Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Gotham

There is no quicker way to start an argument amongst nerds than by asking then which they prefer: DC or Marvel comics.

Back in my more militant nerd days, I was a hardcore DC. While working at McNally’s I used to get into arguments with a hardcore Marvel over the strengths of each of our companies. It ultimately always came down to one thing: realism. Hardcore Marvel preferred the realistic nature of his heroes and disliked the godhood of mine.

Homeboy obviously did not read Gotham Central.

Imagine Homicide: Life on the Street. Now imagine Homicide: Life on the Street with Batman as a supporting character. That’s Gotham Central. The series is a gritty look into a realistic Gotham City as it would appear if it was just another American city. Corruption and crime are rampant and the Major Crimes Unit of Gotham tries its best to cope with a situation that pulls no punches. It presents detective work as it truly is: repetitive, draining, and glory-free. It can also be psychologically damaging as seen throughout the series when despair drives many characters to the point of suicide.

There’s nothing cartoony in this series. Each panel is drawn with realistic colours and events unfold the way they would in real life: heroics are finite, perpetrators evade justice and the few good people in the city either leave or die in the cross fire. And it’s somehow made worse by the presence of the DC Trinity. Though Batman is the only one seen, there are several references to heroes such as Superman and Wonder Woman existing within this universe. As a child watching cartoons, you know that, somehow, these three are going to save the day. It just doesn’t happen here. One of the biggest tearjerkers within this series happens near the end of its run. Without giving anything away, there’s a point in the story where you feel it drawing towards a horrible event and you find yourself hoping Batman will make it this time and things will be all right. The event happens and nothing can be done to right the wrong.

I’ve never cried that hard over a comic before or since.

Whenever the inevitable trade happens between a Marvel and a DC, Gotham Central is always what I suggest. It’s about realistic heroes in unrealistic circumstances (the first of the Batman Rogues Gallery that the detectives encounter is Mr. Freeze) where bad things happen often. Where the heroes are flawed and deal with their situations in positive and negative ways. And where hope and being a good person isn’t enough.

Despite how dark the series is, I find solace in how many of the major characters never compromise their personal integrity. In a world where apathy has run amok and people accept their situations because "Hey, It’s Gotham" it’s good to see people so angry at the injustice they face that they’ll never stop fighting to change it. No matter how many friends they lose, they keep going.

For a girl who grew up angry at her situation for the same reason, it really resonated with me. I think the story is more powerful because it’s the non-superpowered heroes that are pushing through to change their world. It’s easy for Superman to fly on or for Wonder Woman to go forward with the Gods’ favour but for the detectives that at times only have themselves to urge them forward, that takes strength. That’s ultimate bad-assery.

It may not have a happy ending but knowing that there are people like the detectives in this story within the DC universe (and in real life) makes me happy enough.

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