The Story Of A Boy – Reviewing ‘Batman: Shadows Of The Bat: House Of Gotham’
by Scott Redmond
‘House Of Gotham’ showcases a deep knowledge and love for the Batman-related portion of DC Comics, painting a beautiful picture of this flawed but still hopeful city they call home. Everyone involved pulls out their A-game to create a tense tightly-focused tale that focuses on the inherent dangers that can be present in Gotham, where the struggle between light and dark is heavy and takes a major toll on those caught in the middle.
While the main side of the Detective Comics issues encompassed within the Shadows of the Bat storyline focused on Arkham Tower, the backups took another route. House of Gotham narrows the effects down to focus on a young man whose world is thrown into chaos after an encounter with Joker and Batman and the effect being put into Arkham can have on a person.
Matthew Rosenberg crafts a tale that has terrifying energy from the moment it begins as we see that the Joker specifically was targeting the family of this unnamed boy and came too close to getting him. Honestly, though, the true horror is what comes next as the young man is shipped right off to Arkham following this encounter, and an encounter with Batman, as we witness someone that has been allowed to fall through the cracks in Gotham to become changed by spending time in that facility that often does more harm than healing.
As this twelve-part story weaves through the various eras of Batman/Gotham’s timeline, it allows Rosenberg to play with a variety of Gotham-centric characters, ally and enemy alike, in a logical way rather than a gratuitous nostalgic cameo. We see this with the appearances by Clayface in Arkham (one of the few friendly faces to the boy), a pre-Harley Quinn version of Doctor Harleen Quinzel still working at Arkham, an early into his career as Scarecrow version of Doctor Jonathan Crane, the boy crossing paths with the Penguin in his bigger criminal days, and even John-Paul Valley as the Azrael version of Batman from the 90s. It’s nostalgic in a way but it’s not a hit-you-over-the-head type of nostalgia, because it’s logical to the story being told.
In fact, the way that they cross the boy’s path feels not only logical but overly tragic in just how logical it is after his path was all but determined following his encounter with Joker and Batman. His time in Gotham started rough and has never got easier, turning the unnamed young man into a twisted victim of what Gotham and the never-ending war between light and dark can do to a person.
Fernando Blanco and Jordie Bellaire are a fantastic combo on the art, and they were pulling off some stunning stuff during their time together on Catwoman, but it’s like they leveled up even more which feels almost impossible. This story is just stunning to look at in both detail and style (there are some really cool ways that shots are framed like the final page) but also the colors that really nail the moody and ominous tone of the story. There is this smoothness to the whole thing that just makes it hit even harder.
So detailed, but also willing to forego details to focus on a singular character or moment as needed. Even some panels foregoing most other colors to strip back to just one bright color (such as red) just land so effectively. In various areas, Bellaire brings a very eerie tone to the colors, for example how the levels of green are super high during the stories with Scarecrow as the fear-gas-induced violence takes control of the story.
Just within a few pages, we’re given the view of how Gotham can be a beautiful welcoming place right next to the reasons that it’s such a dark and often harmful place. A lot of Blanco’s paneling choices help with this, especially at really homing in on the horrific elements of this underworld and what it will do to a person.
Rob Leigh brings great energy to these stories with lettering that perfectly morphs to fit whatever the tone of each story might be. With all the right little changes to bubbles/fonts or emphasizers thrown in to perfectly indicate changes in dialogue tone or volume. Whether it’s a lot of creepy elements added to Scarecrow’s speech bubbles or hopeful light added to Robin’s dialogue or making the tone more ‘grounded’ as we enter the Underworld that Penguin represents. Even though the fonts and bubbles are similar for various characters, there is inherent energy that makes them feel different. Like how Zsasz’s words have the same creepy energy that would come with how the character truly is.
That same energy and feeling are carried over into the SFX that aren’t just there as sounds of things on-page, but they emphasize what is happening and have a life of their own and bring more to the overall scenes. SFX are something I truly love in comics, especially when they are so interactive and colorful and 100% part of whatever is happening on any given page.
Batman: Shadows Of The Bat: House Of Gotham is now available from DC Comics.