By: Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrott (writers), Trevor McCarthy & Graham Nolan (artists), Guy Major (colorist)
The Story: Side-effects may include dizziness, shortness of breath, and murderous rages.
The Review: The tagline on the cover of this issue goes, “The secret history of Gotham revealed!” Honestly, I don’t see why they even bother. Every week there’s at least two or three titles on the stands from any company promising to reveal secrets of some kind. A good many of them wind up obvious, underwhelming, just plain random, or some combination of the three.
You can consider the “secret history of Gotham” a numbing mix of random and underwhelming. Rather than devise some substantial reason for the Gates’ downfall, Parrott (or Higgins, or Snyder, or whoever is writing this thing now) goes for the ol’ “Turns out, he was crazy!” yarn. Those diving suits they fashioned may have all sorts of Steampunkery coolness, but spending too much time in them can apparently produce an extreme, mind-bending version of the bends.
If you can take a calming breath, the idea in itself has some interesting possibilities. Sadly, the story squanders them all by never once laying down the groundwork for this revelation to make sense. According to Dick, Bradley Gates’ prudent skepticism of his well-to-do employers was really the result of “delusions—hallucinations—and paranoia,” while Nicholas’ homicidal thoughts of revenge (ill-founded to begin with) came from the same, but exacerbated conditions.
But possibly the most tortured stretch of logic in the issue comes from Dick’s defense that Gotham’s first families didn’t cover up what happened to the Gates to destroy them, but to “protect them.” All so the city-dwellers wouldn’t associate their skyline with “murder” and “madness.” The premise just assumes a little too much in how seriously people take their architecture. Five people died constructing the Empire State Building, and no one sees it and thinks, “Look at that. A constant reminder of the proletariat crushed for social glory.”
If you can’t depend on the plot’s substance to keep you riveted, you’d at least hope the character development can shore up the story some. No such luck. The Architect, wearing the same suit that apparently drove his forebears mad, ends up in as much of a frothing state as the original architect of Gotham. With absolutely zero insight into his personal life, and a totally lackluster defeat (does it get more humiliating than tripping over yourself?), you can shrug him off as yet another low-tier loony in Batman’s formidable rogues gallery.
And don’t look to our heroes to provide any stunning depth. Cass and Damian may have worked together successfully, but their newfound trust occurs spontaneously, and they never really work out the issues between them. Dick’s self-assurance gets to nearly smarmy levels, and instead of taking pride in him, you have more of an urge to sock him one when he brags, “Gotham doesn’t change you. She just reveals things…And today, she showed me that I can be Batman.”
With a script that relies more on talking than action, McCarthy’s kinetic art feels stifled, though it still looks great and is now easily the best part of this series. He can really surprise you with the wide range of emotions he can communicate with his elastic, almost flattened linework. If nothing, he delivers a very stylish appeal to his art, though it doesn’t quite succeed in hiding the story’s shortcomings.
Conclusion: A few months ago, this looked to be one of the best products coming out of DC for the year. Now, it’s yet another of a long list of titles that illicit nothing more than resigned sigh.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I have to appreciate McCarthy’s choice to draw Robin and Blackbat underwater with their capes off. Not a single Flashpoint artist has figured out how dumb it is for Wonder Woman to wander around the bottom of the sea with a king-sized bedsheet around her shoulders.