Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

(2004) Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark, Titan Books, 8.99, trdpbk, 128 pp, ISBN 1-840-23828-3

This is a collection of issues 1-5 of Gotham Central, which title concentrates on the activities of the Gotham Police Department in Batman's home city. The easy comparison would be to say that this is NYPD Blue meets supervillains (or, for older readers, Hill Street Blues...). But, firstly, that's a bit dismissive and, secondly, fails to take account of just how interesting the plot lines might become.

The story starts around the time of the retirement of Commissioner James Gordon. Detectives Marcus Driver and Charlie Fields are investigating a kidnapping of a young girl when a tip-off sends them to an apartment. Breaking through the door they encounter the Batman's foe Mr. Freeze, who kills Fields. Naturally enough GCPD wants to nail the cop-killer, preferably before the Batman intervenes, but as the investigation continues it becomes clear that something major is going to happen and the police are out of their depth. To the Bat-Signal... Meanwhile the investigation into the kidnapping continues. But what, if any, will be the connection to an arson case involving the villain Firebug, being investigated by Jackson Davies? And then the kidnapping case becomes murder when the body of the Lewis girl is found... The new Commissioner, Akins, and the commander of his Major Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer (from Metropolis), will have their work cut out for them dealing with a city full of costumed wackos and mediating the intense jealousy felt by the cops over the Batman's superior clear-up rate.

Mystery Grandmaster Lawrence Block supplies a pointless intro that likens Gotham to New York (now there's a big surprise) while fellow novelist Greg Rucka, who has been writing for Detective Comics, and Ed Brubaker, who has been on both Batman and Catwoman, write the stories. Michael Lark's artwork is impressively grim and dark, trying to draw the mood away from the colourful costumes of superheroes and villains, and return the look and feel to the city and its streets (not always successfully, in my opinion). What is impressive is the incidental detail of the investigations, for instance that the dead kidnap victim had acquired a batarang following a super-punch-up at her school, and the visual jokes included in the backdrop, such as Jeanette Kahn and Paul Levitz's names appearing on the investigations board (the former and current President and Publisher of DC Comics). A pretty good start then and an initial fan favourite, but I've yet to be convinced that there are any legs in this idea. Time will tell.

Tony Chester

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