Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trade Waiting - Gotham Central HC Vol 2, Jokers and Madmen

The second hardcover collection of Gotham Central had a lot to live up to. When I read the first trade I thought it was an amazing idea and the delivery of that premise was even better. Then the second trade showcased the Eisner winning storyline that won critics and fans over, yet still didn’t create enough sales to keep everything afloat indefinitely. I was keen for the next installments but did not want to be let down. I wasn’t. Hit the jump to see my review.


Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Brian Hurtt and Greg Scott
Collects Gotham Central #11-22

Gotham Central is a comic set in one of the oldest comic towns, which is home to one of comics oldest, dearest, and most feared cowled crusaders. And yet, you rarely see him in these pages, and even less hear him speak. This comic isn’t about the Batman; this comic is about the cops who for so long were seen as the bunglers being saved by their vigilante menace every time some freak decided to take over the city. And for this emotional set up, and the real application of it, this comic is extremely good.

I must first discuss however, the format with which this series has been collected. There were 40 issues, and they were spread over 5 trades. Now there have been 3 hardcovers and I assume there is still one to come. Now, the math there may seem sketchy, and that’s because it is. If you bought all of the trades then you did not get every issue. You’d in fact be missing 7 issues, which is pretty lame. Whereas if you bought the hardcovers then you won’t be missing a beat. Except for the second trade, the one containing more than just the GC issues as it has Batman Chronicles and Detective Comics as well. So, it would seem, to get the whole experience you need the first two trades, then the rest in hardcovers. Which, as luck would provide, has been my journey with the GCPD. So, let’s take a look at how this hardcover stands up on its own.

The opening issue is a one-shot, and one of the skipped stories in trade, called Daydreams and Believers. It deals with Stacy, the temp who works the desk and phone, who has to operate the bat-signal because she is the only non-city employee in the building. It’s a perfect idea for a one-shot as Stacy writes a letter to a friend back home exposing her daydreams about the dark knight. We actually see, in these daydreams, Batman kissing Stacy and to see him in such a strange embrace is shocking in an almost humorous manner. The issue works because Stacy is a cipher for us to see the cops as real people, and not just real cops but humans as well. They goof around and they chit chat about life and we’re the fly on the wall taking it all in.

The Joker headlines the next story as he sets about Gotham with a high powered rifle taking out high ranking officials. These deaths set up an elaborate scheme the clown prince of crime has concocted to kill a bunch of innocent civilians. We don’t bother with his motive, that’s not the issue of the case, we worry about the wheres and the hows. And both of those are very interesting.

This story is interesting in that it has striking similarities, yet is not the same, to Batman’s billion dollar cinematic appearance, The Dark Knight. The Joker ends up setting himself up to be put in an interrogation cell, and a reporter is strung upside down in front of a camera for the world to watch, a bomb’s clock ticks, yet this Joker still isn’t quite as eerily charismatic as Heath Ledger’s portrayal. Michael Lark draws the Joker like he stepped right out of the 60’s show and into our nightmares. He’s got the flower on the lapel, and the slicked back hair, but beneath the simple effects there is a devil in the smile and a fire in the eyes.

The whole point of the storyline is that these crimes, and the freaks who commit them, have a great impact on these police officers. People they love, care about, and respect die or are maimed on a very consistent basis. Each and every officer is playing for keeps in what only amounts to a game for someone like the Joker. They can’t kill him, even though they may like to, and they can barely stop him as it usually takes the Bat to show up and help out with the endgame. The officers blame Batman for bringing people like this to Gotham as much as they begrudgingly thank any offers of aid he mysteriously throws their way. Games should be fun, and the Joker certainly seems to enjoy himself, so it’s frustrating that they are merely pawns within the set. This story is well played out and the four issues are wickedly enjoyable.

Life Is Full Of Disappointments is the next story title but it might as well be the theme of the entire run as well. We open with a silent funeral scene, the aftermath of previous tales; nothing in this world is forgotten, even trials for cases come many issues later. As soon as the scene closes another case opens. There’s no rest for the wicked, or anyone in the same stinking town as any wicked. It’s the way of Gotham life.

There’s a pretty lady in a dumpster. The perfect noir set up and our investigators must find the players, the motive, and the weapon of choice. The usual steps are taken through minor players of note but this arc isn’t all about the crime, it’s about the people investigating it. They see bodies pile up every day but they still come to work. They still share breakfast with their wives, they still try their best to have a life, even though those of others end around them for the simple whims of weak people.

This is a background piece, we see the officers’ relationships with the family, children, girlfriends, whomever, and we see the concessions they all make for each other. It’s sweet and revealing and all the while done through a case that is absorbing and interesting and has a satisfying conclusion. Though the conclusion does show how one officer can keep a secret from even from his partner. There isn’t always total transparency when it comes to someone’s complete past.

There’s no sign of a Bat in this arc, though we do see the Huntress for one brief scene. It almost feels like she was shoe-horned in just in case someone forgot these cops worked the Gotham beat. It’s not necessary but it also doesn’t detract from the tone of the story either.

The four part arc that rounds out this collection, Unresolved, sees an old acquaintance of an officer take a bunch of hostages and then, during negotiations, turn the gun fatally on himself. And this is only how the case begins. The addled crim makes passing mention of an old crime, a bombing of a baseball team from the past, and because of this statement and the case’s unresolved status it seems pertinent to look into it again.

The trail leads to the Mad Hatter, who looks creepy and overbitey as Lark portrays him within his Arkham cell, and little is as it seems. There is missing evidence and what is collected of the case files remains with the officer from the original investigation, Harvey Bullock. He’s a washed up booze hound now, but he’ll always be natural police. He wants in on the case, even though his gut instincts are washed out with bourbon and bad memories.

There are bullets and blood and Penguins and little old ladies but in the end there are only the police. This arc, in all its genius, shows you what Gotham does to its protecting and serving officials. It chews them up and doesn’t even have the decency to spit them out, preferring to swallow and watch them eventually slop out the other side. Broken, abused, deranged, and beaten. Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, the bar eats you. And the bar has a hearty appetite.

The series is a fantastic study of fortitude in the face of insanity. Even the GCPD using Batman is a crazy idea. It shouldn’t work, and most of the time they don’t even want it to, but you have to fight fire with fire in Gotham City. And if you walk away with just a sweat then you’re getting off light. Times are tough in Gotham and it takes tougher men and women to keep things running smoothly. They may not like it but they know they have to do it.

Verdict - Buy It. This series is phenomenal in all aspects. The writing of Brubaker and Rucka is character driven, they never let a good scenario or plot twist get in the way of the gut reaction that dealing with crime should have. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and sometimes that can be positive, character building, but other times it will not be, it will be character destroying. Lark’s noir pencils are perfect for every scene and never get in the way. They capture the character of each officer, of which there are many, and he also introduces the freaks, and even the Bat, in interesting and realistic ways. This HC is gorgeous to look at and hold and will take you a while to chew through. There’s value for money. Plus, it has an introduction from Duane Swierczynski and that’s always pleasing.

Interested in Gotham Central Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Klep said...

I picked the first two hardcovers of this up on a lark when I saw Brubaker's name on them at a local bookstore, and they turned out to be one of my best comic purchases. I can't add more to what you've written here except that I really loved these stories.

Ethereal said...

I'd re-read Gotham Central any time. An awesome series.

Anonymous said...

it sounds more like a must read than a buy it from your review Ryan.

Lucho said...

Oh, Brubaker in DC. Great era.

DC had a golden era of narrations and Marvel was all about fighting and X-books.

But now our beloved DC is sinking to the bottom. Blackest Night was great, I loved it but, even though I love Johns writing, DC right now it´s all about characters no one could give a damn about.

We got this titles from DC this days:
*Batman (great title).
*Batman & Robin (excellent).
*Batman Streets of Gotham (couldnt care less).
*Gotham Sirens (u are kidding right?)
*Tec starring Batwoman (Ok, that´s Rucka with his lesbian writing).
*Red Robin (maybe it´s good but I wouldn´t buy it).
*Batgirl (read above).
*The Flash (let´s see).
*Green Lantern (Excellent).
*GLC (gonna drop it after BN).
*Supergirl (Couldn´t care less).
*Superman (should be more interesting).
*Action comics (read above).
*Doom Patrol (someone reads this?).
*Magog (Crap of the crap? What were they thinking?)
*JLA (not as good as the MEtlzer/McDuffy run).
*JSA (without Johns it suffers).
*Wonder Woman (I´d only read it online).¨
*Secret Six (the only good title that came out of IC).
*Titans (?)
*Teen Titans (yawn).
*GA/BC (kinda crappy).
*Supes/Bats (remember when this title rocked??).

And some miniseries that suck hard.
Really, DC can´t compete with Marvel and it´s sad. Marvel has: Amazing Spiderman; Dark Wolverine, Avengers, Invincible Iron Man; Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four; Captain America; Daredevil; Punbisher Max all of those titles by great writers!!!

DC has the good in Vertigo.

This is bad.

What´s next? A Prince Ra Man mini-series? A comic about Impulse? Who is gonna buy that crap? I know who! Geoff Johns.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Anonymous 3 - yeah, it lives somewhere between the buy it and the must read, very close but I keep my must reads for the truly special, the sublime, the pages written by Brian K Vaughan. So long as people get the idea that this series is absolutely stunningly written and paced then I'll be happy. I wish this series started now because I'd be all over it and then I'd finally have a DCU title to my name, which I currently do not.

@Lucho - man some people are going to disagree with you strongly on some of that, haha, and that's why the internet is awesome. I can't really comment on any of that really as I don't pick up any DCU, as I've mentioned, but I will say one thing; I'd heard that GLC was pretty good, surprised you're dropping it. As far as Marvel V DC goes, I know where my heart and money lie and it's exactly why you say, I'm invested in Marvel writers and follow them round, no one at DC has yet to give me that thrill...Rucka was close, and even now he's gone...I wonder if I'll ever turn to the darkside...

Matt Ampersand said...

It is a testament to DC's ineptitude that they let Brubaker go. They had him doing random Gotham peripheral books (this, Catwoman, random issues of Detective comics) and his own thing with Wildstorm, that were all pretty awesome, but they eventually foolishly let him go. He jumps to Marvel and they give him Captain America and Uncanny X-Men, then Daredevil, Marvels Project, and now one of the Avengers books (all arguably A-list projects).

And now they've lost Rucka too. At some point they are going to realize that Geoff Johns cannot possibly write every one of their books (but that's not going to stop them from trying).

Dickey said...

@Matt - I suspect they'll realize that when the writing quality suffers Bendis-style from overextension on 8+ titles, lol.

Nice review though, I've been considering picking up this hardcover to dip in the Gotham Central world. Any title that makes it seem as if there are more competent cops on the GCPD should be respected.

Servando Gomez said...

@Ryan: You know Brian K Vaughn Y: The last Man lost steam toward the middle and it only mildly captivated me from that point on. The first 20 issues though are the masterpieces.

My point is, BKV is God especially for The Runaways but Even Kirk thinks that volume 2 of his run wasn't up to the beginning high standard. Blasphemy though in my opinion as i enjoyed it more as it edged closer to his last issue but i digress.

I will say though that "The Escapist" may be his best work but that's just me.

P.S. What's stopping BKV and Marvel from bringing him back on the Runaways? Then again, i suppose BKV is only human and he probably ran out of good stories for the Runaways himself.

Radlum said...

I loved the Joker arc, the idea that it's merely a game between him and Batman and that the cops are like ants to be crushed by him if they block his attempts to get Batman's attention.
Gotham Central was one of the best (and most frustrating) series I've read; after finishing the last arc I just wanted more, it felt like there was so much potential and it just ended. This may sound blasphemous, but I usually compare Brubaker and Rucka's (and Lark, without him it just wasn't the same) work here to David Simon work in Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire (ok, maybe not with The Wire, I can hardly compare anything to it)

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Servando Gomez - ah, I agree with you about BKV, however Y rocked the business right until the last issue/trade. Issue #57 might just be my favourite comic issue of all time. Golden.

You'll also surely hear my piece on BKV's Escapists soon.

Stagger Lee said...

Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison (all in the 80s) and Neil Gaiman (in the 90s). Those four used to be in a club of their own in my esteem. Now BKV has joined them. I hope his next comic book project isn't too far away.

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