In the best interests of full disclosure, my patience for BATMAN: REBORN
was over before the story began. And even the brightest story moments can't wash away the taste of the expensive stunt this is.
Luckily, the first issue of STREETS OF GOTHAM is pretty bright -- in more ways than one. Told by the recent DETECTIVE COMICS team of writer Paul Dini and artist Dustin Nguyen, this title aims to depict the new man behind the Batman cowl from the perspective of Gotham City's police officers and villains. It has everything I loved about this team's work on DETECTIVE -- Dini's crisp, thoughtful dialogue and character moments that are simultaneously natural and unpredictable, and Nguyen's unique, dynamic pencils powerfully enhanced by inker Derek Fridolfs and colorist John Kalisz, whose palette is never anything less than perfect.
This book, like DETECTIVE, feels like it's alive.
The only thing it's missing is the most important thing…
Don't get me wrong. This title might actually be the closest thing you'll get in current continuity to Bruce Wayne's Batman, and I'll tell you why -- while BATMAN & ROBIN and BATMAN tell the stories from Dick Grayson's perspective, this book largely comes from the point of view of everyone else. And if Dick is trying to keep the symbol alive by being as Batmanny as he can be, he's going to come across (for most intents and purposes, at least) as Batman. Maybe. It's a little too early to tell, but we'll see what happens.
This issue has some real highlights. Look at the backgrounds on the first page. The art team really plays up the gritty street aspect of the cop stuff while really giving the rest of the city shape and scope. And that's really cool and impressive.
Later, when the book's villain is musing to himself about his plan, the pages are drenched in the colors of the killer's gimmick. It's really moody, spooky stuff.
A scene inside a cell looks appropriately sterile. And when people start dying, it's hideous and awful. Maybe too awful.
I love the opening scene between Jim Gordon and Harley Quinn, who's doing her best to be good in a city that's constantly reminding her how to be bad. It's a wonderful showcase for both characters.
And I am totally in love with a twist involving Damian, who's talking to someone he shouldn't be, but someone he's got more in common with than Dick Grayson or even his father. And the method to Damian's madness is just as sick and as twisted as the mind he's mining. (And it really sets up some wicked story possibilities.) I can't name a single comics character I despise more than Damian Wayne, but I do enjoy the fact that Dini seems to be saying, "If you're going to make me use him, I'm going to do the most interesting thing I can possibly do." And it ties into a previous Dini storyline, too.
The plot that Batman and Robin are trying to help Gordon foil is so disturbing that it almost took me out of the story. I'm not saying I want Batman stories to read like Disney movies, but some of the proceedings here are awfully unpleasant. And the cliffhanger doesn't make any sugary promises.
The characterization of everyone here is consistently excellent. (When Dick's Batman scolds Harley, he combines Bruce Wayne methodology with Dick Grayson style.) The artwork is incredible. I just wish this amazing Batman team was writing stories about BATMAN instead of "Batman," you know?
But such is the hand we've been dealt. And beyond my griping about wanting Bruce Wayne back, this is as fine and as engaging and as well-written and drawn an issue you could ask for.
The $3.99 price tag is also pretty steep, even with a backup story about Manhunter (by writer Marc Andreyko and artist Georges Jeanty) that takes place in Gotham City but doesn't have any other connection to the main storyline. I like antagonist Kate Spencer because her heroes are some of my own, and it'll be interesting to see how she balances daily life as Gotham's "emergency interim district attorney" with a nightlife involving a costume and a glowing staff-like thing-a-ma-jig. I know nothing about this character, but there's a ton of dialogue to read and a nice little mystery set up at the end. Not my cup of tea, but good for what it is, and fans of this character are sure to enjoy it.
So, in closing, this is a great issue of Dini/Nguyen goodness, with art and writing on par with their run on DETECTIVE. It's not their fault that Bruce Wayne isn't in it, and I'd never hold that against them. But I just can't help wishing that it was about Bruce Wayne. We aren't going to have these guys in Gotham City forever, and I'd love to see them cranking out new stories about the hero who makes me want to visit there in the first place. - John Bierly