It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a Batman comic that I just didn’t care too much about, but for some reason Gotham Underground was really underwhelming for me. Maybe it was the stilted writing. Maybe it was the emphasis on crime families over any of the more colorful villains. Or maybe it was the very obvious lack of BATMAN in a Batman comic. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t get into this story, and found myself struggling to finish it.
The crux of the story is this: Batman has been tossed in prison, under the guise of Matches Malone, while investigating criminal activity in Gotham. While there, an all-out battle erupts as various players enter the scene. There’s Penguin, who at least pretends to be on the up and up; Tobias Whale, a powerful man with his eyes set on Penguin’s territory; and Johnny Stitches, an up and comer who’s more than a little unhinged and also looking to set up shop in Gotham. These aren’t even all the players, as there are handfuls of less-important side characters thrown into the mix for good measure.
The problem is, all of this is going on and I really don’t care too much about any of it. The new villains feel somewhat generic, and their squabble with each other just doesn’t feel all that important. I was never drawn to the characters, and so I didn’t care too much about the outcome of the story.
While the bad guys are talking and making tenuous deals, Batman (as Matches Malone) is stuck in prison, where a target has been placed on his back. While sleeping, a paid-off guard lets a fellow inmate into his cell, to finish him off once and for all.
This battle, though brief, was at least somewhat interesting. It was fun to see Batman have to fight outside of his Bat-suit, and use nothing more than his own skills to survive. He manages this somehow, and slips away from the guards so that he can continue his investigation. Truth be told, this portion of the comic was the most enjoyable, as it at least focuses on Bruce and his storyline. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the focus of the comic, and as a result my attention couldn’t be held.
With all of this going on, Batman doesn’t even show up until over halfway through the trade (at least in costume). This obvious lack of Bat-action was apparent, and left me forgetting that I was reading a Batman comic at all. While I have no problem with comics focusing on different characters, I should at least care enough about those characters to want to keep reading. As it was, I felt as though this could have been a random storyline tossed under any number of popular title banners. They simply chose Batman because it takes place in Gotham. Change the location and maybe a few side characters, and this comic could have taken place just about anywhere. There certainly wasn’t anything about it that screamed Batman.
As the comic comes to a close, Intergang has gained control of Gotham, but I didn’t really care. We were even granted with a single-page synopsis of the entire trade, as though the writers knew we weren’t really paying attention.
And this is all you really need to know. Sure, you miss some of the details, but truth be told, the details don’t really feel all that important in this one. Am I supposed to be surprised that rival gangs are vying for control of the city?? This is Gotham after all; isn’t that pretty much all anybody does? This just felt like a mini-series that didn’t really need to be written. This could easily have been condensed down into one or two issues in the main series, without anything having been lost. Here it was just unnecessarily drawn out, leaving me waiting for it all to be over.
Certainly not my favorite Batman story, but then it barely even counts as one anyway. With how little Batman is actually in it, it’s difficult to classify this as a true “Batman” storyline. Sure, his banner is on the trade, but it just feels so disconnected from anything else that’s going on that I’m hard pressed to catalog it in my mind as a true Batman story. Wherever it fits, I’m just glad it’s over, and hopefully when the arc picks up in the main comics, it gets a bit more substance added and is able to connect to the overarching storyline far better than it does here.