After losing his city to bane, his fortune being ripped from him, and going to war with Joker, Gotham City looks different to Batman now. Maybe Gotham doesn’t want the Batman anymore, the mayoral candidate sure doesn’t (as seen in Detective Comics). People like the Clownhunter, the Grinners, and Punchline are evidence that Batman’s war on crime isn’t as effective as it once was. And the readers aren’t the only ones noticing: so is The Ghost-Maker. Batman #102 is the introduction to a new age in Gotham, with a vast creative team of writer James Tynion IV, artists Carlo Pagulayan and Carlos D’anda, inker Danny Miki, colorist by David Baron, and letters by Clayton Cowles.
The story opens with The Ghost-Maker not so politely asking a GCPD officer where Clownhunter is, declaring that he is “Better than Batman and [he’s] here to prove it.” The first takeaway here is how phenomenal his design is. It’s like Assassins Creed and Destiny came together to make Batman’s life a living hell. Meanwhile, Batman has other problems on his hand, like the Grinners, hired gunmen who have been exposed to various forms of Joker toxins and float from boss to boss ready to cause some trouble. What’s refreshing about this scene isn’t only the return of a street-level Batman but his utilization of allies such as Oracle helps him enter the new age in Gotham. One thing to note here is that Barbara Gordon is acting as Oracle, not Batgirl. It’s a nice touch that many fans have been hoping to see, considering her time as Oracle is arguably her best time. Tynion’s love for this era of Batman shines brightest here as he writes an extremely strong, highly intelligent, and resonating interpretation of Barbara. She’s more than a girl in the chair, she’s one of the smartest people on the planet and one of the most fearless considering how often she’ll argue and push Bruce.
As nice as this is, it’s short-lived. Once Batman realizes The Ghost-Maker has entered the fray everything becomes personal again. Most of the following pages introduce us to the Ghost-Maker and reveal how far back his rivalry with Bruce Wayne goes (hint, it’s far back). Some other things we learn from this issue are Harley Quinn is getting an apartment and Clownhunter has found his next target, with art by Carlos D’Anda. This intermission between the Ghost-Maker and Batman’s long dramatic relationship is a nice grounding to remind readers of the other moving parts in Gotham right now. Usually, there might be more resources to help Bruce be more involved, but things have never looked more different.
Frankly, this is one of Tynion’s strongest issues yet that prepares us for the next saga, Ghost Stories, and also helps set up a new norm in Gotham. Artists Carlo Pagulayan and Carlos D’anda do a nice job with their respective pages. Pagulayan’s facial expressions and body language are as vivid and wonderful as always, giving the characters and story life and definition. Meanwhile, D’anda’s fun and silly art perfectly give the issue of humanity and warmth to both Gotham and the characters. D’anda’s art strives when close-up and providing fun and descriptive facial expressions.
Overall, Ghost Stories looks to be one of the most interesting and grounded Batman stories in recent history. Its strengths come in Tynion’s passion for the characters, the artists’ detailed work, and the rest of their team preparing to remind fans how Batman handles change in the face of adversity. Still riding off the success of Joker War, James Tynion IV seems to be preparing fans for an exciting new layer to the Batman mythos while constructing an all new and different Gotham City for the foreseeable future.