"Half a Life (part 4)"
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: DC Comics
Accused of murder Gotham City Police Detective Renee Montoya stands before a judge, dressed in an orange, city jail jumpsuit. She pleads not guilty and can do nothing but await a bail hearing, which she almost certainly can't afford. Montoya's partner, Crispus Allen, seeks to clear her when he is assigned a temporary, new partner – Josie Mac from back pages of Detective Comics. Things look bleak for Montoya, but a lucky break leads Allen and Mac to their first significant clue in the case.
Every bad cop movie, from The Gauntlet to Lone Wolf McQuade, has the obligatory rogue-detective-is-forced-to-partner-with-rookie-cop scene. "I work alone, captain, I don't need some snot-nosed kid slowing me down," You can almost hear Clint Eastwood's scratchy delivery. What sets Gotham Central apart is how writer Greg Rucka takes pedestrian situations like this and turns them on their ear. Here Detective Crispus Allen is partnered with Josephine MacDonald - Josie Mac to her friends. If you're a reader of Detective Comics you'll recall that Josie was a Gotham PD detective busted down to the missing persons bureau. She possesses a metahuman ability to track people simply by touching an article of clothing of personal object they owned. Fortunately, Rucka doesn't try to cram all that backstory into this issue; rather he introduces Josie as a young, but capable cop who can match attitudes and angry expressions with Crispus Allen. By the end of the issue they are working effectively together, but they aren't high-fiving either.
While Montoya sits in jail with phony evidence and circumstances against her mounting by the day Crispus Allen has simply stood around acting bitter for the last two issues. But when Montoya disappears, after entering her plea in court, he is forced into action - about time. What makes this interesting is that Crispus has been wallowing in anger over Montoya's accusation, as though it were him that stood accused, when he should be out beating the streets trying to clear her. Fortunately, Josie Mac has no such baggage and is able to see the situation objectively; her addition to the roster appears to be a valuable and hopefully permanent one. This is subtle character stuff that Rucka clearly understands - with cops it is never about what's on the surface.
Artist Michael Lark's images are deceptively simple in this issue. He has a number of talking heads moments, but there are also action scenes. Unlike a number of other "realistic" solo pencil/ink artists (see Michael Gaydos and Alex Maleev) Lark effectively straddles the line between static and kinetic storytelling. Much of this issue takes place in a driving Gotham rainstorm, Lark does subtle things like jiggling shadows to convey puddles and simple, choppy lines to express the direction and intensity of the raindrops - sure, it's just rain, but it's very atmospheric and handled very effectively. But if the colors in this comic get any more muted DC might just as well make it black and white and save a few pennies, maybe then they can drop the price back to $2.25.
Gotham Central, like Marvel's Alias, proves definitively that good writers can tell human stories within the confines of the DC and Marvel super-hero universes. Ultimately people buy comics for the characters and their human faults, conflicts and successes. Sure the art and the heroics are the initial draw, but readers stick with comics that convey strong characterization with meaningful storytelling. Greg Rucka has lightning in a bottle here, it's been said before that this is the series that would be best developed for TV, rather than 9021-Batchicks. You can seriously compare Gotham Central with HBO's The Wire for strength of characters and situation.
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