19th May2020

‘Batman: Gotham Nights #4’ Review (DC Digital)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Mark Russell | Art by Ryan Benjamin | Published by DC Digital

I’m guessing most people picked this book up because it’s got a certain privileged rich guy in it, who runs about punching bad guys. Bruce something or other, hear he’s quite popular. Me, I picked it up because Mark Russell is writing it. Always an interesting writer with things to say, he still retains that indie sensibility that allows a fresh look at old things. I’ve not read any of his Batman before, not sure he’s even written Batman before, so there’s that too. Throw in the very nice art from Ryan Benjamin, and this was a hard book not to pick up and review. It’s the beginning of a new story arc as well, as last issue saw a Michael Grey and Ryan Benjamin 3 issue storyline wrap up nicely.

Straight away, with the very first page, we see what Mark Russell is going to aim at. Money. Quite often, Bruce’s wealth is mentioned in passing as just the way he funds his Bat exploits, but being rich does make you different. You mix in different circles, and quite often these involve lots of money, but often a mix of dirty money and clean money. We start with Bruce having lunch with three of Gotham’s wealthiest people, who all have their fingers in very bad pies. Chemical waste dumping, human trafficking, and drug running. Bruce listens, then Batman acts. All three are sent to Blackgate Prison. Luckily they have a friend on the outside. Bruce Wayne.

Bruce and Batman are quite the double team. Bruce pretends to be just another rich guy, laughing at all the jokes and being one of the gang. In reality of course, he sucks up all that information and uses it as Batman. So Hiram Bosch telling him where he has his yacht secretly moored, expecting his help, didn’t end well for poor Hiram. Ah, I hear you say, that’s a bit obvious isn’t it? Whenever Bruce is around, Batman shows up. Hiram’s associates point out just that fact. Just as Hiram is going to put two and two together, who joins them in Blackgate? Bruce Wayne. Apparently Batman had been tailing him the entire time. If this was a Silver Age book, Bruce would stop and wink at the reader. Instead we get a phone call from The Joker. As you do.

Russell has already subverted the relationship between Bruce and his wealth, so why not subvert the role of the law as well. The Joker has decided to set himself up as an Attorney at Ha. His speciality , representing villains. If thatd oesn’t work, breaking out villains. A very bespoke service it must be said. That’s reinforced even more by the bomb laden school bus that smashes through the gates at Blackgate, and sees The Joker free Hiram Bosch and the two other lowlifes Bruce put in there, plus Bruce himself. Hmm, that nice little setup Bruce/ Batman has is not looking quite so sweet now. Bruce manages to sneak in a phone call to Alfred, albeit coded, and Bosch admits he panicked and hired The Joker. The Joker’s new fee? 1 Billion dollars. Yikes.

Alfred, of course, tracks down where The Joker is holding them and the police tear down there. As The Joker leaves, he wounds Bruce as badly as any time he has ever wounded him, but far more subtly than normal. He reveals that he checked all of them out before the jailbreak, and knows all about their crimes. He also found out that everything they have done has all been done through Wayne Enterprises. Bruce is one of them after all. He just didn’t know it.

Mark Russell did not disappoint. He turned everything upside down. Rich Bruce is bad. Kind of. His money, which he uses for good, is also being used for bad. The Joker is bad, but here has done a good thing. Everything’s higgledy-piggledy, back to front and upside down. Everything can be corrupted it seems. Russell also makes the very good observation that Batman and Bruce are the same person. He might try to compartmentalize these very different sides to his life, team them up like in this very story, but he is one person. Focus too much on one side of that life, the other one suffers. Great stuff. Ryan Benjamin’s art didn’t disappoint either, in that slick Jim Lee school of art style, a style that particularly suits Batman for some reason.

Good writing, strong art, and a fresh perspective on well know characters and tropes. That’ll do.

**** 4/5

Batman: Gotham Nights #4 is out now from DC Digital [Comics].


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