Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolf’s “Batman: Li’l Gotham” #5 joins together two short Bat-tales “April Showers” and “Cinco De Madness” released first as digital issues. With this issue, Nguyen and Fridolfs prove, as they have time and again with this series, that they can bring the best of the Bat-universe to all-ages continuity free tales that warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.
The first story, “April Showers,” a tale of Mr. Freeze being let out of Arkham Asylum and having a “perfect day” in Gotham, hits all the right notes as Freeze opts to put Gotham on ice so that his beloved Nora can wake to it. Nguyen and Fridolfs really get the tragedy of Mr. Freeze and bring it to light beautifully. The kind of tragic well-intentioned but ultimately ill-advised actions of a genius that end up making you into a supervillain on a one way trip back to Arkham before you’ve had a chance to even unpack your bags.
Nguyen clearly loves to draw Mr. Freeze from the perfectly adorable character design to the execution of his power set (Nguyen’s Mr. Freeze creates the most adorable ice-unicorn sculpture you’ll ever see). The final bit of this story is a bit of a wobble for those not paying attention — a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual cue sets up a joke at the end of the issue with Poison Ivy almost immediately re-arrested after release from Arkham for something she didn’t do (and Mr. Freeze did accidentally). The cue is too easy to miss. Had the set up been emphasized just a bit more, it would have made both a great joke and the perfect finale to a story about good intentions gone wrong. As it is, it’s still just a tiny misstep in an otherwise delightful story.
The second story, “Cinco De Madness” isn’t as strong as the first, in part because it’s a bit too ambitious with too many characters featured, but it’s still a ton of fun. “Cinco De Madness” excels in the small character moments — especially between Batman, Tim, Zatanna and Huntress doing game night in the Batcave — which could (and should) be an issue all on its own. However, the central story, which follows Damian and a slew of friends (including Katana and Colin) trying to take down Bane during a Cinco De Mayo celebration, is simply a bit too big for its britches. It’s filled to capacity with good jokes and action, but it’s almost like too much of a good thing, especially on the visuals, which though adorable and fully of Nguyen’s trademark energy could have used just a little bit of breathing room.
Even with one story doing the heavy lifting, Nguyen and Fridolfs’ “Batman: Li’l Gotham” remains a bright warm light in a relatively dark humorless DC Universe. “Batman: Li’l Gotham” takes the absolute best of the Bat-Universe and comics in general, mashing them together into heart-warming, hilarious, and beautiful stories that comic fans of all ages can enjoy.