Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

15 December 2010

Batman: Streets of Gotham, v. 1: Hush Money

Collects: Detective Comics #852, Batman #685, Batman: Streets of Gotham #1-4 (2009)

Released: May 2010 (DC)

Format: 144 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781401227210

What is this?: The villain Hush, who has Bruce Wayne’s face, plots his revenge after Catwoman steals his fortune.

The culprits: Writer Paul Dini and penciler Dustin Ngyuen

It’s nearly Christmas, and nothing says “non-denominational holidays” like Batman. Especially if that Batman started out his career wearing the red-and-green Robin togs.

So we’ll start this week of Batman with Batman: Streets of Gotham, v. 1: Hush Money. The new Batman, Dick Grayson, has hands full with Hush (who looks just like the missing Bruce Wayne) and all the crazies that fill Gotham’s avenues and boulevards. And it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier for him under writer Paul Dini in the newly launched Batman: Streets of Gotham title.

 Batman: Streets of Gotham, v. 1: Hush Money coverI’ve liked Dini’s work with Batman before, but this felt unfocused. The title and collected material makes readers think this will be a story about — or at least featuring — Hush, but instead, it comes across as just another Batman comic. Although the first third of the book (Batman #685 and Detective Comics #852) is dedicated to setting up Hush’s new status quo, there are several different villains in Hush Money — Mr. Szasz, Firefly, Black Mask, Penguin — and all are working independently of Hush. Even though Hush is lurking as a threat in the background, it rarely feels like he’s putting the heroes in danger.

The multitude of villains is part of what makes Hush Money fall a little short. Dini is using a lot of Gotham villains and Bat-Family characters to populate this book, but rarely does anyone get enough time on the pages to make it appear as if it is any one character’s book — certainly not Batman’s. Because of the lack of other suspects, it has to be Hush’s story, but there are so many subplots and tangents that even that is watered down. It feels as if Dini wants to write about the villains of Gotham, and given the name Streets of Gotham, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the title’s remit. But this feels like a slice of the new Batman’s week; there’s not enough to tie everything together into a coherent story. Given how abruptly the story cuts off, with Mr. Szasz’s plan not yet revealed and Hush still scheming, I expected the next volume to be a direct continuation (titled something like Hush Money, v. 2), but instead it’s v. 2: Leviathan.

It’s this lack of focus, however, that allows readers to enjoy Dini’s character explorations. As I mentioned, he gets into the head of Hush at the beginning of the story; there’s also a nice moment with the Penguin, and the real-estate broker to Gotham’s psychopaths also gets quite a few pages to explain himself. Dini also has fun with Damian, the new Robin — my favorite moment was when he asked Dick Grayson whether Katana, who had just threatened to kill Hush, was seeing anyone — but occasionally the dialogue feels a bit off. (Damian saying, “We’re screwed”? That doesn’t feel right for the violent and slightly socially awkward Damian.)

I’m not sure what to say about Dustin Nguyen’s art. It’s conveys the story well, but his style occasionally skimps on detail … sometimes that decision allows him to get scenes across with admirable concentration on important details, and sometimes I’m left with the idea that Nguyen really hates drawing faces if there’s more than two characters on a single panel. George Perez would be rolling in his grave, if he were dead — which he isn’t — and if he were a stern authoritarian, which I doubt he is.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Dini and Streets of Gotham. If this story had appeared 20 years ago and I were reading it in single-issue comics, then I would probably be enjoying the tension ramping up, the subplots coming to a head. That feels right; it’s probable this title doesn’t read well in the trade (or hardback, since the trade doesn’t come out until May 2011). On the other hand, there have probably been trades just as unfocused that I’ve given a pass. Why? I can’t put my finger on exactly why I don’t believe what was started in Hush Money won’t be wrapped up on Leviathan. What we have in Hush Money just feels like a tangled ball of yarn rather a Christmas sweater in the making.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol (2 of 5)

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