And so Paul Dini’s long-serving and generally rather good Detective Comics run is the next brought into line with “Batman Reborn”. Only… wait, no it isn’t. Because despite carrying over various aspects of that run – Dustin Nguyen as an artist, the presence of characters such as Thomas Elliott and Harley Quinn – this isn’t Detective Comics. This is Batman: Streets of Gotham. By my count now the fourth ongoing Batman book (if you still count Detective itself as a Batman book, which I bloody do in much the same way as Action Comics is a Superman book) out there – and we’re not just talking the “extended Bat-family” that could take in Robin, Red Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Gotham Central and anything else at various times – there are now three books starring the Dark Knight, along with Detective rolling along without him. This is early ’90s territory, people.
Anyway, since Dini has been forced into a title change, he sort of needs to come up with a slightly new hook – so we bounce around scenes with Jim Gordon, and a very Frank Miller-esque sequence featuring a pubescent prostitute and an overly violent, shadowy, trenchcoated vigilante figure, and some of it’s told from the villain’s point of view (in this case the Firefly, a character I’ve always had an amused affection for in much the same way as, say, Mysterio – but who’s perhaps treated a little seriously here) and Harley shows up for apparently no plot-related purpose (which is fine, because it’s Dini). I suppose if the intention is for the series to show the “on the street” reactions to the new Batman and Robin, then it’s not a bad idea – but this conceit is let down by featuring the pair in scenes that are firmly from their perspective, and at their usual level.
Dini’s also off to a slightly shaky start in capturing the dynamic of the, er, dynamic duo. His Grayson works quite well, over-talkative and more of a standing, observational figure; but I’m not so sure he’s got the memos on Damian. Shouting “Gotta go!” while running away from the same conversation ( in which he’d earlier not contracted the phrase “I am” shows a distinct inconsistency of voice, and referring to his new mentor by first name rather than surname seems a little too friendly for the aloof brat. That said, the first appearance of the pair, accosting a fleeing Ms Quinn, works rather better, so let’s not lose hope entirely – but the spark and dynamism of Morrison’s Batman and Robin is lacking.
This certainly isn’t bad – and it’s a more enjoyable read than Winick’s opening salvo on the main title – and Nguyen’s work is strong as ever (credit, too, for actually attempting to be consistent with the details of the Quitely costume designs where other artists might not have bothered). There’s a curious trick whereby the inking and colouring style changes in order to present a more “arty” final splash page – I don’t know how deliberate it is, and it’s slightly jarring, but it’s a lovely image even if it’s not made clear what the cliffhanger’s trying to show us. Of the non-Morrison titles, then, this just about edges its way into pole position for the “also read” slot, but it’ll have to work some if it’s going to be a must-buy.
Quick mention too of the fact that this is the second (last week’s Booster Gold and Blue Beetle the first) of DC’s books to try out this new scheme of having a short backup feature of a similarly-themed, recently-cancelled character. I still don’t care enough about Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter to click hugely with it (Kate is too similar to a bunch of superior Marvel characters – Jones, Drew, Danvers, Walters – to really stand out), but bringing her to Gotham is an interesting idea, particularly if the character connections in her out-of-costume life are maintained, so we’ll see. And I’m fully in support of the whole “Second Feature” idea, if nothing else.