Gotham Central: Half a Life (Issues 6-10)
I have never been a fan of police shows, when Gotham Central was announced I dismissed it as just a cop book set in Gotham City. Which it is, but it is so much more. Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark came together and produced one of the best Batman books ever, that hardly featured Batman. The book was a police procedural that dealt with the lives of the police force in Gotham, how they dealt with each other, how they dealt with the super criminals of Gotham, and how they dealt with the Batman. The book lasted forty issues, with Brubaker and Rucka taking alternate arcs of the series. Brubaker had the night shift, Rucka had the day shift.
Half A Life is the story of Detective Rene Montoya being outed as gay to the world at large by Two Face. A photograph of Rene kissing her girlfriend Daria, is pinned to the police bulletin board, as well as sent to her parents. This sparks harassment at work and problems with her very religious parents. Things take a turn for the worse when she is framed for murder and then busted out by Two Face, who has mistaken the kindness she has shown him in the past for love, plus Rene is living a double life (eh, eh?!). Even though he knows she is gay and orchestrated the whole forced outing. Thanks to Crispus Allen’s unwavering faith in his partner and a little help from Batman she is cleared of all charges, but unfortunately loses her family in the process.
At the end of the story in a beautiful scene of silent panels we see Rene’s girlfriend waiting outside as the day turns to night as Rene comes out to her parents. The grief on Rene’s face as she gets into the car and tells Daria that her parents have disowned her and she has no one left, is heart breaking. The book ends with Daria comforting a sobbing Rene promising that she is there for her.
This is one of the best written stories about coming out of the closet I have read in a comic to date. While the circumstances around why she came out are horrible, it feels like a very real story. Thanks in large part to Rucka’s dialogue and Lark’s amazing body language. There are so many strong moments to point to in the story, one of my favorite parts comes shortly after Rene is outed, her Captain Maggie Sawyer calls her into her office and they have a talk. Sawyer, who is gay and later almost marries Batwoman, tells her to think about how she is going to handle things, you can only come out once. Rene’s response is heart breaking, I’ll post the panels below since I don’t think I can do them justice. Another thing I loved was the respect and unwavering loyalty of Rene’s partner Crispus Allen, he always stands by her and stands up for her even when she isn’t around. When other police officers refer to Rene as “that dyke”, Crispus is the first and I believe only person to tell people to shove it.
If there was one area I thought the story was lacking it was in the character of Daria. Admittedly she isn’t in very much of the book. But I would have liked to see a little more of her and Rene’s relationship before this story. But when she is around her love for Rene is clear, thanks in large part to Michael Larks’ art. Besides waxing poetic about how great Rucka and Lark are on the book, I would like to take a minute to explain why I think this is an important book. This isn’t the first, last or even best comic about a character dealing with their sexuality. It is however one of the more realistic big two books on the subject I have read. Things are hard, things have a lasting effect on the book and the character, and things don’t always come up sunshine and roses. In a lot of the books I read acceptance is a given, you know by the end of the book that everyone will be one big happy family, and while I would love for this to be reality, it isn’t always. Rene’s struggle in this book feels real, and I think it’s due in part to not having a happy ending. Sure she is with her girlfriend, but she has so many other pieces of her life broken. This is what makes the book feel real to me. I keep reading books with Rene in them and I really do hope that she does get that happy ending she deserves, because she is one of my favorite characters.