TITLE: Batman: Gordon of Gotham
AUTHORS: Chuck Dixon, Denny O’Neil
PENCILLERS: Klaus Janson, Jim Aparo, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dick Giordano
COLLECTS: Batman: Gordon’s Law #1-4, Batman: GCPD #1-4, Batman: Gordon of Gotham #1-4
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINALLY RELEASED: 1996 (Batman: GCPD), 1996-1997 (Gordon’s Law), 1998 (Gordon of Gotham)
COLLECTION RELEASED: September 24, 2014
By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X
I’m pretty sure that there is exactly one reason that the name of the third story included in this trade paperback was used as the collection’s title. Calling it Gordon of Gotham makes the most sense (from a Doylist standpoint) for one reason and one reason only: Marketing.
Yes, this collection was probably released for the sole reason of promoting the televised travesty that is Gotham. It sure as heck wasn’t released to cater to rabid ‘90s era Chuck Dixon fans like myself. It even says on the back, “He’s Jim Gordon. And he’s tough as Gotham.” What the heck does that even mean? I always envisioned Gotham City as being mean or moody or dirty, occasionally creepy, definitely scary, frequently depressing, and sometimes incredible. “Tough” isn’t the word that comes to mind when I want to describe Gotham.
But you know what really is tough? How much this trade let me down.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jim Gordon. He’s one of my favorite characters in all of comics. I also love it when they take old, rarely highlighted characters like Shotgun Smith and Harvey Bullock and give them a chance to shine. However, I hate it when we get prequels and Serpico rip offs which range from mediocre to craptastic. And it annoys me to no end when entirely new characters are made up for a miniseries who are supposed to prominently figure into a major character’s backstory, and were obviously meant to have been really cool and memorable. But they come off as ridiculous and dumb. Like Cuchulain. But we’ll get to him.
Batman: Gordon of Gotham collects a trifecta of four-issue stories from the mid-to-late-’90s, the era of the great mega-series which later spawned those monstrous, phonebook-sized digests that we have today. Knightsend was just wrapping up, No Man’s Land was a twinkle in Denny O’Neil’s eye, and Chuck Dixon was in the middle of his beneficent reign as chief writer in the Bat-group. A lot of good stuff was being put out in books like Robin, Nightwing, and Detective Comics.
These three miniseries are not among that good stuff.
The Gordon’s Law story revolves around Gordon teaming up with Shotgun Smith to take down a criminal conspiracy involving some rip-off of Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang and a bunch of corrupt cops. GCPD is about, well… the GCPD, but proto-Gotham Central it ain’t. Gordon of Gotham doesn’t even take place in Gotham City, but rather is a flashback to Chicago. I’m not sure whether it’s about how Gordon first came to be a police officer in Gotham. Or perhaps it’s about how he botched something up during his 20-year sojourn in Chicago prior to Batman: Year One, which resulted in him going back to Gotham City again. He looks too young here for the latter, but I’m not completely sure.
Gordon of Gotham is essentially a rehash of Gordon’s Law, only this time Gordon’s walking around with one arm in a sling the whole time, and he’s still a novice lawman. Plus, you’ve got this leprechaun-like hitman named Cuchulain hopping in and out of the story whenever it’s convenient. Man, I absolutely hate that guy, just like I absolutely hate all caricatures that are meant to be taken completely seriously.
All of these stories have their own unique, individual faults, but they all suffer from a single defect: Aside from Batman’s token appearances, you would never guess that these stories took place in a shared superhero universe. Instead of a crime story with the larger DC Universe in the background, we just have standard issue crime stories guest starring Batman.
This of course raises the question: Why do these stories need Batman at all, if they’re supposed to be about Jim Gordon?
This question brings up a valid, point which I will phrase in the form of another question: Can you have Commissioner Gordon without Batman?
The answer is, “Yes… and no.” It’s perfectly fine to have a story almost entirely about Gordon. We had one just before the New 52 blew everything to Hades, Batman: The Black Mirror. That was a great Commissioner Gordon story because it focused both on Gordon the lawman and Gordon the man. It intertwined details about Gordon’s reaction to his son returning to Gotham with his ongoing investigation into a serial killer. But that story had its fair share of Batman too.
In my opinion, the key to writing a good Gordon story, or any good story with people like Bullock or Montoya, is to have figuring into the background the guy around whom Gordon was constructed to orbit: Batman. That’s not to say that Gordon and the rest of the GCPD can’t stand on their own. Simply take a look at Rucka and Brubaker’s Gotham Central. It’s just that most writers haven’t been able to pull it off without churning out another Serpico rip-off.
The other big roadblock to writing a good Gordon story is that it’s hard to write one when the character in question has no real arc. When you think about it, Commissioner Gordon is usually only in the story to give Batman missions and make him look heroic by heading up an overwhelmed police force. He has no arc. This isn’t because he’s a stale character, but because his arc is already complete before we ever see it start. In the words of David Uzumeri of ComicsAlliance.com, “I almost find early Gordon more interesting than later Gordon, because once he’s become Commissioner, he’s won. Now he’s just directing an awesome police department. There’s way more drama in the good man stuck in the corrupt organization.”
That’s why Batman: Year One is such a great Gordon story, not to mention one of the best overall Batman stories of all time. It’s basically Serpico in Gotham City, with Batman, and yet it’s not a rip-off. And it’s awesome! It shows Gordon fighting against a corrupt system, and how he can’t do much of anything unless he chooses to work with Batman and his cohorts. Of course he wins, just like the good guys always do.
In Batman: Gordon of Gotham, we are faced with two Gordon stories (Batman: Gordon’s Law and Batman: Gordon of Gotham), one of which is blatantly a prequel to Year One, and a story which is generally about the GCPD. That is, Batman: GCPD.
Gordon’s Law is a drag to read because Batman is locked out of it pretty early, due to Gordon suddenly getting all gung-ho about investigating police corruption being a purely police matter. It would have made more sense to have Batman be simply unavailable due to all the busy stuff going on with the fallout with Bane and Azrael, with only Robin answering the Bat-Signal. In the meantime, we’re saddled with large cast of one-shot, cookie-cutter characters, a stupid and predictable mystery, a ludicrous amount of backstabbing, even for Gotham, and a boring and anticlimactic conclusion. It doesn’t help that the art is cartoonishly gritty and overly penciled, which might make for a good effect in the hands of a writer who knows how to write a good Gordon story. Sorry Chuck Dixon, but you have failed this city…
GCPD puts Gordon in a less prominent role, focusing more on Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, Sarah Essen, and a couple more obscure cops who didn’t even make it to Gotham Central. Bullock gets reassigned to a new partner after a spat with Renee, and they work together to track down a serial killer. Montoya poses as a foreign ambassador’s wife in order to protect the ambassador from members of an insurgent cell, which is for some reason operating in Gotham. Meanwhile, these other two detectives, Kitch and Caz, investigate a corrupt lawyer while the desk sergeant tries to solve the mystery of missing office equipment. Also, there’s the standard stuff about Bullock getting dragged in front of an Internal Affairs tribunal.
In short, GCPD is a failure. Why? Because, once again, there’s nothing in the book that directly connects it to Batman. The genius of Gotham Central was that it was about Batman, his associates, and his rogue’s gallery through the viewpoint of his unwilling allies, the police, who don’t share the reader’s privilege of knowing Batman’s side of the story. GCPD just takes Montoya, Bullock, and the rest and throws them into a bunch of standard cop show adventures, and all the clichés that go with them. It’s entirely dull and uninteresting, being shoddily built and poorly executed.
Finally, we have Gordon of Gotham. This story is slightly better than the last two, but only slightly. I like how it’s pretty clearly set several decades in the past, probably the ’60s or ’70s. There are also a couple of great moments with Gordon being a tough guy lawman. But that’s about it. The story’s greatest strength is that it has a good reason to not have Batman in it: The entire story is actually Gordon relating to Batman his memories as a rookie cop in Chicago. This in and of itself makes a minimal amount of sense, as Batman and Gordon are not generally known to engage in idle chitchat. Thankfully, there is once again a barely sufficient reason to explain this glaring error.
The story itself is your usual Serpico rip off about Gordon going outside the law to unearth a political conspiracy based in police corruption, blah blah blah. It’s not incredibly bad, but it’s not incredibly good either. It’s just the blandest shade of mediocre. We’ve got lazy plotting, barely competent dialogue, and an altogether sorry story.
My least favorite part of the story, however, was Cuchulain. He’s literally some cartoonishly Irish pretty-boy who says things like, “Me country” and “Jimmy-boy.” He’s just impossible to take seriously. This is plainly dumb writing, I don’t care if it was Denny O’Neil at the helm. And who in the world of contract killing uses a flipping handgun to snipe people? The conclusion was rushed and poorly handled, but we did get a fairly cool fight scene with Gordon, which just goes to show that he’s still one tough old son-of-a-gun. The one great redeeming value of this story is the art by Klaus Janson and Dick Giordano. It’s pretty great, and would go great with the story…if the story was actually good.
To summarize… Tough as Gotham? More like tough as five day old donuts, and leaving almost as bad a taste in your mouth. I wanted to like Batman: Gordon of Gotham, I really did. But there’s just not really anything to like. Save your money and go check out Batman: Turning Points. That one’s worth the read.
Front page image from dccomics.com. Images 1 and 2 from hradzka.dreamwidth.org. Image 4 courtesy of ifanboy.com. Image 5 from wikia.com.
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