Review: Batman: Gates of Gotham trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, April 09, 2012

The miniseries collection Batman: Gates of Gotham has a number of notable elements -- which is important, because whereas no single aspect of Gates is strong enough to recommend it, together the parts form a satisfactory whole. The true test of Gates will be whether it ultimately matters in the DC New 52 universe; otherwise most can probably give this book a pass except for ardent fans of certain creators or characters.

[Contains spoilers]

There's a general trend among DC's Batman titles right now toward exploring the make-up and "secret history" of Gotham City. Perhaps this was spurred on by the popularity of Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne, which presented the Wayne family throughout the ages (based, similarly, on Peter Miligan's Dark Knight, Dark City); Scott Snyder's The Black Mirror picked this up to an extent as Batman Dick Grayson battled the corrupting influence of Gotham in Commissioner Gordon's son James.

Snyder and fellow writer Kyle Higgins's Gates of Gotham is somewhere between Morrison and Snyder's earlier books; Gates, too, presents Gotham as a modern corrupting force like Black Mirror, but hearkens back to the Wayne, Elliot, Cobblepot, and Kane ancestors in the spirit of Return.

Unfortunately, Gates offers no explicit ties to Black Mirror, especially, despite Snder's role on "story," nor any foreshadowing of Snyder's forthcoming, Gotham-exploring "Night of the Owls" storyline. Further, again despite Snyder's presence, Batman Dick Grayson comes off less experienced than he did in Black Mirror, with some of his new camaraderie with Gordon strangely absent.

All of this makes Gates of Gotham seem disconnected, "just another" Batman miniseries rather than a true entry into the ongoing storyline. Characterization and dialogue are mostly on mark (with exception of Black Bat nee Batgirl Cassandra Cain), but Snyder fans expecting more of Black Mirror's high-level suspense won't find it here. Higgins provides dialogue throughout and one senses this is really his book; nothing wrong with that, but again, those picking up Gates because it has Snyder's name on it may not find what they're looking for.

Gates's other selling point is that it stars Black Bat (or Blackbat, as Grant Morrison puts it in Batman, Inc.), the former Batgirl Cassandra Cain. This is exciting simply on its face for Cassandra Cain fans, though as I mentioned, Snyder and Higgin's presentation of the character bears little resemblance to her classic taciturn persona (Trevor McCarthy's art here is quite attractive, but I also couldn't figure what he'd dressed Cassandra in at the beginning -- is there such thing as a belly jacket?).

The tension in having Cassandra on screen is how she, a former League of Assassins leader, would interact with Robin Damian Wayne, whose mother Talia also has ties to the League. Snyder and Higgins handle this well in two scenes where Damian gains a grudging respect for Cassandra. Their animus, however, is maybe too much like that between Damian and Batgirl Stephanie Brown; also, at some point Damian becomes a one-trick pony, always hating everyone, in a way that's increasingly too easy for the Bat-writers and begins to approach stereotype.

Similar to Snyder's role, then, if someone were picking up this book solely for Cassandra Cain's presence, they might also find the end result is passable but less than what they hoped.

What largely redeemed Gates of Gotham for me was that, in the last issue, Snyder and Higgins present a very cogent solution to the story's mystery, a real whodunit (or at least, why-dunit) that can be legitimately gleaned from clues in the story. Even if Gates is disconnected from similar "corrupt Gotham" stories, this one is interesting -- that the foundations of Gotham might be built on a murder, and that an artifact of Gotham's past could spread madness from its earliest days to the present. Gates has a cool ending, and that helps the other pieces coalesce better.

It's also interesting, by no means a drawback, that Snyder and Higgin's story comes to the opposite conclusion that Snyder's Black Mirror does in terms of Batman Dick Grayson. Whereas Mirror presents Dick as a son of Gotham, having grown up there with James Gordon, Jr., Gates rejects Dick as not being an original part of Gotham. Even as Dick receives praise in the end from mentor Bruce Wayne, he also seems to be about to be replaced as Gotham's Batman by Bruce, suggesting some aspect of defeat. Though a minor aspect, another attraction of Gates is that it's a very specific lead-in to the changes that come with the DC New 52 relaunch, more so than many other titles have been.

The book finishes with two stories by Higgins and McCarthy about Nightrunner, the Batman Inc. guardian of Paris. These are quite good, the first part especially; the second part suffers only in being more strongly tied to a specific Batman, Inc. story, such that I might have preferred their inclusion in the Batman, Inc. collection, in context, rather than here.

In all, Batman: Gates of Gotham is a quick read that gets more interesting toward the end. It is not ground-breaking and I can't see recommending it to someone over Scott Snyder's Batman: The Black Mirror, for instance, but it acquits Higgins well, and serves as an auspicious first outing for Higgins and Dick Grayson before Dick reclaims the Nightwing mantle in the DC New 52.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section, Nightrunner back-up stories]

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4 comments:

  1. Your review has me kind of on the fence about this; I was planning on getting it, once I read somewhere that it ties into the Gotham stuff that Snyder was doing in the New 52 Batman, but if it's not really a prequel/set-up for that, it's "importance" becomes much less, which is fine if it's a great story, but the lukewarm review doesn't sell it as such.

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  2. I liked that this was the only pre-Flashpoint Batman story that acknowledged that Bruce Wayne would soon be coming back as Gotham's only Batman. I believe both Snyder and Higgins have stated that this mini series would have an impact on the current bat-books, but it will only happen once they're done with Night of the Owls.

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  3. I particularly enjoyed the Nightrunner personally!

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  4. Agreed with your general sentiments...this is a good story for Batman fans specifically, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not ground-breaking, monumental, or important enough to recommend to more general fans of the genre.

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