GOTHAM CENTRAL Vol 2, JOKERS AND MADMEN
Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Brian Hurtt and Greg Scott
Collects Gotham Central #11-22
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.
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