Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty

I had no idea what to expect when I started this comic. It came highly recommended by Mistah J, and yet I worried that it would feel like any number of interchangeable “cop” television shows that have become so popular over the years.

In some ways, it’s very similar to those shows. In many ways though, it’s completely unique.

Why? Because this is Gotham, home of vigilante crimefighters and psychopathic super-villains.  The police force simply can’t operate the same way with these people traipsing about the city.

Gotham Central was a pleasantly surprising comic, drawing me in and making me care about people whom in the past had remained on the sidelines of Batman stories.

This particular trade collects two storylines.  The first focuses on a double investigation, one focusing on the death of a young girl, while the other involves tracking down Firebug, a villain responsible for a rash of arsons in the area.    This story was strong and well-written, and more than cemented this as a good comic in my mind.

The real jewel here though, was the second storyline in the collection.

The focus of this story arc, titled, “Half a Life,” focuses on Detective Renee Montoya, and how she becomes embroiled in a murder investigation.

I was already a fan of Montoya, having read about her exploits during No Man’s Land.  This series made her even more endearing.

As she enters work one morning, she sees her colleagues all circled around a bulletin board, on which is posted a rather private photograph:

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It features Montoya kissing an unidentified woman.  Montoya has been outed quite unceremoniously to her entire department.  You can guess how most of them react.

What’s more, her devoutly religious parents receive a copy of the photo as well, upsetting them pretty much as deeply as she would have guessed.

Trying to deal with this information becoming public knowledge, the man who supposedly sent the photos winds up dead, shot with Montoya’s own gun.  She’s arrested and sent off to jail, but her caravan is overtaken during the trip and her unconscious body is carried away.

As Montoya awakens, she finds out who’s been behind all of these recent dark events in her life: Two-Face, who has decided that he’s in love with Montoya and wants to be with her.

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Clearly not grasping her sexual orientation (even though he’s well aware of it), Two-Face has created a little underground oasis where he believes the two can live happily ever after.

If he had to completely turn her world upside down to ensure it, so be it, I guess.

Obviously Montoya doesn’t take too kindly to these romantic notions, and as she fights him off Batman swoops in, incapacitates Two-Face, and leaves.  The comic closes with Montoya cleared of all charges, and trying to face the future without any secrets from those in her life.

This was a pretty brilliant comic.  It told so many different stories and featured so many multi-faceted characters that I was enthralled from the first page. This comic could easily have stood on its own, but the fact that the story takes place within the world of Gotham makes it that much more intriguing.  After all, these cops are still just regular people, attempting to bring justice to a city where there are masked men and psychopaths running the streets.  The stories had a surprisingly grounded presence considering the world in which they take place. Quite frankly, Gotham City needs that.  Too often we get swept up in the massive battles between Batman and his Rogues that we forget that this is a city of ordinary people, trying to live their lives.

Montoya’s characterization was perfect, and the fact that it was decided to make her a lesbian (and force her to deal with peoples’ reactions to that concept) was a brilliant move, and one that was handled with the respect and realism it deserved.

Even minor characterization choices enhanced the overall story. None stood out moreso than when Two-Face caught one of his cronies checking out Montoya as she walked by.

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This brief aside wasn’t absolutely necessary for the story, but it shows just how much Two-Face has come to feel for Renee.  They had plenty of interactions during No Man’s Land, and it was nice to see how those feelings had grown (on Harvey’s side at least.)  He cares about Montoya in his own twisted way, and is decidedly possessive of her.  These minor inclusions helped create a more reflective story, and allowed the reader to fully grasp the significance of each character.

This was a great read, plain and simple.  Even though Batman is hardly in it (and truth be told, even the typical villains only have a few pages dedicated to them), it’s a wonderful character study of what it would mean to try and fight for justice in such a corrupt city as Gotham, especially when using the more traditional methods.  There may be a need for masked vigilantes, but there’s still a need for good old-fashioned police officers as well.

-Jess

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One thought on “Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this. Gotham Central is one of my favorite series of the last twenty years, right up there with James Robinson on Starman and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. I got the big honkin’ hardcover omnibus of the whole series so a reread is in my near future.

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