Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Gotham Central: Half A Life

(2005) Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Titan Books, 10.99, trdpbk, 168 pp, ISBN 1-84576-091-3

This is a collection of issues 6-10 of Gotham Central plus the Rucka-penned "Two Down" from Batman Chronicles no.16 and "Happy Birthday Two You" from Detective Comics no.747. Those two latter tales follow points in Detective Renee Montoya's earlier career when she has run into Batman villain Two-Face, so there's no mystery about who the villain of this collection is (though it might have been effective when the main tale appeared as individual issues). "Renee Montoya has a secret" is splashed across the back cover, but it's not much of a secret since this storyline has won the Eisner, Harvey, Eagle and Prism Awards. The reason? (Spoiler Alert) The story reveals that Montoya is a lesbian. Very daring for the states (where self-outed actors can find themselves without work), but a bit run of the mill for Europeans. The story, briefly, is that a rapist, who got to walk on that charge, hires a Private Investigator to follow Montoya and dig up some dirt. He discovers Montoya's secret and she is outed. When both the PI and the rapist turn up dead, guess who internal affairs thinks worthy of investigation... In its own gritty, noir-ish Hill Street Blues kind of way this is a good story. Renee's problem with her parents, ex-Dominican Republic Catholics, is all too vivid and so is the inevitable reaction of her colleagues. My problem with this story is that it seems (and perhaps this is only to European eyes) all too obvious, especially in the conflating of traits - it can't just be a lesbian character, it has to be an ethnic minority lesbian character; she doesn't just have a partner, it has to be a black heterosexual partner. Would the story, I wonder, have had less or more of an impact if the character to be outed was Renee's white female boss, or one of her white male colleagues? We can never know. My other problem with this title is with the colouring. While I appreciate, given the "mood" of the title, that a certain noir-ish darkness is required, it seems to me overplayed to the extent where you are looking at sequences of panels, obviously in daytime or brightly lit rooms, that are dim and muddy to a ridiculous degree. Far better to be dark when both the setting and the story is dark, rather than a constant view through inky glasses. Someone should buy the division some new lightbulbs. Such quibbles aside, this is a good story and a good comic and I do recommend it, I just wish American writers would stop being so lazy and taking easy options - if you're going to do a 'shocking' story, then be shocking. Make the lesbian, or whatever, the white boss, and not the ethnic minority character. If you're going to attempt to challenge the reader, then go all out.

Tony Chester

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