4 out of 5
I am so, so lucky that my opportunity to get back into active comic reading (lapsing from childhood) came during the early 2000s. Comics were on an upswing, I’d say, gaining more traction but still quite a while out from being the constantly rebooting media machines they now are. The post-Alan Moore wave of UK authors – Morrison, Ennis – had made an impact, and Marvel and DC seemed to be willing to offer up some riskier titles as a result, with DCs Bat books finding some strong pulp / noir writers in the likes of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.
I stumbled in to Gotham Central out of luck, not knowing who these guys were, and its first issue just blew me away. It still does. Michael Lark’s grounded, true-to-life but crisp pencilling style is perfectly supported by Noelle Giddings warm colors, and Willie Schubert’s thin lettering fits the pitter-patter cop talk tone just as well. So the book looked quite unlike the capes and spandex books, and then there was that plot, pitting two average joe Gotham cops against Mr. Freeze – not expecting him, knocking on an apartment door hoping to question someone – and making the villain into someone utterly terrifying within a few pages. The pitch for the book – to show what being a beat copy must be like in a city of super villains – suddenly came to life. And the way Brubes and Rucka wrote these two cops, they weren’t just disposable Freeze fodder, even though we lose one soon after this opening scene: it’s not just a cold ray and then they’re dead; rather, we get the play-by-play of how awful it would be to go up against someone so overpowered in comparison. It’s terrifying; it’s sad; it’s brutal. The rest of the issue picks up the pieces in the wake of surviving officer Marcus’ attempts to get back on the job, and we learn about the frustrating relationship GC Cops have with Batman: understanding he’ll take over for them at night, and yet they have to deal with these types of problems during the day.
In 22 pages, Brubaker, Rucka, and Lark bring the entire GCPD to life, spotlighting some particulars (who we’d spend more and more time with in upcoming arcs), and humanize the DCU more than perhaps anyone has done.
In the next 22 pages, the second issue… they wrap things up. It’s an exciting conclusion, for sure, but it’s much more procedural vs. issue 1’s whirlwind of emotions. And in retrospect, I can see how it also functions as introductions to various people, and to the general man vs. bat setup. All in all, it’s a madly professional work, and a pretty classy way to get the ball rolling, but it’s greatly buoyed by the perfection and impact of the first issue.