Mysteries abound in Gotham City: Year One, as a Wayne family baby has been kidnapped even though Gotham is one of the safest cities in the nation. The first issue introduced readers to Slam Bradley, a detective who barked up the wrong tree and is now in more danger than he bargained for. A man who nearly always solves his case, he’s not giving up on Gotham or the Waynes, even if it means taking days worth of punches to the face.
Gotham City: Year One #2 opens with Sam getting beaten to a pulp by the Gotham police. The first page reveals how safe Gotham seems, as the commissioner tells him only six people have been murdered in the year, and nearly all the murderers turned themselves in. Gotham is not a city with a crime problem. The way Tom King and Phil Hester play out this scene, it’s easy to imagine the real numbers are much higher than that, and maybe the cops hide cases to make the world think Gotham is safe. Either way, Sam takes his lumps and, as a stand-up guy and smart one, gives the cops nothing to go on.
Beaten and wary of what comes next, the story continues with Sam out of police custody and back on the case. Throughout the issue, we get to know the mysterious woman who started this all by giving Sam a kidnapper’s letter and how screwed up the Wayne parents are to each other. They may be more powerful than anyone and richer than god, but they do not treat each other well. King layers in compelling mystery between them, suggesting something nefarious is going on, or at the very least, their relationship is broken for a reason.
It’s not abundantly clear, but the narration is all being spoken by an elder Sam in the future to Batman. This is a key element in the case, as whoever stole the Wayne baby calls themselves the bat-man. They even use a bat logo! It’s an element of the story that makes one nervous since this is a prequel to Batman ever existing and could have severe ramifications for how we see the character.
Sam’s story here is more of a gumshoe noir told expertly through the character’s steady tough-guy demeanor and captioning. In a tense scene, for instance, Sam stays calm, yet Mr. Wayne is freaking out, demanding he gives the money drop away regardless of Sam assuming it’s all a trick to take the money and not deliver the baby. With a gun pointed in his face, Sam keeps his cool, knowing reacting or fighting is not the way to a resolution. Through these details and the clean art, the tough guy days of yore are alive and well in this narrative.
Regarding the more profound mysteries, this issue doesn’t give us any obvious answers or directions on where to go from here. There are hints, like the owl perched on the Wayne tombstone, or how criminals seem to give themselves up in every murder case. Those hints could be misdirections, as it’s hard to say where the story is going. Even the mysterious woman becomes even more of a mystery by the end of the issue.
Hester’s art is exceptional, and his style is perfect for a noir book like this one. Paired with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, which are never too bright or unrealistic, the art creates a chilling, cold, and meditative journey. There’s some compelling use of silhouette at the dropoff scene, as the woman holds the envelope that Sam refuses to take. The envelope is starkly white, as is the rain, with buildings behind them framing Sam in a blue coat. Only his coat and the woman’s fingernails are in color. Later, a white silhouetted gun is pointed at Sam cast in red, creating stark contrast, which is so very noir. These are just a few examples of how good this book is at capturing a noir sensibility.
Gotham City: Year One #2 is dripping with noir sensibilities, capturing and maybe even romanticizing the gumshoe detective. Layered in is a mystery worth discovering with the tantalizing notion this series could change how we think about Batman.
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