Thursday, 18 June 2009

Batman: Streets of Gotham #1 review

Here in Scotland there's a pastime known as Munro bagging. Munros are mountains that are over 3000ft, of which there are hundreds, and the idea is to climb - or bag - every one. I suspect there's a similar activity in Gotham City, Gargoyle Bagging. Why else does almost every third cover feature someone posing on a creepy waterspout? Not only does this issue have the new Batman in said stance, back-up star Manhunter begins her tenure the same way. I'll get to that later.

First though, we have displaced Detective Comics creative team Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs kicking off this new book with a day in the life tale. Said story shows us the now-straight Harley Quinn (see, Countdown did happen) being hassled as she tries to about her business, first by the police, then by the new Caped Crusader. There's Katy, a young runaway involved with some very bad people. Firebug, striving to get off the villainous D-list with a clever plot that speaks to his madness rather than any great purpose. Damian Wayne, playing chess with penthouse prisoner Tommy Elliot aka Hush aka Lame. And Commissioner Gordon, as quietly determined as any member of the Batman Family to bring order to his city streets.

While I'm no great fan of multiple narratives, Dini knows how to make the technique work - giving us each character's point of view one by one, rather than slinging several colorfully clashing caption boxes on to a single page. Credit to letterer Steve Wands for keeping it all easy on the eye (and a spiffy bit of work on story title 'Ignition').

An accumulation of little details made this book for me: Damian's lack of equivocation when the call to action came; his not arguing the toss over Dick's right to the Batman name when in public; Gordon quietly studying the replacement heroes. These scenes remind us that there's more to Gotham than Batman chasing baddies, it's a vibrant place full of ordinary folk going about their business. Too often it seems that the place exists only at night, with police HQ, Arkham and Wayne Manor the only locations. Not so here, as we explore the streets of the title.

Our visual guides, penciller Ngyen, inker Fridolfs and colourist John Kalisz, are note perfect for Dini's script. The city looks moody, but never dull; the characters alive and unpredictable. Damian appears a tiny bit older than I think he should, but I expect artists across the Bat-books are settling on his look. Line Editor Mike Marts and his individual editors are doing such a terrific job overseeing the new line of Bat-books, setting up tone, character and storylnes, that I can excuse the odd slip.

And besides, Damian gets the best line in the issue, a comment so perfect for him that it illustrates how well defined his personality already is. And the chess scene shows there's a lot more going on than mere snitty kid.

The story ends with a scene we've seen all too many times over the last few years, but it's what the story's been building towards. Let's see where it goes next month.

But there's more. Here's Kate Spencer, Manhunter, settling into her new Gotham home. I wouldn't be surprised if writer Marc Andreyko began with a gargoyle moment as a gag, to immediately make the point that his girl's gone Gotham. He takes to the ten-page format with apparent ease, alternating flashbacks to show how Kate Spencer relocated from LA to be acting DA with today's hunt for the previous incumbent's killer.

Andreyko deserves credit for having Kate leave son Ram behind in the comparatively safer LA, while stressing that she Will remain a big part of his life. It may be less dramatic for the strip to lose a potential story builder such as Ram, but it's true to Kate's character that she keeps him away from Gotham's psychos.

There was a lovely scene involving Commissioner Gordon that showed Kate dropping her hard face for a moment, and a smart bit of Barbara Gordon interaction. I can't see either being regulars in the strip - Kate has her own interesting cast, at least a few of whom I hope to see here - but their participation in the opener made perfect sense.

George Jeanty did a pretty decent job with the pencils. His proportions were off on occasion, with Kate's head looking too large for her body, but again, I like this book so much I'll call it teething problems. Karl Story did a nice job on the inks and it'll be interesting to watch these two pull together as a team. A glitch which bothers me more was the printing of Kate's narrative captions - red out of black should have worked, but the font used was too blobby, rendering it occasionally unreadable.

I wasn't keen on Nick Filardi's colour choices - do flashbacks always have to be in tepid hues? And what's with all the grey skintones? Hopefully he'll look at the finished product and tweak the brightness levels just a little.

My little moans aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Manhunter. I wasn't sure what purpose she'd serve in a Gotham filled to the gills with vigilantes, but I'm just glad to see her. If nothing else, that hideous cobbled-together red costume adds a nice dash of colour.

So that's a brilliant full-length story and a terrific back-up. I think I have a new favourite bat-book.

4 comments:

  1. I only bought this for the Manhunter backup feature.

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  2. So how was it for you? And did you try the lead strip?

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  3. I don't really read much Batman, so it is tough to comment on that story. I found the art for both stories to be pretty good but with the same criticism: neither artist can draw children...

    I'm happy to see Manhunter in a comic which I hope will sell well and maybe provide some extra exposure!

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  4. I thought GJ did fine with Ramsey in Manhunter. As for DN in the main strip, I let the way he drew kids pass as a stylistic choice, but it was out of keeping with his other people.

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