Batman: Gates of Gotham – Graphic Novel Review
TITLE: Batman: Gates of Gotham
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrott
PENCILLERS: Trevor McCarthy, Dustin Nguyen, Derec Donovan
COLLECTS: Batman: Gates of Gotham #1-5, Batman Annual #28 , Detective Comics Annual #12
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2012
By Levi Sweeney
Contributor, Grand X
Some comics are very good. More comics are simply good. A lot of comics are mediocre. And, yes, a sizable amount of comics are just awful.
Gates of Gotham lands roughly in the territory between “good” and “mediocre” known as “okay, I guess.” But it’s within walking distance of “good” area. This trade is one that had a lot of good about it, while at the same time not living up to its full potential. I think that this is because the last few issues were rushed to make way for the almighty New 52, resulting in a rather compressed conclusion.
The story starts with Batman (Dick Grayson) and others from the Bat-family trying to track down a load of Semtex, when three bridges suddenly get blown up with those explosives, killing dozens of people. It appears that someone is bent on destroying certain architectural landmarks around Gotham City, landmarks having to do with the city’s founding families: the Cobblepots, the Elliots, and the Waynes. As a sinister note sent to the newspapers reads, “The families will fall by the gates of Gotham.”
Now, it’s up to Batman, Robin, Red Robin, and Black Bat, a.k.a. Cassandra Cain, to find out who this guy is and why he’s doing this dastardly deed. Meanwhile, this story in the present is paralleled by a story from Gotham City’s past, where the rise and fall of Nicholas Gates — the architect who built several of Gotham’s major buildings, including the bridges — and his connection to the city’s founding families, is detailed.
There’s also this little story at the end, written by the same creative team as the rest of the book, about the origin of Nightrunner, the Batman of Paris. It fits nicely into the Batman Inc. vibe that’s going on here, but more on that later.
Let’s start with the good. Firstly, I’ll have you know that Cassandra Cain’s presence alone is a good thing all by itself, because this is her most recent appearance to date, since she’s still MIA in the New 52. DC simply does not understand that happy fans = money, and bringing back Cass and Steph in some capacity would get them a lot of happy fans.
But to get past the knee-jerk fanboy reaction, the characterization and group dynamic that we see in this trade is perfect. I always loved the idea of the Bat-family as, well, you know, a family, or at least a team, and that’s what we see here. I don’t know how much credit he deserves, what with Kyle Higgins being in there, but Scott Snyder has shown an aptitude in the past for balancing multiple characters, and that is what we see here. Despite the crowded cast, every character has something to offer, and not one seems useless or unneeded.
I love the character interactions; those are the real gems of it. It’s like I said, this is a family of Batman sidekicks, working together on a single mission. Particularly impressive is the dynamic between Damian (Robin) and Cass. Damian finally gets some face time with Cass, as foreshadowed back in Batgirl #5, and he doesn’t exactly think her “wonderful” in this instance. But Cass just no-sells him, and it is great. Likewise, every character here is actually in character, so it’s all good. Another thing I thought about while reading this was why Batwoman didn’t show up, being part of the Kane family and all. But then, I realized that it was because she was busy with all the Batman Inc. stuff, like Bruce was. Tight plotting.
Buuuttt that’s about where it ends. The story’s pacing started out strong, but it was a bit feeble and, like I said, rushed, towards the end. Don’t get me wrong, the first few issues did a great job of building the suspense of the bombs going off, and racing against the clock, things like that, but then it just stops happening after issue three. Or was it two? The only other good things are the Penguin and Hush, who, while not the villains of this story per se, are still excellently used and portrayed. Hush in particular is great in his role as the defeated mastermind turned unwilling accomplice to the main villain.
Speaking of the villain, let’s get on to the bad. My two big problems with this book are the villain and the art. The villain is some guy in a diving suit called the Architect, whose reasons for blowing stuff up aren’t gone into with very much detail. This is mostly because most of the time that would normally be assigned to the villain is spent in the past with Nicholas Gates in the 1800’s. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with those sequences, and how they connect to the Architect’s motivation, but I just don’t buy it. Bruce Willis once said that a story is only as smart as its villain, and unfortunately, this villain is not all that cleverly conceived. Also, it’s not really explained exactly how the Architect turned a 100+ year old diving suit into working battle armor which gave him enhanced strength and speed. Or how the guy who designed it (it’s part of the story) knew how to make it in the first place.
The art isn’t exactly bad so much as it doesn’t really fit with the story. It’s not imposing or dramatic like it should have been, and I just can’t get myself to really like this McCarthy guy’s style. There’s just too much pencil, with too many lines, and everyone looks like wax sculptures. I mean, seriously, the faces are just bleah, though I’ll give the guy points for making them distinguishable from each other. But still, just look at Penguin. Dustin Nguyen and another artist named Derec Donovan guest-draw in one of the issues. I’ve always been iffy on Nguyen’s art, but his Donovan’s is plainly poor. Specifically, his rendition of Cassandra Cain looked like an Asian Barbara Gordon with a dye job. For what it’s worth though, I’d much rather have Nguyen drawing the series, and he drew all of the alternate covers, which look pretty swell.
The Nightrunner story was okay, but it’s kind of hard to read it without the apparently epic off screen escapade that got Nightrunner to join up with Batman. That adventure was recorded in the rest of the Batman and Detective Comics Annuals, which were not included here. But anyway, I’m still puzzled that Nightrunner gets his philosophy from some kind of pop star’s music lyrics. And it’s totally taken seriously. I honestly like Nightrunner as a character and see his potential, but this story could have been better, though I guess it was fine enough overall. The art is the same as the 1800’s sequences in Gates, but it works better here because the tone of the tale is different.
In sum, this trade is not nearly as good as it should be. If the art was better and more time had been spent on the “villain” of the story, then it might have scored significantly higher. Also worthy of praise are the historical interludes. If you’re a Cassandra Cain fan, or even just a general Bat-kids fan, it’s worth your fifteen bucks. But otherwise, I’d shuffle it down to the bottom of my shopping list if I were you.
Front page image from dcentertainment.com. Gates of Gotham #2 page from fictionnerdnews.blogspot.com. Batman Annual #28 panel from comicvine.com.