By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray & Mark Irwin (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: You haven’t really lived until you bear the grudges of Batman, Gordon, and Two-Face.

The Review: As Villains Month has reminded us, the Arkham set of Batman’s rogues has become the most important and infamous of Gotham’s villains.  In context of Gotham’s fictional history, however, these psychos are a relatively new breed of criminals, particularly for the DCU as it stands now.  We tend to forget that before the rise of these deranged antagonists, there was already an entire underworld of the morally repugnant infecting the city.

Occasionally, a Batman writer will remind us that in between the flashes of chaos brought by Batman’s rogues, Gotham suffers from a pervasive, seemingly non-eradicable network of felons.  Usually, they appear only as generic thugs, gangs, or mobs—filler opponents for Batman to kill time as he waits for the next strike from Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Freeze, Ivy, etc.  Except for the Penguin, no one else from Gotham’s more mundane criminal element has even come close to being taken as seriously as any one of the Arkhamites.  Tomasi seeks to change that.

From the moment she appears, Erin McKillen, queen of the McKillen crime family, makes a powerful impression.  Not only do the other Gotham Families acknowledge her as a “one-woman army,” the GCPD treat her as such, reacting immediately as soon as they get word of her return to Gotham and sending an entire contingent of its finest to apprehend her.  You don’t need to take their word for it, though.  Watching her literally use a man as a punching bag or defy no less than the Batman to the very end, you must recognize this is no ginger to be trifled with.

Two-Face learned that the hard way, back when he was still Harvey Dent, the golden boy of Gotham.  Again, this should be a hard lesson that lurking in the origins of the most disturbed individuals from Arkham is a much more mundane sort of evil.  As hated and feared as Two-Face has become, the fact that Erin created him should be a major stamp of her credibility.  Even more interesting are the circumstances that led her to do it.  Tomasi keeps the details vague for now, but Erin’s various remarks suggest that even in his glory days, Dent was not quite the unstained figure he was famed to be: “You needed to throw me and Shannon to the wolves to feed your blind ambition,” “Now Gotham can finally see what a two-faced son of a bitch you really are!”  “A piece of me died tonight, Harvey.  It’s only fair a piece of you does too.”

What really stands out in this issue is how Batman becomes kind of a supporting player in the vendetta between Two-Face and Erin.  It’s a subtle shift in perspective, but it’s what makes you invest in Erin’s need to protect the McKillen family’s fortunes from further erosion by the Gotham Families, as well as the Families’ overarching goal “to keep the city we all know and love from falling into the hands of the psychotics that continue to crawl out of every shadow and hole.”  In that line, Tomasi gives the Families the demeanor of a long line of nobility, securing their dearly-maintained power against dark horses and insurgents.  That’s a radical change in the way we view Gotham’s criminal population, and one for the better.

It’s a shame that Gleason still hasn’t gotten the prestige that he deserves.  He not only brings an inimitable style to what could otherwise be your common superhero banality, he does so in a way that respects the emotional and thematic underpinnings of Tomasi’s script.  His thought and care is apparent on every page, even the very first ones, where you see Dent on the edge of his bed and suicide, half of his room filthy, broken up, and torn apart, the other half pristine.  And no one captures the mythic power of Batman better than Gleason.  Watch as the Dark Knight, appearing as no more than a shadowy force of nature, swoops in and snatches Erin from her jet-ski, as if she were a sinner being taken by an angel of vengeance.

Conclusion: Execution is everything, and between Tomasi and Gleason, they have turned fairly straightforward stories into thoroughly engaging reads that frequently have marks of brilliance.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I also just love Gleason because this is a man who can make a woman’s spit look dynamic.

– For once, I’d like to see Commissioner Gordon get a win on his own call, the poor guy.