Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead

Gotham Central:  The Quick and the Dead 

I’ve just re-read my review (from several years back) of Gotham Central:  Unresolved Targets.  I spent most of the review with a real snarky tone, saying how police procedural in a Batman comic was not my thing.  Despite what I was saying, the review seemed to have nothing but praise, and I suggest, if I read that particular title again, I miiiiight even decide it was a cut above some of the more outrageous Batman titles (Joker’s Last Laugh, I’m looking at you).  In any case, for Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead (which won an Eisner in 2004), I have nothing but transparent praise.  I can think of three factors which may have created this reversal:  one is that which I just described, that I was stoopid previously, two is that perhaps this volume really is the better of the two, or three, perhaps, with the passage of time, my tastes have changed.  It doesn’t really matter; what matters is that you should pick this one up and read it, especially if you’re a fan of the slightly more realistic graphic novel.  

Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano’s art doesn’t necessarily draw a lot of attention to itself.  It isn’t usually showing superheroes in fantastic costumes or supervillains amid lots of gore; many of the panels show cops or everyday Gothamites in mundane situations.  For these reasons, you might be tempted to overlook it and forgot how it being a vehicle to tell the story is one of its strongest virtues.  The publication is printed on rough, grainy paper (“pulp”) and in some ways resembles the layout and lettering of a Fables comic.  It’s an impressive achievement in terms of no-nonsense panels and therefore, without hopefully sounding like too much of a schmuck, might be referred to as The Bill of Batman comics.

If, like me, your first exposure to Batman was The Animated Series, then you will cheer at Gotham Central’s depiction of Detective Renee Montoya.  I have to confess, her counterpart in the Nolan!verse (at least as far as we know) was the bent copper Ramirez—not really a good role model!  And perhaps I knew this already, but I’d definitely forgotten:  Montoya has a partner named Daria and Montoya’s conflict and separation with her (presumably) traditional Hispanic family is part of  the drama in this particular volume.  It can’t be tough being female, lesbian, and Hispanic in the G.C.P.D., which again, this volume shows.  Montoya’s partner (this time in the work sense!) is Crispus Allen, and I suppose, from a purely superficial standpoint, between the two, they “tick all the boxes” (Allen could be played by a young Samuel L. Jackson).  

The Quick and the Dead works like a traditional police procedural (with a tiny bit of CSI thrown in); the private eye and superhero elements of other popular comics genres are nonexistent and minimal, respectively.  When Batman makes his brief appearances, they are meaningful and nicely drawn, but it’s not as if you’re looking at your watch waiting for him to swoop down and save the storyline.  “Corrigan” gives a dose of Gotham “freaks,” and its themes of good cops blamed by thugs and disreputable CSIs making money on eBay from evidence feels very modern, quite in tune with the Nolan!verse; the fill-in between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  There’s a great character called Jennifer Gordon-Hewitt, straight out of Faulkner, who collects criminal memorabilia. 

It is a given that many (male) artists who draw for DC love to give us impossibly-proportioned women (either villains or heroes)—it’s something readers have to get used to or stop reading.  Bruce Timm, for example, is one of my favorite Batman artists but his drawings of women border on objectification.  One thing I really liked in Quick and the Dead was that there was a locker room confrontation between Montoya and “Josie Mac” Macdonald and never once was it played for titillation.  Shortly after that, Montoya goes into a tough uniform bar where she is taunted as a “dyke” and then she beats up the man doing the taunting in a bit of gritty violence that, frankly, felt very satisfying.      
In “Lights Out,” the top brass decide (as it was at the end of TDK) to get rid of the bat-signal and to repulse Batman.  Montoya defends him to her colleagues; non-native Gothamites like Allen see him as a vigilante who inspires others to act in crazy ways (à la the beginning of TDK).  “Keystone Kops” starts out very promisingly, in Montoya’s old neighborhood where the kids speak Spanish and Montoya’s father runs the bodega (in which case, Gotham resembles New York rather than L.A.).  Things go a bit less realistic when an unlucky cop, rescuing some ignorant kids, starts to mutate due to the machinations of Dr Alchemy, who isn’t quite up there with the top tier of psycho/freak Gotham villains, but thinks he is.  It’s nice, for once, to see the good guys win, but at a heavy cost.  There might even be a reconciliation between Montoya and her family.  Clearly, I’m not the only one who likes her character; apparently after this volume she broke out into her own title, 52. 

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