Gotham Central: Keystone Kops (#28 – 31) – Greg Rucka

3 out of 5

This kicks off as an excellent way of expanding the Gotham Central concept beyond Gotham, but starts to fall flat when it goes in a more action-y direction, and definitely required at least another issue to properly pace out a conclusion.

Two street beat cops stumble across an abandoned lab in a shop basement; some chemicals mix and ignite, and one of the cops is caught within them.  Instead of burns, though, he’s monstrously transformed by the flames; it turns out the lab belonged to Albert Desmond, a.k.a. Doctor Alchemy of the Flash’s rogues, generally centered in Keystone City but having spent some time in Gotham.  In search of a cure, then, Crispus and Renee team up with some Keystone cops to question Alchemy, which gives us some tense spins on the Silence of the Lambs formula.

Desmond needs to see his “experiment,” and while we know something is likely going to go afoul as a result, it’s still a great buildup.  …Until the afoulness occurs, at which point the book becomes stiff and clunky.  Greg tries to work in character beats for Renee – struggling to deal with her violence-prone behavior; the beginnings of reconciliation with her father – but it comes across as shallow, just single panels intercut with pages trying to shift the story into a monster chase with Batman.  The ending is especially disappointing, in part due to the heavy art style not being great at larger-than-life action, but also because none of it seems to amount to much: none of the dramatic beats, already rather weakly affected, matter, and even the pun of the title – Keystone Kops, from a silent film troupe of incompetent coppers – is just a reference – there’s no incompetence here, and the fact that we hopped briefly over to Keystone was just a cameo.

Artwise, excepting the criticism on the action, Stefano Gaudiano proves to be a great swap for Lark.  Colorist Lee Loughridge can work with his heavy shading similarly, so the panels maintain depth, and Gaudiano sits in the same realm as Lark – so the book still feels grounded – while also having a slightly looser style that’s particular to him.  When he’s inking himself, it’s probably best, but Kano’s bolder line on his work still looks good.