The Character of a City-Gotham Nights

Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope you have enjoyed the debate I had with Paul O’Connor of Longbox Graveyard over 70’s vs. 90’s comic books, and I hope you come down strongly on my side that the 90’s are the best!

Seriously, though, we had a good-natured conversation about 90’s comics myths, 70’s comics, the differences between the two eras, and all sorts of cool stuff.  Take a listen here if you haven’t, or give it another one if you have!  The classics never get old, do they?

I sure hope not because today I’m taking a look at one of the all-time classics in superheroes, Batman!  We won’t be looking at him in the traditional sense, however.  We’ll be looking in particular at one of the most important supporting characters in the Batman mythos.

The supporting characters are almost what drives Batman.  If Batman’s rogue’s gallery are counted as supporting characters, then they’re almost certainly the most important element to Batman’s tapestry.  Even if we don’t count the Joker or Calendar Man, the supporting cast makes the Batman comic book come alive in ways many other comic books do not.  Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Nightwing, Lucius Fox, Leslie Thompkins, and more bring out the “man” in Batman, and that’s good, because otherwise Batman would just be a weird rich dude who beat up the criminally insane and street level criminals.  Thanks to them, he is now a weird rich dude who beats up the criminally insane and street-level criminals  while having relationships with various folks.

The most important character in the Batman books, though, could possibly be Gotham City.  Gotham City gives a vibe few other locales, fictional or otherwise,  in comic books of any genre can match.  I think it may be the only location in comic books, especially superhero comic books, that can actually say it is a character (other than Danny the Street, of course).  Gotham City means as much to Batman as Batarangs, the Batwing, and Alfred’s snide comments.

I think we can all agree that the architecture in Gotham City reflects the environment that it is, but it is often people that determine the character of a city.  We speak differently about the people of New York City than we do the folks of Los Angeles.  In fact, we think of people within those cities as being vastly different!  Beverly Hills and Compton aren’t the same, and neither are Staten Island and Queens.  The people of Gotham City are a proud lot, but they are also a hard lot.  Their city reflects them, even as their hero reflects their city.  Gotham Nights was a 4-issue mini-series published by DC Comics in 1992 that attempted to show us Gothamites, and by doing so also showing us their city.

John Ostrander handles the writing chores, while Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson are on top of pencils/inks.  The book reads well, although it is not as good as some of Ostrander’s other works, such as Suicide Squad, Grimjack, Punisher, or Spectre, but it is a very solid read.  Of course, it is also important to note that Ostrander’s high marks are so high that is no surprise that some of his other works don’t measure up to them.  Even Justin Verlander can’t throw 100-MPH every pitch!  What he can do, though, and what Ostrander does here, is deliver a solid outing each time.

We get an enjoyable read that may not quite reach its potential, but I think some of that is due to space limitations.  If one is going to do a mini-series about the people of Gotham City in a way to bring the city to life in a new way to Batman fans, it seems like it would need to be longer than four issues.  The stories about the individuals are charming, but they feel rushed.  Just as we start to get to know the varied types of folks that comprise the human landscape of Gotham City, the series ends.

But for something to end, it must begin, yes?  This series starts with Batman chasing a mook.  Doesn’t it seem like all Batman titles are legally required to start that way?

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 2
That mook looks a bit more like he is doing the Batdance than he is running away from Batman. Remember Batdance? I don’t think anyone does except me.

The very start of the series has most of the action you’ll see from Batman in this story.  That doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean that if you are buying this because you wanted to see Batman swoop down on every mugger in every alley of  Gotham City then this book isn’t for you.  I think the covers sort of told someone that, but I can only imagine how ripped off someone might have felt if they got this on an impulse buy hoping to see Batman doing Batman stuff.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 1
This is the cover that I think could have inspired the most of those regretful impulse buys.
Gotham Nights #2 - Page 1
The first time I saw this cover, I thought it was Catwoman enticing some hapless mark. It isn’t, but that isn’t bad.
Gotham Nights #3 - Page 1
All I can imagine when I see this is the idea that Batman is enforcing one of the vast array of anti-homeless ordinances that have sprung up across the United States. “It’s illegal to sleep on a park bench after dark, citizens! Let the Shadow of the Bat remind you!” Seriously, though, those laws are bunk.
Gotham Nights #4 - Page 1
The pastries and the gun make for a beautiful dichotomy.

The covers have a cool design, and I especially enjoy the bordering.  I feel like that alone sort of set these apart as “not your typical Batman book”, although with the first (and possibly the fourth) issue(s) I can see a casual fan picking it up and being disappointed that there isn’t more Batman in it.

But just because there isn’t more Batman doesn’t make this title a disappointment.  In fact, I’d say it is almost worth it for the great art of Gotham City alone.  Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson make the city come alive as a character in and of itself. Some of their work makes the buildings of Gotham seem like the night solidified  as they reach as high as they can into sky in an attempt to embrace their ethereal cousin…

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 5
That quote about Gotham being for giants sums up the way Gotham City has looked in nearly everything except the Batman ’66 TV show.
Gotham Nights #1 - Page 4
Man, is there anything one can’t quote Churchill about?
Gotham Nights #2 - Page 2
With just that single train, Gotham City has better mass transit than Atlanta.
Gotham Nights #2 - Page 3
Different parts of a city make a city’s personality so varied. I love that Gotham City is no different.  Of course, someone just out of the panel is bemoaning the lack of English being spoken, because, hey, Gotham City is no different.

The pages almost allow the city to breathe.  If it could breathe, you just know Gotham’s breath would be rank.  Thankfully, you don’t have to smell that, while you still get to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, as I stated earlier, cities become characters due to the folks than inhabit them.  While it seems like Gotham City is populated solely by guys who are part crocodile or have clocks for faces, most of the people in Gotham City are quite normal…some of them appallingly so.  Take Jimmy and Jennifer.  These two folks remind me of that non-couple we all know.  You know the one.  They obviously like each other, but neither do much of anything about it other than act in a flirtatious way toward one another that annoys all around them.  That having been said, they are nice people, even if Jennifer has little to no idea how to act in regard to talking about sexually transmitted diseases in public.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 10 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 11 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 12

Jennifer’s way-too-loud discussion about AIDS in public followed up by her assumption that Jimmy is gay due to his concern over AIDS and his never having made a pass at her sort of tells you what sort of lady she is.  Jimmy also seems to be judging her because she has sex and dates a lot, so you can tell what sort of person he is fairly quickly as well.  They are nice enough folks, but there is a bigger picture they aren’t getting.

You may not have noticed the doughnut lady who dealt with Jimmy’s ever-so-clever order.  That seems to be par for the course for her, as she is perpetually building her own world in her own head.  I don’t blame her; I spend a great deal of my time dreaming about what my life would be like if I won the lottery.  (Basically, it would be more or less the same but with more comic books, less work, and probably an Unspoken Decade magazine.  Maybe it will happen!  Keep dreaming, Legions!)

Her name is Rosemary Hayes, and she is something to behold in her dreams.  Aren’t we all?

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 8 Gotham Nights #2 - Page 12 Gotham Nights #2 - Page 13 Gotham Nights #2 - Page 14 Gotham Nights #2 - Page 15

Man, she sure makes Wonder Woman fat in her dreams!  I love it!  Her character is a tragic one, whose loneliness reaches out and just grabs you through the page.  I feel so badly for her after this next page, when she wakes up and the reality of her dreams dissipates with ever beam of light that makes its way into her eyes.  We’ve all felt that way after a dream, right?

Gotham Nights #2 - Page 17
I have felt that too, Rosemary. It just ain’t fair.

Life, of course, isn’t fair to many folks, but it seems decidedly harsh on Joel and Emma, an older couple who have all sorts of problems, ranging from health to money.  Being broke is bad, but it is also tough to watch the world change around you when things are going poorly for you, especially as you get older.  That gets really tough if you recall when things were different, when you were younger, and when you could do something about it.  Things could not be going much more poorly for Emma and Joel, so Gotham, being the harsh mistress that it is, ups the ante just a little.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 9 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 20They will support and care for one another as best they can through these issues, but at least they do have each other.  Dio is an ex-con on parole, who insists on pushing away anyone who is close, especially his pregnant wife.  He also has words with Batman, who says he’ll be keeping an eye on him.  I love that; it’s so small-town sheriff in a western, but it is also so Batman.  Those two genres don’t line up that neatly very often…

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 14 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 15

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 16

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 23 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 24

Dio’s path in life hasn’t taken him anywhere awesome thus far, except maybe for his wife, Migdalia, but all he seems to do for her is to threaten to hit her and demand beer.  I am a big fan of beer, but I am not so much a fan of a violence against women.  He also appears to have a past as a high-end henchman, having worked for The Penguin.  I like that Batman has such a memory that he recalls this guy; Penguin must have stopped dressing his guys like he did in Batman ’66, where they’d have a hard time being told apart.

Dio’s tale is a sad one, and no tale in the book is devoid of heartbreak.  The question is is how will these people that comprise the great city of Gotham survive their personal tragedies?

Gotham Nights reminds us that each city, even the fictional ones, are full of people.  These people have dreams, hopes, fears, bouts of depression, hankerings for ice cream, and all of the various feelings that go together to make up human existence.  You’ll see these folks rise, fall, get up, stumble, sleep, eat, and engage in all sorts of activities just to keep their lives moving along.

Normally, I go through bit by bit and give you the story, but that seems a disservice to such a character-drive story as this one.  Instead, go out, find the book, and see yourself in these characters for yourself.  See yourself and your choices in a new light.  See yourself in Gotham Nights…and never forget one thing always remains constant in Gotham City…

Gotham Nights #4 - Page 23

Hope you had fun, Legions of the Unspoken!  Next week, Emily Scott brings you Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, and Darry Weight takes a look at Cable. We’ll talk Rob Liefeld’s Avengers in an upcoming podcast, and Super-Blog Team Up returns on 4/21 with Top 10’s!  Hope to see you there for all of it, folks!

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3 thoughts on “The Character of a City-Gotham Nights”

  1. This was an interesting write-up, Dean. There were soooooo many darn Batman-related books in the early 1990s that this pretty much slipped under my radar. I’m sure that I saw Gotham Nights for sale when it came out, but it unfortunately got lost in the crowd of stuff that was getting churned out. That’s one of the reasons why I really enjoy your blog: you often spotlight cool comic books that I missed out on the first time around.

    Actually, I don’t know if I really would have appreciated Gotham Knights if I had picked it up in 1992. Back in high school I was much more into comic books for action and excitement than character development, comedy and quiet moments. But it is probably much more the type of book I’d enjoy nowadays, given that I’m more into Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez than I am superheroes!

    By the way, I wanted to mention that the really great cover artwork for these four issues is by Eduardo Barreto. He was an amazing artist.

    Liked by 1 person

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