Thursday, 1 December 2022

Gotham City: Year One #1 Review (Tom King, Phil Hester)

It’s 1961 and Helen Wayne, the baby daughter of Richard and Constance Wayne, has been kidnapped - by Batman?! Samuel “Slam” Bradley is drawn into the case to act as middle-man between the Waynes and the Batman but soon realises he’s in way over his head.

DC are really leaning hard on their “Year One” label lately, eh? However, unlike Amazon’s Rings of Power which turned out to be a baffling origin story for Mordor/Mount Doom, this isn’t a pointless origin story for a place like Gotham City but a noirish tale involving the relatively obscure character of Slam Bradley. I can understand why it’s titled the way it is though - Batman and Gotham both have widespread name recognition whereas Slam Bradley will only be known to a handful of readers.

Tom King has been writing this kind of story for a few years now. His Rorschach and Human Target books were both private detective stories, which Gotham City: Year One looks to be as well, and, like those other titles, King’s latest is unfortunately also not very good, going by this rather leaden first issue.

It’s quite by-the-numbers for this kind of genre story: the femme fatale kicks things off, Slam gets roughed up, there’s villains on all sides, and then he’s made to look bad even though we know he’s the hero. The role reversals aren’t bad - the Wayne family here come off as quite shady while the Batman is presented as one of his unhinged performance artist rogues rather than the stoic superhero he normally is - but it’s unsurprising stuff for the most part and there isn’t much here that makes me want to find out what happens next.

I’ve never loved Phil Hester’s artwork but I don’t mind it either. I suppose it looks fine for the noirish aesthetic though it put me in mind of late ‘90s/early ‘00s Batman comics when Hester was a regular artist on the character. Which is fitting as this kind of rather tedious storytelling was what Batman comics generally were filled with during that time period.

Gotham City: Year One #1 won’t knock anyone’s socks off, nor is it a terrible comic - I think I’ve just read too many boring Tom King comics in this similar vein to have any hopes that he’s gotten the formula right at long last and created something brilliant here. It’s capably written and drawn, it’s just uninteresting and made no impression on me - most readers could comfortably wait for the collected edition if they’re interested in this. If you want to read a great Slam Bradley comic, check out Darwyn Cooke’s Solo #5 instead.

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