For the uninitiated, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolf's "Batman: Li'l Gotham" series releases digitally-first for 99 cents, as 20-page stories built specifically to be read with gorgeous ease on the web and tablets. After some time, they are packaged two chapters to an issue and released in print. The print edition of "Batman" Li'l Gotham" #2 that released this week collects chapters three and four of the digital editions.
Chapter three is a Christmas themed story featuring Batman and Nightwing taking down Mr. Freeze who has stolen some orphans in the hopes of... making them happy? That's right, nothing is quite what it seems in these stories, in the best of ways. Adorable Alfred and Damian make cameo appearances, as does Commissioner Gordon. Chapter four is a New Year's issue starring Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn as they do bad things for good reasons during their "New Years ReVOlution."
Both stories are adorable, funny, teach reasonably good lessons (without being treacly) and know how to poke fun at things in the best of ways. Poison Ivy's goading of Catwoman with a well placed "Think of the children!" is all the more funny for the fact that lesser writers still use these tropes without irony or humor. The plotting is exactly what's needed for these short tales, a simple premise that leaves plenty of room for action, character growth, and humor. The stories are perfectly pitched.
Even with the charming writing the real star here, without a doubt, is Dustin Nguyen's simply magnificent artwork. A loose, expressive watercolor style that feels effortlessly adorable without ever becoming saccharine. In fact, Nguyen's work has such a sense of humor about it that overly sweet is never a problem -- even when the issue is filled to the brim with adorable woodland creatures. Nguyen also fills his pages with wonderful "nuggets" some die-hard Bat-fan related and others more universal like the presence of Charlie Brown's infamous "sad bent Christmas tree" which pops up in the cell of the very sad Mr. Freeze at Christmas time.
In a way, Nguyen and Fridolfs have hit on the absolute perfect book and tone for this series. Batman's over the top colorful villains are the most natural fit possible for these expertly crafted stories that take themselves just seriously enough to have significance and just lightly enough to make them the brightest most refreshing corner the DC Universe has seen in a very long time. At the end of the day you can just feel the love seeping out of every corner of this book, and love is something the DCU needs desperately these days.