Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Danny Miki and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
The challenge for every writer introducing new characters into an established canon is making fans and readers care, something that Tom King has been trying to pull off now for two issues in Batman with new sidekicks Gotham and Gotham Girl. Since their intriguing debut at the end of the first issue, this new dynamic duo has usurped the title’s focus, yet they remain little more than thinly-fleshed out ornamentation for Batman to interact with.
Much of this issue is their origin story, which presents a perfect opportunity to dig into a captivating background for how these super siblings came to be and why they are so consumed with Gotham City that they even named themselves after it. But such development fails to materialize, and theirs becomes a story of a couple of rich kids, inspired by a moment that parallels young Bruce’s fateful Crime Alley experience, who seek to change the world with obsessive zealousness and charity work “in some very… difficult places.” The problem is, such a layout does not provide convincing cause and effect to justify it.
Hank Clover (a.k.a. Gotham) is a Batman fanboy, while his sister Claire (Gotham Girl) hero worships big brother and dons a cape because he does. The former is a little too awestruck in Batman’s presence to be taken as a hero who can hold his own, and the latter is too demure to be taken as much of anything at all. It’s actually not until the last two pages of the issue where personality is breathed into both characters and they finally become interesting, and I wished more of the issue had been spent riding shotgun with them instead of just being told about them.
The bottom line, though, is that the Gotham sibs are superfluous. If we remove them from this story line, the plot is not meaningfully changed. My concern is their purpose seems to allow for the treading of familiar waters: Batman allows himself to rely on others, those others become a liability, Batman learns his lesson to never trust anyone, and Batman resumes his grip on Gotham.
Delivered under heavy voice-over, readers are also reminded that Gotham City is the perennial antagonist in any Batman story; an omnipresent bad guy that makes and breaks whosoever dares walk its streets. The artwork helps sell this premise, with muted colors casting a bleak pall over the city, omnipresent shadows hinting at secrets best left unseen, and inks that deepen features and make people seem tired of their lives. But when what we see - again - is a rich and well-off couple being attacked by a stereotypical street scum, it feels a little one-dimensional, rather than a fresh exploration of the apex predator that is Gotham City. Regardless, given both these budding superheroes’ origins (not to mention the litany of other tragedies that the city has spawned), it rings a little unbelievable that the Clover family wouldn’t have up and moved to Metropolis even after having been graced by Batman’s fateful appearance so many years ago.
But it doesn’t help that Batman himself is just as unbelievable, even by superheroic standards. He’s essentially become the Tony Stark of the DC Universe, and this issue again has him pulling some incredible techno-rabbits out of his cowl. His gadgets are so bleeding edge that it’s hard to believe anything at all in Gotham could possibly go wrong on his watch. With his unlimited bank account and genius-level intellect, he has the means to deploy a squadron of drones, fitted with military-grade facial recognition and Minority Report-level software, around Gotham and know when crime is happening almost before it actually does. His trials and challenges are too easy to overcome, and these conflicts feel hollow because there’s nothing really at stake.
Although you may come for the story, you’ll stay for the artwork, and it continues to be one of the best-looking books that DC is putting out. This team of Finch, Miki, and Bellaire is terrific, with Danny Miki’s inks providing great texture to David Finch’s detail-oriented pencils. They’re so good they even circumvent my misgivings about Gotham’s—the character, not the city—potential as a heavyweight, especially when he’s straining at holding up a span of collapsed bridge. I think David Finch is at his best when drawing action sequences, and it’s impressive that he doesn’t scrimp on backgrounds even when his focus is a wide angle.
While this issue feels like something of a pause in the action, it can improve if the Gothams are afforded greater purpose and their motivations are better explained. More concentration on Batman will certainly also help this title, especially if they can tone down his nigh-invincibility and reliance on incredible gadgets to save the day. What has always made the Batman titles so interesting was the emphasis on the man behind the mask, and this series can certainly benefit with a return to those roots.