Page 45 Review by Stephen
First two softcovers in one book, and highly recommended to readers of pure crime fiction like Brubaker's own CRIMINAL: there's barely a bat in sight.
Batman is always billed as the world's greatest detective but until IDENTITY CRISIS I'd yet to read a satisfying good mystery there that readers could take an active part is solving alongside the caped crusader. GOTHAM CENTRAL however, delivers. It delivers on every front: superb characterisation, underplayed dialogue, deft timing, and a convincingly uneasy relationship with Gotham's most famous denizen.
Brubaker and Rucka provide alternate story arcs on this title, and the transitions are seamless: you really can't tell the difference. It's partially about how ordinary cops might cope with living in a city which is infested enough with maladjusted metadudes to keep Batman in three titles a month. How are they supposed to react when their paths cross and all they have is a pistol, how does it feel to know that a vigilante often ends up having to do your job for you, that you cannot look after your own, and have to go lighting that Bat Signal every five minutes in what amounts to an admission of inadequacy? It doesn't feel great. It's emasculating.
However, the presence of either heroes or villains of the super variety is kept firmly as background - they're never the heart of the case. Instead it's tense, dramatic and absorbing crime precinct fiction which just happens to take place in Gotham.
Lark does for this book what Risso does for 100 BULLETS or what Guy Davis did for SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE - he anchors the action firmly in its environment, replete with its own atmosphere, which in this case consists of street-level activity of a predominantly dark and dangerous American city. The regular cast are all members of the MCU (Major Crimes Unit), who tend to deal with crimes that don't predispose them all to be as kindly as you might like. I don't mean they're just tough, they're also rough - as often as not to each other - and they don't get much help from the regular cops on the beat either. But they're human, and they have lives of their own, even if some of them would prefer to leave them at home.
Case in point: officer Renée Montoya. She's actually one of the most approachable and dedicated officers they have. But she's being stalked by Marty Lipari, a man who got off on an easy rape case because the evidence "went missing". Hell, he's even suing her for damages to the tune of ten million dollars, and he's hired a Private Eye to take photographs of her. Now the Private Eye is dead, Lipari is missing, and the photographs have found their way onto the precinct walls and beyond. Soon Lipari will be dead, Montoya's gun will be found at the crime scene, and a stash of coke in her home. Of course it's a set-up, but why? What's on those photographs? And how much worse is Renée's life going to get before she even begins to understand the trouble she's in?
This arc won the 2004 Eisner Award for best story. Now for my money the Eisner judges are way too disposed towards corporate fare at the expense of the truly remarkable, but this is one award I won't begrudge, because I was on the edge of my seat throughout. You'll love Montoya, you'll feel for her, and if you think I've given stuff away, I've barely scratched the surface.