Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holy Great Comics Batman

Gotham Central Volumes 1-3
Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker; Art by Michael Lark

This is the day to day beat of the cops in the Major Crime Unit of the Gotham Police Department. The place where all the worthless spent gutter trash of the city of crime ends up. This isn’t the department that is out there helping the citizens of Gotham they’re the department that catches the bad guys. And in Gotham there are criminals then there are the bad guys. It’s one thing to have your average person crack and commit some horrific crime, it’s another thing altogether when that person is armoured and shooting ice or flames with the ability to fly.

There’s not a lot of glory in these stories. They’re just doing their jobs. There isn’t even a heck of a lot of originality in the idea after Powers and countless TV police shows. That doesn’t take away from these stories in the least though. They really are fantastic. In many ways the human level these stories are told on remind me of Kurt Busiek’s Marvels where we see the super-hero world through the eyes of a regular Joe doing his or her job.

On every level these comics really hit it out of the park. Interesting characters, well written characterizations, plots and dialogue, beautiful artwork and one of the best settings in all of comic books. I’m a bit surprised that this book didn’t come out sooner. Part of what makes Gotham such a great setting is the police force. They were one of the reasons Batman came into existence and having a few honest cops to interact with was what made the setting complete for the hero. There was always the commissioner and Bullock who were really used well in the animated series, but it was attempts to diversify the animated cast that gave us Renee Montoya. Much like Harley Quinn, Montoya was adopted into the comic-verse version of Batman with much success. And the second volume focuses entirely on her and her relationship with Two-Face which really exceeded my expectations for both characters.

I’m a bit torn on how these volumes have been collected. I love that each volume is pretty much centred around one complete story. It makes for a really coherent experience. Heck, in the second volume that focuses on Montoya we’re even give a few comics that weren’t Gotham Central but were like flashbacks so the reader wasn’t lost on the relationship between Montoya and Two-Face. The change in art was a bit jarring, but the fact that these two stories were included was really appreciated by me. It actually enhanced the story told in Gotham Central. But on the other hand a lot of issues are simply not collected here. I’m hoping there are plans to release the entire run sometime because some of their last issues about a dead Robin really intrigue me – although a lot of the tie-ins with Infinite Crisis pretty much put a nail into the coffin of the series I’m told. That’s a bit of an unfair assessment not having read those issues.

Michael Lark’s art is simply stunning. To me, it felt like a mash-up of Paul Pope, Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert throughout. It was equally moody and dynamic which is what the stories called for.

These are great police dramas. It’s tougher than nails at points but it’s also got moments of levity with a few moments where your brain just goes, “hmm, that’s cool.” From having the secretary being the only one allowed to turn on the Bat-signal to the writers names on the crime board this book is the perfect bookend to Batman’s own adventures in Gotham. There’s a few weird things for the uninitiated – different commissioner and Bullock not being present but they sort of get explained. Bullock does show up in the last arc and is his generally gruff self but with a bigger load to bear. It’s sad and touching but also a bit frustrating to see such a great character forced to the sidelines. Heck, same with Gordon.

In the end, these books are exceptionally good but was the victim of title-wide or company-wide events. It’s really too bad because I think the creators had a lot of good stories to tell. From what I saw and read here I’m really disappointed in myself for not having bought this title when it was available (I was new again to comics and stupid). But I also think it’s fitting that this title died like one of the deaths the MCU would need to investigate.


Jason said...

This is, without a doubt, my favorite series. Unfortunately, Brubaker has stated that he and Rucka want only to have the main storylines collected, so after the next trade (Dead Robin), that'll be it. I would highly suggest gettin the rest of the back issues, if you didn't collect this initially. Incidentally, there is one cross over issue with IC, but it was very well done, showing how these cosmic events affect the common man of the DCU.

joncormier said...

Yeah I can see how this team could deal with the cosmic stuff on a human level really well, but looking at the aftermath of IC with Crispin and Renee off as other characters I can't help but feel it's a real shame.