(DC Comics, $9.95, 128 pages, trade paperback; published in April 2004.)
Gotham City is Batman's famous fictional stomping ground: a postmodern gothic nightmare of urban violence, homicidal psychopaths, and high-tech supervillains. In the monthtly comic book Gotham Central, crime writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka explore this setting from the perspective of the police officers who work in the shadow of the world's greatest crimefighter.
The first storyline has been collected as In the Line of Duty. It opens with Mr. Freeze -- a criminally insane scientist who must remain encased in a subzero bodysuit to stay alive -- killing a police detective with his trademark freeze gun. The police want to take care of their own and resent Batman's inevitable interference. In the wake of the ensuing tense manhunt, another high-tech criminal emerges, Firebug.
Batman's appearances are kept to a minimum: they are sudden, violent, disruptive, and scary. The large cast of Gotham Central is composed of the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit, who investigate the extremely brutal and weird crimes that plague the city.
The writers populate this series with a diverse array of complex and engaging protagonists. The mood is dark, almost oppressive, perfectly reflecting the constant pressure faced by the detectives. Brubaker and Rucka do a great job of imagining life in the bizarre and terrifying Gotham City.
Rounding out the creative team is illustrator Michael Lark, who combines an elegant, almost minimalist, noirish esthetic with detailed urban backgrounds. Lark's storytelling moves along classic lines: a slow but steady progression of clearly delineated panels that build up a quiet, moody suspense.
Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty is a great start to a fascinating comics series: a police procedural taking place on the edges of the superhero genre, skilfully blending the grittiness of crime fiction with the technology and social speculation of science fiction.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 26 June 2004, 5 December 2004