Top critical review
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on 3 February 2013
Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka draw focus from Batman to the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department in "Gotham Central". In a city watched over by a Dark Knight filled with colourful villains running amok, how do ordinary police fare against such an outlandish backdrop?
As a huge Batman fan, I think it's an interesting idea to see the goings on in Batman stories from the perspective of the characters who're always in the background, looking on as a guy dressed as a bat does their job for them. Having read this first volume though, I'm less convinced of the GCPD's abilities or the appeal of the series.
The first story features Mr Freeze who's doing his usual thing (ie. freezing stuff). The difference is we see the GCPD attempt to apprehend him rather than Batman - and they fail. Freeze's tech kills one of the characters and the detective's death affects the department as we see his surviving partner deal with the psychological trauma, guilt etc. and then search out the clues and figure out Freeze's plan. Which is kind of interesting if you enjoy police procedurals - but I don't. Also, the GCPD completely fail to take Freeze down. Batman shows up at the end and apprehends him, leaving him for the cops. Great, so they're pretty incompetent.
The second story is again mostly procedural as the detectives set out to solve a homicide, a topic that's fairly commonplace for crime stories. This one involves Firebug, one of Batman's D-list Rogues, but only briefly after many pages of detectives doing the usual police work of gathering evidence, speaking to witnesses, etc. On the plus side, the GCPD do manage to take down Firebug on their own even if he is without his equipment.
The third and final story features Renee Montoya (the only recognisable cop on the GCPD as Gordon's retired and Bullock's been fired for corruption) as she becomes framed for the homicide of a disgraced colleague. Again, kind of your run of the mill police story with a lot of character work for Renee, if you like her character, but once again Batman, standing in the wings like in the Freeze story, swoops in to save the day at the end. Good job, GCPD!
The biggest problem, besides the seeming uselessness of the GCPD to capture the villains themselves, is the cast. None of the characters are particularly interesting. They're the kind of usual cop characters you'd expect to see if you've seen cop shows like "The Wire" or "CSI" or "Law and Order". The blandness of the characters isn't helped by Michael Lark's artwork who draws all of the male characters in a similar way. They're all in their 30s-40s, white, average build, short hair, and wear shirts, jackets and slacks, some with ties, some not. They all look alike and their expressions are pretty much neutral whatever the situation - Lark can't convey much emotion with his characters so they have the same look whether they've lost a colleague or are drinking a cup of coffee. The lack of visual variety adds confusion to the story as there are at least a dozen of these guys wandering around and it's hard to keep track of who they are and what their stories are.
That said, these are fairly well written stories and they held my attention. It's just the effect, once I put the book down, was very underwhelming though, despite some problems with the stories, I can see why people like them. They're as realistic as you can get for a cop series set in Gotham. But the problem is when you set a story in Gotham, I don't want realism. I want to read about Batman, not the boring cops who sit around whining about how Batman's undermining their public rep. So every time Batman showed up in the series (about once or twice per story), I kept wondering where he was going and wanting the story to follow him instead of sticking with Cop#1 and Cop#2 as they struggle to keep up.
While "Gotham Central" is a decent cop series, I'm just not into police procedurals so wasn't as impressed with the book as a lot others have been. I'm glad I saw Gotham City from another angle but I don't think I'll be returning for Book 2.