If I mentioned the words ‘Gotham City’ to you, what would come to your mind? Batman, for certain. Followed by Joker? And then perhaps Two-Face, Bane, Riddler, Penguin and a slew of other villains? And if you’re not just a ‘pure superhero’ fan, you’ll probably think of Commissioner Gordon and perhaps even Barbara.
But there is one group of characters who’re present in almost every Batman comic and are largely ignored by readers: the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department.
That is what Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka decided to give readers a glimpse of in 2002 when they approached DC Comics with a story idea whose debut was nominated for an Eisner and the series eventually bagged an Eisner (Best Serialized Story) and a Harvey (Best Single Issue or Story) in 2004.
So… is it a cops ‘n robbers thing? No.Gotham Central is about good cops in a crime-ridden city. Detectives who take pride in their work and put their lives on the line everyday. People who don’t have the gadgets or fancy cars and take a bullet when they have to. They’re men and women with families to go back to. And they deal with the same criminals as Batman.
A refreshing change from the regular Batman comics, Gotham Central breaks ground by taking readers from the bird’s eye-view of Gotham that Batman enjoys to the grit and grime of crime-fighting at the ground level. It tells of the personal losses and victories of the Special Crimes Unit (SCU) — a unit comprised of cops hand-picked by Gordon before he retired.
The series is split into two parts: the night shift (written by Brubaker) and the day shift (by Rucka). Like in a regular precinct, each has its own officers following up on their cases. The art for both storylines was done by Michael Lark. The main characters are a good sprinkling of established identities (like Montoya, Crispus Allen, Maggie Sawyer, Harvey Bullock & Corrigan) which regular readers of Batman are familiar with as well as some new ones. Batman himself, is restricted to the backdrop… a shadow that looms large over their heads and makes brief appearances.
Gotham Central is a rare no-holds-barred true-to-life series where the stories are closely tied to the personal lives of the characters and goes the extra mile to establish the chemistry between them. Where other writers may have just touched upon certain aspects deemed not directly in the purview of Batman, Brubaker and Rucka delve deep. For instance, when Montoya is ‘outed’ as a lesbian, readers get a 360-degree view of the scandal… from the way Allen (her partner) supports her to her conservative parents’ reaction to the riles of colleagues.
The sweat ‘n blood aspect apart, the series also highlights the possible frustration, bordering on hatred, that cops can feel about Batman.
From all prior Batman books, readers have been conditioned to expect that Batman is a friend to the policemen. Well, I’m certain that’s how Batman feels about it. Gotham Central, however, takes the view that Batman is called in when regular policework has failed… not only because regular cops aren’t allowed to go above the law, but also because Batman is a better detective. It stands to reason that a detective, therefore, would not be very keen to turn on the bat-signal on the HQ roof because it would mean admitting failure.
When you think about it, you and I would feel the same way.
While the series was critically acclaimed for both story and art, and has certainly garnered its fair share of fans, it was discontinued after just a 3-year run when its creators started working on other projects. Also, surprisingly, Gotham Central had a relatively low sales turnover.
Most authors tend to analyze and probe the Dark Knight’s darker side, and more recently, have begun giving Joker this same treatment. I don’t know how other readers feel, but I, for one, would like to see more work in this vein.
If you haven’t read it yet, you should be able to pick up collections at the local Landmark.