Has anyone else noticed that "Batman: Streets of Gotham" seems to be having some behind-the-scenes issues lately? A couple of months ago it ran an unscheduled two-part fill-in smack in the middle of another storyline, and this month Paul Dini is only listed with the role of "story." It's art team Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs who get the credit for the script, and in general the story bears little resemblance to the advance solicitation provided for this issue. And, since there's still the conclusion to come next month, that will be yet another issue that bears no resemblance to what was originally planned.
It's in spite of all of this, though, that "Batman: Streets of Gotham" #12 is an entertaining read. Dini, Nguyen, and Fridolfs take us on a ride courtesy the Carpenter, one of members of Tweedledee and Tweedledum's Wonderland Gang from two years ago. As a bit villain, the Carpenter is ripe for exploration, and that's exactly what we get as she goes solo and finds herself lured into a deal for a new client.
The strength and the weakness of this issue is the narration provided by the Carpenter. At her best, she's a fun viewpoint character. "But the time came where I outgrew running around with psychotic cosplayers," is a hysterical nod to her costumed past (and why she's no longer in the Wonderland Gang) Likewise, when Batman crashes into the bar where she's hustling people at pool, her indecision on what to do is great stuff, showing off her character as indecision that forms on if to attack him or simply stay away. On the weaker side, Nguyen and Fridolfs' dialogue grows a little too florid at times; it could've used a strong additional draft to tone things down a bit. At first it looks like it might just be the new bad guy (he does call himself "The Director" after all) but it's a problem that exists with other characters, too.
Fortunately the plot itself is good enough that the bad dialogue doesn't deduct too much enjoyment from the comic, and it helps that Nguyen and Fridolfs are great artists. (And check out that cover. Mind you, it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue. But wow, what a cover.) With her freckles and pig tails, the Carpenter comes across deceptively cute; I say deceptively because Nguyen draws her as quite competent and cunning, too. And special mention has to be made for the crayon drawings of some of the architecture, as well as the Sugar & Spike lunchbox. Sometimes it's the little things that sing.
Also this issue is another chapter in Marc Andreyko's "Manhunter" storyline. The second feature is concluding next month, and while I'm sorry to see it go, this month's installment isn't quite as strong as the others. Maybe it's because it's in "wrap everything up" mode, but there isn't quite that same punch that I'd come to expect from Andreyko and his creation.
The story in "Batman: Streets of Gotham" #12 might not be what was originally promised, but it's a pleasantly fun overall package. This is a book that may have started out feeling like just another Bat-title, but it's developing its own voice and take on Gotham's inhabitants with nice success. If we get more stories like this, I'll keep sticking around.