Review: Gotham Central: Half a Life trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 18, 2005

I appreciate what Greg Rucka attempted in Gotham Central: Half a Life. He's absolutely right (though I was pleasantly surprised to see him put it in writing) that comics are overwhelmingly populated by white Christian men, and I any effort to sway that is great -- frankly, I'd like to see Greg bring the same sensibilities to a mainstream superhero, and not just the police officers of Gotham City.

In this volume, there's good drama, nice character moments -- the conversation between Renee Montoya and Maggie Sawyer for one, and between Crispus Allen and Renee, for two. I also liked seeing Josie Mac, and hopefully the next Gotham Central trade will collect Judd Winick's Josie Mac short stories, as well as the Gotham Central issues. But at the same time ... so far, I think I like Ed Brubaker's night-side Gotham Central better than Greg's day-side (do I have the shift-split right?).

Perhaps it's because night-side is populated with characters I don't know; reading Half a Life felt like reading a fairly GPD-centered issue of Batman, instead of reading something new and different like In the Line of Duty. Two-Face's appearance is inescapably telegraphed from the very beginning, and I'm still a little sore with DC for reprinting two already-reprinted issues at the beginning of Half a Life, instead of stretching for something new. What Half a Life accomplishes is to be lauded; how it got there left me a little underwhelmed.

To digress momentarily: NYPD Blue started, but never finished, an interesting plotline toward the end of its penultimate season when the department partnered one female police officer with another female police officer and the first began to suspect the second was gay; this created slow tension not only in terms of general homophobia on the straight officer's part, but also in the straight officer wondering if she could trust her gay partner with female suspects. More than name-calling, it revealed deep misunderstandings on the part of the straight officer toward her gay partner, and the gay population in general.

Half a Life, unfortunately, never achieves this level of discourse. The insults that Renee receives from fellow police officers, while terrible, are run-of-the-mill among modern coming out narratives. That her parents shun her is again both terrible and true of the experience of many gay individuals, but it's also generally been done. I felt that Two-Face's ignoring Renee's homosexuality (instead of finding some way to react to it) was a wasted moment. And above all, we're lead to believe here that Renee has been an active homosexual woman since the age of fifteen, when common continuity notes that she dated a man roundabout Batman: Contagion. Where the story had the opportunity to show the uncommon pain that closeted homosexuals suffer by embracing continuity and noting that Renee had dated men in order to hide from herself, the story instead throws continuity to the wind. So I am, indeed, happy to watch Renee in this new phase of her life. I just wish I'd learned something new by seeing her get there.

It's no surprise to me that Half a Life won an Eisner Award, and I believe it, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark deserved it. I'm just as glad to see Gotham Central blazing new social ground as I am to see it blazing new comics ground as a police procedural. But my feeling is that I'll probably like Soft Targets a lot more than Half a Life. And hey, DC -- no more reprints of already reprinted material, eh?

(And because I do, indeed, truly appreciate Gotham Central: Half a Life, here's a link to an overwhelmingly positive review from Ninth Art, and more discussion from The Low Road.)

What to read next? I was going to start a big run of Nightwing trades, but I'm feeling behind the comics times, so now I'm thinking Hawman: Wings of Fury toward JSA: Black Reign, or else Batman: War Games Act Two. Or maybe Nightwing. We'll see.
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2 comments:

  1. Great poin about the use of continuity to tell a stronger story. To bad Rucka missed that opportunity!

    I've linked to you post from my blog, which also carries a link to yours in my sidebar, BTW

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  2. Pers --

    Thanks for the link, and the kind words. Yeah, I was looking around to see if anyone had pointed this out to Greg Rucka, and if he'd known about it and had a good reason for leaving it out. Couldn't find it, but I'm willing to give Rucka the benefit of the doubt.

    'Preciate the sidebar link, too -- I've been meaning to add one of those to my blog. Maybe next time I do a template update; probably soon.

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