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

The Story: Figures that the day Gotham turns nice, it freezes over.

The Review: Not that I expect Li’l Gotham to aspire to Alan Moore-esque heights of literary depth, but I always think that the series deserves to be more than just a load of cuteness.  The holiday hijinks have been sweet and entertaining in their elementary way, but without much in the way of mental stimulation.  The plots are often times so thin and underdeveloped that you can enjoy them even if you’re practically brain-dead.

However, it’s not lost on me that this series is supposed to be full of fluff.  I just don’t see why that has to be mutually exclusive from building plots and characters that grown-ups can enjoy, too.  Anyway, I’m not here to argue that Nguyen-Fridolfs should change up their style or mess with a formula that works for them.  But if the stories on Li’l Gotham don’t take on some new dimensions soon, I’ll quickly run out of things to say about it besides its sheer adorableness.

For now, I can remark that Nguyen-Fridolfs seem to be really tapping into Mr. Freeze’s melancholy nature for sympathy points.  Unlike the other Bat-rogues, Freeze’s troublemaking comes from a more well-intentioned place than pure mischief.  We saw from the Christmas feature that Freeze has an obsession with how brief and fleeting the good of the world is, and his desire to “preserve” Gotham at its kindest and most compassionate is simply a natural extension of that obsession.  True to his childlike appearance, this is a very simplistic sort of mentality, but one that still merits resolution in some way.

Instead, we get a lot of cold-themed puns (“Not a snowball’s chance, Batman,” “Can’t get cold feet now.”), a quick and easy shutdown that does nothing to acknowledge Freeze’s hang-ups (“I’m sorry, Victor.  You are judged by your actions, not your intent.”), and an undeserved sentimental gesture from little Suzie* regarding an act of kindness on Freeze’s part that we never saw.  What ice horsey?  When was this?

At least the Mr. Freeze feature made an attempt to tell a story outside of a holiday context, which grows more limited with each and every issue.  You can see this from the Bane feature, whose Cinco de Mayo connection is fairly stretched, largely tangential to anything happening in the plot, and often feels like it was sort of rammed down the feature’s throat.  That metaphor seems appropriate, given how much of the Cinco de Mayo material has to do with food: Nightwing marveling at Oracle’s habanero obsession, Bane and Colin* taking a horchata break, Katana calling upon her inner Iron Chef putting her enemies into a stupor with tacos.

Again, I have to emphasize that for all the failings of the plotting, Li’l Gotham can carry itself solely by virtue of its constant sight gags and occasional solid joke.  Seeing Katana, Red Robin, Robin, and Colin taking public transportation (after they lose the wheels off their ride in a seedier part of Gotham) alongside a gentleman carrying a chicken is nearly worth the price of admission by itself.  Once you tack on Batman, Huntress, Red Hood, and Zatanna having Scrabble Night with chips and salsa, the issue starts looking like a bargain.

Let’s face it: the art is the biggest draw of this title, no questions about it.  Besides the hyperactive liveliness that pulses through the issue, Nguyen gives every character buckets of personality, drawing out their best and brightest qualities.  Whereas already personable characters like Nightwing and Catwoman become even warmer, characters who often struggle for likability in their adult incarnations quickly gain your affection.  Heck, you even get to love Katana a little bit, which is leagues above how you feel for her in her current ongoing.

Conclusion: Story-wise, it’s all a bit thin and messy, and you don’t get much in the way of character growth either.  But you do get the Bat-family eating tacos, so it all sort of evens out in the end.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Suzie—the ultimate name for cute, wholesome, little American girls.

* I believe Colin is a remnant of the Streets of Gotham series, which reminds you just how resistant Li’l Gotham has been to the DCnU changes.

– I’m not sure which I love more: Zatanna in a sombrero and asking hopefully if they can play Scrabble with backwards spelling, or Damian massaging his sore tongue after getting it stuck to an ice-cream cone under his “investigation” while Freeze froze the city.