Li'l Gotham 2

I haven’t done all that much on this blog to back up my love of Dustin Nguyen. I think it’s about time I did something about that…

Though they’re nothing new to readers of digital comics, I’ve found Dustin Nguyen’s Li’l Gotham stories to be a breath of fresh air. After two charming stories last month, Li’l Gotham steps up its game for its second print issue.

Nguyen starts this issue with a Christmas story. Though I’ll admit that the use of all my favorite characters might bias me, I found this yarn to be the best Li’l Gotham adventure yet.

Nguyen has made a pattern of weak beginnings on these stories, but at least this one ends up serving the narrative. From there, Nguyen thrusts Batman and Nightwing into a holiday adventure, with the fate of a school bus’ worth of orphans into the balance. How’s that for classic superheroing?

Though this story contains all the gags and cameos one would expect from the series (Damian, as ever, provides ample material), Christmas proves that Li’l Gotham is more than a diversion for the younger comic reader. This issue has real heart and some strong writing. Nguyen’s plot is clever and relies on the strength of its characters.

Even better, the subject matter lends itself to some truly stunning water colors. It’s nice to see Nightwing back in blue again, and the icy atmosphere makes it even lovelier, while the snowy scenes allow Nguyen to focus on his characters without worrying about the backgrounds.

This story makes a convincing case for why comics need not always resort to violence and murder to tell an excellent story. Though, the action and some of the pacing is skewed towards a younger reader, the core of this tale is essential Batman and remains smart, touching, and entirely beyond age.

This joins a tale from the Batman Adventure days as one of my favorite Christmas comics, among other similarities.

Li'l Gotham Sirens

A few days later, on New Year’s Eve, Batman tries to nudge Catwoman towards a nobler career path. Unfortunately, it’s not how Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy plan to spend their New Year’s.

New Year’s Eve, as if balancing things out, is the least traditional of the Li’l Gotham stories committed to print. It’s almost all character and gags and it doesn’t really have an ending to speak of, ending with a sleepy whimper rather than a bang. Still, I’d love to see more adventures with the Li’l Sirens.

Nguyen has a great handle on the interplay between Harley, Ivy, and Selina. Interestingly, you can see how each one of them could be a criminal, while still being nice people. Poison Ivy is particularly delightful, with her mercurial temperament and elementary school anarchism.

One thing that stuck out to me is the ability of this story to teach. Though Selina remains oblivious, the reader sees that sometimes it’s not even bad people who do bad things, but people who convince themselves that good intentions make bad things ok.

The other great thing about this story is that it does what its parent series, Gotham City Sirens, never did. This is an excellent story for young girls. Just as important, it isn’t relegated to some pink and rainbow covered title with no chance of survival, it’s stuck right in the middle of a Batman comic. Admittedly, that might scare off some potential readers, but I feel strongly that any step  towards showing young girls that they have a place in, not alongside, Batman comics is a good one, not to mention the benefit of letting little boys enjoy a story that ends in a shopping spree without shame.

Nguyen gets to draw some new protagonists for this story and he does an excellent job. The Sirens’ eccentric personalities bring out some wonderful expressions, and Nguyen does a fine job of making all three beautiful without making them look vapid or oversexed. Poison Ivy may wear little more than a bathing suit for most of this issue, but it’s proof that anyone who claims that you can’t take the sex out of superhero comics isn’t trying very hard.

Nguyen and Fridolfs turn in another excellent set of adventures for readers of all ages. It’s wonderful to see such consistent quality in the under-appreciated genre of all-ages comics, and a treat to have that quality come in the form of excellent Gotham City stories. The dialogue is charming, the art is beautiful, and the plots are top-notch. Li’l Gotham’s sophomore effort proves that it’s willing and able to stand up beside its big brothers and sisters as a proud representative of good old Gotham.