Debriefing #16: ‘Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty’

Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty
Writers: Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark
Colourists: Noelle Giddings, Matt Hollingsworth, Lee Loughridge

Note: This is a discussion of the 2011 paperback of Gotham Central Book One: In the Line of Duty which includes issues 1-10 of Gotham Central

While Batman may be Gotham’s most famous crime fighter, the city of Gotham features more than a few hard-working detectives who abide within the bounds of the law to fight crime. Gotham Central follows the lives and the cases of everyday officers. They may not have bat-shark repellent or multi-million dollar equipment, but that won’t stop them from going up against the nastiest of what Gotham has to offer.

James: Most Batman stories exist on the level of the more fantastical. Costume wearing characters battle each other and the city of Gotham proves as a backdrop for their conflict. But in Gotham Central, we’re given a down to earth look at the city through the eyes of the detectives who are involved in the mundanities of detective work. They often have scrapes with Gotham’s most unruly and undesirable members, but their battles are not quite as epic as The Dark Knight. My question to you is do you still feel like this fits in the Batman universe or does the story feel too far removed from Batman to be part of its mythos?

Edgar: An excellent question, James. I should start by stating that I enjoyed reading these first few issues of Gotham Central. I think it gives some perspective on what the regular police and detectives must deal with, whether working on smaller cases (smaller in scale) or when assisting the Batman in his struggles against the super villains of the city. That being said, I wouldn’t say that I would read Gotham Central endlessly. I think that, at the end of the day, it is still more fun to read the Batman stories. As far as it being too removed from the traditional Batman universe, I don’t think it is. After all, of the three story arcs we read, two are concerned with Gotham’s super villains. James, where do you stand?

J: While I really liked certain parts of this book, when it’s at its best, this book doesn’t have anything to do with Batman or his rogue’s gallery. Take for instance the arc Half a Life. It’s a really good story, but you forget it’s a Batman story until they introduce a Batman villains and Batman makes a cameo and that doesn’t happen until the last issue. I do dig something about how those characters are represented in this story, but, to me, I don’t see how these stories are unique to Gotham. They feel like they could be told in any modern American city.

E: I think I understand what you are arguing and it gets to the heart of what some might consider to be the book’s greatest weakness. If the more reality based plotlines are more interesting precisely because Batman and his arch nemeses do not interfere  thus giving the readers a different experience, that so-called different experience is in reality not so different. Why? Because there are plenty of other books, comics, tv shows and movies where similar tales are shared. That being said, some of my favourite moments in the book were when the cops had to deal with the nastiness of the villains first hand, with that first story involving Mr.  Freeze being a great example. What did you make of those moments?

J: I liked how they represented those characters in the moment. It had this pulpy vibe to it, like something you’d see in a vintage comic, but without them behaving in a cheesy manner. I also liked that you were usually not sure what was going on with them or their involvement. In one case, Mr. Freeze just happens to be where the cops are heading. He’s not involved with the case. In a lot of ways, these villains see the cops as insignificant obstacles between them and Batman, and I liked that sentiment, but I wish they would explore it more. Perhaps in future stories that dynamic will be played up. What did you think of the first whole arc, with both Freeze and then the murder mystery that follows it?

E: That first arc serves as a precursor to the ones that follow. the writers juggle almost at all times a story that involves one of Gotham’s rogues gallery members with a homicide that may or may or may not be linked. I liked how they balanced those, at least for two of the three stories. That first one, which involves Mr. Freeze, was a solid, if unspectacular introduction to the tone and style of the book. I was surprised that Batman even showed up at all. I was under the impression that they would save him for later, or possibly only make reference to him. In fact, one could make the case that Batman’s actions near the end undermine the police work, which is part of the existing tension between the gcpd and the caped crusader. That story also hints at something i didn’t see coming at all: this book is set AFTER Gordon has retired. Did you think that adds anything to the stories?

J: I think it gives the book some distance from Batman. If you had Gordon, I think it would have to deal with Batman in a much more direct way. This way they get a bit more leeway as far as developing the relationship between Batman and the GCPD. I think it’s a smart move. Once again, I wonder if this means that it’s not that related to Batman. But instead of harping more on that, I will say I thought the first couple of issues were a little rough starting off. I didn’t think the main character, Driver, was all that interesting, once he starts working with Chandler in the next story arc, I think the story becomes a lot more interesting. What did you think of the characters in these stories?

E: I have to say, I was not a huge fan of any of them. by that I don’t mean that I thought each and every one was uninteresting, but to me they were for the most part interchangeable. They basically all have some banter with one another, some of them are angrier than other (and most of them seem to always be peeved about something) and one of them was a joker, a sarcastic bloke. Just offhand, I’m having difficulty remembering their names. I think was more the stories, the mysteries themselves that gripped me. My favourite might be the middle one, the one that, ironically, deals with a famous villain in a more indirect way. I’m curious to know what you thought of that story.

J: I liked how it built off the arc before it. Two separate cases end up being about the same thing and you are given this interesting ground of detective work. However, I thought it was obvious who the perpetrator was and the big reveal of who he is didn’t add much to his character. I don’t know if it’s also because I don’t like the supervillain he turns out to be, but the reveal didn’t do much for me. Like I said, though, the groundwork for the story is solid.

E: In response, I will agree that the reveal as to who the killer is no great surprise. However, the ending then goes one further by explaining that the snobbish husband was not only the killer, but the new Firefly. I thought that cool. I mean, Firefly is such a small villain in comparison to other fellows like the Joker and Mr. Freeze, so i thought it was neat that he would change secret identities like that. He does wear a mask after all! James, you wanted ask something?

J: I’ve nothing to add on that note. Do you want to talk about the next arc?

E: Sure, absolutely. it is certainly the longest and more epic of the three. Said ‘epicness’  comes from the fact that we finally get to learn about one of the detectives in a much more intimate way than we did in either of the two previous stories. It also involves, guess who, Harvey Dent as the villain with a curious connection to the detective in question, Montoya or something or other. James, where do you stand here?

J: This is easily my favorite arc of the three. I think it’s a great look into one of the lives of the detectives and it does so in a compelling way. The main thrust of the story is that a criminal who Montoya previously brought down is out to get her. He starts harassing her and sends a private investigator to dig into her life and uncovers the secret that she’s a lesbian. Now, when dealing with this subject matter, I’m always a bit skeptical when it appears in geek media because it can be sensationalized in order to attract attention, but in this case I think Rucka, who wrote this arc, does a good job of making sure that it’s in service of the characters and story and not a cheap way to use sex to sell. What did you think of the treatment of the character?

E: I must say that of the three stories we read, this one clearly did the best job at developing the individuals that make up the GCPD. Now granted, most of the side characters are still rather one note, but the revelation of Montoya’s sexual orientation did at least help the reader differentiate the more relatable cops from the really nasty ones. As for the treatment of Montoya specifically, I’m on the fence. her personal dilemma made for a good story, with family drama that I don’t think had ever been dealt with in a Batman or Batman related book before, at least not in this manner. However, on the flip side, I didn’t understand what Two-Face wanted out of her. I didn’t buy that connection. Neither does Montoya herself, at least she agrees with me. James?

J: Once again, I’d say that it’s another example of how the higher-level Batman universe feels forced on the story. I don’t see what having Two-Face involved does for the story. It’s either poor storytelling of poor fan service and I’m disappointed they couldn’t find a better way to integrate the villains into the stories. I think going forward that’s the main thing the series needs to do in order to improve. One area where I think the book is superb across the board is the art. What did you think of it?

E: it was quite good, yes. I don’t know how to describe it except that it remind in some ways of the art work in the very first book you and I discussed which Batman: Year One, which incidentally enough was also more about the police than it’s about Batman. Coincidence? Probably not. How about you?

J: It is reminiscent of Year One. One thing I really like about this look is that it’s a bit rough. Not in an unfinished way, but in the art feeling a bit grimer. It’s not the popping, iconic look people often think of when they think of a comic book image. The colours are muted and people tend to look a bit more worn and natural. I think it does a good job of setting the tone for the kinds of stories the series wants to tell. Anything else you wanted to discuss?

E: Not in particular. I believe we covered all we can for just three stories.  These ten issues of Gotham Central has a strong premise and delivers, I think, as well as it can. It is the sort of book that will constantly be caught between a rock and a hard place. Veer too far away from Batman and it becomes any old police drama. Include Batman too often and one wonders what the point was all along. It’s fine, although I wonder how much better it can get, really.

J: I think it’s a book that still need to find that balance. There’s some strong writing here and I hope as the series goes on they find a better way to integrate these stories with the Batman universe in a more organic way. I’m certainly looking forward to what the series has to hold, it’s an interesting perspective, I just hope the perspective can add something to how we view Gotham instead of being just another crime series in just another city.

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