When reading "Batman: Streets of Gotham" #7, two thoughts immediately leapt to mind. The first was that taking two months off appeared to have been a good thing for Paul Dini, as this was his best issue on the series to date. The second was that if "Batman: The Animated Series" had been aimed at slightly older children, this is the sort of story we'd have ended up with.
The main story in "Batman: Streets of Gotham" #7 is a Christmas-themed story. Well, sort of. It does involve a large and heavy guy in a Santa Claus suit, but the story most certainly isn't concluding with presents for all the good little boys and girls. Instead it's a slightly disturbing story, as the person inside the Santa Claus suit is trying so hard to help the children in need he comes across. While there's a lot more going on in this issue, that's the part that struck me the most, because the character in question comes across as so confused and sad and lost that it's hard to not feel sorry for him. It's the sort of thing that Dini and company were so good at in "Batman: The Animated Series" and I feel like he's replicated that general feeling here. The difference, though, is that this is a little more "adult" than we'd have ever seen on the show. It's still done in a tasteful manner (I'm relieved there weren't any grisly scenes drawn by Dustin Nguyen) but there's no ways Standards and Practices would've let this script past them back in the early '90s when the show was airing.
Speaking of Nguyen, he's continuing to hit his art out of the park. I love the opening splash page, with snow coming down in heavy waves as Batman goes about the business of saving people. Like a real snowstorm, you can make out what's happening even as it's hard to not stare at the snow instead of the action itself. And like a real snowstorm, Nguyen doesn't fall into the trap of making all the flakes the same size or shape. It's a dizzying end result, and it sets the scene perfectly for a cold, chill-inducing story. Dini and Nguyen had a strong collaboration together on "Detective Comics," and it's a pleasure to see that continue here.
Meanwhile, Marc Andreyko and Cliff Richards do a bang-up job with their "Manhunter" second feature. I loved the original series (in all of its incarnations), and Andreyko's doing a fine job here. He's making the short page count work for him, telling quick bursts of story that do a good job of standing on their own even as they all connect up into a much broader piece. I just keep hoping that we'll eventually have so much "Manhunter" material here that we could see a sixth collected edition go to alongside the other five on my bookshelf.
I was a little worried that Dini taking some time off of "Batman: Streets of Gotham" would derail the momentum that had finally started to build, but if anything I think it's helped in terms of storytelling. "Batman: Streets of Gotham" is that rare series that I think has continually improved as its creators get settled in. That's definitely reason to celebrate.