Just as Bruce Wayne spent far too long swimming in the Great Omega Sea also known as Grant Morrison's brain, one of his greatest creative teams was similarly banished to the bleachers in a title called STREETS OF GOTHAM
, which comes to an end with its current and final issue, #21.
I had the honor of interviewing writer Paul Dini in 2009 when he was promoting the ARKHAM ASYLUM video game, and I asked him what one element was necessary in every Batman story. Without hesitation, he quickly and confidently answered, "Bruce Wayne." How sweet the sound. And though the space/time-trotting Mr. Wayne was off limits to Dini and his art team of Dustin Nguyen (pencils and covers), Derek Fridolfs (inks), and John Kalisz (colors), they still cranked out excellent, character-driven stories set in what I like to call the "Dini-verse" they created during their outrageously awesome run on DETECTIVE COMICS.
Issue #21 concludes not only the title itself but also the "House of Hush" storyline, which is a sequel to Dini's landmark "Heart of Hush" story that originally appeared in issues #846-850 of DETECTIVE and can be found as a collected edition that deserves a spot on your shelf next to titans like THE LONG HALLOWEEN and DARK VICTORY. Dini made Dr. Tommy Elliot more terrifying in one flashback than Jeph Loeb made him in the whole dozen issues of the original HUSH arc that created him, all while weaving a tale filled with action, suspense, horror, romance, and show-stopping Bat-Badassery.
Though Dini and company didn't have access to Bruce Wayne when "House of Hush" began, he still did his best to deepen the mythology he's been building for Gotham City. We've seen the early years of the Thomas and Martha Wayne relationship and gotten glimpses of how some of Gotham's crime families beyond the Maronis and Falcones operated. And when Bruce finally did return (albeit briefly) to these pages, his reunion with Selina Kyle was hotter and more heartfelt than anything that happened between them under any other writer.
Dini's writing feels like home, even when the odds seemed stacked against him. When DC jiggled its schedule and its backup stories to get its books in line with its impending price/page decrease that happened in January, chapters of "House of Hush" ran shorter than its "backups" or, in the case of issue #15, not at all (so that a shoddy Two Face backup could be wrapped up in one entire issue). When it finally got back on track, Dini and his team found themselves working with fewer pages per issue. But while it might have been chopped up and tossed around by DC, the story itself was always a winner to me (and I think it's going to be a wonderful companion to "Heart of Hush" when it's released as a hardcover on July 27th).
The real question here is, "Does the story give a satisfying conclusion to the Tommy Elliot storyline?" And I think the answer is absolutely yes. Tommy's final fate is wickedly ironic and brilliantly appropriate, bringing the character full circle both thematically and visually, though not in the way you might expect. (For a clue, think about the original appearance of Hush.)
It's also fitting that Dini resolves (for now) the Jane Doe storyline (in a superbly creepy fashion) that began in the Manhunter backup that originally appeared at the end of the early issues of STREETS.
Those expecting Bruce Wayne to prominently figure in this finale will be disappointed, but no matter how welcome his brief appearances have been, this sequel was always Tommy's story. And I'm really happy with how it wrapped up. Literally. DUN DUN DUN!
Throughout the issue's flashbacks, I wondered why Dini was spending so much time with the kid from Leslie's clinic who'd been enslaved by sleazy Sallie Guzzo. But there are things Sallie says to the kid in this issue that were oddly familiar to me, so I flipped through issue #19 again and found something very interesting. Someone in issue #19 says those exact same things to Sallie, which creates the very interesting theory that the kid from the flashbacks grew up to be a major player in Batman's life. (Read this issue and revisit the amusement park flashbacks from #19 and see if you agree.)
And so it goes. Even though STREETS was a satellite book, the work done by Dini, Nguyen, Fridolfs, and Kalisz was always as fun and as engaging as I've come to expect from this team. And it breaks my heart that their combined Batman work is coming to an end. BATMAN, INC. is fun but too silly and obscure for my tastes, and the third issue of BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT has been delayed yet again until the end of May following a similarly delayed second issue that left a lot to be desired.
There's simply no place that feels like home to those of us who crave great stories of Bruce Wayne as Batman, and it kills me that guys like Dini who are dying to tell them are pushed aside or, with this title's cancellation, silenced entirely. (At least we'll get his ARKHAM CITY tie-in comic later this year.)
I'd like to extend my deepest and sincerest thanks to Dini, Nguyen, Fridolfs, and Kalisz for the spectacular Batman stories they told. (In particular, I suggest picking up the PRIVATE CASEBOOK and HEART OF HUSH collections from their DETECTIVE run.) And DC, if you're listening, please don't keep Mr. Dini away from Gotham for too long. We need him right now…and so does The Batman. - John Bierly