Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gotham Central: Book Three- On the Freak Beat by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano

Reneé Montoya is back on the force after being outed as a lesbian by Two Face and framed for the murder of the man who took the pictures that outed her, also done by Two Face. But her outing has made her family break ties with her, and now all she has is her partner, Daria Hernandez, and her partner, Crispus Allen.

She and Allen are on their way back from dinner at a pizza joint when they see three enforcers about to pull something. But it's a hot, steamy night, and when they call for backup, they are told that it will take five minutes for it to get there. She and Allen know that by that time, what is going down will be over, so they pull out their guns and go in. Inside the building, they see spider- shaped signs on the walls, and manage to get the drop on the three. But the man they are after shoots Montoya and Allen returns fire before the man, known as the Black Spider, real name Jimmy LaMonica, can kill Montoya with a head shot. This gets him an IAB investigation, and as it turns out, one of the crime scene techs takes a bullet from the scene and puts it up on the internet.

Back at the stationhouse, one of the enforcers accuses Allen of shooting another of the enforcers while he was handcuffed, and calls him an "Uncle Tom: Unfortunately, the bullet that the CSI tech, Jimmy Corrigan, took was the bullet that could clear Crispus of the IAB investigation, and Montoya must team up with the IAB guy who was assigned to her own case to track down Corrigan, get him to confess, and figure out who bought it on the auction site he sold it on.

Next, the new police commissioner has the Bat-signal on top of the station house taken down and dismantled because of how many cops died during Joker's rampage in the previous book. Like at least some of the cops, he no longer believes that Batman can be trusted to be on the side of the Police. Batman tells him he is wrong, but the new commissioner refuses to back down.

Next, Detectives Josie Mac and Marcus Driver investigate the murder of a rich televangelist. All the evidence at the scene of the crime points to Selina Kyle, aka the Catwoman, being responsible for the murder. But the evidence against her is just a little too perfect and it smells to Josie like a frame. She is shortly thereafter contacted by Catwoman, and when it comes down to a fight, Selina realizes that Josie Mac has a secret- she has a metahuman psychic power. She uses this secret to blackmail the officer into investigating the case and trying to clear her. When the case is solved, Catwoman tells Josie that secrets are something that shouldn't be kept from a partner, something that Josie realizes is the truth.

Lastly, a cop is burned trying to rescue a kid from a gang-related fight that ends up in some kind of strange chemical lab set up in a basement. But the flames do more than just burn him. Something about the chemicals is changing him on a cellular level, turning him into a metahuman freak. Montoya and Allen track down the man responsible, a costumed villain known as the Alchemist, currently in jail in Central City.

But the Alchemist is more than just a crook with a grudge, he's a man convinced of his own superiority who likes to push everyone's buttons and be in control of the situation. And he's frighteningly intelligent. More to the point, he set up the chemical lab to have just the effect it is currently having on the burned officer, and he agrees to reverse the process0 but first he will have to go there and observe the effect himself.

Montoya and Allen have him transferred to Gotham in the company of themselves and two Central City cops, but Doctor Alchemy gets free and hurts several people, including Montoya, and accelerates the process of the mutation. He is stopped by Batman, who assures the Gotham cops that he has come up with a process that can reverse the mutation. But it needs to be administered within the next twelve hours. And since Dr. Alchemy's attack freed the cop, who went on a rampage when Dr. Alchemy killed his wife before his eyes, this isn't going to be easy. Can the detectives find their fellow officer and administer the antidote to the process before the twelve hours are up? Or will all their efforts be for naught?

Another excellent volume showing what life is like for the cops in Gotham City, and the dangers that come with policing a city where Batman and his rogues gallery run rampant and free, along with the normal types of crime prevalent in any big city. The cops do the best they can, but often their private lives rise up to smack them in the face, and sometimes coming clean about the things they hide only helps them, even as it takes a personal toll.

I enjoyed every single one of the stories here, because they rang true to cop work- not necessarily on the timing- that seems to suffer from TV cop disease, where CSIs work and have answers for the cops in a few hours or days instead of the weeks or months it takes in real life (especially true in a large city where the same CSI lab has to process all the evidence from every crime). But that's done, as it is here, for dramatic license, so that's forgivable. And we also get to see more of the personalities of the cops in the squad, and come to understand what drives them.

Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka have fleshed out the personalities of the Gotham cops, transforming them from throwaway spear carriers to actual characters that we cheer for and want to have succeed in their jobs. The braid of stories brings different characters to the fore, and lets others be temporarily out of view, turning the title into a true ensemble cast. Extremely well done and every time I come to the end of a book, I want to read more. Highly recommended.

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