14 December 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: Gotham Central, Part II: Half a Life

Comic trade paperback, 160 pages
Published 2005 (contents: 1999-2003)

Borrowed from the library
Read November 2010
Gotham Central: Half a Life

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark, Jason Pearson & Cam Smith, William Rosado & Steve Mitchell
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterers: Willie Schubert, Rich Parker, Todd Klein

The focus of this book is Renee Montoya, a member of the G.C.P.D.'s Major Crimes Unit, and her relationship with Two-Face. To add to the depiction of this relationship, there are a couple pre-Gotham Central stories from Batman comics showing Montoya. The first of these, "Two Down," is neat enough, with a premise of what would happen if Two-Face's coin just kept on coming up heads, and he kept on doing good. Two-Face helps Montoya in rebuilding the city after it's been ravaged by an earthquake, and she even intervenes against Batman to stop him from taking Two-Face down, pleading that she knows Two-Face can do good if she wants. A good story, but it's brought down by Jason Pearson & Cam Smith's overly cartoony art, which doesn't really fit the tone of the story. The other one is "Happy Birthday Two You...", set about a year later, on Montoya's birthday. It's a day in Montoya's life, a day where she's gone unappreciated by any one other than... Two-Face and Bruce Wayne? It's a solid little story on its own (there are only two colors, and that works fantastically), but it also sets up what's to come...

The bulk of Half a Life is taken up by a story called, appropriately enough, "Half a Life." This story is pretty famous-- it got all kinds of awards-- because it is the story that revealed Renee Montoya was a lesbian. Now, mind you her superior officer Maggie Sawyer had been revealed as one some time prior, but Montoya's was kind of a shocker reveal, and the whole story is about her forced coming-out. Two-Face reveals her in an elaborate plot to destroy her entire life so that he's all she has left. I like Montoya as a character: she feels real, a woman struggling not only to be a cop in Gotham City (which is tough enough), but to hide a second life from her colleagues-- not exactly the most tolerant bunch-- and her very conservative, Catholic family. The story draws some parallels between Montoya and Two-Face that work well. I also like the subplot about Montoya's partner, Crispus Allen, coming to terms with the fact that Montoya's been hiding all this from him. The art is great as per usual-- if anything, Michael Lark is better here than in In the Line of Duty, with his inks not quite as thick as in the first.

However, I have some reservations. Or rather, I think the story's pretty good. Above average, even. But great? Not quite. It's on the whole a competently executed cop story, with some nice Batman bits thrown in. (He once again saves the day. You could accuse it of being a deus ex machina, but that's the whole point of the series.) If you subtracted the lesbian component, I'm not convinced there's be anything memorable about. But that means my problem's not so much with the story as the way it's been represented. I liked it; I just don't know that I'd give it any awards. But in the often-homophobic world of superhero comics, this thing was ground-breaking in 2003, and that's kinda sad when you think about it.

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