14 December 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: Gotham Central, Part I: In the Line of Duty

Comic trade paperback, 116 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 2003)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2010
Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

Writers: Greg Rucka & Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark
Colorist: Noelle Giddings
Letterer: Willie Schubert

Gotham Central is about the cops who make up the Gotham City Police Department, specifically the ones in the Major Crimes Unit, the group personally selected by (ex-)Commissioner Gordon to handle the most difficult of crimes. They're also the cops Gordon trusted the most, the ones he knew wasn't corrupt. The stories are entirely told through their point of view-- Batman is in these stories, but only as much as the police see him.

The first story in In the Line of Duty has two cops, Driver and Fields, following up leads on the disappearance of a teenage girl when they accidentally bump into Mr. Freeze. Freeze kills Fields and runs off, leaving the police scrambling to figure out where Freeze is and what he's planning next. They know that summoning Batman is their best shot of finding the killer-- but they also know that once they do, it'll be the Batman who avenges the death of one of their own, not themselves. So they set themselves a deadline: figure out what Freeze's plan is before nightfall, when they can turn on the Bat-signal and hand the case over. What unfolds after that is a pretty typical "police procedural" like you might see on any number of television shows, as the police follow up leads by talking to known accomplices, hunting down people who might have sold Freeze the diamonds that power his technology, and so on. There's this nice device of a clock in the corner of the panels, telling you that they're running out of time. Lucky for them, they get a break just in time...

There's a touch that I like here-- since the official stance of the G.C.P.D. is that the Batman doesn't exist and the light is for deterring criminals, they can't activate the Bat-Signal themselves, legally. As a result, it's the office temp who activates the signal, as she's not a city employee. As they wait, Commissioner Akins asks Driver, "So you're okay with this then?" and he answers, "No... but I'm a cop in Gotham. I can't afford to live in denial." And even though the Batman wins the day against Freeze for them, you can't help but feeling that they've lost something in having to call the Batman in. The only thing I don't like about the story is that the cops' conclusion requires Freeze to have given them a cryptic clue at the beginning of the story, but I don't get why he'd do that-- he's not the Riddler or even the Joker.

The second story in the book, "Motive," also features Marcus Driver, this time working with Romy Chandler to follow up the kidnap case from the previous story. Though there's an appearance by the super-villain "Firebug" in this story, and some fun stuff about people who collect super-villain paraphernalia, it's essentially a normal cop story. Again, the resolution is weak because it depends on a leap of logic that seemed unfounded, but essentially it's a character story for Driver as he tries to come to terms with what it means to be a cop in Gotham. I used to make fun of the idea of the Gotham police-- why do they even bother?-- but these stories show them as people trying their best in a really messed up world, and I like that. The best bit of this story is the end, where Driver flicks on the Bat-Signal just to tell Batman they solved the case without them. Because sometimes they can do it.

The art by Michael Lark is great-- sort of sketchy, like you imagine the world that the G.C.P.D inhabits would look. Unfortunately, this backfires sometimes, as some of the white guy cops blend in to one another. But between his linework and Noelle Giddings's moody, suppressed colors, the art is absolute perfect for the bleak, despairing tone of this series.

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