Thursday, January 8, 2009

One Year in Four Colors - Gotham Central Book 1: In The Line Of Duty

So I've decided to write a review or analysis of every Graphic Novel I read in 2009. I'd try for every comic, but none of us have that kind of time.

*Spoiler Warning* should be considered general practice.

Gotham Central Book 1: In The Line of Duty
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: DC Comics

Gotham Central was an interesting book for a number of reasons, and the first being it's basic premise - a cop ensemble drama set firmly in the DCU. It's tag line was "In the shadow of the Bat," and it's utterly true. This is a comic based entirely around the best supporting cast in all of comics - Batman's. And not the famous ones either - Jim Gordon gets 2 pages, Robin and Oracle each have a panel, and Harvey Bullock is only mentioned by name. This is a book about the rank and file of the GCPD Major Crimes Unit (MCU) and it's a credit to how rich and developed Gotham City is that a book like this, where Renee Montoya is the closest thing to household name in the leads, even got a chance at existence. I actually think this book would have fared even better if it existed now, post One Year Later, because when it debuted things around Gotham were very different than the way most people think. Jim Gordon was no longer commisioner, having stepped down into a very non-permanent retirement, and perennial favorite Harvey Bullock was no longer with the force due to some shady dealings. Instead Commisioner Akins runs the GCPD and the cast is made up of Gotham stalwarts Renee Monyoya (Bullock's old partner) and Crispus Allen (her current partner), former Superman supporting character Maggie Sawyer, and a bunch of newly introduced detectives.

The format of the comic was different too. The cast was divided into two shifts - the day shift and night shift, with stories alternating between them. Brubaker stewarded the night shift while Rucka handled the day shift, and two would co-write the arcs where all the characters came together. It's a really interesting episodic device that allows for a real ensemble to develop, and a more comprehensive look at Gotham's finest. All of the action is capably handled by Michael Lark. Brubaker and Lark would remain a team, working right now on Marvel's Daredevil, where Rucka reunited the band for an arc as well. The dual shifts also led to a really episodic feel to the show, capitalizing on the Cop Drama phenomenom still sweeping the airwaves with untold amounts of CSI and Law and Order available at every hour of the day. At one point in time, the book was due for development as a WB series, but was shelved because of possible associations with the utter failure Birds of Prey and the risk of stealing some of the spotlight from the then upcoming Batman Begins feature.

But what Gotham Central really does for me is help illustrate exactly why I love the DCU so much, and more than any other fictional universe out there. Because the DC Universe is so fully fleshed out and well developed that when done right, I don't question that this down to earth, gritty police book can take place squarely in the same world as the sci-fi overtones of Superman or the magical horror of Swamp Thing. As a medium, the DCU is receptive of any genre you can put into it and still maintain it's sense of continuity and cohesion. Don't get me wrong, trying to make heads or tales of the history of the DC multiverse is a grauate level seminar in universal mechanics and inordinately fucked up, but it does provide a medium for any possible kind of story to be told and still feel like it belongs. Marvel does super-heroes great, and their characters overall may even have a broader appeal - but 9 times out of 10 when they try a horror, western, romance, or pure sci-fi set within the Marvel Universe it just doesn't feel right. In DC I can get horrow, sci-fi, crime drama, and good old fashioned overblown super-hero theatrics and it all feels perfectly at place.

And make no mistake about it, this is a Cop Comic in a world of Super-Heroes, not a Super-Hero comic with cops. It's a genuine look at how impotent a police department would feel with a real life urban vigilante protecting the populace better than they could ever hope to, complete with a public 'we need help' floodlight attached to the roof. These are real men and women dealing with a world often way over their heads. Michael Lark is NOT the best artist to draw someone like Mr. Freeze and make his costume look anything less than ridiculous, but I think that's kind of the point. There's something a little bit scary about just how awkward and out of place these garish costumed criminals look, and how dangerous they still are, that makes a villain like Two-Face, who's only 'costume' is a polytoned suit and severe facial disfigurement, pop even more.

And the characters are worthwhile and distinct. Like I said before, Batman has the best supporting cast in all of comics, and this book can go a long way to showing why. From the famous rogue's gallery that everyone knows, to the beat cops that suddenly come alive, to the very city herself, Gotham is teeming with character and characters. The book includes the first three storylines from the original monthly run -
-"In the Line of Duty" - the opening piece about a cop killed by one of Gotham's freaks and a grieving partner's quest to have the GCPD end it and not the Bat.
-"Motive" - A whodunnit murder mystery involving a kidnapped girl.
- and "Half a Life" - Where Renee Montoya's personal and professional lives get torn asunder by the most dangerous admirer one could imagine.

These are solid comics. Not utterly sensational or mind blowing, but well done genre pieces that fit alongside good episodic television. If you're already a fan of Batman, or like NYPD Blue, The Shield, or anything like it - give Gotham Central a look.

No comments: