At last, I’m beginning to get a sense of chronology in these things. Death and the City must take place after Detective, as that begins the twisted magician Loxias thread, as well as “Slayride” which figures heavily continuity-wise in the last story. And it must take place before Gotham Central, as the character Bullock appears here without all the baggage from “Unresolved.” This is, of course, another thread supervised by Paul Dini, whom as you know is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers for Batman.
The cover features a really striking painterly/charcoal-y drawing by Simone Bianchi, who may or may not be a woman. His or her art throughout giving the series’ individual covers is very striking, and while not always to my taste, does the series proud by looking somewhat like art by Felicien Rops. In particular, the cover to “Sharkbite” gives a beautiful Bruce Wayne half in, half out of costume (I mean he has the mask removed; gawd, I’m not that dirty!). Most of the interior pencilling is by Don Kramer, who works well with the expositional Dini style. “Double Talk” introduces a new villain. One of the more creepy villains I remember from the animated series was Scarface, a ventriloquist’s puppet so eerily lifelike he could be a chilling counterpart to Mr. Sin, or at home in Phantom of the Opera, the list goes on. Let’s just say he’s really creepy. His first “dummy” was a retiring older man named Wesker with a split personality disorder. “Double Talk” introduces Scarface’s new owner, a Jessica Rabbit-style “broad” with superb ventriloquism skills, deadly aim with a tommy gun, and who’s nuttier than a fruitcake. Creepy, creepy, creepy. It also establishes that Bruce Wayne is a rather Scarlet Pimpernel-like master of disguise. He even knows how to throw his voice.
“Sharkbite” could easily belong in the Detective book as it introduces a cunning plot by one of Bruce’s high society friends to steal artefacts from the Gotham Natural History Museum. E. Nigma is back, written very wittily. “So, you save my hide, I save yours. Somewhere the Joker’s laughing his pasty ass off.” I rather like the uneasy partnership ex-super villain and superhero have going on. “Siege” is drawn by Andy Clarke and written by Stuart Moore, and it does seem that little bit different from everything else around it. It’s quite interesting, though, ultra-modern as it acknowledges modern terrorism, which Batman has been fighting in his way for over 60 years, but this is the more currently relevant type—with suicide bombers. I love the design of the villain Vox, a bit like the aliens in “The Doctor’s Daughter,” and his style is certainly lifted, with affection, from V for Vendetta. It’s hard for me to tell in the Bat-verse when Robin is supposed to be dead and when he’s resurrected or not dead yet. But anyway, he’s alive in some form in this story, with amusing writing again: “I could use a martini.” “Don’t make me lock you in the Batcave.” Gordon, interestingly, in particular, looks very much like Gary Oldman! I’m starting to give up, however, on Bruce Wayne ever looking like anything other than a Superman knock-off.
You’ve got to love Dini—always returning to Harley Quinn. As usual, his writing for her is outstanding. I could do without Don Kramer’s interpretation of her drawing-wise—why is it all comic book women suddenly have breasts that look like helium balloons?—but at least she’s possessed with superb gymnastic skills (with springs on her shoes!). Predictable—I really like “Kind of Like Family.” Harley’s up for parole from Arkham. It seems the Joker has left her for good, and without his influence she might be abandoning her criminal streak—she argues that it was the Stockholm Syndrome, an argument Bruce Wayne finds hard to swallow. When Harley is broken out of prison, I wonder how much of her hopes it’s due to the Joker’s influence. It isn’t. It’s the new female ventriloquist, who appeals to Harley’s sense of “a woman scorned.” It’s written fast and furious, with most of the good lines going to Harley. As they cut her in a scheme, Harley does the unthinkable—she tips off Gordon! She successfully beats the ventriloquist and her posse at their own game. “Wow! Those insane rationalizations, those desperate denials! Now where have I heard them before? Oh, I remember! From me!” Harley also reveals that Wesker, the original ventriloquist, was the only person in Arkham to be kind to her when she was stuck there by herself. Dini writes this stuff so well! And for her sincerity in wanting to make good, Harley is granted parole. There—a Harley story that ends happily, and she’s proven she’s not an idiot, nor is she just the Joker’s stooge. We’ll see how long she keeps it that way.
“Triage” is bizarre and gruesome. At least we get to see that figuratively at least, Batman is a member of the RSPCA. “Trust,” meanwhile, is a doozy. At first I was annoyed because it was bringing back a magician named Zatanna, from Detective, and I found the literal way she used magic—I mean, very much Harry Potter with the spells and such—to be completely out of synch with the rest of the Bat-verse. Nevertheless, in “Trust” Bruce spells out her back story, how her father was a friend of his parents, they “should be closer than” they are, but she betrayed him at some point. Slowly I began to like Zatanna and her attitude, even if all she does is say words backward and somehow magically escape and turn people into vampire bats, etc (she taught Bruce some of his mad skillz back in the day). The Loxias thread, as I say, comes to an end in this story after many of the magician’s assistants have been killed on stage. With Zatanna and Batman investigating, it’s only a matter of time before they unmask Loxias’ true identity. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s, shall we say, fitting. This story in particular features some great, action-packed art. There’s a lot more I could say about it, but I’ll leave you curious—that way, you might actually want to read it for yourself!