Gotham Central: Soft Targets (#12 – 15) – Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka

4 out of 5

Ho-boy, we’re deep in it, here.  A ticking clock race around the city – Joker’s got video cameras wired up promoting spots where he’s likely to snipe random passerby – a mayor-breathing-down-our-necks; a Christmastime setting with cold, wintry streets and the hustle and bustle of shoppers; and a tried and true wrinkle toward the end that complicates things wonderfully.  When we get to the “let me take my badge off” beat down in the interview room, it’s clear that Gotham Central has fully converted into a dimestore cop yarn.  Our rotating cast is sufficiently established such that their various grumbles, outbursts, or jokes make us shake our heads at so-and-so’s habits, and the bits of character work we get – Probson’s promotion frustrations; Nate and Romy’s partnership; poor, poor Stacy’s approaching PTSD – keep the story clicking when it’s wholly just trying to run down that clock until the tense last few minutes.

But it can’t fully be a cop yarn, of course.  The Joker is certainly a good candidate for this setup, but it also seems a bit too “grounded” for his type of antics – and Lark draws him as a pretty reg’lar fella, further cloudying if we’re in comic book world or the “real” world – and when Batman pokes his head into things, it really feels like this all-knowing figure would have it wrapped up sooner.  Brubaker and Rucka counter this with some excellent scenes – an attack in the precinct is frightening, and the final confrontation between Bats and the cops drives home the antagonist relationship between the two the book pitches – but it’s the push and pull of styles that inevitably had Gotham Central sucked into more traditional DC nonsense later on.

But at this point: Brubes and Rucka were doing their best to make this book legit.