So Lee and I have been watching lots of Bones. Its a good show with lots of SCIENCE! and interesting and dynamic characters. Its a great police procedural full of pathos drama, interesting turns and great character moments and development. Because I have a comic podcast and comic blog I often try to connect what is happening in my everyday life to comics. This has lead me to think about good police procedurals in comics. There is no reason comics can’t do these kinds of stories well, and they have.
What It Is
We’ve talked about Gotham Central before. Its a GREAT procedural. There are stories about evidence gathering, people’s hidden natures, canvassing for witnesses, and interdepartmental politics. Also every once and a while Batman shows up and glares at people until they give him what he wants.
Why it works
Gotham Central reads a lot like the more intimate cop shows on TV. It gets close to its characters, but never too close. We are always following professionals, and their stories would not be out of place in a Nolan film in terms of their focus on their jobs above all else. By letting cops and cop work be the center of the stories he tells Brubaker gets to play a coy game of hide and seek with the oddness of the DC Universe that his beat cops inhabit. Often its easy to forget that these cops are doing anything besides run down normal leads. And then all of the sudden, out of no where, suddenly Firefly’s suit is shooting at our cops, and Batman is fighting the stranger in it. It manages to deal with huge changes in tone, not by trying to escape the tension, but by embracing it. The brutal changes in tone let us get nice character moments, letting Brubaker and Rucka put extreme and sudden stress on their characters without upsetting the world they live in.
Where it runs into problems
Gotham Central balances on a razors edge between the extreme humanness of Brubaker’s characters and the oddness of the supehero genre that this book exists. When it tips too far one way or another it looses a ton of its magic. Like Brubaker’s lesser works it becomes predictable, uninteresting, and without any emotional hook. Instead of telling a paint-by-numbers superhero story, our friend Ed, tells a paint by numbers Law and Order plot. In fairness the problem is with the setting and the the shared genre conventions more than with the genre as a whole.
Daredevil, the ed Brubaker run
I’d forgotten that the super-procedural run on Daredevil was written by Ed Brubaker. Had I payed more attention at the beginning of this post I could have just called it, “Brubaker: Law and Order: Superhero Version.”
Why it works
This specific Daredevil run features the Man in Red as a supporting character to Matt Murdock and the Murdock law offices. All the supporting characters are members of Nelson & Murdock’s legal team and most stories are focused on some sort of legal battle. Murdock mostly puts on his tights to give the defense a little illegal boost here and there. The plots are tightly and interestingly conceived, the writing is spot on, and the characters are interesting, conflicted and fully fleshed out. Its a great read.
When it doesn’t
Near the end of this run, leading up to the Shadowland event all the interesting legal and character work gets left behind in the face an event neither conceived or penned by the Bru. The whole event is muddled, overwritten and just plain unfun. It takes Daredevil in a direction that undersells his strengths and is an almost exact rehash of a story told just 30 issues ago. Again, the conceit of a superhero inspired procedural works really well when the book is allowed to pull equally from both sides of its heritage. When either becomes too dominant the books loose their charm.
I’d really like to track down some of this work that is no indebted to the massively interesting and creative mind of Mr. Brubaker and see how they read. He is the unchallenged master of the sub-genre at this point, but it would be nice to see someone else give themselves a shot. Still I loved both books and I hope to see more like them.