Review: GCPD: The Blue Wall hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


As I’ve said, I think it took a few books for John Ridley’s DC Comics work to hit its stride, but once it did, there’s been no looking back.

The latter books of I Am Batman have been excellent, and GCPD: The Blue Wall is the exclamation point on what seems to be the end of Ridley’s tenure — more dramatic and more controversial than everything that preceded it. The GCPD miniseries very much picks up from threads and situations in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central, not to mention that GCPD artist Stefano Raffaele would be right at home trading off with Central’s Michael Lark. If Gotham Central mainly focused on rookie cops, this would be it.

At the same time, bad things happen to good people in this book. Indeed in the real world bad things happen to good people all the time, but in the realm of fiction, we can sometimes set aside our want for realism to say, “That’s too bad! That’s too much!” Credit to Ridley for making us care about these characters — some of which assuredly comes from the characters' long histories — but the flip side is seeing characters we care about suffer to a shocking degree without much sense there’s any resolution to be had.

All of this makes GCPD: The Blue Wall a challenging book, but “challenging” is also something that works in a book’s favor. I would eagerly await Ridley’s return to the DCU.

[Review contains spoilers]

There is a stark split between GCPD’s first four issues and its fifth and sixth. As it starts out, as mentioned, GCPD is about three recent academy grad friends who find police work not as idealistic as expected — alternately praised and booed as the police force needs, swiftly colliding with the cynicism and racism inherent in the system. Their stories intersect — and with new police commissioner Renee Montoya — in ways that might remind of Pulp Fiction or (to name a film GCPD might share a lot or a little with, depending) Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco’s Crash.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But GCPD takes a significant turn in the fourth issue cliffhanger when young officer Danny, racially harassed by his fellow officers and receiving unsatisfactory help from the department or from Renee, arms himself and goes on a rampage, murdering Renee’s brother and his fiancee. Most of the book has detailed how Renee relies on her brother, that he’s her only family that she’s in contact with and already helping her through a rough time, and his death feels cruel beyond just standard comics rise and fall. That the alcoholic Renee returns to drinking is a palpable recession for the character; Ridley’s intimation in the end that Renee’s “a survivor,” depicted in colorist Brad Anderson’s partly cloudy hues, does little to suggest everything will be all right.

Without at all minimizing the injustices Ridley depicts committed toward Danny, the young man’s turn from police officer to mass murderer feels extreme. The other characters even comment that there’s a lot of rational steps one might have taken otherwise; that Danny simply “snapped” is plausible, but I’m not sure Ridley’s story backs that up enough to make it believable. As well, though it’s not my place to judge another’s reaction to racism, Ridley having Danny kill both the offending officers and innocents feels dangerous through the lens of revenge fantasy and dangerous through the lens of “bothsidesing,” contributing for better or worse to that overall sense of uncomfortableness.1

I thought Ridley raised a particularly interesting point when Renee notes that she and GCPD Chief Davis were supposed to make things different for the next generation, and Davis replies that “the club makes ‘old white boys’ out of us all.” Insofar as it’s a commentary on race from two non-white officers, it’s also an adage about how trying to change the system from within the system can make you part of the system — that despite Renee and Davis' good intentions, entering positions of power inevitably means preserving a status quo that others might not agree with. We can only posit within the confines of what this fictional world gives us, but I found myself wondering about a perspective on all this from Jim Gordon or Maggie Sawyer — what, in essence, would the generation from whom Renee inherited all of this have to say about the proceedings?

So ultimately (inevitably?), GCPD: The Blue Wall feels unfinished. Not unsatisfactory, far from it, not even incomplete, but this is the “down arc” of a story, with no indication the “up arc” is on the way. I had thought at one point that GCPD was set in the past and was pleasantly surprised, you know me, to find that it actually follows from I Am Batman Vol. 3: The Right Question. I believe John Ridley’s Batman: One Bad Day: Two-Face could follow logically from here, except as GCPD indicates, current events in Detective Comics supersedes that. All of which is to say, GCPD leaves Renee Montoya in a pretty dark place, and I’m not sure another writer is coming along to get her out of it any time soon.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Rating 4.0

  1. At the point in which the police mistakenly fire on civilians and those civilians turn out to be Afghan refugees, one does begin to wonder, like Crash, if the coincidental confluence of issues begins to stretch the story’s credibility.  ↩︎

Comments ( 3 )

  1. I skipped this one at first because its first issue felt a bit too on-the-nose, but when I caught up and read the whole thing, it felt much more like our universe invading the DCU (and I've read enough Grant Morrison to envision this as a crisis-level collision of worlds). This GCPD book brings all the ugliness and the moral greys into (or back to) Gotham, at a time when the whole thing feels unrecognizable -- from a different commissioner to a different mayor, with a tentacle monster in the sewers eating the rich and an ill-advised Arkham Tower at the heart of the city.

    Put another way, this book felt grounded and real in a way that is deliberately and effectively discomfiting. I do wonder where any of this goes next; there's some real damage done to Renee Montoya in this book, and when we inevitably see Gordon take his chair back, I wonder who might be able to do the work of healing that Renee needs. (Paging Greg Rucka!)

    1. > When we inevitably see Gordon take his chair back, I wonder who might be able to do the work of healing that Renee needs.

      That's I think what felt so disturbing to me about this GCPD book. I don't think Ridley afflicts the Renee character blithely, but at the same time, as another reader said on Facebook, the secondary character who's affected here is one who's been around for a while! As you note, the concern is that this ends very "down" without a clear sense Ridley will come back to pick up the pieces — of course the obvious choice to follow up is Rucka. Meanwhile I saw Renee in Lazarus Planet and it's off-putting that there it seems like nothing has happened to her, because of course what one writer's doing doesn't necessarily carry over to another.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post