Whether you’re a fan of superheroes and their comics or not, if someone mentioned ‘Gotham City’ and ‘crime fighting’ in the same sentence, your mind would probably wander towards Batman. But the Batman mythology wouldn’t be the same without its police force, famously led by Commissioner Gordon. In Gotham Central the spotlight is focused on a unit of Gotham-based detectives, fighting crime in a more traditional manner, in the shadow of Batman’s cape and cowl. As a result, Batman is a presence in the book but is rarely seen for more than a few fleeting seconds. Think of this as NYPD Blue with Gotham’s heroes and villains lurking in the background, not as a Batman comic, and you’re getting the gist of what it’s about.
Batman is treated with a matter-of-fact annoyance by the cops, who have an understanding that what he does is probably for the good, but wish they were left to do their own work their own way. The irony comes when they’re up against a typical Gotham super-villain, like the slightly absurd Mr Freeze, dealt with in the first story of the book. The fact that his suit requires diamonds to run it is dealt with by a routine operation of knocking on the doors of diamond suppliers until they find a source – this is ordinary police work set in an extraordinary context. The horror of Mr Freeze’s abilities, albeit due mostly to his icy weapon, are brought home hard when he’s facing all-too-human opponents.
The real star of the show is the dialogue though, which Brubaker and Rucka have made to sound just like a bunch of cops doing their jobs. Take out the men in costumes and you could place these characters in any good TV cop show without them looking or sounding out of place. The characterisation is strong and the situations are extremely well handled, with superb plotting worthy of the best police soap opera.
Lark’s pictorial rendition of Gotham will have readers thinking back to David Mazzuchelli‘s work in Frank Miller‘s Batman Year One – it’s heavily inked, retro-feeling and severely toned down in the colour department. Great stuff.
We’re awarding this five out of five because we enjoyed it immensely, and there’s probably no better reason to give something such a rating. The idea is ingenious, the superhero angle is incredibly subtle and the cop drama spot on. You’d have to be seriously allergic to superheroes not to be able to cope with this and everyone else is sure to love it.