Art: Michael Lark (Daredevil, Batman: Nine Lives, The Best of Ray Bradbury: Graphic Novel Edition)
SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):
Storyline – 7
Art – 8
Captivity and Length – 8
Identity – 10
Use of Medium – 6
Depth – 7
Fluidity – 7
Intrigue/Originality – 8
The Little Things – 9
Overall awesomeness – 8
With all the attention that The Dark Knight receives in Gotham, you would swear that he’s the only character worth mentioning. Much like Superman has his cohorts at The Daily Planet, Batman has a small team of detectives that he trusts in the GCPD. Through the generations of progression in Batman lore, Batman’s relationship with Gotham City’s finest has been instrumental to his growth as a hero and ability to be plugged into the city. He and newcomer James Gordon forged a relationship that has been the focal point of multiple story arcs, movies, and especially in Batman: The Animated Series, and that relationship is extended to more than just the would-be commissioner.
Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central takes place after a time where James Gordon has stepped down as Police Commissioner. The GCPD has been cleaned up for the most part, and the city is no longer owned by the corrupt and the mob – although, that does not mean it is not still a point of concern. Just over a ten years ago, there were over a dozen titles that were about Batman or his constituents, so when writer Ed Brubaker pitched a title centered around the police that practically play second fiddle to a masked vigilante who wears his undies over his pants, you can imagine the concern.
The fear that a series of this nature would get tangled up too much with Batman – that it was essentially impossible to separate the Bat, and his infamous cast of villains, from making a good cop story. While Batman is an undeniable presence throughout the book, it is truly the boys (and ladies) in blue that make this series what it is, which, when you get to the bare bones of it, is a great cop drama with a Batman theme to it. From the lingo the cops use to the casual dialogue in the Bullpen, there is a very noir detective air about Gotham Central. Even the art by Michael Lark is loudly reminiscent of the old-timey Detective Comics that the publisher took their name from. This isn’t Lark’s first go-around with noir-style Batman; check out Batman: Nine Lives for a very pulp detective story.
While Gotham Central didn’t impress sales-wise, it was critically lauded as a breath of fresh air in a Bat-heavy time period. Success of sales in trade paperback convinced the publishers at DC enough to give the series the green light for 40 issues – and I’m sure winning an Eisner Award in 2004 for Best Serialized Story didn’t hurt, either. The book is laid out a lot like an episode of Law & Order, but with a Batman twist. The cops find the crime scene, and while it ends up being the deed of one of Gotham’s freaks, there is still a lot of police legwork in order to catch the perp. In addition to the entertaining detective work, Gotham Central gives its readers plenty of insight into not only how life in the police department works, but how the lives of these officers are affected by the life they lead in Gotham. We get a good hard look at what it’s like to live in the shadow of The Bat, and what drives them; it’s a refreshing take on an entire group of people we had only known as a single entity.
That being said, aside from a few good apples (namely Marcus Driver, Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen), the detective work at GCPD. There are so many poor decisions made on the detectives’ part. For years, I thought it was just bad writing to make them inept in order to make Batman look good, but Brubaker’s decision to make them that green makes this series flow so much better. The good part of it is at least the GCPD cares, and trying is half the battle. They are making desperate efforts to try to prove to themselves, and Batman, that they can protect the city without his help. While the detective work is a major aspect of the stories’ development, it’s the focus on social issues like police corruption, and more noticeably, how sexual orientation is treated in a male-dominated workforce.
Over a decade ago, before acceptance became the topic of conversation for mainstream media across the country, Detective Renee Montoya was very much still in the closet. Prior to Montoya, openly gay characters in DC’s staple were not viewed positively (their first openly gay character, Extraño, means “Strange” in Spanish), and even since, portrayal of a gay character in comic books has not been done with as much class and accuracy as here in Gotham Central. Montoya struggles with keeping herself an honest cop, keep her girlfriend and that life closeted, as well as balance the strict Catholic lifestyle that her family abides by. Montoya’s struggle is very real, and her double life – hence the name of the mini-arc, Half a Life – parallels the relationship, however creepy and awkward, that Two-Face has with her. Montoya instantly becomes the best character in the book due to her raw honesty about the situation.
The story got a bit convoluted with several different storylines converging on each other, but for the most part, Gotham Central did a great job at stepping back from the capes and putting the Detective back in Detective Comics… Comics. Volume One may get a little off-track, or corny, but it’s unlike any Batman book you’ve read before. As a reader, you are thrown right in the thick of things, and while that may be overwhelming for somebody not keen on the GCPD history, it is quite enveloping in the way that you get the complete “cop working in Batman’s city” experience.
I don’t know how they do it, but Scott Synder and Greg Capullo have made this feel like a true origin story. While most teams exploring an updated origin tend to focus on some untold section of a chararacter’s history, The New 52 Batman has been told however the creative team damn well pleases. After taking on the Red Hood Gang in the beginning of the Zero Year arc, Batman is now facing (Dr.) Death itself and The Riddler, as well as fighting his own personal demons. The artwork from Capullo is amazing, as it captures more of an early 1940’s Detective Comics vibe than most titles in 2013, a nod to his versatility – and let’s not forget about the comeback of the purple gloves. Storywise, it’s exciting and unpredictable. DC just let Synder have full reign on this book. Even the change to Jim Gordon’s canon, as heart-wrenching as it is, is spectacular story-telling. I can’t get enough of this flagship series.
Justice League #25 (DC Comics) – A
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Batman was evil? Thanks to the re-introduction of The Crime Syndicate into the DC Universe and the magnificent writing of the legendary Geoff Johns, you don’t have to wonder. Justice League #25 focuses our attention on Owlman, the Earth-3 alternate universe version of Batman, and his origin story. Recreating the infamous Crime Alley Haley’s Circus scenes where Bruce and Dick Grayson’s parents are murdered, we get a disturbing look at Owlman’s persona. Oddly enough, he has a soft spot for our world’s Dick Grayson, as he tries to win him over. Even with the world controlled by the Syndicate, as long as it’s written by Geoff Johns, I wouldn’t have it any other way
Batman: Black & White #4 (DC Comics) – A
Batman: Black and White is a collection of stories from 6 different writers. Can I begin with stating that the art work is phenomenal? The book starts off with “Ghosts of Gotham” by Nathan Edmondson and Kenneth Rocafort. This pairing is perfect. I wish their story went on for an entire book. Batman is hunting a killer in a graveyard. He is in full gumshoe mode until coming face to face with a menacing figure. Dustin Nguyen is a one man army. He tackles both art and story for “Long Day.” Although the story lacks any depth, the artwork more than makes up for it as Batman gets ready to begin his work in Gotham. Sean Galloway offers his bold animation style to end the book. It will remind you of the old WB animated series. You will love this collection. Black and White was easily my favorite of the week.
Superman/Wonder Woman #3 (DC Comics) – A-
This is a perfect opportunity to jump into a series that is has just begun. Only three issues in, Superman/Wonder Woman has started off with a real bang. What seemed like a cheap way to capitalize on a love story from their individual series is shaping up quite nicely to be an awesome story by itself. These two superheroes are powerful enough together to go up against some of the more powerful enemies in their prospective rogue galleries. It will be interesting to see what challenges are thrown at them whilst they try to cultivate a meaningful relationship amidst the chaos. This will also be a welcome change of pace from the traditional Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship as well, giving a woman who can fully understand him a chance in the spotlight. The real question is….. What would their baby be like?
The Amazing Spiderman #700.2 (Marvel Comics) – B
New York is in a deep freeze, and our Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman is swinging from rooftop to rooftop to protect his city. He is trying to get to Aunt May, but is sidetracked by the emergencies the weather has created. He does everything that he can, from saving people in a burning building to pulling an ambulance from falling off the Queensboro Bridge. Peter is obligated to doing all that he can to save lives. He would risk everything he loves to do the right thing, but will he get to Aunt May in time? The story is a little slow, but it’s appreciated. We haven’t seen a human and vulnerable side of Peter Parker in quite some time.
Batgirl #26 (DC Comics) – B-
This whole Wanted arc has had me in a glass case of emotion. This twisted love triangle between Batgirl, her dad and her new boyfriend has had readers on edge for issues, thanks to the great writing of Gail Simone. When Barbara finds out that her dad is now the target of a up and coming group of villains, she comes to his rescue. This isn’t the climax, however, as Batgirl is finally ready to show Commissioner Gordon just who is under the cowl. The epic cover illustrates the scene perfectly. However, Gordon refuses to look at her when she lays it all out in the open. You can almost feel the pain and disappoint of Batgirl, which is a gift and a curse, because you find yourself wanting it to happen, especially after a reveal about her psycho brother. How long have they done this dance? Batgirl gave me enough to want to keep reading the series, but I can’t help but feel disappointed that it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.
Captain America: Living Legend #4 (Marvel Comics) – B-
Living Legend is a four-part series that follows what seems to be a pretty standard Cap formula – take something that happened to him in WW2 and have it come back to haunt him today. For a guy who was frozen for fifty years, he sure has a way of having his past continue to catch up with him. Don’t expect any real character development here, with just four issues to tell a story, expect only plot pieces essential to the direct story to be told. This is really a shame because there was a chance for some interesting development with the main villain and supporting cast. Still, the artwork is amazing and is a must read for any Cap fan.
Marvel Knight: Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics) – C+
Dr. Bruce Banner is once again on the run. He finds himself in Paris pursued by a clandestine agency. Before he can change into The Hulk he is chased down by two huge Gamma induced monsters. Piotr Kowalski’s art in this issue is just what I needed. It seems odd that an artist with such a soft touch for subtly would be involved with a story arc about a violent uncontrollable beast. His panels are bold, yet subdued. I know Sherif is a big fan of his Sex series, I have yet to pick up an issue, but may have to start reading the series now.
Justice League 3000 #1 (DC Comics) – C+
When news broke of Justice League3000, not much of the actual storyline was revealed. We knew the story took place 1000 years in the future, and we knew that these would be familiar characters, but that’s about it. This debut can be summed up in one awesome word: CADMUS. Project Cadmus is originally a 1970’s Jack Kirby creation also called the DNA Project, has a history of splicing DNA with new clones – from Superboy to Bizarro. So you have futuristic clones with no context of how they came to be. Throw in the Wonder Twins, and you’ve got one confusing issue. 3000 is full of potential, but it’s story-telling will have to carry the series, as the panel-by-panel writing and art only show glimpses of greatness.
Wolverine #12 (Marvel Comics) – C+
Wolverine’s appeal in the Marvel universe has always been his willingness to leap into danger no matter the consequence. But what we’re finding out is the result of what happens when an alien virus takes Logan’s healing power from him; SPOILER, it’s not a good look. In a show-down that’s been building since the beginning of the series, Wolverine is coming face-to-face with the Hand (no relation to the Foot) and the Silver Samurai, led by Sabretooth. It’s a bit of a struggle of an issue, as Wolverine is slashed and battered throughout the issue. With his fate left in Sabretooth’s claws, I was left feeling excited for the conclusion to the Killable story arc.
Nighwing #26 (DC Comics) – C
Dick Grayson has had the displeasure of living in Batman’s shadow for too long. Since moving to Chicago in Nightwing #19, he has flourished as his own character. The writer, Kyle Higgins, is actually a Chicago native himself, which has given the city more life. It may not be Blüdhaven, but it’s Nightwing’s home nonetheless. With bad guys of his own, such as The Prankster, Tony Zucco, and the Marionette, Nightwing has been far removed from the Bat-family, and this story is no different, chasing down a thief with quite the creepy alter-ego, leading to a reveal at the end that… well let’s just say that you can take Nightwing out of Gotham, but you can’t take the Gotham out of Nightwing. As is typical DC fashion, there is nothing pertaining to the events of Forever Evil in the episode, contrary to the cover; I felt misled, but I still enjoyed the issue.
Three #3 (image Comics) – C
If you are expecting Three to be anything like Frank Miller’s 300, I am afraid you will be very upset, I know I was. It is however, a decent story in its own right. While it has initially been slow to start, it shows promise with the way the author depicts everyday Spartan life. This book is about more than just the Spartan warrior, it is about the politics and class struggles of the everyday Spartan. The series’ writer, Kieron Gillen, has gone to great lengths, including contacting some of the foremost experts in the field, to make sure that his depiction is as accurate as possible. Despite this being less about war and death, and more about life, the book hasn’t completely forgotten about battle and the violent nature in which the Spartans lived their lives. This book shows promise for what it is, however, if all you are looking for is more of 300, I would give it a pass.
The Amazing Spiderman #700.3 (Marvel Comics) – C
Joe Casey picks up the Amazing Spiderman 700.3 where David Morrell left off. Peter Parker has just saved his dear Aunt May from a New York blizzard. Not shortly after, as Spiderman, he finds himself in a life or death fight with Firebrand. He suffers nearly fatal wounds and is rescued by a shadowy ambulance. He awakens to find himself bandaged in a creepy hospital desperately trying to figure out how he arrived in a mysterious infirmary that seems to be for criminals only. I didn’t care for the art in this issue, there is a shot of The Thing fighting Rhino that looks too simple to be in an Amazing Spiderman book. I’m just not a fan of Timothy Green’s pencils in this issue at all. I was also excited about the simplicity in the story behind issues 700.1 and 700.2, and this issue took that right away in the first pages. Hopefully 700.4 takes us in a clear direction and our wall-crawler can get out of the web he now finds himself in!
The Walking Dead #118 (image Comics) – C-
There has been a lot of death in The Walking Dead, some impacting, others ostentatious. I mean, it’s a post-apocalyptic soap opera (George Romero’s words, but true), so we’re expected to see death around every corner. However, the death of a beloved character came so unnecessarily and with such gratuitousness that it just plain pissed me off. Sure, there was a pretty sweet battle cry from Maggie at the beginning to let readers know she’s still that chick “that rode in like Zorro on a horse,” but the momentum carried by #117 is completely lost in telling the story of a death I feel no connection to, but by all means should. To be honest, I’m beginning to feel that way about the series altogether.
Justice League of America #10 (DC Comics) – D
When JLA launched almost a year ago under the helm of Geoff Johns, I thought that this ragtag team of superheroes had found a home together as a B team to the original Justice League. However, after ten issues, it’s become apparent that this book is little more than a drawing board for the Forever Evil arc. There has been little to no exploration of obscure characters such as: The Martian Manhunter, Catwoman, Green Arrow and (our favorite) Simon Baz. In this issue, we get a jumbled together, after-thought of a backstory of Stargirl, one of the lamest heroes I’ve seen in The New 52. There is also a reveal at the end that has to do with the end of the world, but I could have found out from a Facebook status with the same amount of entertainment I had reading the comic.
Funniest Panel of the Week:
Epic Panel of the Week:
Cover of the Week:
That about wraps it up for our reviews this week! Look for next week’s previews coming soon. Any comic books you didn’t see reviewed that you want reviewed? Any grades you didn’t agree on? Let us know in the comments!
All images taken from ComiXology app and the credit for them goes to the respective publishers; thanks to IDW Comics, image Comics, Dark Horse, DC and Marvel for putting out great books.