Thursday, January 04, 2007

COMICS | The Quick and the Dead

Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead

Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead
By Greg Rucka et al.

I've been following Greg Rucka's works for DC Comics comics recently, and I am slowly becoming a fan of his writing. In particular I like the storyline for his Batman: No Man's Land and Gotham Central series.

The Quick and the Dead is the fourth volume in the Gotham Central series - which is set in the Batman universe, but through the eyes of the Gotham City police. In a world of freakish villians like Joker, Riddler, Two-Face and the Penguin, you have ordinary police detectives trying their best to do their jobs. It brings the perspective down to the human level, while still working within the existing universe of the costumed superheroes. It's not a new concept, but there has been some good stories written from this POV.

The Quick and the Dead takes the story from the perspective of Detective Renee Montoya and her partner, Crispus Allen. One of the reason I follow Greg Rucka's work is his ability to write likeable female characters. (Rucka also did an interesting run as the scribe for Wonder Woman.) Renee Montoya was one of the characters created for the Batman animated series that was transplanted into the comic series, winning her own set of fan following. I see her as one of Greg Rucka's more successful adaptations. I like Montoya as just an ordinary detective who is dedicated to her job. I do not want to see her as another superhero with secret identity and superhero spandex-style angst. (Although she has angst in abundant in The Quick and the Dead.) I am therefore ambivalent with the character development of Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya in Infinite Crisis and the currently on-going 52 series.

Reading The Quick and the Dead now, the comic seems to serve more as background story for the transformation of Crisp Allen into the Sceptre later in Infinite Crisis. And with the recent death of the Question in the latest installment of 52 issue #34, there are strong indications that Montoya will take the mantle of the next Question. This will definitely be a further development of an interesting character - if she has a writer who will do her justice.

As Quick and the Dead opens, Commissioner Akins has the Bat-Signal removed. Gotham City is reconsidering the function of Batman in their city, and has outlawed their protecter. This is a soft pattern here, as Montoya is losing her place in a city that no longer believes in Batman. Montoya's life is indirectly a result of the superheroes and supervillains in Gotham. She wanted to be a policewoman because of Batman. Later, she was outed as a lesbian in Gotham Central: Half A Life by Two-Face, who was obsessed with Montoya - because Montoya had the compassion to see the humanity in him. The ultimate irony, that her act of extraordinary human kindness brought her nothing but grief.

In all appearances, she appears to be coping just fine. But there are cracks in her tight armour, as Montoya begins to exhibit a propensity for self-destructive violence.

In one scene, Batman drops by and tell her not to deal with the villain, Doctor Alchemy. "You didn't used to be so cold," Montoya remarked to Batman. To which the Dark Knight rebutted, "You would know." The female detective is slowly losing control of her world and the one who sees it most clearly is Batman.

There is no happy ever after in The Quick and the Dead. In the story, a police officer is burnt by Doctor Alchemy's experimental flames and is mutated; he was burnt while trying to save a boy. Later, the mutated officer will be killed by his own partner. They thought the mutated officer was a monster. And Montoya begins to recognise her violence as symptom of something darker within her. The Quick and the Dead depicts a world where we failed to recognise our heroes, and somehow in the process failing to recognise our ourselves. It is a bleak tale of monsters within and without, but written in a muted, understated narrative that made it all the more plaintive.

I just wish they wouldn't be so quick to turn Montoya into a superhero.


Carl V. Anderson said...

I met Rucka at Wizard World Chicago several years ago and he seemed like a really nice guy. At the time he was writing Queen and Country. I enjoyed it well enough but when I came to a time that I had to cut back my comic reading it was one of the books that went.

Anonymous said...

Carl, I know what you mean about cutting back on comic reading. I keep telling myself to narrow it down to the "essential titles."