January 1, 2009

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Gotham Central Volume 5

Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Kano and Stefano Guadiano, with an issue by Steve Lieber
DC Comics

Though not quite the entire run of the series, this is the last of the Gotham Central Trades, including the last story arc. From what I understand, Brubaker had moved on and Rucka felt it wasn't his book to tell alone, so the project ended.

That's a shame because I really think the book was hitting its stride with Dead Robin, the feature story in this trade. Written by both Brubaker and Rucka, it does everything I think a story about Gotham Cops should do--a basic metahuman plot, strong use of all of the characters in the cast, not just Montoya, some appearances by Batman, and a resolution that makes sense within the complicated world of Gotham police work.

Even though "Robin" is dead, this story is about how the cops treat a cape murder--even a dubious one--not how Batman deals with a fetishist dressing boys in Robin costumes and killing them. Even though he has a part to play in the ending, there is less a feeling of Deus Ex Batina this time. It's far and away my favorite arc.

The other two stories--an Infinite Crisis throw-away story (which is quite good, but not really essential to anything going on in Gotham Central) and a resolution to the Corrigan corruption case--are not quite as good as the lead story, but are still well writen. Stripping them of most of their superhero components, Rucka tells two tales of Gotham cops dealing with living in Gotham, and the choices that have to be made. He even manages to make some scenes of Renee's home life seem natural, partly because the emphasis is on the humanity of the characters, not so much their place in a superhuman world. The ending of the series feels very much like the ending of a good book--our characters make choices, with terrible consequences. But at the same time, there really was no other choice. That's good storytelling.

If there's a downside to this volume--and the series as a whole--it's that the art is once again muddy, unifinished looking, and full of characters that all look like each other. The Lieber issue shines in contrast to this, with panels allowing enough space--and lack of lines!--to let the characters breathe. I really like noir artwork, but this is not noir, it's just busy work. I don't understand why comics think muddy equals edgy.

While I am not always happy with the character-altering choices made by Brubaker and Rucka, they are two very good storytellers who, if you can get past their need to change things for change's sake, will never disappoint you. That seems better to me, all in all, than a very mediocre story that hits all the fanboy highlights. Gotham Central won awards and overall, I think they were deserved. I'm sorry this is the last of it.