Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gotham Central review & Free Comics Giveaway #2!

Like a lot of people, I’ve been wondering lately if the death toll does not knell for Gotham Central. First of all, ever since the conclusion of Brubaker’s wonderful “Unresolved” arc last year, I’ve felt like the series was in a slump; it started being kind of a flat read for me. I was still pretty bummed out, though, when I found out Michael Lark had signed a Marvel-exclusive contract and was leaving the book, because I couldn’t see anyone quite filling his shoes. Lark’s inker, Stefano Gaudiano, had done some fill-in issues that only kinda worked for me. “Sean Phillips?” I wondered. “Cliff Chiang?” Then word came out it would be Kano, whose work I’d seen in the H-E-R-O trade I picked up a couple years ago, and I made that face you make when you’re not exactly let down by something, but you’re sure not thrilled about it either. To make matters worse, Ed Brubaker signed a Marvel-exclusive contract, too. Now, while Greg Rucka penned my all-time favorite Gotham Central story arc with “Half A Life”, I’ve generally enjoyed the Brubaker parts more than the Rucka parts, so when I found out that The Brube was leaving the title I thought to myself, “Well, I guess that’s pretty much the end of Gotham Central.”

I could not possibly have been more wrong. And now I’m skipping my morning cigarette to blast away at the computer for a few minutes because I’m totally fucking psyched about this book again and I gotta tell you about it.

The two most recent issues of Gotham Central - #28 and #29, which came out last month and last week, respectively – mark the fist step of the new ongoing team of Rucka, Kano, continuing inker Stefano Gaudiano, and continuing colorist Lee Loughridge, and the series hasn’t been this good in a while. I think maybe this mix-up is just the kick in the ass that Gotham Central needed.

The story opens on a couple of kids getting into trouble in a sketchy neighborhood, winding up trapped in some kind of abandoned science lab with an unknown chemical spill hurting one of them badly, and trapping the other. We meet a cop named Andrew Kelly – a hint gets dropped later that we’ve met him before, in the No Man’s Land saga, but I never read that stuff. Suffice to say, though, Rucka tells me a lot about Kelly in a really short period of time, without infodumping or getting sentimental. With some deft, plain dialogue, Rucka really imparts that this guy is a good, working-man cop, doing his best and breaking his partner’s balls once in a while, and now here he is trying to save these kids. I really like this guy.

Then Rucka really fucks him up. What a hook! Classic, effective storytelling, done in an absolutely horrific fire sequence that shows off not only the upgrade in paper stock that Gotham Central got a few issues back, but the remarkable work of colorist Lee Loughridge, whose name I hadn’t bothered to learn until now. I always enjoyed the coloring on this book, but the colors in issue #28 really raised my eyebrows. This sequence is totally horrifying. I’ll be looking for anything else with the name Loughridge on it now, I can tell you that.

The story then moves to Renee Montoya, who apparently knows Officer Kelly, and we get some great sequences as she tries to work her way around the scene of the crime – which just happens to be in her old neighborhood, where her estranged father runs his store. Now, it gets said a lot, to the extent that sometimes I start thinking it’s just hype, but it’s the truth: Greg Rucka writes some of the best female characters in all of comics, with Renee Montoya at the top of my personal list. She was the central character of that “Half A Life” arc I loved so much, and she’s taking a big role in this arc, too, and that’s nothing but good news for me. Rucka takes her through a number of powerful scenes – including encounters with her father, her boss, her lover, and of course, Batman, in one of my favorite Batman scenes in recent memory.

A Flash-related villain turns out to be involved, and I was a little bit concerned that the incorporation of The Flash’s world into the world of Gotham Central would either confuse me or turn me off, because I’ve never read any Flash books, but neither is the case. Rucka has kept everything accessible here, and in the closing pages of issue #29, he introduces some Keystone City characters with the same subtle flair he used to introduce Officer Kelly. I “get” and enjoy those characters right away. This kind of efficient, effective characterization reminds me of my favorite issues of Peter Milligan’s excellent Human Target series, which spent a lot of its run on three-issue, self-contained arcs that had to introduce and develop their own characters in just a few pages, and Rucka succeeds here just as well as Milligan did when Human Target was at its best.

So the writing has reassured and excited me – what about the art? Can Kano and Gaudiano pick up the slack?

They sure as hell can. This arc features a little role-reversal, with Gaudiano on pencils and Keno on inks, but the team seems to have developed an instant chemistry. The work here does exactly what it should – it keeps the tone that Lark left behind, but it also forges its own style. The scenes depicting what has happened to poor Officer Kelly are especially powerful and well-rendered; the hospital scene in issue #29 really placed me in the moment, wondering how the hospital staff were gonna handle this situation, and the visuals really played a huge part in making that scene read so well. The balance between Lark's style and the "new voice," if you will, is exactly what I was hoping for, and if we can look forward to more work like this when the artists switch roles, I’ll be just as happy as a pig in shit.

This isn’t a time to drop Gotham Central. This is a time to start reading it.

And with that in mind, I’m gonna take this opportunity to announce The Second Zealot’s Lore Comics Giveaway! You know that “Half A Life” arc that I mentioned like eight times in this review? Well, it’s coming out in trade soon, and I’m gonna be picking it up. Like I said, it’s my favorite arc of the book so far, and this has been one hell of a book, so why wouldn’t I want it on my bookshelf?

That means that I’ll have some singles to spare. The full story arc, issues 6 through 10, and I’m offering them now to anyone who starts reading the book. Here’s what you have to do: go to your local comics shop. Find the issues I just reviewed – that’s #28 and #29 – and pick ‘em up. Take a picture of yourself holding the issues, and either post the picture or post a link to the picture in the comments thread at the bottom of this post. First person to post a pic, I’ll get your mailing info and ship the books out to you, totally free of charge. I’ll even cover the shipping.

“But how can I read issues 28 and 29 if I haven’t read any of the series yet? Won’t I be missing out on a lot of story?” You won’t be missing out on much context, trust me – the current story stands really well on its own. But as coincidence would have it, what little context really would be helpful to understand the background of this story is contained in – you guessed it – the “Half A Life” arc. So, you’ll be getting seven comics for the price of two, including my All Time Favorite Gotham Central story, and I’ll be happy ‘cause I’m still here spreading the word for books that make me happy.

Oh, and you’ll probably end up hooked on Gotham Central. But trust me, you’ll be glad.

(P.S. - The 1000 Steps to World Domination contest - to win free Rob Osborne comics and original art - is still going strong. Scroll down for details - you can still enter and win up until midnight this Friday, so check it out!)

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