There will be no spoiler tags in this review; if you just want to know whether it’s good, skip to the end. Gotham City: Year One #5 is bombshell revelation after bombshell revelation. There’s no good way for me to talk about any of it without going into major spoilers, so instead of putting the entire 1,000+ word review inside of a hidden tag, I’m putting my warning here. Everything from here on out will be talking about the events of a story that give answers to the core mystery of the series.
The last issue left off with Queenie waiting inside Slam’s apartment, telling him that Richard Wayne has been behind everything. This opens with a flashback showing us just how true that really is. I was absolutely floored by this intro. Not only has Richard been manipulating the entire plot, but what kick started everything is that he has been having an affair with Queenie. At least at first, their relationship appears almost wholesome. The Richard Wayne we see is much calmer and reasonable than the unhinged man ranting about “negroes” we’ve seen so far. He provides for Queenie and speaks of how everything they do is so that they can run away together. Obviously kidnapping a baby is wrong, but was all this just a matter of understandable circumstance?
Of course, as the story goes on, things that seem too good to be true often are. No one is going to throw away everything to be with someone they’ve only known a month. Richard never cared about her or any of the other lofty ideals he spouted. He used her as a way to steal his wife’s money. Queenie was just a scapegoat for Richard’s plan. The story places him at the center of a web of conspiracies which sprawl out to cover everything that’s happened. Queenie’s been caught in that web since the beginning and now Slam is in the thick of it too.
The relationship and betrayal between Queenie and Richard isn’t even close to being the only revelation the opening sequence throws at the reader. You remember Johnny, right? The man whose death at the end of the first issue turned the mystery into a thriller? Well it turns out that he’s been crooked the whole time and was trying to extort Queenie and Richard for money. They shot him to protect their secret. Seeing everything from the other perspective helps develop Queenie’s character into someone far more complex than I would have expected, and also corroborates her story given that Slam seems to agree Johnny was never someone to be trusted. Before, I saw his death as a tragedy in a dark town, but now it almost feels like justice.
In fact, so many parts of this issue made me go back and reread the scenes in previous ones. Everything is recontextualized and it’s a whole different experience with the knowledge I have now. It’s arguably trite for a reviewer to say that a story flips everything on its head, but here it really is true. Every new piece of information brings you that much closer to figuring out what really happened, and it’s absolutely gripping. You feel like a detective yourself at the height of a big case as everything starts coming together in ways you never expected. It’s the sign of an incredibly well crafted mystery that so many elements of the opening change their meaning as we build towards the story’s climax.
Not everything is a flashback to something that happened before the story began. With the news that the Wayne daughter was found dead at Queenie’s apartment, the entire city has gone to Hell. There are riots in the streets and the people are out for blood. This is the first glimpse of the Gotham we know. With no one to turn to but the man who’s been hunting her down, we learn just how in over her head she really is. Far from the Catwoman-like burglar we saw on the rooftop, this is a woman who has had her entire life ruined by promises from someone she thought she trusted, and is panicking.
Everything is so chaotic that the typically grounded Slam decides that the best course of action is to take Queenie to his fortune teller mom to have the cards determine whether she’s telling the truth. In most circumstances it would be an absurd step for a detective to take, but it emphasizes just how desperate things have gotten. The scene itself is possibly my favorite of the issue, and that’s a high bar. Each layer of Queenie’s psyche is peeled back with a turn of the next card, and the tension builds in every panel. I genuinely felt my heart rate increase as she got closer and closer to the final card, everyone was on edge, and no one in the room knew what would happen next. Sometimes fate is just that, and the lack of knowing what it will bring is like a bomb waiting to go off.
The tense and dramatic mood wouldn’t be possible without Jordie Bellaire’s incredible use of colors. Every scene has its own distinct color palette, which both sets the tone and helps separate the events of the story. Most of the flashbacks are in greyscale, the chaos of the city is in orange and red, and the mysterious fortune teller scenes are in hues of purple. Each choice creates a rich atmosphere for its environment. It also helps divide the events of the story. There is a lot going on this issue, and the clean delineation goes a long way in keeping things straight.
I also want to give a big shout out to Phil Hester’s layouts. His art style is simplistic, but effective. However, what really stands out this issue are the splash pages. They each give the story a larger than life feeling that frames the characters in ways that encapsulate the many facets of the character dynamics. Seriously, they could easily be impressive posters if you removed the text.
After so many revelations, so much chaos, and so many incredible scenes. The story can’t help but throw one big twist at you. Just when you think Slam finally has everything figured out, we learn he’s been after the wrong guy. You’re so sure that Slam is about to deliver the wrath of God on some goons for killing a baby, and that catharsis gets pulled away. Somehow Constance is part of this rat’s nest of a conspiracy, and once again we’re forced to reevaluate our conceptions of these characters. It’s one final twist of many that makes me incredibly excited to see how this series ends.
- You’ve been waiting for the answers to the mysteries this series has been building up for four issues now
- You love it when characters are made suddenly far more complex when put into new circumstances
- This is one of the best detective mysteries seen in comics in a long time, so if you haven’t picked it up you really should
Gotham City: Year One #5 is an incredible story that retroactively makes everything up until now even better. This issue is filled with so many shocking twists that force you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about the characters. It keeps you on the edge of your seat as you’re fully thrust into this world of intrigue and conspiracy. If the series can finish as strongly as it’s been so far, it will be one of the best Batman comics in a long time.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.