Gotham City Year One #4
The new crime-noir classic rolls on! Slam Bradley’s search for the Wayne heiress takes a tragic, deadly turn and the simmering pot that is Gotham City is about to boil over! As the world falls apart around him, Slam must decide between justice and revenge-a choice that will echo down the generations and redefine both Gotham and Batman!
Slam Bradley’s work for the Waynes has gone from bad to worse. Every issue of Gotham City Year One ends on a more dour note than the one before. At a certain point, it would have to wear on a person, grounding them down and ultimately defeating them. Or making them snap. The latter is what happens to Slam Bradley in Gotham City Year One #4.
Helen Wayne is dead. The police blame Bradley. Not for murdering Helen, but for not bringing them into the loop so they could solve the case. Richard Wayne blames Bradley. Again, not for murdering her, but for pushing the issue further after the ransom was paid. As a result, Bradley spends the issue’s first seven pages getting beaten for his trouble. Indeed, Gotham City Year One #4 begins as a somewhat run-of-the-mill fallout story for Bradley. Helen Wayne has been found, so his case has been closed. As the reader, we know the story is not over. But Bradley doesn’t. So all he can do is respond to what the world is throwing at him in the aftermath of a difficult time. But King isn’t telling such a simple story. Before we know what’s happened, this relatively straightforward detective outing has morphed into something more transformational for Gotham. In a calculated moment of revenge, Bradley attacks the police commissioner who had taken part in beating him in the beginning of the issue.
King established in Gotham City Year One #1 that the first-person narration he is using for Bradley–the kind of narration typical to stories in the genre–is in this case Bradley relaying the events depicted in the series to Bruce Wayne. Since then King hasn’t lingered on that idea. He has name-dropped Bruce a few times, but mostly King has concerned himself with telling the story of Sam Bradley’s participation in the Helen Wayne kidnapping case.
Gotham City Year One #4 revisits this aspect of the story as Bradley reveals the consequences of his attack on the police commissioner. The unintended consequences snowball, and before the issue is over we learn that this single act was the catalyst that created the modern Gotham City that Batman spends his time protecting.
The physicality of the beatings Bradley both endures and commits are critical to Gotham City Year One #4. Hester, Gapstur, and Bellaire have delivered a number of very intense and personal moments of violence. Saying that this issue sees Bradley getting beaten barely sets it apart from the previous three. But what happens in this issue is uglier than everything else by an order of magnitude. Certainly part of that is what is done to Bradley.
But most effective is Bradley’s attack on the police commissioner. The brutality on display is unmatched in previous issues. Bellaire alternates colors between panels leading to very different kinds of contrast: black and red, black and white, white and red. Before the beating begins, as Bradley comes up behind the commissioner, the color scheme in the panels showing both characters is white and red. There is a strange softness to this–somehow the contrast between the two feels less drastic.
After that, the coloring does one of two things. The moments of impact, as Bradley’s bat connects with the commissioner are black and white–as though each hit was accompanied by a flashbulb going off. Certainly, those feel shocking. But the panels focused solely on Bradley are harsher, their combination of black and red making those moments feel unrelenting. Compared to the panels prominently featuring white, these are hard to look at. There is a true sense of Bradley being lost to darkness. The full-page depiction of Bradley walking away from the commissioner he has just savaged is the best example of this. If part of Gotham really died in this moment (we see that Bradley thinks it did), the art team has delivered a moment that perfectly encapsulates it.
This issue also continues to expand on the relationship between the Waynes and further examines Richard Wayne’s plans to develop Gotham. These hints remain very vague, but King continues to suggest that more is going on with Richard Wayne than anyone knows. Indeed, there is a scene in the issue that has a kind of “he doth protest too much” feel to it.
These elements–the exploration of the Waynes, the death of an older and better Gotham, and Bradley’s need to tell Bruce this story–are combined together in such a way that the story itself seems to be shifting. Nothing King is doing is upending the series fundamentally. The story retains all the elements that make a hardboiled detective story what it is. But what began as a compelling if not overly inventive mystery in the first issue is turning into something much deeper where the mystery is less about the plot Bradley is tied up in and more about what the series itself has to say.
Gotham City Year One #4 sets out to accomplish more than any issue in the series has. But it’s very much a transitory issue. Each of the previous three was constructed both in story and theme to advance the mystery plot in a specific way. This issue puts the broad strokes of that plot to bed as King starts to do something new. It is compelling in its own right, but because so much is open ended it doesn’t function quite as well narratively as a single issue. Without a doubt riveting, though, is Bradley’s attack on the police commissioner. Both in a real and metaphorical sense, it’s the most visceral moment in the series yet. This is yet another must have issue in a must have series.
Gotham City Year One #4: The Death of Gotham
- Writing - 8.75/108.8/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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