Intrigue is possibly the most important aspect of a detective story, and Gotham City: Year One #2 certainly delivers. In my last review, I said that while it took a while for the story to grab me, there were enough hooks to keep my interest for where the story would go. The second issue is still primarily build up – many questions and few answers – but it does such a good job of fleshing out the characters and their dynamics that you can’t help but get sucked in. We may still not know where the story is ultimately headed, but in a mystery like this, that’s a good thing.
Right away we’re once again reminded of just how different the Gotham of yesteryear is from the one readers are familiar with. Last issue had Slam talk about how Gotham was considered a nice place to live, but now the GCPD Commissioner is bragging about how it’s the safest in the country, with a murder rate less than a twentieth of Metropolis’. It’s impressive to the point of being unbelievable, and I think that’s the point.
Gotham appears safe, and from the way the Commissioner talks about it, that appearance is what matters most. He takes pride in the fact that he’s willing to take an almost authoritarian stance in enforcing that safety. Couple that with the sharp class and racial divide that clearly exists, and there’s a clear subtext that certain people are disposable so long as order is kept in the city. It feels like a dam that’s about to break; one where the smallest disruption could send everything spiraling. Given that we know what Gotham will eventually look like, it creates an unease throughout the story as we wait for the other shoe to drop.
In the perfectly serene Gotham City that has been constructed, Slam is potentially that disruption. Like any good noir protagonist, he has a knack for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, which is why the police are so eager to teach him a lesson. With his partner murdered at the end of the last issue, he doesn’t have many, if any, friends in the city. This pitches him against a world that doesn’t want his help. He’s visibly tired and hates every minute of it, but he’s got a job to do and plans to see it through to the end. As the story progresses, the conspiracy deepens and Slam becomes an everyman out of his depth, which helps to highlight just how precarious the situation is at every stage.
Once again Phil Hester’s art does an effective job of creating that seedy atmosphere the story needs. There are shadows abound, and the way he plays with light to direct focus onto a given perspective is well done. There’s a heaviness to the atmosphere and you can almost feel the unrelenting rain as it washes over every outdoor scene. Again, it’s what you’d expect from a pulp noir film. There aren’t as many impressive, memorable pages as in the last issue, but I think that’s in part due to the fact that the story this time around is more focused on character building than shocking moments. One complaint I have about Hester’s style is that with so many white, tough, square-jawed men wearing fedoras and trench coats, it can at times be difficult to tell people apart.
Slam is not the only well written character that this issue takes the time to explore. The most mysterious, aside from the enigmatic “Bat-Man”, would probably have to be Sue. From a simple courier that kickstarted the plot, we now get more and more hints that she knows more than she initially let on. There’s an air of intrigue about her as she takes a more active role in Slam’s investigation in unexpected ways. There’s an almost playfulness with her as she manipulates Slam and the Waynes to get what she wants. In what I’m sure is not an unintentional direction, she very much comes off as a Catwoman-like figure. This could not be more evident than when she runs across the rooftops with her prize in hand. I’m very interested to see what King plans to do with that connection in conjunction with the seemingly first “Bat-Man.”
Constance and Richard Wayne also get their time in the spotlight. We get to see more of what their interpersonal relationship is and how that presents itself to the public. All of the characters this chapter have such strong personalities, but these two are probably the stand outs. Richard himself is privileged beyond belief and our perception of him slowly shifts from a concerned father who will do anything for his daughter to someone who ultimately only cares for himself. He seems almost entirely sheltered from reality and as such is willing to rush forward without considering any consequences. His unscrupulous nature even leads him to offer Slam a job regardless of whether he’s lying about his daughter because he needs help dealing with the “negroes.”
Constance on the other hand is direct, cold, and intelligent. She cares little for what the people around her have to say, but at the same time it’s an understandable position for her to be in. She is the only one in the family level headed enough to get things done, yet as a woman in the 1960s she is not given the same respect as the men. She has to compensate in order to be able to get her daughter back. We already knew from the last issue how much she disdains Richard, but now we know that he fears her. It’s pretty clear that she is in charge of the Wayne estate, and I love any of the scenes with her in them.
- You want to see fleshed out characters filled with ulterior motives and secrets
- The intrigue of detective stories is something that appeals to you
- You don’t mind a story that takes its time building up its mysteries
Gotham City: Year One #2 is an intrigue-filled issue that continues to take its time building its characters and its mystery. The slow burn continues as more information is revealed piece by piece. There’s a lot we don’t know and it’s tough to say if the payoff will be worth the wait, but what’s here is an engrossing story that draws you in. Any fan of classic pulp noir detective stories should check this out.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.