Review: Gotham City: Year One #1

“I Hear the Monsters Singing”
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Review by Eric Lee

Gotham City: Year One #1 offers a classic crime noir tale that involves an interesting conspiracy within the Wayne family.

Going into Year One fresh with no idea what to expect, it was a pleasant surprise to see old-school detective Slam Bradley as the central protagonist. That’s a pretty brilliant set-up. Writer Tom King simultaneously pays homage to the old pre-Batman Detective Comics and the noir-inspired narration that was ubiquitous in the original Batman: Year One arc.

The comic also feels a bit fresher because it lacks any of King’s normal writing tropes, such as the rampant parallelism or constant repetition of a key phrase. The narration in this issue hearkens back to the hard-boiled, traditional detective novel or film.

Fortunately, the plot of the comic’s fairly compelling. The daughter of the Wayne family is missing, but instead of this being a straightforward kidnapping story, King embroils the characters in layers of complications. Everybody feels like a suspect, including… no, especially the Wayne family. This mystery of what’s really going on with the Waynes is what drives the narrative.

What is Gotham?

King reported that Gotham City: Year One is supposed to show the origins of how the place transformed from a typical American city into a gritty, dark metropolis. Unfortunately, there’s no clear sign of that premise so far. The main problem is that the plot, while great, is very insular. There’s very little indication of Gotham’s status quo or how it is reacting to the Wayne scandal. It’s only barely established that it’s a sunny-looking city. This makes it difficult for readers to appreciate the dramatic differences between past and modern Gotham if we barely have a baseline of what it even looked like back then.

Another reason why Gotham does not feel well-established is down to the art. It feels strange to criticize Green Arrow artist Phil Hester’s illustrations, as his high contrast, heavy black style would normally be a great match for a noir series like this. However, the readers receive very little visual reference to the time period or the expansiveness of the City. The backgrounds are relatively sparse. With the exception of a period car and a few characters’ outfits, you’d think that the story’s set in the present, not 1961. Unfortunately, the visual design so far lacks a unique flair that evokes the 60s.

Conclusion

Gotham City: Year One #1 opens with a promising mystery, even though the art and small scale prevent it from being a fully immersive dive into Gotham’s past.

Images courtesy of DC Entertainment


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