By: Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins (writers); Trevor McCarthy (artist); Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: This city’s getting way too hot for me—it’s freaking on fire, man!

The Review: It’s a well-known phenomenon in fiction that the more effort you put into giving your story background and depth, the more life it takes on.  You can tell a perfectly adequate tale without all that work, but it won’t immerse the reader into its world the way one with a fleshed-out history will.  It’s all the difference between enjoying yourself and coming away feeling like you’ve really been transported somewhere else.

It’s been a long time since Gotham has felt that tangible; that it now largely comes down to Snyder and Higgins’ thoughtful work in laying out the city’s historical roots.  The narration takes on an almost literary quality in the opening sequences that let us into the origins of the “Gates of Gotham”, but never do they seem superfluous or forced.  Dense as it is, it reads very naturally, taking care to let you infer some facts for yourself.

Though at points during this five-page sequence the narration gets a little too luxurious with its time, you can’t help feeling that all these developments—the partnership of the Gotham architect brothers, their grandest commission, and the venerable families who commissioned them—will have a vital role to the story.  It’s a testament to Higgins’ craft that he makes each line and detail worthy of your attention.

In fact, some of these details get some quick payoff once we return to the present action, where the Bat-family is trying to get ahead of this steampunk mastermind before his plot affects any more innocent lives.  When Wayne Tower becomes victim to the mystery villain’s attack, you actually feel its loss more than you would with any other comic book building.  Thanks to seeing its conception and construction earlier, you empathize with what it represents, and its fall takes on added levels of symbolic significance.

In any case, the rest of the issue gets packed with action and drama, enough to make up for the slower intro.  Higgins gives every character an active role within their respective talents, with Tim on technological investigations (“photogrammetry” he calls it) while Dick goes for the more traditional detective work on the ground.  This leaves Cassandra and Damian on Cobblepot guard duty, a task which brings out uncertainty about their place in the Bat-family.

No doubt this insecurity lies at the heart of Damian’s abrasive smack-talk to Cass and his later overconfidence, which actually plays into the villain’s clockwork plan.  When things take a literally explosive turn at the end, you can feel the sense of failure oozing off both characters, especially Damian, and you realize this is one plot thread that will have major import later.

McCarthy handles Higgins’ overwhelming number of scene changes with aplomb, giving you a cinematic view of the action at all times.  His paneling can easily work as a storyboard, should they ever choose to adapt this series for the screen (which, honestly, I already feel like lobbying for).  His sleek linework gives everything a clean look, but never skimps on detail when needed.

Conclusion: With all the material stuffed into one great-looking issue, you can feel satisfied that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen