Overview: Tom King’s pastiche of neo-noir comes to its conclusion in Gotham City: Year One #6, as Gotham City’s mask falls off, leaving only the rot that will eventually create Batman.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): As Gotham City: Year One #6 begins, Slam remembers why he became a cop, mostly just to have a job, as we see Gotham burning in the aftermath of baby Helen Wayne’s murder. He muses that he has been passing as white his entire life and discovers, as a young cop, his brother was killed under the pretext that “NWC” – a crude epithet meaning a black man “went crazy,” justifying police murder.
Slam arrives at Wayne Manor and beats down every Wayne employee in his path until he reaches Richard and Constance in the library. Richard tries to shoot him in a panic, and he and Slam fight. Constance tells a story as they fight about a cave in the Wayne grounds where Richard kept the trophies of his adultery. Constance reveals she knew Richard was behind the kidnapping and shoots him in the head. She tells Slam that she found Helen dead, drowned in her own vomit because the people Richard hired abandoned her. Her plan was to kill her husband and cause riots in revenge for the death of her daughter, then become a “hero” by using her influence to stop the violence over the radio and television. Constance says she’ll let Queenie go if Slam helps her. He agrees, only because he can’t kill her and save what remains of the city.
Slam helps Queenie leave Gotham, and the years pass. Wayne Enterprises grows rich on a chemical factory, but it pollutes the city, and Constance sells it to Ace. A few years later, Constance tries to get Slam to help her son Thomas “toughen up,” not be weak – but Slam refuses.
In the present, Slam finishes his story with Batman. Batman can’t understand the meaning, but Slam says it’s all just dead babies and brothers murdered by cops, murdering widows and men wearing bat ears.
Analysis: Tom King has said many times that Gotham City: Year One is based on classic noirs like Chinatown and the real crime of the Lindberg baby murder. I’ve said from the very first issue that, unlike a lot of King’s work, this feels remarkably lifeless as if King were simply painting a gloss of Batman history names over the absolute bog standard noir story, and sadly, the ending simply confirms this suspicion.
The final lines, “I know, I know, NWC. Well, @$%#, when you look at it all…what else are you going to do?” may be different from Robert Towne’s “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” but the fundamental nihilism and even the cadence of King’s line clearly derives from Towne’s. And perhaps that’s the problem. Towne’s screenplay is taught as one of the most perfectly constructed screenplays of all filmmaking, and perhaps King thought that in imitation, he could capture some of the same prestige. But for all its craft, I find the tawdry cynicism, cheap nihilism, and reveling in the baseness of human nature profoundly tedious.
Similarly, what King tries to do with Gotham and Batman’s histories, tying everything exciting, fun, and noble, from the Batcave to Batman’s attempts to save little babies like his great-aunt Helen, to Wayne Enterprises, to everything nasty, bigoted, perverse, and treacherous – rings ultimately just as hollow to me as attempting to tie Batman’s crusade to save as many people as he can to Joker’s sadistic quest to cause the world the same pain he feels in The Killing Joke does.
For all his mastery, I don’t think Phil Hester’s artwork will be quite able to raise King’s script in the same way that Brian Bolland’s art raised Moore’s to an all-time bestseller for DC. I think this miniseries will be one of the lesser Year Ones, like Frank Miller’s Superman: Year One or Ivory Madison’s Huntress: Year One. The best Year One branded stories have always tended to distill the qualities of their central character into a moving, emotional story. Gotham City: Year One, on the other hand, attempts to find the central character of Gotham City, fails, and declares the attempt meaningless. Without the connection to the characters like Slam, Constance, Queenie, Richard, or any of the others King and Hester attempt to imbue with style and personality, the whole attempt is a brilliantly created but hollow monument to artistic influences gone past, with a veneer of modern racial politics to attempt to provide relevance.
Phil Hester’s final cover of Gotham City: Year One #6 ties together Slam in the past, Slam in the present, smoking in his hospital bed as Batman broods in the doorway, and a blood-red Batman tied up with a rope of pearls and revolver – all classic noir and Batman iconography. Nothing too standout, but it is executed very well, as expected from Hester. Jorge Molina goes full noir movie poster with his variant, showing a much less bulky looking Slam, glasses pure white with reflections similar to what we expect from Jim Gordon, with Constance and Richard Wayne behind him, the shadow of the Batman behind all three – very polished and moody, though Slam’s depiction feels really off from the rest of the book. Finally, Jason Masters provides the 1 in 25 incentive variant with a bandaged but still much slimmer Slam peering out of Venetian blinds as a bat flies past him, perhaps referencing the classic “Yes, father” scene – quite nice, but again, leaving Hester’s main cover is the clearest choice for aesthetic appeal.
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 #6
The series ends with the question of why this story needed to be. It ties things from the past to things in the present, but for what purpose?