By: Dustin Nguyen (story & art), Derek Fridolfs (story)
The Story: Somehow, breakfast in bed and a tie don’t seem like good gifts for the Al Ghuls.
The Review: I beg you to hold back your gasps, but I actually think I’m ready to Drop this title—from my review coverage, not my pull list. Phew, right? All I can say is that it’s become a little too difficult to provide insightful commentary on a series that only begs to be loved. Nguyen-Fridolfs don’t appear to have any intention of making more of Li’l Gotham than a convenient source of feel-good cuteness, and that’s perfectly fine with me. I just can’t review it.
At their best, Nguyen-Fridolfs only manage to deliver a functional story, with the requisite beginning, middle, and end, a sentimental point buried somewhere within. They almost never leave room for later development, either from the plot or the characters. They feel very After School Special-y, to be honest, especially once a character starts making sentimental speeches on how it’s the people who care about you who are really your family. I don’t dispute the moral, obviously, but its obvious sugariness does make me feel ever so queasy.
On the plus side, Nguyen-Fridolfs finally manage to leverage the holiday gimmick for a story that actually has some real meaning for the characters. Family is a touchy subject for all the Bat-characters; all their hang-ups stem in some way or another from a traumatic or tragic relationship with their mothers and fathers, which makes both Mother’s and Father’s Day specials relatively loaded for a Li’l Gotham feature. The stakes aren’t exactly greater—happy endings are pretty much guaranteed, almost contrived, in this series—but even a slight touch of poignancy adds a nice texture to the persistently cheerful and good-humored series.
With the Mother’s Day feature especially, you’ll notice a difference in the pacing for the better. Each page isn’t simply a sequence of sight gags or a lead-in to a big punchline. The humor is instead couched in actual character moments, making them less corny, more bittersweet, and ultimately more credible. Instead of just being vehicles for silliness, the cast displays more personal facets to their characters, giving them enough weight to stand after the joke.
Father’s Day falls more in line with the typical Li’l Gotham holiday special. Instead of mining the holiday for its pathos, as its Mother’s Day counterpart does, this feature simply uses Father’s Day as a springboard for a situational comedy that has almost no point whatsoever. Forcing the Gordons to share a table with the Al Ghuls is funny as an idea, but their tension turns out kind of boring after a while, which may explain why Nguyen-Fridolfs feel the need to throw a bunch of third-party ninjas into the mix. Who are these ninjas, where they come from, and what their goals are, none of it matters. All that matters is the rival father-and-daughter duos arrive at a place of mutual respect and in the meantime, the boys of the Bat-family give due tribute to Alfred, the true father of the Waynes.
I have a friend who goes a bit crazy when little kids are about. Her favorite thing is to clutch such a child to herself and say, “I’m going to squeeze you until all the cute pops out!” Of course, it never does all pop out, because there’s just too much cuteness, and that’s probably the best way to describe Nguyen’s art. Most of the series’ best moments are purely visual, from Jason threatening Damian’s pet turkey by its neck or Commissioner Gordon and Ra’s Al Ghul trying to out-facial hair each other. I’ve always said the art on this title is worth the purchase price alone, and I think this kind of stuff proves me right.
Conclusion: While I highly recommend handing over your hard-earned money for this light, adorable series, I can’t see myself reviewing it perpetually. Amicably Removed from Coverage.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I must say, you’ve got guts if you can give Lobo the finger for improper parking—even if it’s not the middle finger.