By: Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins (writers), Trevor McCarthy (artist), Guy Major (colors)

The Story: How’s that song go again?  “Gotham Bridge is falling down…”

The Review: One special, endearing feature of the DCU is the multitude of fictional hometowns for its heroes.  As the characters have grown in stature, so have their cities, to the point where they have as much of an iconic status in our culture as the heroes they host.  While Metropolis will always be the shining city of tomorrow looking to the future, Gotham is a city mired in its past, with little hope of escape.

Snyder opens the issue and follows it up with exactly that premise in mind.  The Gotham of 1881 already has as many shadows as its modern-day parallel, but Alan Wayne and architect Nicholas Anders’ concept for the city shows how at that time, there was still hope Gotham could reach the brilliant heights of Metropolis.  It makes a commentary on the value of architecture: the building of bridges and skyscrapers, beyond their practical uses, symbolize the promise of better things.

And when those structures fall, so too does the city’s pride.  In this case, the destruction of Gotham’s major bridges preludes an attack on its proudest, oldest families, obviously including the Waynes and therefore giving Batman a personal stake in this story.  But this mysterious vendetta also intriguingly targets some unexpected Gotham bluebloods: the Cobblepots and Elliots, whose infamous successors are the Penguin and Hush.

In making these connections, Snyder shows us how world-building can be so valuable to a story.  When you can take the threads of this fictional history and wrap them together, the current action takes on that much more life.  And the fact Snyder ties these threads so tightly to Gotham really makes the city itself a kind of omnipresent character in the plot.  Note Dick’s personification of the town: “I forget how much the city’s been through—how few things rattle it anymore.”

Though Gotham at large may be untroubled by the recent tragedies, the Bat-family can’t let them go.  These disasters are exactly the kind of thing our only too human heroes are least equipped to handle.  They dedicate much of their vigilantism preventing such things from taking place, so it’s no wonder they take a failure to heart—especially with a firsthand view of the casualties, as Dick gets seeing the bodies of victims drowned and suspended in the river’s dark waters.

Snyder’s clearly building on the emotional challenges Dick has had in Detective Comics, but here Higgins offers Dick a bit of comfort in an understated but lovely moment with Commissioner Gordon: “…none of us knew what the targets were going to be.  Try to remember that.”  In fact, all the Bat-cast gets some revealing character moments, like Damian glowering from a distance at Dick, Tim, and Cassandra Cain collaborating on their newest mission—and Cass being the only one who notices.  It’s a subtle remark on her and Damian’s similarly distant natures, and how they’re not necessarily content being so.

McCarthy’s fluid art shouldn’t suit this dramatic kind of story, but he pulls it off beautifully.  His layered paneling and dynamic sense of POV give the action sequences great intensity, but that’s to be expected from his kinetic style.  What’s surprising is how much emotional depth he can give the characters by using his cartoony lines to call attention to changes in their facial expressions, like the Penguin’s switch from mirth to selfish consideration when Batman implies how he may end up a target of the mystery killer’s hit list.  Major’s understated colors help bring out the most serious side of McCarthy’s art.

Conclusion: A very strong start to what may be one of the great Batman stories of the year—you may not want to trade-wait this one considering its terrific merits.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – One minor art snafu: Tim’s rocking a way shorter haircut than the shag he’s got going over in Red Robin.