Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime – Derek Fridolfs, Writer; Dustin Nguyen, Painted Art
Ray – 9/10
Ray: Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen are right up there with Baltazar and Franco as the most iconic DC all-ages creative team, and their “Li’l Gotham” run which saw the residents of Gotham rendered in chibi-forms for wacky adventures has a massive fanbase. And much like the creative team of Superman of Smallville, they’re now dipping their toes into the OGN market for their first longer-form story with Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime.
They stick with what they know, telling an episodic and wacky story that places the Gotham characters into unfamiliar situations. This time, the creators take the frameworks of four iconic fairy tales and fables and twist them to star the Bat-family and rogues.
First up is “Waynnochio”, the most on-the-nose transformation. Damian Wayne’s always been a good parallel for this story, being a child with an unusual upbringing and creation who is helped to become a “real boy” by his father, grandfather, and brother. Bruce, in the role of Gepetto, creates a wooden boy who comes to life with the help of Zatanna and proceeds to get into all sorts of mischief. He has Alfred as Jiminy Cricket, and Bat-Mite as the devil on his shoulder leading him down the wrong path. Encounters with all sorts of Bat-rogues parallel Pinnochio’s adventures, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Colin Wilkes show up again. The young “Abuse” was one of Dini and Nguyen’s most intriguing creations.
Next up is a Harley Quinn-centric take on “The Princess and the Pea”, but this tale owes as much to “Rashomon” as it does to the classic French fable. An expensive jewel has gone missing from the Gotham museum, and sure enough the GCPD has rounded up every major rogue in Gotham for interrogation. As we jump back and forth from different villains’ stories, we see similarities and differences, and Harley and Ivy are particularly cute here. The villains in this universe are just as amusing as the heroes, and this story lets them show off in a particularly twisty mystery. It’s one of the more ambitious stories in the volume, but it works surprisingly well. And the ending is very clever.
The third story, “Alfred in Wonderland”, is where you want to be if you’re looking for classic comic book absurdity. If you had to pick a character least suited for a trip through the cosmic absurdity of Lewis Carroll’s world, the no-nonsense butler would be up there. But when Alfred sips the wrong cup of tea, things take a hilariously topsy-turvy turn and he soon finds himself encountering bizarre beings with similarities to villainous Gotham residents. This story’s take on the Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwocky in particular give Nguyen a chance to show off his impressive art skills. Alfred’s deadpan responses to the nonsense occuring around him are enough to make this my personal favorite story in the book.
The story that everyone will be talking about, though, is “The Snow Queen”. Done in illustrated prose storybook style as opposed to traditional comics, this is a retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale told from the perspective of Batman as he wanders into a mysterious frozen wilderness to track down Mr. Freeze and save him from himself. Unlike the first three tales, this isn’t a funny story. It’s a tragic and poignant one about how a man’s love turned to obsession and affected everyone around him. The splash pages, perfectly illustrated by Nguyen, are some of the best work he’s ever done. The story is a quick read, but it stays with you longer than any other story thanks to the powerful emotions and gorgeous visuals.
Overall, Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime is a definite level up for the creative team of Fridolfs and Nguyen, taking the elements that made their earlier stories work and adding more depth, more comedy, and some inventive art tricks. This is a worthy addition to the DC all-ages OGN line.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.