“Detective Comics” – That’s the name of the company. Well technically I guess the company is named “Detective Comics Comics.” Regardless, my point is that the namesake of the entire publishing line is supposed to be stories centered around detective work. Despite this, it’s very rare that we get to see actual detective work play a major role in comics. Oh sure, over in Batman’s Detective Comics he’ll occasionally find some goop at the crime scene that the computer tells him is from the docks where the bad guy is hiding, but that’s not really the same thing. What I mean is good old-fashioned deductive reasoning, following up on leads, getting your hands dirty kind of detective work. That’s what you hardly ever see, and it’s what Gotham City: Year One is so good at delivering.
Following the escape of the mysterious cat-like woman at the end of the last issue, Slam needs find out who she is. At no point during this is he privy to any information that the reader isn’t, but instead uses everything that happened to reach a theory as to what his first clue might be. It’s the kind of deduction that should be familiar to any fans of Sherlock Holmes, sans any of the more ridiculous leaps of logic. This leads him to questioning a chain of potential associates and witnesses, each one leading to the next.
It’s a subtly great sequence that both shows off Slam’s abilities as a detective with his intimate knowledge of the city, as well as fleshing out Gotham as a living, breathing town. Each of the subjects offers a glimpse into life in Gotham’s underbelly, and the complex web of interconnected relationships that exists there. Watching Slam pull on the threads on that web is exactly the kind of thing I love to read about in detective stories and Tom King executes it to perfection.
The characters themselves continue to grow and become more fleshed out as the story goes on. Last issue I said that any scene with Constance Wayne is a highlight, and that continues to be true here. She walks into Slam’s office asking for help, a noticeably different woman than the one he talked to at Wayne Manor. She is reserved, humble, and dismayed. It’s almost as if the fire in her has gone out, and it’s quickly made clear as to why: she is fully convinced that her daughter is dead.
It’s almost painful to see such a strong woman brought down so low. At one point she even describes her hope as having be “ground down like a seed”. We also get a look at her life behind the façade, seeing how it’s become routine for her to cover up the bruises she receives at the hand of her husband with makeup. For as strong as she may be, it’s made abundantly clear that her power in this world is severely limited by her gender. She’s a fascinating character who only becomes more interesting and tragic with each issue.
It’s the dialog that really sells this scene. Constance is able to say a lot through subtext and clever wordplay. In fact, throughout the issue the writing is very impressive on a sentence-by-sentence basis. King’s writing style can be controversial, and I’ve criticized it in the past, but here it’s done with such a deft hand that each line draws you further into the story. In my review for the first issue, I said that the writing felt too dragged out, but it’s possible that it was simply a matter of being the prologue. I’m happy to say that I was correct, and that in retrospect the slow build up to what we see now was worth it.
Slam’s character gets fleshed out as well in a pair of parallel sequences which bookend this issue. Phil Hester, along with Jordie Bellaire’s striking colors, draws an intense flashback sequence to when Slam was working with the GCPD. Both scenes are drawn entirely in red, white, and black. It’s an effective technique that frames the entire interrogation as a rage building up in Slam’s mind. It also removes a level of reality from it, showing how his perspective shades the events. Slam’s actions highlight the kind of man he is; he has a strong moral code and will always do what he thinks is right, even when that means acting without thinking in a way that gets him in trouble. This is epitomized in the final (present day) scene of the issue during an adrenaline-filled fight that will surely shape the rest of the story.
- Noir detective stories are something you like
- You’ve become invested in the mystery surrounding the Wayne daughter
- Complex characters are important in a story
Gotham City: Year One #3 is a gripping detective story that explores the characters of its titular city in a meaningful way. Slam’s investigative work is captivating and keeps you guessing without ever feeling like it’s just pulling answers to mysteries out of nowhere. Both the main characters and the residents of Gotham who only appear for a page are fleshed out such that the entire city comes alive as the story digs deeper into its hidden depths. Every issue reveals a new facet to this complex mystery and I’m excited to read what comes next.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.