Overview: In Gotham City: Year One #5, Gotham burns in the aftermath of baby Helen Wayne’s murder and Slam Bradley’s vicious secret beating of the police commissioner, but even during a flaming riot, the truth will come out.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Gotham City: Year One #5 opens with a flashback to Queenie and Richard Wayne’s first meeting in a hotel, after Constance stormed out past Queenie working as a maid, then flashing forward a little to the couple a month into their adulterous affair, plotting together in a diner.
Skipping forward more, as Richard watches Sue dancing in a club, then later after sex in a hotel room, Richard cajoles Queenie to help him steal his money back from Constance, which he signed away when he married foolishly – with a plan involving a fake kidnapping of his own daughter. However, Slam’s employee Johnny catches the two of them (in the timeframe of the first issue), who sexually harasses her and blackmails her into giving him half the money.
Later, though, she lures Johnny to Richard, who murders him with his own gun, then kisses Queenie over Johnny’s bleeding corpse. Queenie then tells Slam that when she collected the money from him on the roof, she only left baby Helen for fifteen minutes, but when she returned, the tiny girl was gone, and she assumed Richard had her. When she heard Helen was dead, she assumed Richard killed his own daughter.
Slam drives her through the city as riots break out and the city burns around them. At Slam’s mother Shirley’s crystal ball business, Queenie undergoes a mystical lie detector test through tarot cards, and Slam makes a plan.
Leaving Queenie at his place, he throws Wayne’s head of security/bagman Loder out a window in front of his family, drives the man on top of his car to the dump, then proceeds to beat him savagely to see if he killed the baby. Loder denies everything but reveals that Wayne is broke, and Constance controls all the money left for the Waynes, including employing them as combination security/babysitters. Wayne’s claim to Queenie that he needed his own money was a lie – he’d lost it all, and Constance was trying to protect what was left and run the factory herself.
Finally, Loder drops the bomb that Constance had gone out during the exchange of money for the baby…and Slam drives back to Wayne Manor as Gotham burns behind him to confront the murderess of her own child, Constance Wayne.
Analysis: In the penultimate issue of Tom King’s prequel series, we finally learn the truth of the whole mystery – very typical of King’s work, which usually features a narration-heavy issue or two revealing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together before the finale resolves the conflict. Unfortunately, because each revelation fits so clearly into the tropes of nihilistic neo-noir (particularly Chinatown, cited by King as inspiration for this miniseries) without any real variation of interest, the puzzle fitting together lands with a quiet thud instead of a satisfying bang.
King attempts contemporary relevance by adding a discussion of racial tension and bigotry, but everything is so surface level it doesn’t come close to adding a new element to the story. Additionally, the attempt to depict the riot, while artistically conceived, doesn’t impact what the protagonists actually do, and so feels distant and minor, instead of the city-destroying impact it feels like it’s supposed to have. Perhaps King would have fared better with his usual twelve-issue scope, but the pressure for a “normal sized” six-issue miniseries for the trade seemed to dictate an overly compressed, overly rote series.
Unlike the recent Batman: Killing Time, which used its six issues to develop a tragic and nihilistic mystery through the confusing the ultimately logical and powerful mechanic of Clock King’s time-skipping narration, Gotham City: Year One relies on Slam Bradley’s pastiche of hardboiled detectives, which doesn’t generate nearly as much interest. Add to that some of King’s most obvious patterns – from the femme fatale who’s guilty of the absolutely most horrific crimes but also has some really sympathetic tortured backstory to his apparently recent fixation on kissing or sex next to a fresh and bloody corpse (seen in The Human Target as well as this issue, to equally disgusting effect), and the story feels tired rather than shocking or bleak. The possible revelation that Slam might be Bruce’s ancestor hangs over our heads like the ever-present rain in this issue – cold and slimy.
Despite the frustrations the writing provides, Phil Hester’s art, brilliantly finished with Eric Gapstur’s inks and Jordie Bellaire’s colors, continues to render the world of this city in beautifully jagged lines, black shadows, and rich coloring effects here in Gotham City: Year One #5. The seemingly simple, almost two-tone color schemes of many panels belies how carefully Bellaire has enhanced Hester’s beautifully rendered linework with thoughtfully chosen hues that create powerful emotional effects.
Phil Hester’s main cover shows a badly beaten Slam Bradley within the image of a cold-faced Richard Wayne, the burning city line of Gotham above them, and a hanged man tarot card beside – very ominous indeed! Jeff Spokes’ variant cover has a strongly lined, brightly lit style reminiscent of Doc Shaner, with a large Batman hovering over Slam Bradley – though if you don’t notice the lack of mustache and the bandages, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s Jim Gordon at his desk. Tony Shasteen’s incentive cover has a brilliantly neon, rain-streaked effect over the image of Slam walking down a crowded street at night in the rain, with a silver Bat reflecting in the puddles he splashes through.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.
Gotham City: Year One #5
Continuing down the overly-worn rut of nihilistic neo-noir tales from the past, Tom King puts all the puzzle pieces together in this penultimate issue, while Phil Hester and the art team continue to drench the tale with power and emotion the writing doesn’t quite support.