Paul Dini effortlessly pulled off an amazing balancing act in last month’s STREETS OF GOTHAM
#17. We got a beautifully written reunion between Selina Kyle’s Catwoman and Bruce Wayne’s Batman, a new villain, flashbacks that told us more about the history of Thomas and Martha Wayne and how the beginnings of their relationship were tied to Leslie Thompkins’s clinic, an epic moment of utter badassery by a younger Alfred Pennyworth, and a big step forward in just what Tommy “Hush” Elliot is trying to accomplish in his feverish obsession with destroying the Wayne legacy.
Issue #18 again begins with Dini writing Bruce Wayne as Batman, keeping him entirely in character while still respecting what Grant Morrison’s doing over in BATMAN, INC. by explaining why he’s hanging around Gotham City rather than just letting Dick and Damian handle Bedbug.
Bruce narrates most of the action, and it’s always fun to see the master being written by a master.
There’s also something macabrely comedic about watching Gotham citizens of all ages – including one of Batman’s most recognizable rogues – shambling around the streets in their bed clothes, committing sluggish acts of looting without even knowing what they’re doing. (Dini gets a great joke or two out of the previously mentioned rogue’s truly innocent role in Bedbug’s plan.)
The only drawback is that the main story is only 10 pages long. Bruce/Batman takes up most of that, with the Thomas and Martha Wayne flashbacks and Hush being touched upon only briefly at the end. Dini hits all the right beats but doesn’t have his usual room to breathe.
And I don’t know how many more ways I can say how much I love this book’s art team of Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks), and John Kalisz (colors). I just love how these guys render Bruce’s awesome new costume.
Since the main event isn’t really the main event, what about the other 20 pages? We get another installment of the Ragman story begun last issue by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Szymon Kudranski (with appropriately dirty and moody colors by Nick Filardi), and once again you can’t really call it a backup when it’s twice the length of the main story. But it’s good, so, whatever.
The danger of the backup story is that you have to be interested in the character it’s about, but the irony is that there’s usually a reason why a character has been relegated to a backup story in the first place. The trick for the writer, then, is to make me care about a character I otherwise couldn’t care less about.
The Manhunter backup (by Marc Andreyko) in the earlier issues of SOG was incredible, and this Ragman story has been likewise been really fantastic so far. Nicieza makes every moment about who Ragman is and what his abilities are. He designs an action sequence in such a way that it that we learn more about how his suit of souls works, how he interacts with the souls inside it, and how this affects him as a person. We get some political intrigue, complications for Rory Regan’s new job at the Medical Examiner’s office, and some new questions to be answered. For a character who’s never been on my radar, I’ve got to say that Nicieza’s got my attention.
Three more issues to go before this book is over forever. If you’re only in it for the Batman stuff, this issue’s $3.99 price tag is just way too high for 10 pages of Dini’s story. So those of you who are only in it for the Hush storyline should wait until it’s collected in a trade paperback. But if you want a complete collection of this series, the Ragman story here is enough to make it worth your money and time. – John Bierly