Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark
The book opens with Driver (the detective who had his hands frozen by Freeze), requesting the investigation into the murder of Bonnie Lewis, as her kidnapping was the case he & his partner were looking into when they encountered Freeze. As he is partnered with a female detective name Chandler, we see their first move is an investigation of the area where the body was dumped, but this yields no clues. However a visit with the medical examiner suggest that the young girl was dead before the ransom note was delivered, and this leads the detectives to consider that this case might never have been a kidnapping. After questioning the parents, where they discover Bonnie was being picked on by a boy at school, we see the detectives pay a visit to the couple whose child Bonnie was baby-sitting on the night of her disappearance, and while their seeming lack of concern is unsettling, this conversation does reveal a potential witness, as the park where Bonnie disappeared has itself a resident homeless man. However the detectives attempts to locate this man are diverted by an APB, that has them racing to a building that the arsonist/super-villain Firebug has set ablaze. However, while the police are on the scene before Firebug can leave, the villain is able to overpower the officers pursuing him & escape into the night.
While the opening two issues did a nice job of hinting at the potential of this series, this issue is the one that convinced me that this book has earned itself a regular slot in my monthly collection of books. The issue nicely plays up the idea that these characters are police officers operating in a world where they not only have to contend with the regular evils that one finds in the police procedural dramas, but they also exist in a comic book universe and as such they also find themselves dealing with the extraordinary elements. I mean Firebug has never been considered Batman's most impressive threats, as I don't think he's ever lasted more than one, or two issues at best. However, throw the police of Gotham City up against this villain, and suddenly Firebug comes across as looking like an exceptionally dangerous threat, with the rooftop encounter with the villain being a wonderful example of how low on the totem pole the police sit. Now as for Batman's presence in these pages I don't really mind it as long as he's largely a background element, and that his role in the book isn't as a safety chute that rescues our cast whenever the problems become to immense for them to handle.
The other main plot of this issue is the investigation into the disappearance & subsequent murder of the young Bonnie Lewis. Now at the moment the murder does appear to be free of any super-hero/villain involvement, but since the Firebug case is also running through these pages, I welcome an investigation that is more grounded in reality. The investigation is nicely laid out as the clues aren't neatly spelled out, and the ones that are uncovered come about as a result of some fairly conventional, but none the less, rather clever means (e.g. the medical examiner establishing the time of death using insects). The mystery also has a nice little twist in that the time line between the girl's disappearance, the arrival of the ransom note & the time of death would seem to be in doubt. I also like the idea that the solution to the murder is still up in the air, as while this issue does provide some creditable suspects, none of them really stands out as the killer. The book also offers up some nice moments of interaction among its cast, as the issue opens with a cute little exchange about whether villains recognize themselves as being evil, and later in the issue we also get an amusing exchange about high-school yearbooks, that nicely humanizes the characters having it.
Michael Lark's work is an ideal fit for this book as his art has the ability to convey the sense that these characters are functioning in the real world, and as such they not only come in all shapes & sizes, but the places they go are never all that wondrous. From the rather drab, but functional appearance of the police station, to the carefully styled interior of the oddly uncaring couple that were the last people to see Bonnie Lewis alive, the book does a nice job with its various environments. I also like the idea that none of these characters look out of place, as while it hard to really explain why this is, these characters look like police officers. The art also manages convey the little details, like the fact the characters look like they are nearing the end of a long day, as the sit in the squad car wait for a potential witness, or the expression on Driver's face when high-school is first mentioned. The art isn't all talking heads though, as it also delivers a wonderful bit of explosive action in the final pages, as the police converge of the Firebug, and the art does a wonderful job conveying a sense of danger. The Batman appearance is also quite impressive in how it conveys his heroism.
If police procedural dramas are you're cup of tea, then this book is exactly what you've been waiting for, as this is the closest I've ever seen a comic come to conveying the investigative storytelling technique that is a cornerstone of this genre. The material that details the investigation of Bonnie Lewis murder is very engaging, and the book does a wonderful job of dishing out the clues, and offering up potential suspects, without tipping it's hand, as by the end I still hadn't cross any names off the suspect list. The interaction between the two detectives is also quite strong, as Driver's new partner is delightfully grounded, and Driver himself is also a pleasant surprise, as you get the sense that he wants to solve this case, but in spite of his partner's death he's not overly morose. The Firebug case is also quite entertaining as it does a wonderful job of selling the idea that this book is set in the DCU, but these police officers are not super-heroes, capable of extraordinary acts.
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