Graphic Detail takes an in-depth look at a new graphic novel or trade paperback released each week.
Part fictional history lesson, part detective story, wholly awesome, Batman: Gates of Gotham delves into the origins of one of our favorite made-up cities, the place the Dark Knight calls home. In the present day, a terrorist called "The Architect" plots to destroy Gotham by demolishing buildings commissioned by its most prestigious families—the Waynes, the Elliots, the Cobblepots and the Kanes. Meanwhile, over a century in the past we follow the story of Nicholas and Bradley Gates, stepbrothers and builders who dream of making Gotham City the largest, grandest city in the world. While the past creates, the present destroys, and it's up to Batman and his allies to preserve their city while they still can.
Anyone who's following the current Batman series will know how good a writer Scott Snyder is at constructing a mystery that looks into Gotham's past while giving Batman some real challenges in the present. Here Snyder's joined by Kyle Higgins (Nightwing) and Ryan Parrott on script and Trevor McCarthy on pencils, and together the four of them create a convincing, moody drama that both deepens the mythology of Batman's world and gives him something pretty cool to fight. (The Architect wears a hydraulic construction suit from the 1880s that amps up his strength and speed. Yeah, it's awesome.)
It's worth noting that Gates of Gotham takes place before DC's recent line-wide relaunch. Although basically everything in this book seems to be relevant to current Batman storylines, there are a few hiccups that readers not familiar with the DC Universe of a year ago might find jarring. For instance, the Batman we follow for most of this book is not Bruce Wayne but Dick Grayson, who took on the role in Gotham City so Bruce could assemble a team of Batmen throughout the world (which we see him doing in France in a bonus feature added to the back of this book). A lot of this story's character moments actually depend on Dick's feeling inadequate in Bruce's shoes; throughout the book, he constantly compares himself to his old teacher and makes his way toward excelling in a role that's larger-than-life. In that sense, Bruce's absence is actually beneficial to the story, but you need to know about it going in.
Actually, the idea of history and legacy is crucial to this book, and not just when it comes to who wears the Bat-suit. This book's main villain is driven by the idea that the top families of Gotham should be made to pay for wrongs their ancestors supposedly committed over a century ago. Even Gotham City itself seems to take an active role in shaping the people who live there over time; when Bruce Wayne does show up at the end of this book, it's to impart his wisdom to Dick that "the city has a habit" of making people crazy. This idea that Gotham is in some ways alive has become super-important to the last few years of Batman books, from Return of Bruce Wayne to Scott Snyder's current series even to All-Star Western, which takes place in roughly the same setting as this book's flashbacks.
The point is that Gates of Gotham is a pretty heavy, ponderous book. Though not light on action or cool fights (and Trevor McCarthy is pretty adept at drawing those), this whole book's bathed in a grim and eerie mood complemented well by Guy Majors' colors. It definitely plays up the noir aspects of Batman's world, so people drawn to that part of the character will probably find the most to enjoy here. Outside of one reference to Metropolis, there's nothing in this book that hints at the brightly-colored world of other superheroes. Batman and his crew are alone in a city that makes people crazy, where a villain from seemingly 100+ years ago is trying to kill them. Just another day, right?
For people interested in keeping up with Batman's status quo, Gates of Gotham is basically required reading. Scott Snyder is the architect of Batman's world right now (minus the hydraulic construction suit... PROBABLY), so a book like this should be seen as a history lesson. It's also a really great detective story with some excellent action sequences and cool character interactions. Actually, it is probably the last great Batman book DC put out before its New 52 relaunch. So check it out now, before Mr. Snyder does something really terrible to the Caped Crusader. A-