Besides, B-Sides – David Lapham’s “City of Crime”

Vol 2: David Lapham’s “City of Crime”

Detective Comics, issue #800-808, 811-814

It’s got to be hard to write Batman. The Dark Knight has seen it all, done it all, loved, lost and stood victorious over even his most dreaded foes. He’s been to the future, the past, other dimensions, space, Hell and near any place you can think of. Carving a fresh angle in Gotham is a hard enough task with just those issues, but maybe the most challenging aspect for any writer is the illustrious list of previous creators involved. Not least of which is comic legend, Frank Miller.

I’m likely not the first person to compare David Lapham’s Batman to Miller’s. Both authors approach Batman under the heavy tone of hard boiled noir, taking a pitch black approach to the man and the city. Both authors also strip away the comic convention of The Caped Crusader, leaving little of the camp and adventure that accompanied the gold and silver age, replacing it with street level crime drama.

There are also similar narrative tools at use here. Miller made famous the “talking head” in comics. Panels and sometimes entire pages would be dedicated to nothing but a newscaster reporting, applying a unique visual to what otherwise would be pretty standard exposition. It offered something familiar in the world of Gotham, and created a strange dichotomy: the well-dressed reporter and the suffering citizen. Lapham also uses the outside, “objective” reporter to great effect, but removes the visual, even further removing the outside world. Often, the TV reporter is off screen, or the radio is used. The news is alien, even more so than with Miller, and the grim reality of Gotham is all the grimmer for it. And it’s Gotham that is the focus here.

Readers of Lapham’s other work, particularly Stray Bullets, will notice his attention to detail in his world building. The idea with Stray Bullets was to observe how the violence of others effects the innocent. City of Crime does the same. Batman is completely overwhelmed, momentarily leaping in to do what little he can to help the innocent, but ultimately, most evil goes unavenged, and very little good is done. Brief glimpses of Gotham citizens reveal fear and sadness layered so thick that it’s all they can do to just wake up in the morning, something that is largely unabated. Lapham’s world is a big, dark one. And whatever good there is, isn’t good enough.

All of that said, the limited perspective he gives Batman is a noble one. There isn’t the righteous indignation of Miller’s Batman, nor the seasoned detective work of Jeph Loeb’s. Instead, City of Crime’s Batman is one well aware of how little he’s doing in the long run, but still does what little he can because it’s right. He’s not cleaning the streets so much as maintaining them. The bad guys are winning, but they won’t win them all.

Much hay has been made of the ending of City of Crime being kind of abrupt, which it is, and there is more than a passing similarity to Scott Snyder’s eventual run (in particular the Court of Owls storyline), but this one stands strong regardless. David Lapham doesn’t do a whole lot of mainstream work, so it’s a treat to see him take on Batman. This one may not have changed the world, but it’s a solid, unique take on both Batman and Gotham. Now that it’s back in print, it’s definitely worth a look for any Batman, crime, or Lapham enthusiast.

-Eric Bryan