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Sunday Slugfest: Batman: Streets of Gotham #1

Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2009
By: Thom Young

Paul Dini (Batman) & Marc Andreyko (Manhunter)
Dustin Nguyen (Batman pencils) & Georges Jeanty (Manhunter pencils)
DC Comics
As a new Batman rises on the streets of Gotham City, the heroes, villains and citizens take notice. How will the police feel about this new Batman, and can he control the crime in Gotham the way the old Batman did?

This new series also features a regular ongoing co-feature starring Kate Spencer, Manhunter, who lost a friend during the chaos of Battle for the Cowl, and now she wants payback--by any means necessary.

Erik Norris:
Christopher Power:
Robert Murray:
Jason Cohen:

Erik Norris:

Batman: Streets of Gotham marks the third new title, and the sixth overall title, screeching out of the gates since Battle for the Cowl. That's a lot of Bat-titles folks. And if it wasn't for the talent involved, this many titles would be overload.

Luckily, some of the best in the business have been attached to the various Batman books, and they have all done an excellent job in not disappointing. What's more, Batman: Streets of Gotham--Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen's return to the Bat world--has proven to be one of the best titles coming out of this "relaunch." Who would have figured.

The best part about this title is that Dini picks up a number of threads he left dangling before this whole Battle for the Cowl nonsense started--such as the imprisonment of Thomas Elliott, and Harley Quinn being out on the streets legitimately. Dini inserts these plot strands into the new threads--a new Batman and Robin patrolling the streets, a new villain named "Abuse," and the fallout of Battle for the Cowl from the villain Firefly's perspective--all of which makes for one hell of an opening chapter to this new book.

It helps that Dini admiringly juggles all these various plots and never comes up short on any of them. We're given as much of a taste of things to come as is needed and then Dini moves on to the next at a blistering pace--making the heart-stopping final page sneak up quick, and leaving readers gasping for air.

Cmpliments must also be dished out to Dustin Nguyen for his fantastic artwork in this issue. I've been a huge fan of Nguyen's work for some time--even thinking he would have been a better fit for handling "R.I.P" than Tony Daniel (or nearly any other Bat artist outside of Frank Quitely). There is just something about Nguyen's style that caters so well to the Batman universe, and every panel he draws that involves capes makes my jaw drop. It's so defined, and so slick, with such strong storytelling techniques that your eyes glide through the pages as if they were a knife cutting butter.

Now before I go, I have to discuss the back-up feature in the issue. It would be an injustice if I didn't. I know there are a lot of rabid Kate Spencer fans out there, enough to resurrect the Manhunter series after its first cancellation. For those people, I imagine the nine page Manhunter back-up found in Streets of Gotham #1 had them throwing down their four dollars faster than a dog eats chocolate. However, for everyone else--those not as attached to the character--the increased price point was a bit of a turn-off.

During the fifteen minutes I was in my shop on Wednesday, I saw four people pick up the issue, notice the $4.00 price tag, and set it back down. While I'm here to review the actual contents of the issue and not my dissatisfaction with the price on the book's cover, I fear this back-up feature (no matter how good it is) will turn away a good number of people who want to get into Dini's Batman story that is found in the earlier pages.

However, like I said, I'm here to talk content, and the back-up story was good. I enjoyed Kate Spencer's organic insertion into Gotham, becoming it's new District Attorney, and I enjoyed the dynamic between her and Jim Gordon. The art by Georges Jeanty was also rather nice--not too flashy and serving the story well. It will be interesting to see where this second feature heads in the coming months as this first installment was mainly exposition to catch new readers up with Kate Spencer's new status quo.

Overall, Batman: Streets of Gotham #1 was a great pick-up. The main feature rocked--with excellent storytelling by Paul Dini and fantastic pencils by Dustin Nguyen--and the backup wasn't half bad either. While I will be picking up next month's issue once again for the Batman lead feature, I'm very intrigued where Marc Andreyko is taking his baby, Manhunter, in the back-up story. Four dollars be damned.

Christopher Power:

After the death of its long-time protector, Gotham City is falling to ruins like so many great civilizations past. The city infrastructure is failing, the criminals are moving in force (both seen and unseen), and even the police are unsure who their allies in masks and capes really are these days. In this web of villainy, new heroes must rise to meet the challenges of a sinister new age for the city of the Dark Knight.
As I was reading Batman: Streets of Gotham #1, I kind of felt that something like the description in my previous paragraph should have been used as an introduction.

The story in my epigraph is the one that I am most interested in after the loss of Bruce Wayne: Seeing how Gotham City copes in the wake of that event, and what heroes step into the shoes of a legend. It's an interesting concept, to say the least. While it is not the first time that world has been without Bruce in the cape and cowl, I do believe it is the first time (at least in my comic reading lifetime) that Gotham has been without Bruce at least overseeing its protection.

Added to this, two of my favourite writers have been handed the opportunity to tell the two stories contained in this issue.

The first story, "Ignition" by Paul Dini, addresses the state of Gotham and all of the city's long-time inhabitants. With Arkham in shambles and Gotham Central in ruins, the police are scrambling to keep the city under control. Some of them doubt the Dark Knight is still watching the city--or, if he is, they doubt it is the same person in the cape and cowl. By itself, I rate "Ignition" as a four-bullet story.

Dini takes the opportunity in this main feature to show off his favourite creation (which I'm sure fans were waiting for), Harley Quinn--all cleaned up and fresh off her job with Catwoman. A simple case of mistaken identity is cleared up relatively easily with a quick appearance by the new Caped Crusader and his sociopathic sidekick Robin.

The interchange between Batman and Harley is very good, and sounds right on the money. However, Damian is presented incorrectly throughout the book. The dialogue isn't bad on its own, however it's inconsistent with Damian's appearances in Morrison's books.

Indeed, rather than the honed, clipped, and precise statements that Morrison uses for the character, Damian sounds more like Tim Drake during the sequences on the rooftop--and again with Thomas Elliot later in the story. This is a concern I have for the character of Damian in the future: Once Morrison is finished with him, I don't know if anyone will be able to write him consistently in accordance with his background.

The story itself shows off key elements of Gotham City's underworld. Harley and Thomas Elliot show A-list villains that were either a high profile, or dangerous threat to Batman. There is also a sequence with unknown underworld scum (and a mysterious hero) showing the grit and grime of the streets, which is absolutely essential for a Gotham book. Finally, we have the major threat of this book: The B- to D-list villain known as Firefly, who has become a major threat. I don't want to spoil his whole plan, but it's quite elaborate for Firefly--who has sensed a power vacuum in the hierarchy of heroes that he can exploit.

I think this first story in the book has the strongest art of the two--with Dustin Nguyen giving Jim Gordon a tired and aged look when he arrives at each scene. The image of Batman is consistent with other books, with shorter points on the cowl and a good use of the cape. However, on the closing page I thought that Batman was too broad; Dick Grayson is typically depicted as being more lithe than Bruce.

Colours and inks are perfect in this section, with a great use of shadow on the rooftops. Additionally, there is a great rendition of the classic Jim Gordon image--with only his silhouette and the reflection of light off his glasses. It's an ideal image for this type of book as it makes it feel a little grittier. The scenes with fire are really creepy, and they make the main events really disturbing.

I have only one major complaint, and that's with the lettering. The speech bubbles for Firefly are almost impossible to read. The perceptual difference between yellow letters on a white background is an impossible contrast to read. Please, to all those would be letterers and colourists: Don't do that.

Overall, "Ignition" was a really positive start to the book, showing the old guard heroes and villains, and it works to set up the second half of the issue with the new defender of Gotham.

In the second story, "Strange Bedfellows" by Marc Andreyko, we encounter Kate "Manhunter" Spencer arriving to fill the shoes of, yet another, deceased Gotham City District Attorney. You would almost think people would stop taking that job!

The scene is set perfectly, with Kate in costume as Manhunter--crouching on a gargoyle in a very Batman-esque pose. The red of the costume contrasts against the dark city--making her look severely out of place in her new digs. I like it a lot.

Unfortunately, it felt like Andreyko had a lot to do in very few pages, which is why this story only rates three bullets from me. The interspersion of Kate scenes with Manhunter scenes worked fairly well, but the Manhunter scenes were far more compelling--which is unusual for Andreyko. One of the strengths of the Manhunter series was the focus on Kate Spencer--which looks like it will still be important in the future, but felt out of place in this book.

Furthermore, a number of characterizations were off. At the funeral of the previous district attorney, we have both Barbara Gordon looking happy and engaging in chitchat. Jim Gordon then comes over smiling and practically clapping Kate on the back. This all seemed very out of place as it happened immediately after the crowd left the casket.

I was also not terribly keen on the scenes with Kate's son. Admittedly, I have not read the last dozen issues or so of Manhunter, but I just do not believe that Kate would leave her son behind when she moves to Gotham City.

Georges Jenty's pencils on the art are very good, with action sequences looking smooth and even. The colours continue to show the red of Manhunter against the dark and gritty scenes of Gotham--an indication, complementing the dialogue, that Kate will need to change her ways in Gotham.

I had similar problems with the lettering as I had in the first story. Red sans-serif font on a black background leads to this section of the book being very difficult for me to read.

Robert Murray:

With the immense blast of new Batman titles coming out faster than a Stephen Strasburg fastball (You with me, Nats fans?), I've been keeping score. So far, the best of the new bunch is Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin, followed by (in order) Batman: Streets of Gotham, the regular Batman series, and Red Robin.

What makes the first issue of Streets of Gotham better than Batman and Red Robin? It starts with Dustin Nguyen's terrific artwork and ends with a fine Manhunter backup story that adds more bang for Batman fans' bucks. Oh, and Paul Dini is no slouch either in putting together a fine story involving one of the first major crises of the new Batman's tenure.

Regarding the big change in the Caped Crusader, we get to see some different points of view--from Commissioner Gordon and Firefly--which gives Streets of Gotham #1 a slightly different flavor than the other issues I mentioned. Plus, we have a guest appearance by Harley Quinn, who will be a main player in next week's Sirens series (also by Dini).

Harley adds a little comic relief to what is essentially a serious issue that features a catastrophe that really must be seen to be believed. Hey, it's Firefly! What do you think his diabolical machinations involve? It's gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight! I think the most interesting component of Dini's story is the coming of age of so-called "second-stringers" like Firefly.

On a different level, how does the low-level criminal element of Gotham know with such certainty that the Batman who is patrolling the streets is not the real thing? Plus, there's the apparent arrival of a huge vigilante named Abuse, who takes out a pimp near the beginning of the issue. How does this big lug know that it's a good time to move into the territory?

Rather than an in-depth focus on the different POVs of Gotham's regulars, I think this notion of minor characters suddenly feeling empowered by the absence of the "real Batman" is the bigger focus of Dini's script for this issue. Bruce Wayne had a far greater effect as Batman than Dick Grayson will likely have because of the single-mindedness of Bruce's focus and determination. As I said in last week's review of Red Robin, Dick, Damian, and Tim each have disparate elements of Bruce's personality, but those personality traits only work together.

Since the current Batman's "Bruce Wayne trait" is only the knowledge he needs to be able to do the job, the underworld of Gotham realizes that now is the time to act--and act Firefly does, starting a city-wide panic that he would have never accomplished in the Bruce Wayne era. It's an interesting dynamic to this first issue, and something I hope Dini explores in more detail as the series continues.

I also hope Nguyen's typically great artwork continues throughout the series as it gives a perfectly rugged face to the proceedings. His illustrations of Batman and Robin are the best of the new batch of Batman books, and Derek Fridolfs does an excellent job inking his lines.

Following this superb comic art is the equally superb work by Georges Jeanty in the Manhunter follow-up. Jeanty, Karl Story, and Nick Filardi present an excellent tone for a fine script by Marc Andreyko that introduces Kate Spencer to Gotham City as a new prosecutor. Normally, backups just don't have the momentum or mustard to get me excited about future installments--not so with this first episode of Manhunter, which presents a big case for Kate to tackle: The murder of her predecessor, DA Hampton. Mixing flashbacks with current crime-fighting in a rainy Gotham, it's a short tale with just the right atmosphere to stand alongside the primary Batman tale.

Mike Marts and Company have put together a fine first issue of this newest Batman ongoing that will, hopefully, have more great issues to come.

Jason Cohen:

The angle of this new series, Batman: Streets of Gotham, is still a mystery to me. I went into it asking, "Is this like Gotham Central or Detective Comics? It turns out to be somewhat of a combination of those two.

First and foremost, Streets of Gotham is a Batman story. However, it is narrated by other characters--like Commissioner Gordon, Firefly, and Thomas Elliot. If that's the only difference from Paul Dini's Detective run, then what's the point?

However, if the multiple points of view is a way to get into the heads of supporting characters and villains, than this title has real potential to be an interesting exploration into the minds of characters who are never given that kind of attention. In that sense, this series could be a very experimental endeavor here.

If Dini's Detectivedisplayed his ability to create stand-alone stories, then Streets of Gotham will showcase his ability to develop continuity and manage multiple story lines. The book displays everything that has changed in Gotham over the last several months. Gordon is playing dumb to the idea of a new Batman, and the new Dynamic Duo take to the rooftops to enforce order in a city that knows only chaos.

In a follow-up to Black Mask's cadre of villains seen in Battle For the Cowl, Firefly (I still have no idea how he survived being killed by an OMAC several years ago) seems to be trying to make it out on his own as he unleashes his fiery wraith on the people of Gotham--literally. To follow up on other recent events, Damian is seen playing chess with Thomas Elliot, who is still in his prison from the Faces of Evil story.

The only problem I see is that with the lack of a central figure (say Batman or Commissioner Gordon) is that this title may be stretched too far to offer a compelling story. With the lack of a central character, the reader will not be able to connect and relate to anyone, which may then lead readers to deem this title as expendable.

As for the art, this title has more of Dustin Nguyen's masterful work. It is a little different here; it is much less stylized, but it's still the style you came to see. Nguyen makes slight distinctions between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson--as well as between Tim Drake and Damian. Pay attention to these details to enjoy the book even more. I think this title will offer Nguyen the chance to expand his already classic style across an expanded Batman universe.

Marc Andreyko's Manhunter lives again! (again!). After Manhunter was cancelled twice, it seemed Kate Spencer would simply fall into disparity or background scenery. However, it now appears she has gotten another chance. The next chapter of Kate's life takes her to Gotham as the new DA where, as Manhunter, she decides to hunt down the killer of her predecessor. The first installment doesn't offer a lot, but the setup seems promising. With some solid art, this story could pick up speed fast.

Batman: Streets of Gotham is a great investment for any Batman and/or Dini fan, you also get the great bonus of Nguyen's art. Any fan of either Dini's run on Detective Comics or the new Batman, Dick Grayson, should also pick this up. With the added bonus of a new Manhunter story, there's no way you can go wrong, fan or not.

I only stress to be cautious about the direction of this series in the future so you don't put all your eggs in one basket. In the meantime, however, buy this.

What did you think of this book?
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