Paul Dini completes his trilogy of "smart" Batman stories with Batman: Private Casebook, and the stories here are remarkable, if largely overshadowed by the events of Batman RIP. These done-in-one tales evoke the more self-contained Batman stories of the mid-1990s, but yet read all together, we find a continuing tale through which Dini carves himself his own distinct corner of the Bat-universe.
[Contains spoilers for Batman: Private Casebook]
A handful of new and old characters reoccur throughout the three volumes, and Dini ties them all together in the final book. Dini reveals the identity of the new Ventriloquist, and suddenly nearly every story in this book interrelates, most notably that of Bruce Wayne's playboy friend Matthew Atkins -- a drunken doppleganger of Bruce himself -- whose murder Batman solved last time around. Atkins and the Ventriloquist touched nearly everyone else in Dini's books -- Zatanna, the Riddler, the Penguin, Harley Quinn, and more -- and this final volume reveals a grand tapestry the reader only glimpsed before.
I've also appreciated throughout these books that Dini gives the reader a chance to solve the mystery, hearkening back (or so I recall) to Silver Age comics that did much the same thing. In most of the chapters, including the Mad Hatter story here, we're shown a galley of suspects before the murderer is revealed; when Batman and the reformed Riddler match wits, the reader gets a chance to intuit the unspoken clues. My favorite was when Bruce Wayne uses sign language to communicate with Zatanna just before he's kidnapped; if the reader catches the signal, they get a clue to Bruce's later rescue. It goes without saying that these elements play to the "detective" aspect of Dini's Detective run, and I've found it a nice change from the everyday story.
Moreover, it's been interesting how, in a way, there really aren't villains in these stories by Dini. Harley Quinn and the Riddler each reform here, including a classic scene between the Riddler and the Penguin where Penguin, too, talks about "going straight"; and Batman must save the Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy each from prosecution themselves. The real villains in these stories are walk-on characters like Vox and Gotham Jack, whom Dini defines only long enough to make them interesting, but not so much as to steal the real focus of the stories. There a sense, perhaps in thematic relation to Batman RIP, that this is the end of Batman's rogues gallery -- not only will Batman be replaced, but that his rogues are retiring along with him.
The real draw for me to this book was the promise of a conclusion to the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul crossover -- and a better conclusion, at that, since the crossover itself was widely panned. Unfortunately, I didn't think this chapter added much -- Batman uses his detective skills in that he psychoanalyzes how Ra's resurrection might affect his current motives, but the final battle between the two contained none of the majesty of, say, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan's sword-fight in Batman: Legacy. The real surprise is what happens to Ra's here, but I'm not sure that alone is worth the price of admission.
[Contains full covers]
Ultimately, even as I enjoy the ambition behind Dini's stories, I know they don't hold my interest as much as Grant Morrison's Batman stories -- as with Kurt Busiek's Superman stories versus Geoff Johns, I know that Dini's run isn't "where it's at" for Batman. I'll pick up the next collection, Heart of Hush, because I like Hush and because of the tenuous Batman RIP ties, but it'll be in paperback, at least, before I turn to Dini's next series, Streets of Gotham.
Certainly, however, this book cements my respect for Dini for what he's tried to accomplish.