Monday, January 21, 2008

Four-Color Fiend: Batman - City of Crime TPB

This book reprints the story arc “City of Crime” (CoC) that originally appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS back in 2005-2006. (The headline above will take you to the Wikipedia entry on all things Dave Lapham.)

I had the pleasure to meet David Lapham for the first time back at Comicfest ’93. He was then doing work for Jim Shooter’s Defiant comics, having followed Shooter over from his previous publishing stint at Valiant. David was very enthusiastic and even then you could tell he was a very talented kid with a lot of potential. You never would have guessed talking to him that his career would take off when he stopped doing super-hero stuff and created the very dark STRAY BULLETS (SB) series. Since then he has acquired several industry awards and a solid fan base, both for his writing and work as an artist.

The disturbing elements he brought to SB fit quite well into the Gotham City in which Batman currently resides. Of course, since its inception Gotham has always been the dark twin of Superman’s Metropolis. Probably natural, since the artists and writers who shaped the early versions of both towns based them on the very real New York City, where they worked and many had been raised. If you have spent time in the Big Apple you know all too well that the same bright sunny boulevards of the workday can turn pretty dark and lonely when all those office workers leave for the outer boroughs. I wouldn’t be the first to point out that the neon lights of that city cast pretty dark shadows into which you don’t want to look too carefully.

Lapham’s Dark Knight makes the one Frank Miller brought us seem like Adam West portrayed him. The Batman I grew up with, although he was the World’s Greatest Detective, had a lighter side that the current incarnation seems never to have had. In fact, there are moments in CoC, especially those involving Robin where I was reminded of Rick Veitch’s creepy super-hero satire BRAT PACK. This isn’t necessarily all bad, since Lapham, like Veitch, uses his characters to reveal things about the folks on the four-color page as well as the readers who love them.

There are a series of brutal deaths, many involving pregnant teens and children, which eventually come to the attention of Bruce Wayne. A chance encounter with a young girl, the daughter of an acquaintance of Wayne’s, causes him to put on the cape & cowl when she is found murdered. Initially it seems that her death may be connected to the disappearance of another young girl, whose mother has become a bit of a media celebrity when she comes forth to demand action. As Batman investigates he soon learns that a group called The Body may be the cause of more than a few deaths. Soon two of the Caped Crusader’s well-known enemies, The Penguin and Mister Freeze turn out to have connections with this new group of villains. Things begin unraveling as it becomes apparent that The Body has a much grander goal in mind than making a profit off of the selling of unwanted infants. The wealthy and powerful of Gotham have long ago sold their morals (if not their souls) for what they desire and are more than willing to turn a blind eye to what keeps them where they are.
The story has a mix of super-heroics, police procedural and more than a touch of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as the plot progresses. Even Batman finds himself questioning whether what he does can make a difference and if the citizens of Gotham even care. Of course, in the end Bruce does what he must to save those he has vowed to protect even if they are ungrateful for that aid when it comes. Unfortunately, for many it comes too late to do any good.

Dave Lapham wrote the story and provided the layouts. The final art was by penciller Ramon Bachs and inker Nathan Massengil, both of whom do a good job bringing an air of menace to the whole thing. Boy, their interpretation of The Penguin sure ain’t Burgess Meredith!

I highly recommend this book, but warn you that some of the stuff is disturbing and not for younger readers. I also want to warn you ahead of time, but with no Spoilers, that the ending may not be what you want or like. Heck, even I was creeped out by some of this stuff. Four stars.
Post a Comment