Review by Karl Verhoven
In terms of graphic novels, DC haven’t treated Paul Dini’s two year run on Detective Comics from 2006 with much respect. Only this, the following Heart of Hush, and Death and the City are dedicated collections of his time, while the remainder of his stories are scattered over anthologies of artists’ work, crossovers and the various Batman: Arkham trades, while even this includes a story by Peter Milligan.
Private Casebook is a bland title collecting five stories produced with Dustin Nguyen as Dini came to the end of his run. He kept his stories short throughout, none running beyond two chapters, didn’t bother greatly with subplots, and took the opportunity to work with the classic versions of Gotham villains, having modified them for the 1990s animated Batman show. He did introduce a new version of the Ventriloquist to partner Scarface, who he used more than any other villain, perhaps enamoured with the Cagney style gangster dialogue. Dini’s very good with that: “I nod off for a second and you’re throwin’ yourself at dis creep?! Dat’s fer you, ya dizzy broad!”. His other contributions have the Mad Hatter’s Wonderland gang, Dini keeping just the right side of parody with some creations, an epilogue to Ra’s Al Ghul’s return and the emergence of a new serial killer.
Wonderful scenery and locations are a stock in trade for Nguyen, but strange, stretched and angular people, constantly windswept. It’s a style that takes some getting used to. Batman is only sparingly seen in these stories, Bruce Wayne often substituting, but when seen he’s always posed, and at times looks as if someone placed a Batman cut-out in Nguyen’s scenery. On the final story Nguyen slips into a loose grey wash for a few panels at a time, a more attractive style he’d return to in subsequent projects.
While it’s only connected via Nguyen’s art, Milligan’s story is actually the best here, making it unfortunate it’s in a collection bearing Dini’s name. It helps that Nguyen’s art concentrates more on spectacular scenery than people, and shows them largely in extreme close-up or from great distance. Batman is given an ancient suit of armour to augment his costume, and it seems to boost his abilities, but he’s uncertain about it, and wants to investigate. It’s a psychological thriller about a long hidden secret, nicely bookended by two encounters with new villain Gotham Jack.
Nothing about the collection is poor, but only Milligan’s piece is really inventive enough to raise Private Casebook above average.