07 September 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Gotham Central, Part Ø: Batman: Gordon of Gotham

Before plunging into my next comics project, I want to cycle back to some old ones and read some books related to them that have come out since then. The first of these is Gotham Central, which I read over five years ago now.

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 1996-98)

Borrowed from the library
Read March 2016
Batman: Gordon of Gotham

Writers: Chuck Dixon, Dennis O'Neil
Artists: Klaus Janson, Jim Aparo, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dick Giordano
Colorists: Kevin Somers, Ian Laughlin, Pam Rambo, Jamison
Letterers: John Costanza, Clem Robins

This book collects three four-issue miniseries that feature Commissioner Gordon and/or the Gotham City Police Department; it's a precursor of sorts to Gotham Central, though I am pretty sure that the only main character here who is also a main character there is the ubiquitous Renee Montoya. Each of the stories here has a slightly different focus.

"Gordon's Law" is pretty squarely focused on Commissioner Gordon himself, as he discovers that there's possibly some corruption in the GCPD, which means he can't trust anyone on the force-- and to make things worse, he only wants cops to go after cops, which means he rejects Batman's offer of assistance as well. The story is kinda complicated; there are a lot of characters, and most of them were new to me (if not new to everyone), and though I really like the gritty tone established by Klaus Janson's artwork, he didn't always make it easy to remember who was who. Its biggest weakness is probably that it's one of those stories where tons of "old friends" we've never seen before turn up, and the narrative expects us to be surprised when an "old friend" we've never seen before turns out to not be altogether trustworthy. And that's not the only obvious twist, but there were some good ones as well. Overall, it's an okay tale: some good crime fiction influences, but it doesn't really have anything to say about Gordon, about the GCPD, or about Batman.

I love how sleazy/creepy the face of this guy (he's an informant) looks.
from Batman: Gordon's Law #1 (script by Chuck Dixon, art by Klaus Janson)

"GCPD" is the most like Gotham Central of all the stories here; the commissioner is just a minor part of a sprawling, ensemble tale of various members of the GCPD pursuing various cases. Harvey Bullock struggled with anger management, a new partner, and a serial killer; Renee Montoya goes undercover as a diplomat's wife to help catch an assassin; two cops named Kitch (a trained lawyer) and Cav (a grizzled old vet) track down art thieves and an insurance same; an administrator named Hendricks tries to figure out who's stealing stationery. As you might imagine, some of these stories are better than others: I always enjoy a Montoya tale, but Chuck Dixon doesn't really her very unique, and the circumstance she ends up in seems incredibly contrived to say the least. (Do local cops really handle assassination plots against foreign officials? Would there really be no plan for cancelling the operation when it all goes wrong and the diplomat deliberately endangers Montoya's life?) On the other hand, I did enjoy the Harvey Bullock plot. This was my first real exposure to the character (he was retired during Gotham Central), and he gets to do some good old-fashioned investigating that shows off his intelligence as well as his human side, and I liked his contentious relationship with his new partner.

Jim Aparo just can't resist giving Gordon that dandyesque mustache curl, though.
from Batman: GCPD #3 (script by Chuck Dixon, art by Jim Aparo & Bill Sienkiewicz)

The Kitch/Cav plot had its moments, but some of its beats were very familiar. Is the lawyer-turned-cop who is mocked for his education by the cops and for his slumming it by the lawyers, and flirts with going back to law only to be reminded that lawyers are corrupt, a thing? I am pretty sure I read this exact story last year in Fort Freak. I liked Cav, though. The best character of all, however, was Hendricks: of course a desk officer grimly determined to catch an office supplies thief in the fact of mockery from his colleagues was my fave. The law begins and ends with him! I've previously struggled with Jim Aparo art on stories of the "gritty" type, but to my surprise, he paired really well with Bill Sienkiewicz on inks: Aparo does great figures and great storytelling, but Sienkiewicz's rough inks add the right tone for an urban cop story. Best art in the book.

from Batman: Gordon of Gotham #1 (script by Dennis O'Neil, art by Dick Giordano & Klaus Janson)

"Gordon of Gotham" is even less about the GCPD than "Gordon's Law," as it's mostly a present-day Gordon telling Batman about his last year as a Chicago cop, leading into the events of Batman: Year One. As anyone who read my review of that story would know, I love Jim Gordon, and Dennis O'Neil really captures what it is that I like about him. Gordon is just a man trying to do the right thing in a world that will never reward him for it, because it is a world that needs Batman. Gordon argues with his wife (there's a callback to his struggle with domestic violence from Night Cries, another quality Jim Gordon tale), but ends up stopping a diner holdup almost by accident, then decides to go after corruption, but the world itself is corrupt, and he quickly gets in deeply over his head and ends up making choices that violate his moral core... or so he had thought. O'Neil piles on the twists and the action in a compelling way, and I really liked how this set us up for the  Gordon on Year One, down to his decision to grow a mustache. The only real weakness is the frame; I wonder why they didn't just do this story in pure flashback.

I didn't quite buy that everyone would recognize a "hero cop" so readily, but I guess more people watched local tv news back in the 1980s.
from Batman: Gordon of Gotham #1 (script by Dennis O'Neil, art by Dick Giordano & Klaus Janson)

Next Week: And now I'll be catching up on the expanded universe of The Sandman, beginning with the long-delayed collected edition of The Children's Crusade, Free Country!

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