After an adrenaline high comes the inevitable crash, and that’s just what we’ve got here. After the end of the last issue and the shocking revelation that the Wayne’s baby is dead, a lot of people are very upset and looking for someone to take their anger out on. Luckily our hero Slam is here to offer a fresh(ish) face to punch. It’s here where the story really hits its emotional low point. Everything has fallen apart and it only seems to be getting worse.
The story opens with the commissioner beating the daylights out of Slam at the GCPD headquarters. In addition to the clever wordplay narration I’ve come to expect from this series, what this scene shows us is just how fragile Gotham is at this point. It’s been well established by this point that the police keep order in the city with an iron fist, and a big part of that is the veneer of civility they’ve created. So long as you’re the “right people”, then it’s very easy to believe the illusion given to you. However, when the infant daughter of the wealthiest family in the city gets murdered, all of that comes crashing down.
Of course Slam isn’t to blame for what happens, but he sure makes a nice scapegoat. Not only that, but he makes an easy target for the cops to vent their frustrations on. They aren’t alone either. Richard Wayne also decides to take a crack at him, with armed bodyguards standing by of course. The Richard we see here is far more menacing than anything up until this point. He’s still clearly a coward, hiding behind his protection at the first sign of danger, but he’s out for blood and has little regard for human life.
Hester’s art plays into this nicely with a Psycho-esque shot of Richard surrounded by his taxidermied predators. Lighting has always been a strong suit of the series, and an essential part of any noir, but this is a great panel. It’s simple, but it clearly and cleanly tells us what we need to know about his character. Maybe it’s a bit derivative, but if you’re going to homage someone, Hitchcock isn’t a bad choice.
Having been thoroughly beaten by Richard Wayne, who better to confide in than the person with the most experience in that area? Every issue so far I’ve praised Constance’s complex character, and I’ll continue to do it here. Seeing her and Slam at their most vulnerable and defeated, only to find solace in each other in defiance of all social expectations is nothing if not cathartic. It also gives the story, and Slam, a chance to breathe. Of course that respite is only the eye in the hurricane before things get really bad.
What happens when you corner an animal and don’t give them an avenue of escape? They attack. Slam is not a perfect man, as he’s more than willing to admit. He has a history of distrust with the police and can only be pushed so far before he takes matters into his own hands.
Spoilers from here on out, as this comic has a lot of big twists
Slam decides that the only course of action is to attack the commissioner in the middle of the night for revenge. It’s a brutal scene where Bellaire’s colors get to play to their strengths, covering the city streets with red and orange to create an ominous atmosphere. Slam narrates about how he meticulously followed the commissioner to somewhere they couldn’t be seen and hit him with a bat before he even knew what was happening. It’s Slam’s darkest moment and possibly a marker for his fall from grace. Mirroring that is what is implied to be the moment that Gotham itself fell. With the iron fisted commissioner crippled and out of action, we’re told that Gotham’s crime rate would soon skyrocket. It’s well done parallel characterization, making Slam’s moral compass a stand-in for the city’s.
I do have some problems with the way the city’s decline here is portrayed. Firstly, there is the heavy implication that the thing that Gotham needs to not be crime ridden is an overbearing, brutal police presence. King goes out of his way to point out how bad they are and how they often just mask the true horrors of the city, but at the same time the Gotham we see here is undeniably better than what it would later become. If it’s the removal of the tyrannical commissioner that led to such a decline, then there is the unfortunate messaging of “what Gotham (and cities like Gotham) needs is more cops with more police violence and oppression.” It’s maybe too early to say with how that decline will be handled, and King does make sure to point out that part of what made him “good at what he did” is the lack of corruption, but it’s definitely a questionable approach.
Second, on a lighter note of continuity, it is noteworthy that Slam tells us that the alley where he attacked the commissioner became known as crime alley. The story in the comics up until now has always been that it was the murder of the Waynes that led to that name. Before then it was just “Park Row.” It’s part of what made their deaths seem like such an indelible scar on the city. Changing that so that it was this assault on the police commissioner lessens that impact of Batman’s origin, and feels a bit too much like a coincidence. It also means that the Waynes were walking through an alley well known as “crime alley” the night they were killed, which sounds wildly irresponsible if not stupid.
As if all that weren’t enough, when Slam returns home, he finds Queenie waiting for him with a gun. After a tense standoff where he’s able to wrest the pistol away from her, she reveals (or at least claims) that she had nothing to do with the baby dying. The mastermind behind the whole plot is actually Richard Wayne. This shocking revelation recontextualizes so much of what’s happened so far. His willingness to go along with the kidnappers, his desire to blame it all on “the negroes” who were fighting against his chemical plant, and even the way he handled himself earlier this issue. I also couldn’t help but notice that Queenie called him “crazy like a bat”. There’s definitely a prime suspect for who the “Bat-Man” from the first issue might be. There’s a lot to unpack there, and I’m excited to see where it’s going to go in these last two issues.
- Characters should hit their absolute lowest partway through the story
- You can’t get enough of shocking twists
- You want to see everything crumble
Gotham City: Year One #4 offers an exploration of Slam at his lowest point. Seemingly everything and everyone has turned on him. King continues to deliver a gripping, character driven detective story with plenty of twists and turns. The past three issues have set up all the pieces, and now everything is coming together. If you have any interest in detective fiction in your Batman stories, be sure to pick this up.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.