By: Dustin Nguyen (story & art), Derek Fridolfs (story)

The Story: In Gotham, Easter egg-hunting may go the way of trick-or-treating: too risky for the kids, even sword-wielding ones.

The Review: Although the digital format does seem like the most digestible place for a super-sweetly innocent series like this one, it does come with its downsides.  The fact Nguyen-Fridolfs must constantly plot ten pages at a time, landing on a neatly wrapped conclusion each time, results in a rather stilted printed product.  Not that any of the premises we’ve seen thus far can support a long arc, but surely they can benefit from more than half an issue of exploration.

Taking our first feature as an example, the idea of someone framing Batman’s rogues is a promising one, one that can really only work in Li’l Gotham, but there’s simply not enough space to stretch it to its full potential.  By the time we discover the true culprit, we only have a single page left to finish on a typically cheesy ending (the falsely accused rogues loosed to exact their revenge) and we never get a good sense of the mastermind’s true motivations—or, for that matter, why the St. Patrick’s theme.

Honestly, the holidays are great for adding different flavors to a story, but not so good at serving as the basis of a story in themselves.  They’re really more excuses for stories than anything else.  At any rate, Nguyen-Fridolfs have found relatively sound ways of placing the villains in a holiday context, though not so much here; in this case, it feels more like a desperate attempt not to have to create an overtly holiday-themed character.  Nightwing’s exchange with Batman probably sums it up best: “With all the crazy criminals we’ve fought in Gotham, would holiday-inspired ones be out of the question?”

“I’m not willing to accept that just yet.”

No matter what, though, there’s no excuse for neglecting good storytelling principles, even when the tone and subject matter of your story is feather-light.  It doesn’t ring true that Batman, even li’l Batman, could unjustly take in his rogues without a fight first, which deprives us of some fun action sequences that the plot naturally lends itself to.  And in our second feature, it’s not appropriate that Nguyen-Fridolfs show Damian getting attacked by zombified, Easter egg-hunting children without showing how Mad Hatter took control of them in the first place.

Perhaps the most alarming weakness of the issue is its humor, which almost completely defeats the point of the series in the first place.  Not that the jokes have ever risen much above a punny level (from their jail cell, Catwoman shouts at a retreating Batman’s back, “This constitutes animal abuse!”  Two-Face adds, “I prefer a double-wide occupancy.”), but the gags here lean towards the pointlessly random (Lobo’s cameo appearance), poorly executed (it’s not clear that Two-Face’s “Double Indemnity” security business involves the employment of twins), or just lame (the running gag about the backseats in the Batmobile).  Nguyen-Fridolfs would be better off exploring jokes with greater potential to sustain an actual scene, like Metropolis Throw Down, a Superman video game Damian enjoys indulging in.

Some people might say that when the whole point of this series is to give Nguyen an excuse to deliver his irresistibly cute chibi-work, then the story hardly matters.  I have a deep philosophical disagreement with this argument, but I can’t deny that there’s such a charming, well-intentioned quality about Nguyen’s art on this series that you’re inclined to forgive its failures of substance, not unlike seeing your second-grader’s crappy school play.

Conclusion: One can only hope that as the number of holidays Nguyen-Fridolfs haven’t written about dwindles down, they’ll be motivated to aspire to greater things, because festivities aside, these holiday stories aren’t really cutting it anymore.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Damian likes peanut butter and banana sandwiches?  Me, too!