Thursday, February 23, 2017

Gotham Central

In 2003, Ed Brubacker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark got together to start a comic book series about the Gotham City Police Department or GCPD. The series was called Gotham Central and is part of the Batman family of books. The series was also a commercial failure. The first issue came out February 2003 and the last issue was dated April 2006.

Forty issues. That's it. And you know what? That's beautiful. I mean, if a series ran into the hundreds of issues it come under the responsibility of any number of creative teams; it's inevitable that some issues in the run would be crap. Can't be helped, if your series in currently numbers 500+ or 300+ there will be some dogs in that pile. And that's where the forty issues of Gotham Central become magic. I have read everyone and everyone is a gem. Well, there is one, issue no. 37 is a tie in to a DC-wide event called Infinite Crisis, and it doesn't have the magic of the others. It was a bit bleh, but still okay. If that's the worst that Gotham Central can do then it's safe to say that this series is magic and highly recommended.

Over the course of the run the writing is consistently Brubacker and Rucka and it shows in the quality of the stories. This two are among the top writers in the field at the time, still are actually (circa 2010), Michael Lark shares art chores with others over the run, artists like Stefano Guadiano and Greg Scott. They all do a good job. There are some panels in this run that are just spot on. Not just any writer can do this series because it's a street level series with hardly any costumed heroes; so the artists have to do 'street' very well. Things like facial expressions, gestures. From panel to panel the action can get very subtle - no expansive super-hero action here - which could explain the low sales.

So why should you even bother?

First of all: the writing. The pacing, characterization and the character dynamics add up to engrossing single-issue stories and story arcs. These are great page-turners that can be re-read with relish. My favorite single issue tale is called 'Nature' and is presented in issue no. 32. This is a tale that involves the Batman villain Poison Ivy - as the hero. How cool is that? The best of the arcs is called 'Soft Targets' and stars the most nefarious Batman baddie of them all - the Joker. Close to it in quality is another arc called 'Unresolved' this time with the Mad Hatter.

Another reason to pick this up is the art. Oh, the art. I've found myself stopping to stare at some panels. Just looking at them. The approach is not exactly noir but very close - the mood created is just perfect for street level Gotham.

Did I say Gotham. Yes, Batman's town. He's here too, along the edges of the stories. Never the centerpiece, but always present. In fact, a bit conspicuous by his absence. But not only him, he's history, the lore surrounding the bat. The stories are accessible to any reader not familiar with Batman but the more you know about the Batman's world the richer that tales become. Subtle touches abound for readers in the know. The series also adds to the DC Universe. Two protagonists in particular: Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen go on to bigger roles in the DCU.

Gotham Central wasn't popular, and isn't, except for a small group of loyalists like me. It's fated to be one of those 'lost gems' of comics. Quality awaits for those willing to give it a chance.

Pete Albano

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