Gotham Central Book 2: Jokers and Madmen

This series continues to subvert my expectations.  I’m floored by just how good this comic is.  I admit, I had my doubts before I began reading.  I’ve been so buried in superhero comics lately that I wondered how a non-superhero comic taking place in the world of superheroes would fare. Would it be boring?  Would I clearly miss the focus on Batman and Company?

As it turns out, not at all, because this comic is simply that incredibly well-written.  Gotham Central is a character study above all else, crafting a detailed account of what the GCPD must deal with on a daily basis.

This comic emphasizes the smaller story arcs, with a single case encompassing four issues or so, yet the overall comic is a continuous story about the entire Major Crimes Unit.

This trade opens with a bang (or rather, two).  Gotham’s Mayor and the school system’s superintendent are gunned down by a sniper.  This puts the entire police force on red alert as they start to search for possible shooters.  Their worst fears are realized when they figure out who is behind it.

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We all know the feud between Batman and Joker has been going on for years, but we never really stop to consider how this animosity affects the local police force.  The GCPD are just trying to do their best to stop Joker from harming anyone, yet it proves to be nearly impossible. Everything Joker does he does for Batman’s benefit, making it extremely difficult for the police to have any real effectiveness.  Gotham’s police force is caught in the crossfire of Batman’s endless war with the Joker, and this comic perfectly depicts the struggle they face to bring a little order in the midst of chaos.

The Joker’s story was quite compelling, especially when he turns himself over to the police.
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Of course, everything Joker does has a purpose, and we soon learn that being captured was all part of his murderous plan.  While Batman ultimately plays a minor role in saving a hostage from an exploding building, the GCPD do most of the work on this case, proving that Batman isn’t always the only person to tangle with the Joker.

Joker. The Mad Hatter. The Penguin.  All of these villains make appearances in the pages of Gotham Central, interacting with the police force and showing the more unlawful side of the city.  However, as well-done as these characters are, they’re not the stars of the show.  The detectives themselves hold that distinction.

There are so many subtle side-stories included in these issues, emphasizing the humanity of the police who are forced to deal with truly psychotic criminals.

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There’s an incredibly touching, humanizing aspect of this comic. We learn more about these detectives than we do about some superheroes: their fears, their dreams, their individual personalities that influence how they do their jobs.

The interpersonal relationships between these characters goes above and beyond anything I might have expected from this comic, depicting the strong ties these detectives have to one another, and the heightened emotions that go along with them.

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There are true emotions in these pages, both good and bad, helping to create a full view of who these people are, and adding to the overall realism of the story.

Comics are sometimes criticized for their depiction of the police force, with people arguing that cops are shown as bumbling fools who need a superhero to swoop down from the sky and rescue them.  To those people, I would say read this comic and rethink your argument.  These detectives handle brutal cases with the utmost respect, and they begrudgingly call upon outside help.  It’s simply a fact that in the world of Gotham (and other superhero cities) sometimes there are villains who are simply too insane to be dealt with by the typical bureaucratic channels.  They need that extra edge to prevent mass murder and mayhem.  It’s not shameful, and it’s not implying that the police force is inept; it’s simply emphasizing the complete and utter chaos these detectives sometimes find themselves in.

The character studies in this comic are far too dense and detailed to be accurately described in this post, nor would I really want to attempt to do so.  This is a comic that needs to be read, so that one can appreciate all of the subtleties in contains.  The officers in this comic are some of the most fully developed characters I’ve read about so far, and that’s truly saying something.  What the comic may lack in superhero appearances or fancy gadgets,it more than makes up for with heart and realism.  I felt an actual connection to the characters, and found myself able to relate to them in a way I just can’t always with superheroes.  In a world of these larger than life powers, it’s nice to take a break and appreciate the ground-level, “non-super” heroes who are constantly working to make their city a little safer.

-Jess

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