Snyder et. al. Introduce the City as Character in “Gates of Gotham”

We’re in a new era for DC Comics, an era yet to be defined, but just prior to the universe-wide reboot the company presented a Batman miniseries that is very telling about the direction the company will take with one its most popular characters.

Batman: Gates of Gotham was not the finale of Detective Comics or Batman, but by all indications it will have a larger impact on the future of Batman comics. Delving deeply into Gotham City’s history, writers Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Ryan Parrott deliver something interesting with this series: Gotham as a character herself.

This is nothing new for any project with Snyder on board. His run on Detective Comics did the same thing. But in Gates of Gotham, the historical development of the city, her roots in murder and madness, are set down to provide a firm understanding of just exactly what type of urban hell she is.

The fact that the book takes place in the past and present should surprise no one. This is where Snyder plays. His Vertigo series American Vampire is fundamentally a historical allegory for the development of American society stretched across various decades. His recent Image series Severed seems to dwell in the same space as well. Everything that Snyder is writing (will this include the forthcoming Swamp Thing) has a historical nature to it.

Snyder likes to build from the ground up. It gives his characters a space to play that is distinct, ethereal and yet familiar. Grant it that Snyder is playing with a history that’s been in development for 70 plus years, but most recently only writer Grant Morrison has ventured to remind audiences that the historical context of Batman and the city he protects matters to the narrative.

With Higgins–who will also be writing a new Bat-universe book, Nightwing–Snyder creates the foundation for what Batman comics will become. Yes, there is a universe wide relaunch, but if the solicits for the first several issues can be believed, the tone of the Bat books, particularly Batman itself, will be strongly rooted in this same type of historical underpinning.

Gates of Gotham begins and ends neatly, never straying from the mission of providing readers with a firm understanding that Gotham herself is a beast, created by greedy men, visionaries, idealists and psychotics. Her eventual fall into something akin to Dante’s Inferno is not by happenstance. Her very foundation is a festering wound ripped open constantly.

Issue five concludes the miniseries, and by all accounts it is the weakest of the set. Yet, for whatever flaws are in the issue, chiefly residing in the pacing, the chapter is a breathtaking revelation as far as where the personalities of the Bat-family fall.

Dick’s personality shines in this particular issue, but so do the personalities of Cassandra Cain (former mute assassin and Batgirl, current Black Bat) and Damian Wayne (grandson of Ra’s al Ghul and current Robin). Readers should probably wager money that these takes will be reflected in the new DC universe.

And what Gates of Gotham does better than the finale of Batman Volume One, and surprisingly better than the end of Detective Comics Volume One, is plant the seeds of Dick Grayson giving up the cowl he’s worn for last few years to return to his old moniker. The closing dialogue Dick has with Bruce echoes back to Snyder’s work in Detective Comics, providing a fitting end to the now old era of Batman comics. There’s a connection, and its point is to set the stage for the new normal in Gotham City.

As far as Narrative, Gates of Gotham is excellent. The artwork from Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan and Guy Major rises to the same level, as it is strikingly stylized, moody and inherently dark. The middle of issue #5 does suffer a little, but that’s a result of the one narrative flaw: the pacing is a bit off. This is not the fault of the art team. They do their best with the script presented and come out on the other end having delivered a very visually pleasing issue.

Bluntly, Gates of Gotham should have been the closing chapter to Batman Volume One and not the truncated and pointless Batman 713. If Gates of Gotham comprised the last five issue of Batman Volume One, then DC could have ridden a wave of tremendous momentum into the new volume. Would of, could of, should of. The point is Gates of Gotham is excellent, and if it is any indication of the post New 52 direction for Batman…the character is in good hands.

RATING 8 / 10