3 out of 5
Greg Rucka’s adaptation of the comic book event No Man’s Land – when a post-Earthquake warzone that is Gotham is bridges-blown sealed off from surrounding lands by the government, and officially declared as the event’s title suggests – is, on the whole, a thrilling tale. It bears the writer’s hallmarks of palpable and tactically sound action and strong characterization… and schmaltz. Some of that schmaltz plays in to the floppy-papered roots of the tale, but some of it just belongs to Greg. Still, this mostly works in context with the book’s generally sober tone – even if I’m rolling my eyes at Oracle’s patter in her expository diary entries – and when the ground-level action is clicking along, which it does for a good chunk of the novel’s 400+ pages, it’s a thrilling read; honestly one of the best Bat stories put to page. However, take a gander at the long list of writers Greg creates with crafting the original NML stories in comic form: that’s a lot of different ideas to wrap your own prosey tone around, and, unfortunately, not all of them are suited to Greg’s realism-leashed style. When Bat’s rogues gallery start to get a bit too colorful – when the events in the book start to get overblown in a way that probably played well in its original format – the vibe of entrenched warfare that’s elsewhere very strong throughout dissipates; it’s sincerely almost a bummer when Batman first shows up, as several chapters go by with only regular folk narrating to us, and it paints a scary, immersive Gotham, but Bats at least fits within the writer’s toolbox of character archetypes he writes well, so once you shift to accept caped crusaders, the story still works. Harvey Dent’s conflicted human side – and his “relationship” with cop Renee Montoya – still clicks, and intrigue involving Penguin and other unpowered types does as well. When No Man’s Land circles around these principles, and Commissioner Gordon’s cops, with Greg stepping through the formation of gangs and the development of wartime politics as people struggle for land and resources, the book has few peers in a similar genre – it’s the dark, humanizing approach Christopher Nolan would eventually take with his Bat films. But, y’know, we still gotta go to places that are a stretch for Greg, like trying to write a convincing crazy like the Joker; juggling some of NML’s more bloated subplots that I’m sure Rucka realized weren’t wholly necessary in a more streamlined, tighter version of the story, causing some characters to appear and then disappear without much consequence.
Overall, though, this is much better than it probably has any right to be, turning a sprawling base story into a legitimately effective thriller, that could almost pass as one of Greg’s spy books – just with an occasional dip into people in tights, and dudes with green hair.