Gotham Central: Walking the Freak Beat

The world of superhero comic books has always been one of grand spectacle. Superheroes and supervillains, doing battle with their incredible gifts and powers. Of course, there is more to this world than just that spectacle. After all, what is life like in a world of superheroes? Can you imagine what it would be like to live in such a world as an ordinary person, to have your day-to-day life impacted by their actions? Imagine what life would be like for the police, having to investigate and handle crimes involving such colorful and larger-than-life criminals. Well, one such comic book series explored such an idea. Back in late 2002, writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka came together and created a series for DC Comics that explored what life is like for cops in a world of superheroes. Specifically, they explored what life is like for members of the Gotham City Police Department, examining the hardships not only in their personal lives but also in the sometimes extreme nature of the crimes that they investigated. Along with art by Michael Lark, both writers crafted an excellent series that was sadly neglected when it was originally published. Now available in four trade paperbacks, the series is Gotham Central.

Life can be hard in Gotham City. Crime runs rampant throughout its streets, from simple thugs to organized crime to the many larger-than-life supervillains who call the city home. Life can be even harder for the members of the Gotham City Police Department Major Crimes Unit. For the members of the GCPD Major Crimes Unit, they are tasked with dealing with the most serious crimes, such as politically-sensitive cases or crimes involving supervillains. There is no rest for the weary, either, as the city finds crime plaguing it day or night. Thankfully, the GCPD Major Crimes Unit is tasked with day and night shifts to fight against the tide. The first shift is led by Lt. Maggie Sawyer, with the likes of Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, and Tommy Burke working during the day. For the second shift, Lt. David Cornwell leads detectives such as Marcus Driver and Romy Chandler in cases during the night. No matter the time of day, the GCPD Major Crimes Unit will tackle these hard-hitting cases and bring them to an end…even when they sometimes cause the GCPD Major Crimes Unit to cross paths with the legendary Batman.

This is a wonderful comic book series, one that captures the potential of its premise with ease. The story takes the idea of a police procedural but offers it that fresh spark thanks to its setting. Of course, it never forgets its procedural nature. The series follows these detective as they investigate these serious crimes, piecing together what they can from the clues and witness testimonies. Even when the crime involves frozen victims of Mr. Freeze or a mysterious cold case having a surprise link to the Mad Hatter, the series handles the investigations in a very realistic manner. It treats the investigations the same as if they were any other sort of crime, showing the impact and terror that would actually come from such deeds along with the processes used in finding the culprits responsible. In fact, the series also remembers to treat its main characters as real people. Unlike some procedurals that only focus on the work and present no hint of a personal life, this comic book is sure to give its characters real life and feelings beyond just the work that they do. For instance, one story arc concerns Renee Montoya being “outed” as a lesbian by an anonymous stalker. During that arc, it explores the frustration and pain of being outed by someone else, with Renee having to handle reactions from her conservative Catholic parents and her more crude coworkers. However, it also shows the power of support in the face of such pain, with her partner Crispus Allen and her lover Daria Hernandez there to back her up. Such exploration helps to give these detectives the sense of the real, a depth that helps them to feel like real individuals. Of course, there is also the major idea behind it all: the interaction of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

With a setting like Gotham City, it is natural for these detectives to interact at some point with the heroes and villains that call the city home. The way of how these detectives interact with the more extraordinary parts of their city, though, adds a dimension not normally offered from the grander side of things. For instance, one story arc concerned the Joker orchestrating a series of seemingly random sniper attacks across the city. There is a palpable dread among the detectives, who know full well of the randomness and cruelty of Joker’s past crimes and seek to stop his latest round of terror. Another strong example of this interaction is in how the members of the Gotham Police Department treat Batman, depicted in the series as a shadowy vigilante who can enter their world just as quickly as he can leave it. Some are willing to give their silent support in his techniques, knowing how terrible the city is and the crime that lives within it. Others hate him, believing that he humiliates the police by effectively doing their jobs better. Either way, the variety of responses offer a grounded view upon the extraordinary events that unfold in Gotham City. Really, that is something that can help to reinforce the power of the extraordinary in something like a superhero comic book world: a reminder of the ordinary that also exists within it.

In a world of extraordinary superheroes and supervillains, sometimes the ordinary citizens and the normal folks can be forgotten in the wake of the colorful adventure and excitement. Gotham Central offers a stark reminder of its reality, thanks to the engrossing stories of detective working to fight against the tide of crime and the pains they experience in doing so.

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