Gotham Central takes every superhero comic and places them under a microscope. It takes the Deus ex machina of decades gone by and asks, “Is life really that simple?” Because if life isn’t as simple as superheroes make it out to be, what good are they? Writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka say you should hate Batman. And by the end of this heavy-hitting series from DC Comics, it’s hard to argue the point.
It’s simple, really; life that is. Or at least, that’s how life is depicted in the vast majority of superhero comics. The tedious paperwork and depressing repercussions of catastrophes are sidelined. Instead, we get heroes with dimpled chins in tight spandex and titillating banter. The paperwork and consequences are stories for another time. Brubaker and Rucka draw a line in the sand and say that’s enough of that. The time for paperwork is now.
In Gotham Central, we follow the cops who work in the GCPD. Not Batman or Joker, though their presence is felt throughout. It’s a police procedural that’s haunted by Batman. Gotham Central occurs in Batman’s shadow, and how the detectives feel about his influence is what drives the series forward.
Batman: Ringleader of the Rogues
Right out the gates, we see how Batman seems to make Gotham worse. Key players like Mr. Freeze and Two-Face gleefully inflict misery upon the general populace. It all reads as a kind of twisted love letter to Batman. They just want his attention, and no one is too insignificant to die for that. So whether the freaks followed the Caped Crusader’s example or not, his dysfunctional relationship with his gallery of rogues affects everyone in Gotham.
Issue 1 sees Detective Fields and Driver investigating a lead on a kidnapping. Instead, they accidentally stumble onto Mr. Freeze, hiding out in an apartment. Driver watches Fields get frozen and then deliberately shattered by Freeze. Michael Lark, the regular series artist for Gotham Central, makes it clear with every face that this is all in the line of duty. No one cries or vomits when they come onto the scene. One officer even cracks a joke. Thanks to Batman acting as a kind of flame that the twisted gather to, this kind of horror show isn’t uncommon in Gotham.
Batman: Reminder of GCPD Shortcomings
The GCPD are only human. And, as far as they know, so is Batman. Yet Batman often operates with superhuman speed. When the cops arrive on the scene of a burning building, they find Batman leaping out with the last tenants in hand. The detectives are happy to see lives saved, but the Bat’s help can be as belittling as bedwetting. He spurs them forward or leaves them grumbling in his wake. More often, he does both.
There are some obvious reasons that Batman is more efficient than the GCPD. He does not have to work within the law. He’s a criminal they’ve all come to rely on. And while they may have an intern to turn on the bat signal, who technically doesn’t work for the GCPD officially so they can deny a tie to Batman, they hate that they have the signal at all. Some officers even seem to question whether inside the law is worthwhile. Detectives like Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya, Batman’s sometime confidantes, seem lured away from their uniforms towards vigilantism.
Batman: Arrogant Son of a Bitch
Criminals plague Gotham City to get the Batman’s time. Some want his attention; others just want to meet him. They’ll do anything to get a piece of the Bat. Yet Bruce Wayne waltzes into many scenes in this series and stares down his cowl at the officers. His problems are so much more significant. Their issues are petty and small. The thing is, their problem is they’re cleaning up another mess he made.
He’s the silent-type when called in. His code of conduct and ways of communicating take precedence. But when you’ve lived in these pages with Detectives Driver, Bartlett, and Allen, you care that they’re being belittled. We read about them working their asses off only to have Batman insinuate in a rooftop meeting that they need to do better. Life is not as simple as Bruce Wayne sees it. And no matter how much he agonizes on gargoyles, he isn’t as down-to-earth as the GCPD.
Brubaker and Rucka accomplish a feat with Gotham Central. They take one of the most popular DC characters, one they themselves have made you love in their own Batman and Detective Comics issues, and they get you to hate him. And when you see the hoops the GCPD has to jump through to live in “the Bat’s city,” you understand why. It’s the kind of series that makes you wish every comic were like it.
This creative team shows us what it’s like to be a regular human being in the world of comic books. While human beings don’t get the trumpeting herald of Batman or Superman, they see life for what it is. It’ll make you think twice about buying real estate in the DC Universe, but not about buying this masterpiece of a series.