that his mentor had died and lost his memory. It seems like Batman and Robin Eternal will keep him even busier.
Cassandra's original Batgirl costume
Cassandra Cain is the last of the Batgirls (or Robins) to be reintroduced to the New 52. Introduced in 1999, Cassandra was conceived in what was essentially a business transaction between two of the DC Universe's greatest professional killers, and was trained from birth to be the world's greatest assassin.
David Cain, obsessed with the idea of body language in combat, encouraged Cassandra to read human movement as language rather than sounds or symbols. His plan forged her into an almost supernaturally-gifted fighter — into someone who could fight Batman himself to a standstill as a teenager — but backfired in a major way. The first time she ever "read" the pain of a person she'd murdered, she vowed never to kill anyone ever again.
At a very tender age, the mute, illiterate girl ran away from her superlatively dangerous father. Barbara Gordon got to know her as a quiet homeless teen who ran errands and odd jobs for her, and eventually, after plenty of derring-do, Cassandra became the second person to ever be Batgirl and the first Asian member of the Bat-family.
Cassandra in Batman and Robin Eternal
Her return to continuity now, four years after the start of the New 52, is long overdue. When we spoke, Snyder related how he'd attempted to bring her into Batman Eternal to no avail, and gives credit to Tynion's affection for the character to her inclusion in Batman and Robin Eternal.
"There is no bigger fan of Cassandra Cain than James Tynion," he said. "When he finally got the green light here, and he really deserves the credit, he wanted to rebuild her in a way that made her everything she was before but even tougher."
Tynion, et al. do have changes planned for Cassandra, but say that they're intended simply to "update" her familiar backstory for the New 52. "We're all very protective of Cass Cain," Valentine told Polygon. According to her, the goal for her reintroduction was to "give her enough of a backstory and characterization and conflict that from here she can go anywhere."
A new issue of Batman and Robin Eternal will be out every Wednesday for the next six months. The first and second issues are already available online or through your local comic shop. You can even subscribe to the series on Comixology to have new issues purchased automatically whenever they come out.
Update: A previous version of this post contained a misspelling of Collin Kelly's name.