Who’s going to be writing Batman: Streets of Gotham this week? Who knows? Paul Dini seems to bob and weave in and out of this title for no apparent reason. It hasn’t been so bad; I have enjoyed most fill-in writers with the exception of Chris Yost ( last month’s Ivan Brandon’s two-face story was actually exceptional though it was undeniably a bait-and-switch). Dini is back this issue to finally commence his Heart of Hush sequel House of Hush. Yes, House of Hush technically begins with this issue as issue # 14 was merely a prelude (despite its cover proclaiming it to be part 1).
To the cynics among you who suspect this labeling to be a thinly veiled attempt to cover up whatever behind-the-scenes bumps that have kept Dini one foot-in one foot-out, you are not alone. This issue pretty much takes places on the heels of issue 14 which either confirms such suspicions or raises new ones regarding the DC editorial staff’s ability to discern a nuanced understanding between a prelude and a proper beginning.
But enough with editorial prologue; lets get to the story. Although initially I thought this issue ended rather suddenly, after rereading I realized how many storylines Dini is actually juggling. To say that it is densely plotted perhaps would give the wrong impression, implying a narrative that has clearly defined antecedents and consequences conforming to some linear progression, a clear path from A to B. But rather what Dini is crafting is more astonishing. He is writing a story that gives the impression of characters meandering along with only the hopes of finding a way to chart a path to their aspirations, both lofty and capricious. Often acting too soon, making the wrong move or tipping their hand but always taking actions that have reverberations far beyond the scope of their control. Case in point, Thomas Elliot has been for months securing the freedom D-List villians in hopes of sowing the seeds of chaos in Gotham. Such chaos would pave the way for his escape from the council of Gaurdians, who have kept him on a tight leach after causing havoc impersonating Bruce Wayne.
However, by his own admission, he extends his reach by attempting to get Jane Doe released and Katanna makes it clear that there will always be enough Guardians to watch over him. Although his plans fail to take root his actions are not without fruit. His attempt to get Doe released sets of sequence of events that culminate in an Arkham riot that steals aways his guardian, Zatanna. Unfortunately for Elliot this window of opportunity could not have come at a more inopportune time as he finds himself in the cross hairs of Mr. Pierce, a mobster with a blood-feud with the Wayne Family.
While this storyline is capitivating on its own what has really drawn me in is the backstory of Martha Kane and Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s parents) narrated by both Elliot and Pierce. Martha is a bleeding heart socialite whose father’s sketchy dealings have left her family bankrupt and Thomas who, much like the Bruce Wayne’s persona, is an immature playboy who often makes an ass out of himself. The reason that this works as more than just a family origin story is because these two families, the Waynes and the Kanes, are at the very heart of critical events in the history of Gotham City. As we learn the circumstances in which Martha and Thomas met we actually learn about the world that our protagonists have inherited.
Streets of Gotham has suffered from bad marketing, in my opinion. It was sold to many as a street level procedural, which it is most definitely not. Streets of Gotham is a book where Gotham City, itself, is the star. In this book we are shown the many sides of Gotham: from the underbelly of organized crime and prositituion, the pyrotechnics of supervillians and the those who cater to them to the lives of those in high society like the Kanes, Waynes, and Elliots. The reason it works is because in Gotham City’s these stratified spheres of society often collide into each other (which I think Thomas Wayne best friend being John Zatara is a good example of).
Final Grade: B; A solid entry though nothing that will really set anyone’s pants on fire. It does ultimately suffer from the disjointed nature of its publication and a cliché cliffhanger. However, I am still convinced House of Hush will end up as one of the highlights of DC comics in 2010.