gotham-central

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In 1941′s Batman #7 Batman and Robin are officially deputised by Commissioner Gordon, hereby evade the whole “hey, isn’t vigilantism illegal“ thing. This also remained a part of the 1966 Batman series, emphasising that Batman and Robin were working within the law as they went out in disguise to beat up the poor and mentally ill.

I kid, I kid. Later writers weren’t quite so attached to the idea of Batman and Robin being a part of the police department, Frank Miller (unsurprisingly) said in an interview in the Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman book that one of the reasons he disliked the show was that:

The worst thing they did on the old TV show was give Batman a badge. You don’t deputize Batman.

Miller himself prefered to write Batman as an outlaw, fitting more with the libertarian/quasi-fascist tone he brought to his various versions of the character.

Most writers in the late-1990s and 2000s had Batman more in the Urban Myth category, so that the cops and Batman didn’t have an official relationship, per se. The excellent Gotham Central series introduced the idea that the only person authorised to turn on the Bat Signal was the office temp, as it was illegal for a member of the GCPD to summon Batman. This was due to a criminal successfully arguing that the cops had sent Batman to beat him up, to the cops had to add an extra step to by-pass the new rules.

Grant Morrison changed the relationship yet again in his run, by having Commissioner Gordon telling someone that the relationship between Batman and the GCPD was more in the “consultant“ category. There is precedent for policemen to call in psychics when it seems investigations had hit a dead end, why not summon the local superhero?

More recently Scott Snyder’s great run on Batman literally had Batman as a member of the GCPD, with Jim Gordon officially adopting the role for a time following Bruce Wayne getting amnesia. There he had both the backing of the police department and Batman Beyond villain Derek Power’s (non-villainous) mother, and lasted for as long as it took Bruce’s brain to recover.

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There is no comic I recommend more often or more emphatically than Brubaker, Rucka and Lark's Gotham Central. It is easily one of the best superhero comics of the last twenty years–probably one of the best superhero comics ever. It is thrillingly written, gorgeously drawn, and emotionally resonant–and on top of this? Its treatment of gender, race, and sexuality isn’t just nuanced, but central to the storyline.

The first thing you need to know is that it isn’t really a superhero story. Gotham Central is about the Gotham City Police Department in general, the Major Crimes Unit in particular–caped characters pop up here and there, but the series is mostly about mopping up after them. It’s an ensemble story, and every single character is memorable, but the true protagonist and beating heart of the story is Renee Montoya. Half a Life, the comic’s second arc, deals with her outing as a lesbian to the GCPD–and if her story had stopped there, it would have been fantastic. Half a Life deals with professional discrimination, family tension, and the reality of being a lesbian woman of color–in a memorable scene, Renee confronts Maggie Sawyer, her white lesbian boss, for assuming their experiences are identical. But her story doesn't stop there. Renee’s arc goes on to deal with killing in the line of duty, confronting police corruption, the loss of friends on the force, and her own predilection for violence. It’s an incredible lesson in how to lead a female character down a dark path the right way–it’s never exploitative, it’s never gross, it’s never because of her gender or sexuality. It’s never cheap. Renee’s is the kind of hard-bitten, morally thorny sojourn reserved almost entirely for male characters.

But even apart from Renee, Gotham Central is tremendous. Soft Targets, the focus of the second volume, is one of my favorite Joker arcs ever, and I have serious Joker fatigue. Nature, a single issue story, gives Poison Ivy a personality beyond Sexy Plant Lady. Gotham Central even made me briefly care about the shitshow that was Infinite Crisis. I don’t even really like police procedurals! It’s just that goddamn good.

(So you want to get into comics?)

many don’t like jared letos joker as much as they like heath ledgers joker and I can understand that but jareds facial expressions are A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

Dear comic artists:

This is how you draw a scantily-clad supe walking into a room. Take note. You see how Kory’s shoulders are back and she’s standing up straight and she comes off as calm and competent and completely relaxed? Notice how she’s not posed in a way that absolutely exploits all the different side-boob and side-ass options? That is how to draw a scantily-clad supe walking into a room.

Also, bonus points to the Gotham Central artist for having Maggie and Renee in the same haze of hotness as the men. A lesser artist (and writer, I assume, given that Brubaker is a details guy) would have had Maggie and Renee (both out lesbians) look away or scoff. But no. Starfire is hot and Maggie and Renee are into women they find hot. It’s great.

Gone Too Soon: Gotham Central

What was it?

Created by the dynamite team of Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and artist Michael Lark, this was a book that most of us had never seen before. This book followed the officers that made up the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department as they dealt with supervillain activity and more “mundane” crimes like a robbery that ended in a double homicide. These weren’t the wacky cops from the Adam West TV show, they were competent detectives that absolutely hated having Batman running around trying to solve their cases for them.

The cast of characters is quite large and consists of many distinct personalities of which Renee Montoya was one. These are real people, not capes or masks with infinite resources and magical abilities. They have serious limitations and character flaws that keep them grounded in reality even when they’re living in Gotham.

Why It Was Awesome

Imagine the best cop show ever and then set it in Gotham. How fucking great does that sound?

Here, you get a great crime book from two of the best crime writers in comics - Brubaker and Rucka - that never once falters in it’s storytelling. In between the cases that they work, the detectives of the GCPD have real lives that you don’t always see but you always feel because they carry their experiences with them throughout the book. One arc hinges entirely on the personal life of Renee Montoya and it leads to a revelation that had merely been hinted at but has larger repercussions for the entire book.

Gradually, the procedural nature of the book starts to lessen and an overarching plot takes hold that guides the last half of the book into an insanely dark direction that most Batman comics weren’t going at that time. This is the book that people didn’t know they wanted and DC was giving it to them.

Why It Didn’t Last

As much as you’ll hear comic book fans talking about how they’d kill to read something original, they keep buying the same ol’ cape and mask books they always have while ignoring other, more experimental titles. This book didn’t sell well. It didn’t crack the top one hundred but DC believed in this book enough to give it forty issues after which the creative team were given a respectable place to bow out.

Is it worth a look?

Hell yeah. This book is great and it holds up well enough to justify multiple readings. And, to sweeten the deal, DC has reissued the entire forty issue series in four big paperbacks that are pretty affordable.

McStack