Review: Batman: Gotham Underground trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm beginning to see a trend now in Countdown spin-off mini-series. Like Countdown: Arena and Salvation Run, Batman: Gotham Underground is greatly entertaining while at the same time largely pointless, a fine combination only if you're content to go for a ride and leave your larger questions at the door.

Gotham Underground reads in part like a Bat-title crossover from the late 1990s; Batman is kidnapped and sent to Blackgate Prison, and Nightwing and Robin have to stop a gang war while he's gone. (This is, come to think of it, perhaps the plots of two Bat-crossovers combined.) I always enjoyed team-up parts of these crossovers, while resenting the disparate titles and art teams. Gotham Underground is perhaps a model for what the most recent Bat-crossover, The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, should have been -- Ra's lacked consistency, while Gotham Underground ultimately lacks relevance.

Writer Frank Tieri offers some great moments, however, which make the story worthwhile if you have the patience for it. Obviously Tieri did his homework; there's a single page where Bane thinks back to the Knightfall story that's as good as Bane has been in a while. The relationships he shows between classic Batman villains like the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler are also spot-on; when Penguin reflects on the Joker, it took me back to the days the two teamed-up in the Adam West Batman or Super Friends. One gets the sense that Tieri worked under the mandate of using every Bat-character he could squeeze in here, and while he misses some (Ra's al Ghul, Azrael), I thought the way he shoe-horned in others like Leslie Thompkins and Spoiler was creatively inspired.

Unfortunately, I struggle to understand the point of Gotham Underground. The story explores the Countdown Suicide Squad plotline from the perspective of Batman's villains, but nothing is revealed about that plotline of which we weren't already aware. It suggests large changes to the status quo of Batman and his villains, but in the end just peters out with a non-specific ending. The climax comes when Batman has a giant fight with Vigilante -- only Vigilante's hardly been a major player in the tale; it's as if Tieri went so far with the story and then couldn't necessarily tie things together in the way he originally imagined.

At its center, Gotham Underground is in part a sequel to Batman: Face the Face, a seemingly important Batman story post-Infinite Crisis which was itself largely ignored. In this partnership, Gotham Underground seems to set itself up for irrelevance as well. Fans of the Crime Bible elements of 52 will find some connection as well. But it's as if Gotham Underground exists in this nether-region of the DC Universe that acknowledges a number of changes post-Infinite Crisis (the Freedom of Power Treaty, for instance) that are largely ignored in the mainstream titles themselves. To this end, Gotham Central is really just Final Crisis crossover fluff, but good crossover fluff -- those looking for real impact need not apply.

[Contains full covers, nice uncolored art by J. Calafiore]

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10 comments:

  1. I haven't read this but I hope it does tie into Face the Face because I enjoyed that story but was disappointed that it was completely ignored by the following writers

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  2. I can't remember, what was it that was ignored in Face the Face?

    I remember it bringing back Batman's status quo, but I can't remember what else happened?

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  3. Face the Face had Harvey Dent as Gotham's protecting vigilante during the Skip Year, something that we hoped to see in action at some point during 52...

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  4. There's a mystery villain at the end of Face the Face who's supposedly taken over Gotham's villains ... this was immediately ignored (and perhaps rightly so) by Grant Morrison and Paul Dini. Said villain makes an appearance, however, in Gotham Underground, partially explaining why he never showed up again.

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  5. Oh right. That Villain was really lame, I guess I blocked him from my memory.

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  6. Wasn't that villain from the Dan Slott mini about a conman who pleaded insanity to get out of a long sentence, only to end up in Arkham? Has that ever been collected? I heard good things about it.

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  7. Yes. We're kind of spoiling it now, but there's continuity from Arkham Asylum: Living Hell (collected) to Batman: Face the Face and then Batman: Gotham Underground.

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  8. I just read this. Can anyone here tell me what trade to go to next to find out who was in the Spoiler suit in this book? I consider it a grave sin against storytelling that this wasn't actually resolved in the book, and an even graver offense that it didn't provide 'what to read next' info for people who might be interested in the question that an entire chapter was involved in setting up...

    (And also for people who care about who the new Vigilante is, I guess, but that's of less concern to me...)

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  9. It's unresolved. Resign yourself to the belief that it was just one of the Penguin's random bad guys in the suit, and then read Robin: Violent Tendencies for the Spoiler action you're really looking for.

    I have a theory as to Vigilante's identity that I'm particularly proud of. Nobody spoil it -- when I read the book, if I find out I'm wrong, I'll share it. Or email me and I'll tell you my guess.

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  10. I think that War Games may well be the only Spoiler-related story I've read; not terribly interested in Stephanie Brown although I'll probably enjoy that story for the rehabilitation of Leslie Thompkins. I was just reacting to a particularly well-established mystery. They really still haven't said who 123/Spoiler was? Mindboggling.

    As far as the Vigilante, if it isn't Adrian Chase with a Black Lantern ring, I'm not interested.

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