Review: Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Wikipedia entry for Gotham Central notes that Greg Rucka at one point considered a post-Central series called Streets of Gotham. What eventually became the stories collected in Paul Dini's Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money is not that original series, but Wikipedia does describe it as a cross between Gotham Central and the series Batman: Gotham Knights.

I enjoyed Hush Money, though I didn't find it overly moving. In part, it's somewhat difficult to know what this book is supposed to be about. Hush Money collects a Batman and Detective Comics issue post-Batman RIP, and then the first four issues of the series, which focus on Batman Dick Grayson and Robin Damian Wayne fighting Firefly, one issue on Hush disguised as Bruce Wayne, and one issue on Paul Dini's new creation, villain-real-estate maven the Broker. Is this another Batman and Robin series? A book starring Hush? A villain profile series, and if so, how to differentiate this from Dini's other villain profile series, Gotham City Sirens, except that one's about the girl-villains and this one's about the boy-villains? It's hard to know.

I hate to nit-pick on Hush Money, which will fill in a bunch of important background gaps for readers of Red Robin, especially, but this is a book that requires some patience. Dini introduces a heroic behemoth named Abuse who apparently knows the Batman Bruce Wayne, but gives the reader few clues besides Abuse's brief appearance; Dini has Black Mask beg Firefly for his life in a way that seems entirely off character from the Black Mask that Tony Daniel writes in Batman: Life After Death. For a book called Hush Money, this volume is a poor sequel to Batman: Heart of Hush, with few of the literary allusions or real character nuance that came from that earlier Bruce Wayne/Tommy Elliot battle.

I would venture at least part of the problem (though a good problem to have) is that DC includes the two-part "Faces of Evil" story post-Batman RIP at the beginning of this book, allowing only four issues of Streets of Gotham. While I'm glad to see the "Faces of Evil" story collected, and the Hush/Catwoman tale certainly leads in to Hush Money, it allows for only four issues of Streets of Gotham, and the book seems to end before it starts. Glancing ahead, I see the next two issues were a fill in by Red Robin's Christopher Yost, but maybe this book would have benefited from skipping around a bit and including a couple more Paul Dini/Hush issues to come.

The Batman universe is kind of a fractured place right now. Grant Morrison runs the main story, of course, but then there was also Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows, which stood all on its own, and Tony Daniel's Life After Death that tied in to Battle for the Cowl but not Morrison's work. Add to this that Paul Dini has set up his own small corner of the Bat-verse here, trading characters and plots between Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens; as I mentioned before, aspects of this story also feed right in to the end of Red Robin: Collision. I like Hush Money for that reason; coming to it as I have a little late, this story is a linchpin that makes events in a number of other places in the "Batman Reborn" story make sense, but I was neither compelled by the slight police drama nor by the villain profiles to recommend this book in any kind of greater way.

One item of note that I would mention is the relationship Paul Dini creates here between Hush and Damian Wayne. Dini has Damian playing chess with an imprisoned Hush between the glass of Hush's Wayne Tower cell, as meek and alluring as a kind of Hannibal Lechter -- and with a good bit of insight, Dini notes that Damian is drawn to Hush because Hush wears the face of the father Damian hardly knew. I wish Dini had been able to play up this relationship more -- Hush escapes soon after -- and hopefully it'll come into play with Hush's later appearances. I also liked how Hush is able to escape by playing on his childhood relationship with Alfred; indeed, Dini has done a nice job making Hush a different kind of Batman villain, one with an ability to manipulate the Bat-family far differently that any of Gotham's regular rogues.

[Contains full covers and a pin-up. Printed on glossy paper]

It's little moments like these that make me likely to pick up the next volume of Paul Dini's Hush stories. I don't doubt Dini's abilities as a writer -- which he's demonstrated time and again in his Bat-stories -- and when he gets going in a Hush story, the work is likely bar none. So far, however, both Streets of Gotham: Hush Money and Dini's first outing on Gotham City Sirens both feel slight, like little stories around the periphery of the Batman universe instead of where the action is. Artist Dustin Nguyen draws attractive, angular work here, but doesn't quite achieve the close-up, gritty work of Michael Lark on Gotham Central for instance; I never quite found myself emotionally invested in the book.

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2 comments:

  1. One thing I thought of while reading this is that it is more like the stories done for Batman: Shadow of the Bat series from the early 1990's, except they are all tied together. When you read the next book in this series, it ties together some of the elements explored here, but leaves Hush for future villainy! Also, I find Dini to be remarkably good at conveying the mindsets of many people in small doses - each story focusing on the person whom he felt compelled to use as the main protaganist. Just my opinion, but I liked this book more than other collections recently and enjoyed the second volume as well.

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  2. I agree that Dini writes good profile stories -- his string of one-issue Batman stories in Detective a year or so ago were fantastic. And I'm OK with a Tales of the Batman-type book, but for me Streets of Gotham was branded as neither this or that, so I wasn't quite sure what I was reading.

    I know there's a Huntress/Man-Bat story coming up in the next book; that's the kind of thing I'm interested to read, maybe more so (using established characters) than one issue the Broker, a creation of Dini's and a character unlikely to appear elsewhere after Dini's run.

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