Life On The Mean Streets – Japer Looks At Gotham Central: In The Line Of Fire

Writers: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
DC Comics

The streets of Gotham are dirty with the crime and violence of lawless men and they reek with the stench of political corruption. The city’s self-proclaimed protector, Batman, is only one man. Not even he can contain all of the criminals that infest bleak, forlorn Gotham.

That leaves most of the dirty work to the police and its not easy being a cop in this city.

DC’s Eisner and Harvey award-winning series, Gotham Central ran for 40 monthly issues between 2003-2006. Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and illustrated by Michael Lark, the first compilation, In the Line of Fire, collects issues 1-10.

This is a series taken not from the rooftops that Batman occupies, but from the streets themselves, putting the common police officer of Gotham in the spotlight. It’s a refreshing perspective. For once, the reader gets to see the dark city, its often crazed criminals and its Dark Knight as if they were living there themselves.

The cast of characters is extensive and Brubaker and Rucka split duties, the first writing the personalities that make up Gotham Central Police Department’s evening shift with the latter writing the characters of the day shift. It’s a compelling mix. Not only do readers get fully fleshed-out characters but it’s akin to having two comics in one. This book reads like the best episodes of Law & Order. In comics, its closest cousin is Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. In fact, Michael Lark’s artwork is similar to fan-favourite David Mazzuchelli’s work on that series. His artistry of thin and thick brush lines, use of shadow and expressions is both gritty and atmospheric, heightening the drama of a scene.

And there is so much drama.

The first story-arc sees the old Batman foe, Mister Freeze, in unusually sadistic form, kill a cop. The drama exists in how, in spite of Batman’s help, regular cops investigate, interrogate, and, in the end, attempt to take down a super-powered villain on their own terms. This sense of realism holds true in the second story-arc as well, where an officer is framed for murder by a criminal she once put away.

The relationships between the ensemble cast lie at the heart of Gotham Central. Partners are killed, others have affairs. Internal politics abound: Sergeants and Lieutenants carry grudges while various teams exert influence over cases.

The character of Batman is seldom seen but always felt – which is exactly the way living in Gotham would be: Batman, omnipresent. When he does appear, Lark illustrates him as a man – with a cowl tight about his head and an enormous, leathery cape rippling behind him in the night sky. He’s larger than life but firmly entrenched in reality. His scenes are huge, important, transcendent. But it’s the relationship between the cast of police officers that is on the front burner here and the series is stronger for it.

Gotham Central was a critical success but a commercial failure, consistently failing to break into the top 100 in sales. Because it was a series dedicated to the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, it never found a home with the colourful, costume-wearing, DC Universe fan-base. Warner Brothers looked at adapting the series into a potential television show but balked in favour of focusing attention on the Batman Begins film. It’s a shame. That series would have been great.

Still, this is a comic about the common man but in a world where it’s become common to call something brilliant, Gotham Central truly stands out from the rest of the street fare.

This series is special.

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