Gotham Central Book 3: On the Freak Beat

Gotham Central continues to surprise me.  How can a comic set in a superhero world, yet about completely ordinary people, be so intriguing?  After reading this third volume in the series, it’s difficult to think of Gotham as Batman’s turf; he undoubtedly shares it with the G.C.P.D.

Continuing the stories of the various detectives in Gotham’s M.C.U., Vol. 3 continues to flex its muscles not only in terms of action, but in character building as well.  The writing is, without a doubt, the single most important element in this comic.  Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker manage to weave stories around a handful of characters who have been plucked from Batman obscurity and placed in the limelight.  With their deft touch, it turns out these law-abiding citizens are just as fascinating as Gotham’s more colorful inhabitants.

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Renee Montoya continues to be one of my favorite characters in the comic.  She’s strong and resilient, and yet we’re privy to more intimate details of her life that she might otherwise keep hidden from her coworkers.  In a less well-written comic, this personal drama might detract from the action or slow down the overall narrative.  Instead, it makes the reader feel invested in Montoya’s character; if she gets shot, you actually care whether she lives or dies. As we watch her take out her anger on a dirty cop, we can feel the pain and frustration she feels, without having the comic spell it out for us.  By allowing the characters to go about their lives, rather than sit around all day discussing their feelings, we become fully immersed in their world, sympathizing with them and being caught up in the story.

Of course, Gotham Central doesn’t spend all its time dwelling on serious moments.  This is a relatively dramatic comic, there’s no doubt about that; however, there are still brief moments of levity interspersed throughout, helping remind the reader that these are just regular people.  It’s especially entertaining when we’re reminded that the comic is set in the DC universe, and the detectives are forced to address this fact, such as when they travel to Keystone City and learn about the Rogues.

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Montoya’s line about the Rogues unionizing is hilarious because, while no one ever really refers to it like that, it’s fairly accurate.  When reading these superhero comics, we sometimes forget that they operate in the regular world.  Gotham Central helps put a grounding perspective on otherwise seemingly “other world” stories.  Not only is GC great in its own right, it also helps make its sister comics more meaningful in the real world.

These details are wonderful, but a comic is nothing without a story.  Someone Gotham Central manages to craft a brilliant story with all of these details interspersed throughout.  In this trade, the main story centers around one Officer Kelly, who saves young boys who have inadvertently stumbled across one of Doctor Alchemy’s hideouts, is badly burned by a chemical fire, and is transformed into a bizarre, rage-filled yet sympathetic creature.

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Kelly doesn’t get the chance to wreck much havoc on the city.  Then again, this isn’t that type of story to begin with. The focus instead is on the G.C.P.D.’s efforts to find a cure for Kelly, even flying in Doctor Alchemy from prison to do so.  The comic doesn’t let us take this at face value though; instead, they force us to contemplate just why so much is being done to help him.

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The comic blatantly points out that Kelly is receiving special treatment simply because he’s a good cop, and yet this doesn’t feel crooked or corrupt within the story.  The truth of the matter is that you can’t help but sympathize with both Kelly and his fellow officers in the story, and taking a few risks in the hope that they might save his life seems like the right thing to do.  The comic addresses the grey areas of life and justice with a focused narrative, allowing the reader to contemplate their own feelings on the matter as they watch it unfold before them.

Gotham Central may not have all of the theatricality of a Batman comic, but it’s certainly not lacking the drama or intensity.  The characters are incredibly well-developed, and their shortcomings only help to make them feel more relatable.  Delving into a world where capes and super-villains are popping up everywhere,  it’s reassuring to read about characters who are far more like you and me- just regular people who are doing what they can, without any super powers or high-tech gadgets.  Maybe some people don’t think it’s as exciting as some other comics, but for me it’s a thoroughly engaging story that easily competes with the best of any superhero story.

-Jess

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