Gates of Gotham is a Batman story focusing on the city that has been the setting of so many Batman tales. The five issue miniseries unravels a mystery that has been at the heart of Gotham’s urban development and origins since its transformation into one of the most important cities in DC’s America. Gates of Gotham is a story about family, through and through. Not only is the present founded upon the deeds of families in the past, but the mysteries are solved in the present by the Bat family. The cast of heroes for this series is Batman (Dick Grayson), Robin (Damian Wayne), Red Robin and a returning and very much welcomed Cassandra Cain. The story takes place after the return of Bruce Wayne, but before the new DCU.
Writers: Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrott
Artists: Trevor McCarthy, Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan
Co-written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins, Gates of Gotham begins with a series of terrorist attacks targeting buildings and structures in Gotham that have ties to the city’s founding fathers. The histories of notable Gotham families are illuminated and tied together. The families are the Waynes, Elliotts, Kanes and Cobblepots. All the families play a different role in the city’s industrial boom and rise to prominence as an important nexus of shipping and receiving (ever notice how many times Batman breaks up a crime at the docks?). The aspirations of each family is laid out before us and we see and know how that translates to characters in a modern setting. For example, from the Cobblepots springs the Penguin and from the Waynes springs Batman. Not having Bruce Wayne be involved in the storyline too much is actually pretty refreshing as it allows the characters to deal with the Wayne family history from an objective point of view.
The sprawling story is as ambitious as the Gotham that the founders sought to create. Along the way we are introduced to a new villain called the Architect, his main goal being the restoration of his family name. Wearing a steam punk diving suit, everything about him is tied to Gotham’s past. Snyder and Higgins have created a new villain that somehow has a timeless classic feel to him. Although the Architect starts out by having the upper hand on the Bat family, they quickly figure out what is happening and even the odds. It felt that this came along too fast, but with only five issues to develop it and a large cast of characters spanning through history this is to be expected.
Where Gates of Gotham falters is an ending that seems to clean, convenient and worst of all, weak. The grandeur of Gates deserves a more powerful finale in that it seems so easy for the Bat family to save the day. Maybe that’s what the point is, when they work together there really isn’t anything they can’t accomplish in a surgical and precise fashion. Me? I like to see the stakes raised and the protagonists pushed to their limits. I think the clean ending may be due to the fact that this book came out right before the new DCU launched, and seeing as how all the Batman characters needed to be in relatively static points for the relaunch. Or maybe Snyder and Higgins felt it was more impressive to end the miniseries with excellent dialogue rather than an epic boss battle.
Art duties are deftly (and mostly) handled by Trevor McCarthy. People are cartoony but very fluid, perfect for the dynamic team of Bat heroes assembled to confront the Architect. The city is handled in a much more conscientious, sourced and detailed manner. The amount of grime and decay of each building changes depending on the time period each scene occurs within. Honey brown skylines give a vintage feel to the Gotham of the past, while familiar blacks and blues haunt the modern city. The book jumps from past to future, from foundation to rooftop and everywhere I look I realize that McCarthy’s style suits Gotham well no matter what or when he is drawing.
One of the successes is that the series clearly delineates the past and the future and the credit for this gets split evenly between the creative team. Scenes from the past are dictated by an old journal and the language matches the period extremely well. There is an underlying current of optimism for Gotham’s future that gets warped along the way to our modern time. The families of Gotham can’t help but get warped as well, but the Bat family is there to safeguard the hope for a better future with their courage, superior detective skills and sexy black outfits.
With the relaunch just around the corner, the series actually has a bevy of talent working on it, and it doesn’t seem as disjointed as you would initially think. Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins took the lead on the story, but the scripts were actually written by Higgins and Ryan Parrott. Trevor McCarthy pencils and inks issues 1, 2, 3 and 5. Issue 4 has a completely different art team with Dustin Nguyen, Derec Donovan and Graham Nolan taking over for McCarthy. The most probable explanation for this is that the aforementioned DC relaunch was right around the corner and DC’s creative staff must have been working around the clock to ensure a smooth launch, as well as timely endings to its ongoing series and miniseries. Nonetheless, the transitions between different handlers for Gates of Gotham could have been a lot more jarring but it is pretty seamless all around.
Does Gates of Gotham succeed in its intended goal of establishing Gotham as a character? No. But it goes a long way in building up a definitive origin story and I am curious to see if upcoming writers will draw upon it. Scott Snyder has already taken the initiative with this miniseries and the momentum actually continues with his introduction of the Court of Owls in the new Batman comic. Crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz continues along the same vein with Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, establishing Oswald Cobblepot’s early years. Lets hope others do the same.
Actually, the two strongest things that Gates of Gotham does are to develop the city’s back story as it relates to Gotham’s prominent families and to give fans a good Bat book that allows the supporting cast to shine and come into their own. Bruce Wayne is barely featured at all and we are privy to Dick Grayson’s self-doubt and Damian Wayne’s over exuberant annoying confidence. Grant Morrison did this well in Batman and Robin, but he didn’t really have the opportunity to contrast it with the personalities of Cassandra Cain and Tim Drake. To see them working together to overcome these weaknesses was a pleasant surprise for me as I read the series and I recommend it to fans of the Bat family, architecture and Victorian-era artifacts (be it photographic, historiographic or just plain graphic).