Gotham Central, Books One-Four
written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
illustrated by Michael Lark
Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, both fans and writers of crime fiction, Gotham Central offers a glimpse into the world of Gotham City that we’ve usually only seen from one perspective. It’s one thing to follow the adventures of the Caped Crusader month after month, where the police officers are just minor players. But Rucka and Brubaker’s book explores some pretty rich territory. What’s it like for cops trying to do their job when they’ve got a weirdo dressed as a bat taking justice into his own hands? Do you appreciate what he does—or resent him for making you look ineffective?
The characters ask themselves these and other questions throughout the 40 issues that make up the Gotham Central series, which are available in four newly reprinted trade-paperbacks. The whole thing starts with one of the most dramatic experiences one can have while working the Major Crimes Unit in Gotham City: While following up a tip on a kidnapping case, a detective loses his partner in the worst way, after accidentally stumbling upon a hideout of Mr. Freeze.
What’s great about the book is that the writers take an absolutely serious and realistic view of what’s usually regarded as a ridiculous situation. A guy kills a cop with a freeze gun? Someone named Doctor Alchemy sets up booby-trapped laboratories throughout the city? By treating these outlandish villains with the kind of fearful respect and menace that they earn in the superhero comics that share this book’s universe, Gotham Central manages to breathe new life into both the cop-drama and superhero genres.
The art, handled mainly by Michael Lark, is gritty and noir-ish. The visuals bring to mind great police films and television over the last several decades, looking and feeling as though it’s taking place in a real city, with real people, going through real conflicts. However, one of the drawbacks of the artistic style, combined with the huge cast of characters (over 20, spanning the day and night shifts in the Major Crimes Unit), is that it can be something of a chore to tell each character apart, as well as to keep track of who is who, and what their relationships are. The difficulty of repeatedly drawing distinct-looking everyday people may be one of the reasons that comics tend to gravitate toward iconic (and sometimes a little garish) costumes filled with distinct patterns and colors—it makes telling each character apart at a glance much easier. But to their credit, the creative team on these books manages to establish relatively different visual characteristics for each player.
The other main drawback of the series comes from a circumstance of its existence: It was unceremoniously canceled for poor sales around issue 40, meaning that the ending is somewhat abrupt and doesn’t offer much in the way of closure. Still, sometimes it’s not about the destination but rather the journey. And as far as great journeys in comics go, you can’t do much better than Gotham Central.