The initial, pre-release description of “Batman: Streets of Gotham” sounded promising, with “Batman stories told through the point of view of other characters in Gotham City.” In my mind, I was expecting something with touches of past classics like John Ostrander and Mary Mitchell’s “Gotham Nights.” What we actually got? It feels more like what we were seeing already with Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s run on “Detective Comics,” to be honest. Only now, it’s a little more dramatic.
Dini seems to be telling bigger stories with “Batman: Streets of Gotham.” I enjoyed the smaller-scale stories that made up Dini’s run on “Detective Comics,” but I think the one flaw was that they were easily forgotten a month later. Here, Dini is aiming larger; with what feels like a large epic-scale extravaganza. Instead of pyromaniac villain Firefly going after a theatre or an office building like he might have before, now we’re seeing a plot that takes on the entire city of Gotham and all of its inhabitants.
What I feel like we’re not getting, though, is the promised different points of view. Sure, there are narration boxes from Commissioner Gordon, Firefly, and a random potential victim. What we’re not getting, though, is the story told solely through their eyes. We’re still getting scenes with Batman and Robin that could just as easily be told in any other Bat-title right now and no one would think twice. Batman still feels like the main character of “Batman: Streets of Gotham” and it’s very squarely focused on him and Robin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying this first issue, but that’s by judging it for what it is: another Batman story. I’d love to see Dini tackle a story down the road where Batman really is a secondary character, because I think the concept has a lot of merit.
Dustin Nguyen’s loose, flowing pencils look great here. I like that he’s able to get the big moments, like Gotham City burning or Firefly plotting, to give such a huge punch to the reader. There’s just the right atmosphere on the page, letting you feel like something creepy going on and can’t be stopped. His art works well with John Kalisz’s colors, too; from the daytime scenes with their grey and brown streets and buildings, to the deep reds of the fire and the dark purples and blacks of night, it all comes to life and fairly bursts off of the page towards you.
I have to say, though, it was the second feature with the return of Manhunter that got my attention. Putting Kate Spencer as the new District Attorney of Gotham is a good move for the character, sticking her in the thick of the Bat-books and feeling like a logical shift for her. Manhunter fits well into the Gotham world, too, going up against both street punks and super-villains alike. Georges Jeanty does a nice job of bringing the script to life; he’s done so much work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” these days that I’d almost forgotten that he’s just as adept as drawing superheroes. At the same time, though, Jeanty’s ability to draw every day normal folk is put to the test here; the scenes at the funeral, for instance, are gorgeously drawn. He’s able to put both superheroes and civilians into the scene (all in formal funeral wear) and you can easily pick out who’s who, without having to resort to any out of the ordinary visual cues. Jeanty’s an artist who should be a superstar, and it’s always good to see his name on a comic.
“Batman: Streets of Gotham” #1 has a solid beginning, but I’m hoping its lead feature lives up to the promise of how it’s being billed. It’s a good concept, and while I think Dini can tell regular Batman stories just fine, I want to see how he can tackle stories where Batman isn’t the real focus. Even if he doesn’t, though, it’s a strong enough opening that I’d be happy with it. It just comes down to if we’re going to get good, or great.