Gotham City Year One #6
The brutal, bloody conclusion to the year's most acclaimed title is here. Slam Bradley has never feared walking the hard path alone, but even his courage will be tested by the shocking turn of events that will take Gotham City down a dark, violent path.
The success or failure of detective stories invariably comes down to the ending. Did the reader solve the mystery early and grow bored in the end? Is the reader convinced the guilty person’s motives would drive them to commit the crime? Does the ending make sense, given all the clues dropped along the way? And in a hardboiled detective story, there is one more critical question: will a cynical reader or detective see the story’s events as just another product of a corrupt society? Gotham City Year One #6 lands on the right side of those questions.
Gotham City Year One #6 opens with an extensive backstory on Slam Bradley. He had a brother who got in trouble with the police. He was taken into the precinct and never came back out. Later, his brother not on his mind, Bradley applied to be a police officer at that same precinct. He could always pass for white, so that’s what he marked on the form. He checked out his brother’s file when he was promoted high enough. The only notation suggesting his fate was a trio of letters: NWC. Negro went crazy.
The action in Gotham City Year One #6 picks up where the previous issue ended. This narration takes place as Bradley is thrashing the Waynes’ bodyguard. Once the bodyguard (and, afterward, the butler) is dispensed with, Bradley enters the library to confront Dick and Constance Wayne. Bradley confronts Dick with what he already knows: the man kidnapped his daughter so he could ransom her back and get paid out from his wife’s fortune that he couldn’t access otherwise. Confronted by the knowledge that the secret is out, Constance and Dick reveal the whole truth.
Gotham City Year One #6 surprises in one very critical way. Rather than immediately launch back into the circumstances of the case, it opens with an in-depth backstory for Bradley. This is easily the most developed the character has received in the series (which should not be taken as a criticism of the previous issues). But the timing proves critical in this case; the reveal would have been wasted if it had come earlier. The revelation about the “Negro went crazy” notation is timed with Bradley beating the tar out of the Waynes’ bodyguard.
The phrase evokes the feeling of Bradley having reached his straw. Throughout the series, Bradley has been manipulated and lied to, and it’s entirely possible that Waynes’s child died because he was put in a position not to save her. While the term itself is demeaning, that Bradley would be talking about it while this fight is depicted suggests that, in this circumstance, he finds it apt even though he might otherwise find it offensive. Bradley is self-aware enough to know that by now; he’s been ground down to his baser instincts and emotions. But the reader will also recognize that this is the kind of behavior used to justify the police’s treatment of negroes that went crazy.
Ultimately the mystery is wrapped up very tidily. It’s hard to comment on it further without spoiling the end. But it’s worth noting that it can be so tidy because of the established character traits of those involved. It doesn’t feel like King is pulling strings to wrap up the story just so. Indeed, some developments come across as almost inevitable. And if it all leaves Bradley with a view on the society he’s a part of, it is probably this: Gotham is Gotham.
It should be no surprise that Hester and Gapstur once again deliver intense, visceral fight sequences in Gotham City Year One #6. Likewise, they continue demonstrating the toll this case takes on Bradley by adding more wear and tear to the detective’s face. Every line, bandage, and drop of blood is a testament to how hard he’s battled–first to save Helen Wayne and then to hold the guilty parties accountable for her death. But that is not where the real strength of the issue lies.
Constance Wayne is an integral part of the series conclusion, and a large amount of why this succeeds is the range of emotion displayed as her part in the case is revealed. Hester and Gapstur underscore every bit of King’s dialogue with nuanced expression. Very rarely does Constance look the same way from panel to panel. In as much as it is possible with still images, Constance seems to react in real-time.
Bellaire’s coloring remains complex, setting distinct moods in each scene and accentuating some violent moments while minimizing others. She continues highlighting the most powerful and shocking moments in a fight with red. In some cases, this is set against a white space. But it’s most effective in panels with backgrounds, especially those with a more realistic coloring scheme. She also employs a soft, almost monochromatic palette for several panels and sequences after the mystery is wrapped up. The color scheme gives them a kind of flashback even though they take place after the series’ main events; it comes across as visual reinforcement that the story has come to an end.
Cowles’ lettering has been relatively restrained throughout the series, but one choice he made stands out in every issue and primarily works in this issue. The sound effects are colored a canary yellow that Bellaire never uses in her work. The color, along with the uneven placement of the letters, calls to mind old pulp magazines and is well suited to the hardboiled sensibility of the series.
Every issue of Gotham City Year One delivered a compelling chapter in the style of a classic hard boiled mystery–a genre that, unfortunately, is far less common in comic books now than it was decades ago. Gotham City Year One #6 excels as the conclusion to the story. The entire creative team delivers an ending that will not only thrill existing fans of this genre, but also cap off a story that will almost certainly convert some new fans.
Gotham City Year One #6: Nailing the Ending
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10