A week ago, no one even knew what Li'l Gotham was, but today, it's a serious contender for best DC comic of the year. Granted, the grim ethos of The New 52 have pretty much spent the better part of the past 12 months rendering statements like that meaningless, but it’s the way in which this digital-only release flies in the face of its publisher's conventional wisdom that makes it so wonderful. For mysterious reasons that I'm happy to not look in the mouth, the same people who green-lit Superman: Earth One and the porn star reimagining of Harley Quinn have put out a fun and funny comic that'll put a smile on your face — and I don't mean in the gross and scary Heath Ledger way.
Li'l Gotham is the brainchild of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, based on the former's watercolored sketches in which he depicts doll-sized versions of various Bat-characters. It's a cute style that's bound to drive away a fair portion of DC's young male demographic, but it's also the gateway to a kind of light-hearted approach to high-profile IP that we rarely get to see. The comic hits the all-ages sweet spot, perfectly suitable — and likely enjoyable — for your children but not something like Superman Family Adventures built exclusively for them.
Both debuting and taking place on Halloween — one of many holiday-themed stories we're promised to get from this creative team — the first installment of the series sees Batman in the unlikely role of teaching his son Damian how to have fun on what would be a normal kid's favorite night of the year. The plot is rather loose and more closely resembles a series of related shorts, but it's a solid framework for showcasing some great gags, like the one about the al Ghul family's best attempt at spending quality time together. I'm also a huge fan of anyone who writes Poison Ivy as a no-salad carnivore instead of the vegetarian we saw in Batman: The Animated Series. She's a villain who murders people because they kill plants, you guys!
The character relationships you've come to know in other Batman comics remain surprisingly intact here too. Rarely can Bruce Wayne come across as the guy who had a normal childhood, but that's exactly the role that someone like Damian can force him into. Nguyen and Fridolfs are working from the same tortured youth template as Tomasi on Batman and Robin or Morrison on Batman Incorporated, they've just managed to put a lighter spin on it. The pair gives a similar treatment to Batman's unending war on those who would seek to thwart the cause of justice. Never before has the enmity between the Dark Knight and his diabolical foes from Arkham felt so heart-warming.
At the price of a buck, this is a full-size candy bar that tastes way sweeter than DC's typical three-dollar circus peanuts. It's a must-read for anyone who has ever enjoyed superheroes, especially for those who've grown weary of the way they're so often done nowadays. Nguyen and Fridolfs have delivered 2012's finest Halloween treat — and a pretty spectacular one for Guy Fawkes Day, Armistice Day and Election Day too.
You can buy Batman: Li'l Gotham #1 now on ComiXology.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!