Review by Frank Plowright
Sadly undersold when originally published despite picking up both Eisner and Harvey Awards, Gotham Central is an excellent procedural drama focussing on the Gotham police force. Appearances by Batman are minimal and peripheral, and while assorted of the costumed criminals infesting Gotham do appear, they’re secondary to the character dramas and investigative plots concocted by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. They collaborate to begin with, then supply separate story arcs.
Their noir realism requires skilled artists, and only Greg Scott lets the side down, his layouts and drawing deteriorating as his three chapters continue, presumably a case of not being able to maintain deadlines. Michael Lark (sample art) opens the series and establishes the style as gloomy and evocative. Not every comic artist can distinguish cast members without costumes, but Lark has no problem presenting a visual characterisation, and the clothes move with the people. Stefano Guadiano begins being inked by Kano before the roles reverse, both perpetuating the moody naturalism, with Steve Lieber contributing similar high standard work. Jason Shawn Alexander and Brian Hurtt only illustrate a chapter apiece, but they’re equally good.
The award winning sequence was published in paperback as Half a Life, and is Rucka’s character study of Detective Rene Montoya’s car crash existence. She has issues. Issues with her parents, issues with her relationship and issues with her job, and Rucka masterfully piles on the grief with a murder charge. While very good indeed, it’s puzzling that this story should be showered with awards when the equally admirable bulk of the remainder earned none. If there is a character that symbolises the series, it’s Montoya, who progresses throughout and the final pages present her in a very different place from where she started.
Among other issues occupying the police are kids dying while dressed as Robin, a devious and manipulative super-villain not from Gotham, corrupt cops dealing in the collector market, and the tragedy of the Gotham Hawks. As an example of how good the series is, when it was required to tie in with a company-wide universe-shattering crossover, Rucka crafted a brilliant tale ignoring everything other than the civic response to a crisis. His focus instead is Detective Crispus Allen attempting to find his way back home with everything closed down and Gotham a warzone.
In case you might wonder, continuity of the time means that Gotham’s most famous policeman James Gordon is almost entirely absent, and Harvey Bullock only manifests for a single story. Don’t be concerned, as the cops featured in their place are rendered as equally compelling, as you’ll discover over this presentation of the entire series.
Some DC hardbacks have problems with story slipping into the central binding, but that doesn’t occur here. The material has previously been available spread over both paperback and hardcover collections, both confusingly beginning with a volume titled In the Line of Duty. Beware, though, as the paperback collections omit material not illustrated by Lark, Gaudiano or Kano.