Ah, the ‘middle of the story’ downturn issue. You’re almost guaranteed when you see that ‘3 of 5’ on the cover of a comic that you’re in for a quieter, less exciting issue than the two that preceded it and the two that will follow it. Thankfully, the writing team of Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, and Ryan Parrott write an issue with enough intriguing developments to keep boredom at bay. In fact, it’s a pretty good issue of this mini-series exploring the creation of Gotham City into the major urban center it is now, and how that creation has come back to haunt the city.
Part of what keeps the story driving at this usual midpoint lull is the story of the Gates brothers as told by Nicholas’ narration. The ongoing growth of Gotham, up until now an almost effortless dream, becomes a little more difficult here, a little dirtier. Nicholas is swept away with some of the glamour of his new role as one-half of Gotham’s chief architectural team, particularly the socializing with men of a social class above his. How he chooses the site of a new bridge when competing interests are introduced demonstrates his loyalties and sets up the end of the issue where his choice is revealed as the wrong one, perhaps.
The modern plot of Batman hunting down the person responsible for blowing up various Gotham landmarks with the help of Red Robin, Robin, and Black Bat is less interesting than the story of the past. For all of the uncertainty to the plot, there’s still a sense that this is another case to be solved. The writers undercut that through Dick’s issues with being Batman when this happens. He’s watching as the work of the Wayne family (amongst others) is being taken apart and the pressure of living up to Bruce’s example and not letting his family’s work be destroyed is immense. The dialogue between all four of the heroes is some of the strongest parts of the comic. In what could be ‘just another case,’ the character interactions help elevate the comic and give a bit more depth to the dynamic of these Bat-Family members when Bruce isn’t around.
Trevor McCarthy and Gus Major’s art is skillful and definitely goes for an animated quality in the line work and coloring. Sometimes, that animated look is taken too far and characters look like they belong on a cel somewhere, not a comics page. However, that light, washed out coloring look is very hard to pull off during night scenes, and there are rarely problems with that. An interesting element to McCarthy’s pencils is how he depicts Dick, Tim, and Damian without their masks on. Tim, in particular, looks different from almost every interpretation of the character I’ve ever seen; and, yet, he looks his age and distinct from Dick. It may not look like Tim as usual, but it’s a look that sets him apart a little, a problem with the various men in the Bat-Family.
The story of the past and the strong character work in the present keep “Batman: Gates of Gotham” #3 lively and entertaining. Explorations of the past can be dry or seem irrelevant and that’s hardly the case here. The various elements come together and enhance one another. I can’t wait to see what happens next.