Just as Middle Earth is essential in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories, Gotham City is an important element of the Batman mythos.
Somewhere out there, Gotham is a real place where citizens struggle to hold onto hope, and where its heroes, past and present, provide protection.
Tim Burton understood this when he recreated the Batman myth for the movies. As much as the Joker, Gotham was the star of the original Batman movie. Christopher Nolan followed suit, using the city and its denizens as an important element of his Batman trilogy. The city needed a hero, a symbol, and they received one. But Gotham had to stand up for itself as well.
Yet despite that use of Gotham, the movies barely tapped into its rich history. Most of my favorite Batman stories are the ones that focus on ordinary people where our hero only appears sparingly.
One of my favorites is the largely unknown Batman: Made of Wood by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Patrick Zircher.
So unheralded is this tale that it didn’t even receive its own release as a paperback. Instead, it’s been combined with another Batman story by Brubaker featuring the Joker, Batman: The Man Who Laughs. If you like Joker stories, “Man Who Laughs” is a good, though not a great one. “Made of Wood” is the real gem in the book.
The story delves into Gotham’s past, back to the 1940s when it was protected by Alan Scott, the Golden Age-era Green Lantern. A serial killer with a real hate for Gotham is on the loose and his murders are connected to a battle Alan Scott fought long ago, when he was Gotham’s protector. Investigating the murders is Jim Gordon, retired from the police force and now a professor at a local university. Gordon finds the first body on his morning walk and feels compelled to become involved. Green Lantern, Gordon, and Batman all work together to uncover not only the killer but his motives and the story jumps from modern investigative techniques back to old Gotham.
It’s this kind of depth that I love in my Batman stories. I particularly enjoyed the combination of the cop, the old-style hero, and the modern protector.
Brubaker is more widely acclaimed for his work on Marvel’s Daredevil and Captain America. He’s likely to become much more well known to the non-comics audiences as soon as the next Captain America movie is released. From the plot details given out so far, the movie is drawing heavily on his successful re-creation of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier. Unfortunately, Brubaker left DC for Marvel not too long after the “Made of Wood” story was published. While I’m thrilled to have read his Marvel work, Gotham missed his touch for a long time. It’s only recently, with Scott Snyder’s work on Batman, that the stories have rivaled Brubaker’s noir style and high quality.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, thought not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom Blog on Wired.com (www.wired.com/geekmom) and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.