And yet again I've read a Batman Elseworlds story; this time "The Golden Streets of Gotham", 64 pages, written by Jen Van Meter, art by Cliff Chiang and Tommy Lee Edwards. It came out this January. And unlike Gotham Noir, about which I talked here recently, I enjoyed this one a lot.
I preordered it because the cover really grabbed my attention in the catalog: I have a weakness for art nouveau style if it's not too flowery (I'm not well-versed in correctly naming the subtle differences), and I liked the different look of the Bat costume that really fits that era as well, so I would have happily bought this comic just for the cover regardless of its content. However it turns out I liked the story as well.
In this universe, set around 1910, Batman isn't Bruce Wayne, son of rich parents who are killed during a robbery, who henceforth fights crime, here Batman is Bruno Vanekow, whose parents -- first generation immigrants -- are killed in a sweatshop fire, which was intentionally started by the owner because the workers planned a walk-out. While "The Cat", i.e. Selina Kyle, agitates in secret underground worker meetings for unions and better working conditions, and plans a citywide strike, the Bat robs the corrupt rich capitalists at night, finances the movement and helps the poor with the spoils, thus becoming a Robin Hood for the exploited immigrant underclass. There is also a serial killer subplot, which ties very neatly into the main story line (not totally predictable, not extremely original either, but it worked for me). James Gordon is a honest cop among the widely corrupt police force, and a young Dick Grayson (together with a theater troop) aids the Bat at crucial moments. Grayson is also the narrator, since the whole story is as he tells it to Elana Karadian (I have no idea whether she corresponds to anyone in the regular Batman universe), who's researching the role Gotham's old theaters played in organized labor.
Actually this current day framework is the only thing that didn't really work for me, because I didn't see the point of making it all a flashback. But the frame is only about eight pages of 64, so it didn't really bother me. I may be partial to this one because I'm fond of stories set in early 20th century, but the universe worked for me.
Also I liked the artwork. I already mentioned the cover, but the rest is quite good as well, not really in the style of the cover, i.e. not so much art nouveau, which is not surprising, since that works more for decorative stuff than for a dynamic comic, but the artwork gets the atmosphere across. It is not the "typical" superhero style, and obviously nobody wears tights. It's 1910 after all. I really like the look of the Cat (who is of course assumed to be a man by her followers for quite some time), with the coat, the hat and the cat mask, and I already mentioned that the non-skintight version of a bat costume worked well for me.
So I think "The Golden Streets of Gotham" is worth reading.