I cannot describe to you all how excited I am that Once Upon a Crime is finally out. I adore Lil’ Gotham and the moment I heard that Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen were working on a new project I was sure it’d be great.

Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime contains four separate stories following Batman and his allies as they adventure through various retellings of fairy tales. The degree to which these tales are actually followed varies from story to story, but all have recognizable elements to them that will make this a story fun for readers of any age. While it has some serious moments, the majority of this book is fun and goofy. It’s that kind of book you want to pick up when you’re feeling down because no matter which story you jump in on, you’re sure to leave feeling brighter.  

The first of these stories: Waynocchio follows Damian Wayne as he imagines his own version of the story of Pinocchio. He is now Waynocchio, a little wooden puppet created by Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul and brought to life with the help of Zatanna’s magic. The story actually follows the bigger elements of Pinocchio quite well, substituting various Gotham characters and locations for how they’re displayed in the original story, like having Alfred be Jiminy Cricket. Damian’s own adventure hits many of the same story beats as well, from finding out his nose grows when he lies to to almost transforming into a monster when he’s spent too much time at Laff Co Land. It’s a fun and lighthearted with an overall positive theme. 

The next is The Princess and the Pea. To be honest this story doesn’t really follow its titular fairy tale closely. There is talk about a “pea” in between every interrogation, but if you’re looking for the traditional elements of the tale you’ll have to look elsewhere. What it does do, is provide a series of hilarious stories told by Batman’s Rogues as Harvey Bullock and Detective Montoya interrogate them to find out where a missing diamond has gone. Each character’s stories have elements of other fairy tales and fables tossed in as they do their best to prove they didn’t steal the diamond. There’s a little of everything featured in this section from Jack and the Beanstalk to Red Riding Hood. This section is fun and wacky, and often left me laughing out loud. 

Alfred Pennyworth is the main character in the third tale: Alfred in Wonderland. This, much like the Pinocchio story, makes a solid attempt at following the larger story beats of Alice in Wonderland. On a quest for a good cup of tea, Alfred ends up on a trip to Wonderland where he has to navigate his way through all kinds of nonsensical activities and people to find his way home. It’s a lot of fun seeing Alfred, who’s normally so prim and proper deal with the absolute chaos of things like talking flowers or have to rescue the Batfamily from the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Alfred’s calm and collected manner is a perfect foil for the insanity around him, and he even tries to bring some sense of order back to the world here and there. If you’re a fan at all of Alfred, this story is one for you. 

The fourth and final tale in the book is based on The Snow Queen. This, much like The Princess and the Pea, doesn’t quite follow the actual tale, but it does follow it’s essence. Batman is searching for someone lost in the snow. He is joined and helped by The Snow Queen and together they travel to a number of different areas looking for this lost soul. This story in particular is different from the others for a few reasons. The first is that the text isn’t shared in typical word bubbles. Instead it’s placed right onto the art. It’s also more narrative than focused on actual dialogue. The text’s placement and how it flows gives the whole story a bit of a dream like quality to it. The story itself stands apart from the rest of the book as something more serious and emotionally charged than the rest of the tales. It explores the pain of loss and how memories can impact us both for the good and the bad, and how to continue on after experiencing loss. It’s really the perfect note to end the book on. 

The art in the Snow Queen section is the most stunning out of the whole graphic novel. Nguyen’s watercolors here are absolutely breathtaking, and many pages are devoted almost entirely to them, with as minimal amount of text as possible. Steve Wands does a great job placing the words on pages where they’re easily read and don’t feel like they’re getting in the way of the art. Additionally, the variety of colors used here is surprising, you’d think it would all be blues and whites, with some black for Batman, but some of the areas they visit have gorgeous pops of reds and greens, and there’s one scene in particular that shows a whole range of colors dancing off ice. Honestly I’d buy this book for the art in this story alone. 

Dustin Nguyen’s art is not just great in the Snow Queen section, it’s wonderful through the entire book. He is one of my favorite artists and the book is just one example after another of why. The whole thing is painted in watercolors, which I mean come on, come on. Not only is it gorgeous, but Nguyen builds a full range of expressions and movement into each of his characters that often feel ready to pop off the page. The art here, really truly makes the story that much better. 

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this book. It’s cute and wholesome and even with only four stories feels like it has a little bit of something for everyone. There’s plenty of nods to Batman’s history, to engage fans, but enough context in each story to be easy for anyone to pick up, making it a great entry point for kids and new readers. 

Recommended If

  • You love seeing Batman and related characters in wacky situations
  • Dustin Nguyen’s art, really it’s just so good
  • You want to have a good time and smile your way through a graphic novel

Overall

Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime is a fantastic collection of stories based on fairy tales. While easily understood and enjoyed by children, the messages shared in each story are often applicable no matter who or how old you are. With the exception of the last story –which is more somber than the rest– each tale is filled to the brim with laughter and wacky moments indicative of everything you might have loved in Lil’ Gotham. No matter what, if you’re an old fan or a new one I’d highly suggest picking up this book. 

Rating: 10/10