Character created by Bob Kane
"Elseworlds" tale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Somehow, no matter how many twists and turns the on-going DC Comics' Batman saga takes, it never seems to entirely shake its roots in the hard-boiled detective pulps of the thirties and forties.
In 2001, DC released an "Elseworlds" graphic novel , Gotham Noir, wherein JAMES GORDON, instead of rising through the ranks to become police commissioner, is forced to resign from the force under a cloud, and becomes an alcohol-sodden private eye.
As always in the Elseworld series, as the standard DC line goes, "...heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places -- some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist."
In this case, the place is still crime-ridden Gotham City, and the time is 1949. But Gordon is a fallen hero, a disgraced former cop and WWII vet with a busted marriage and a career as a private eye that's heading right into the crapper. One of his few remaining friends is nightclub owner Selina Kyle (Catwoman in standard Batman continuity), who left Gordon when his career hit the skids. Now she's married to Bruce Wayne, a handsome but slightly-thick millionaire war hero, and former friend of Gordon's. Also along for the ride are a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent as a crusading DA, and a pre-Joker Jack Napier as a low-level crook playing a dangerous game of go-between between two rival crime factions. But costumed heroes and villians are non-existent in this Gotham. Even Batman himself is dismissed as mere urban legend. Except that Gordon thinks he's seen him. Maybe. Or maybe this giant bat he's seen is just another hallucination brought on by too many hits from the office bottle.
This is a great little story, a treat for mature Batfans, or anyone who appreciates a good old-fashioned pulp story. There are colourful gangsters, slimy politicians, betrayals, deceptions, long-hidden secrets, a femme fatale or two, and a flawed hero framed for a murder even he's not quite sure he didn't commit.
Writer Ed Brubaker is probably best known by readers of this site for Scene of the Crime, a superb mini-series he did a few years ago with artist Michael Lark. He's also responsible for such projects as Criminal, Incognito, Lowlife, At the Seams, Detour, An Accidental Death, Prez and his contributions to Dark Horse Presents, which have garnered him critical acclaim and nominations for an Eisner award, two Harvey awards and an Ignatz.
Brukaer's frequent partner-in-crime, artist Sean Phillips, dishes up some very tasty artwork in this one, bold and straight-up, but also at times murky and mysterious, full of shadows hinting of menace and betrayal. He's also responsible for the great cover painting, complete with pulp-like lettering.
If you're into the Bat, this one's a treat.
And if it whets your whistle, check out Nine Lives: Who Killed Selina Kyle?, which imagines Dick Grayson as a P.I. And don't miss Bruce Wayne's own short-lived career as a private eye.
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