Review by Frank Plowright
What’s it like to be a police detective in America’s grimmest city? Gotham is perpetually plagued by a particularly unhinged brand of villain, and the ordinary citizens are frequently caught in the crossfire. Gotham Central is a compelling character-based procedural drama, spotlighting the Major Crimes Unit as they go about what for them is their daily routine. On any given day they may run into Mr Freeze, Firebug, the Mad Hatter, or worse, never mind the results of their gruesome business.
Over the years hundreds of Gotham police have been introduced in Batman titles, most never seen beyond a short run of stories, and an interesting decision has been made not to feature the most prominent of them. Commissioner Gordon is injured and retired, and Harvey Bullock has been sacked, so the best known of the cast appearing here is detective Renee Montoya. She’s the focus of the following Half a Life.
The writing team of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka open with a variation of the first episode of acclaimed 1980s TV drama Hill St Blues. If you’re going to produce a police drama, you might as well echo the gold standard. Their focus is Marcus Driver, previously obscure, but who’ll be satisfyingly characterised throughout the series. The police are attempting to locate a missing teenager, and he’s had a tip about an apartment where odd noises are being heard, so he and his partner investigate.
That tip didn’t lead to the discovery of Donna Lewis, and her body is found at the start of the second tale ‘Motive’, written by Brubaker alone. It weaves the idea of auctioned technology into a procedural drama, this time lead by female detective Remy Chandler accompanying Driver in what is now a murder investigation. When this was first published Brubaker had no reputation as a crime writer, and this still impresses as it ties everything together in a neat final act reveal.
Michael Lark is an incredibly under-rated artist. He’s an excellent storyteller, provides naturalistic and credible people who can be distinguished despite lacking costumes, and fosters the dank, gloomy atmosphere associated with Gotham. His look carried through to the later Gotham TV series.
This paperback edition is long out of print, but replaced by the altogether more desirable hardback, confusingly also titled In the Line of Duty, but which also incorporates Half a Life.