Welcome to Recall Reviews, the column that features a selection of last week’s comics and yesteryear’s classic series!
This week, we’ll be taking a look at a fan-favorite “Batman” title, Gotham Central. I parenthesize Batman because while the this series takes place in Gotham City, Batman has very little to do with the goings-on of most of the stories. He’ll pop up every now and then, but it’s never for more than a couple pages at a time. This series mostly focuses on the Gotham City Police Department, specifically the Major Crimes Unit.
Unfortunately, like last week, no reviews of last week’s books, but they will return next week!
Without further ado, let’s begin!
GOTHAM CENTRAL Pt. 1 of 4, #1-10
Written by Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka; Art and Covers by Michael Lark; Colors by Noelle Giddings, Matt Hollingsworth, & Lee Loughridge
Issues #1-2 “In The Line of Duty”
Kicking off the series, Detectives Marcus Driver and Charlie Fields are following up on a lead from a kidnapping case when they’re suddenly face-to-face with Mr. Freeze! Things soon turn for the worst as one detective is killed by Freeze and the other is badly injured. Before this, the MCU’s biggest case was the kidnapping, but obviously cop-killing takes priority, so they hand it over to the FBI.
Detective Driver is insisted upon to take some time off as he just lost his partner and is injured, but he expresses how important it is to him to catch Freeze. He seems tired of all the “freaks” in town, and wants to put Freeze away right and by the book, not even with the help of a vigilante.
A line that I feel perfectly sums up the MCU in this series, and particularly Driver’s feelings, is delivered in this arc, and it’s also one of my favorite lines of any “Batman”-related book: Detective Montoya is briefing all the MCU detectives on the case, refreshing for them what Freeze’s motivations are, his M.O., and that they need to catch him “soon, because Freeze knows as well as we do, as soon as the sun goes down…he’s going to have a bat up his $%#.” Basically, if we don’t get our man, Batman will. The MCU detectives pride themselves by working inside the law (most of them do, anyway) and letting Batman do their job for them is not an option they can take lightly.
This is a great start to a great series. One thing that bothers me about the beginnings of many series based on already-established franchises is that so many writers feel they need to include background before getting the main story. Unlike so many #1’s, there was no origin story told to set the reader up for where we are, because it’s not really needed. If you take a step back, this is just like any police procedural you’ve read or watched on TV before, but it’s told in Gotham City with characters we already know. Jumping right into the middle of the action was the best way for series like this to start, and Brubaker and Rucka nailed it.
Issues #3-5 “Motive”
After his partner’s passing, Detective Driver is in need of a new partner. While he doesn’t receive a new permanent partner right away, the MCU is picking up where the FBI left off on the kidnapping case from the previous arc, so he’ll need someone soon. Enter Detective Romy Chandler, usually Nate Patton’s partner. They take the kidnapping case and quickly gather new suspicions. Meanwhile, Dets. Patton and Jackson “Sarge” Davies investigate a string of arsons believed to be caused by Firebug (not more-commonly-known Firefly), and things take a surprise turn quickly when the detectives discover a connection between the two cases.
What I find interesting about this series so far is the interconnectedness and flow between arcs. We knew Driver was working the kidnapping before it was handed to the FBI, and the Firebug case was only briefly mentioned, so the writers could have easily started completely new storylines and never come back to it. But that’s not how life is, for readers or police. What could have been mentioned in a “by-the-way” dialogue was instead expanded into its own arc. Attention to detail and continuity like that is just one thing that makes this series great, and there’s plenty more coming, so stay tuned…
Issues #6-10 “Half a Life”
This next arc proves that this series, unlike most others, doesn’t have just one main character: the main character is really the whole team in the MCU. It could be argued that since Driver’s cases were the focus of the previous two arcs, he’s the main character. But, just like in real life, when Driver takes a vacation, there is still plenty of crime to go around in Gotham.
Now we turn to another member of the team, one many DC readers have seen for years, Detective Renee Montoya. As she is being served a lawsuit by a former suspect, Renee is also being followed by an as-of-yet unknown party. An old case is soon dropped on her partner, Crispus Allen, and the two begin investigating. After a tough day and night, Montoya learns that her stalker, which she was at this point still unaware of, is dead and was hired by the man suing her. She returns to work to find that someone has sent a photograph of her kissing another woman, officially outing Montoya as a lesbian; her homosexuality would become canon throughout the DC Universe for years, even into her days as the Question. On top of all that, the person suing Montoya is discovered dead, and she is Internal Affair’s lead suspect.
While previous reading is not required to enjoy this arc, I would encourage you to read Rucka’s work during the No Man’s Land event and his run in Detective Comics post-NML, especially issue #747 after finishing this arc; it might help fill in the motivations for a certain “freak” character.
After doing a little research, I found that when Brubaker and Rucka pitched the idea to DC, they really wanted Michael Lark for the art. So while Lark was busy with other projects, Brubaker and Rucka spent a year developing the plot and outline for story arcs until he was available. As far as I’m aware, this isn’t a very common practice, especially from a “Big 2” title, but the payoff was well worth the wait. Though the first 10 issues rotate through three colorists, Lark’s pencils remind me of Mazzucchelli’s Batman in Year One: the simplicity of the costume, the length and coverage of his cape, the undefined muscle structure, and his presence in both light and dark. Great work from the entire team, and there is so much more to come.
That’s it for now, but issues #11-22 will be up next week!
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