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DC ROUND-UP: Tom King and Phil Hester nail noir in GOTHAM CITY: YEAR ONE #1

The secret origin of Batman's hometown gets off to a perfectly hardboiled beginning.

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THIS WEEK: You’ve heard of Batman: Year One, but what about an origin for the city where he lives? Tom King and Phil Hester have you covered with the first issue of Gotham City: Year One

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.


Gotham City: Year One #1

Writer: Tom King
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Eric Gapstur
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover Artists: Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, & Jordie Bellaire

DC is obviously pretty deep in the Batman business right now. Of the publisher’s October offerings, 44% of them are Batman-related titles. We’re living in a world where, outside of comics, Alfred Pennyworth has a television series that is on its third season and is literally subtitled “The Origin of Batman’s Butler.” If we’re fleshing out the origins of the dark knight’s supporting cast, then, it was only a matter of time before the setting of most of his stories came up in the rotation. After all, if New York City can be the fifth character of Sex and the City, Gotham City is most definitely a character unto itself in the Batman Family. Enter Tom King and Phil Hester with Gotham City: Year One, not a story about the founding of the city but a story about how it got the way it is today.

Plenty of other stories of Gotham’s past have been about how the place was cursed from the beginning, doomed by some horrible pact or a bat-demon or some other supernatural means to become such a foul, dark, twisted place that it needs a very wealthy man to put on a bat costume and fight to save it on a nightly basis. Gotham City: Year One #1 features none of that, though. King, Hester, and co. instead give readers a fairly hard-boiled crime story, set in the not-officially-but-still-heavily-segregated Gotham of 1962, about Slam Bradley, P.I., who seemingly randomly gets pulled onto a case involving the Wayne family – that’s Richard and Constance Wayne, Bruce’s grandparents, and their missing infant daughter, Helen.

If King has been criticized for imposing genre elements onto superheroes in books like Strange Adventures or The Human Target, the same cannot be said for Gotham City: Year One, a book that features no one in a spandex costume save for a cameo by a present-day Batman on the last page. Slam Bradley is the perfect character to center in this book, and King nails the tone of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel flawlessly. Bradley is an average joe who gets pulled into a larger game and has to figure out how to play as he goes along, and while it’s still pretty early in the series it’s already a lot of fun figuring things out along with Slam. There are a lot of elements that are set up in this debut issue, from the plot of the story to establishing the ‘60s economic and social make-up of Gotham so that readers can have an idea of just how far it has fallen, and the creative team presents everything organically without it feeling particularly exposition-heavy.

It’s also worth noting that part of that social make-up is the racial divide in the Gotham of the ‘60s. Anyone familiar with that time period should have a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of some people’s behavior and the language that they use, but DC is still sensitive to how readers might react and as such included a note at the beginning of the issue about the language used and, more importantly, the context in which its usage is taking place. It’s indicative of the level of thought and care that’s going into DC’s books, and I appreciated the note’s inclusion, especially as this book is rated for Ages 13+ and not part of the publisher’s adult Black Label imprint. 

But King’s writing alone isn’t responsible for setting the tone; the visuals from Hester, inker Eric Gapstur, and colorist Jordie Bellaire do their fair share of that work as well, and they do it marvelously. Hester and Gapstur have teamed a number of times before, and their pairing has never looked better than it does here, with light and shadow usage, in particular silhouettes and negative space, that goes a long way towards the aforementioned tone-setting. Bellaire’s color work is top-notch as always, with a naturalistic palette that helps ground readers in the story without detracting from the noir of it all. It’s incredible work all around from a trio of extremely well-matched artists.

Gotham City: Year One #1 is a spectacular debut issue for the series. King, Hester, and co. deliver a compelling mystery and characters who are equal parts relatable and intriguing in their complexity. I dare say this is the best first issue King has written in years, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 

Final Verdict: BUY.


Round-Up

  • Elsewhere in Batman-related debuts, The Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing #1 begins a new solo series for the clown prince of crime. Matthew Rosenberg and Carmine Di Giandomenico set up an interesting story for the character, and add an intriguing mystery with the last page cliffhanger. Unfortunately that mystery is then immediately resolved in Rosenberg and Francesco Francavilla‘s backup story, which really undercuts the hook of the series. This is a weird one for sure.
  • Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths kicks into high gear this week, with a new issue of the main series from Joshua Williamson, Daniel Sampere, and Alejandro Sánchez, as well as a one-shot, Dark Crisis: The Deadly Green, from writers Ram V.Alex Paknadel, & Dan Watters and artists Daniel Bayliss, Tom Derenick, George Kambadais, Brett Peeples, & Matt Herms that fills in what appears to be a pretty integral part of the overall story. The one-shot should be read before the main issue, if reading order is a thing you’re concerned about. It’s nice to see all the pieces of the Dark Crisis puzzle starting to come together in a satisfying way.
  • Batman #128 continues Chip Zdarsky, Jorge Jimenez, and Tomeu Morey‘s “Failsafe” storyline with the Justice League entering the fray in the main story, and a backup from Zdarsky, Leonardo Romero, and Jordie Bellaire looking at the origins of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. This book is non-stop action and it absolutely rules.

Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!

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