Gotham County Line

Author: Steve Niles
Artist: Scott Hampton
Titan Books
RRP: 9.99, US $17.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 8457 6401 2
ISBN-10: 1 84576 401 3
Available 22 December 2006

A string of robberies and killings draws Batman out of his natural element of Gotham and into the city's seemingly idyllic suburbs. But out here, among the sleepy houses and picket fences, Batman discovers a threat more terrifying than any Joker attack. The murders seem ceremonial, ritualistic, but they're nothing that the world's greatest detective can't handle. It's only a matter of time before the Dark Knight catches the murderer... and that's when everything goes straight to hell. How can Batman fight an enemy he doesn't believe in? How can he solve a mystery that defies all logic? Only one thing is certain - Batman must defeat the killer or lose his very sanity...

Gotham County Line sees Commissioner Gordon ask Batman to help out on a case for another police department on the outskirts of Gotham County. Batman isn't happy, but reluctantly agrees... and catches the killer in a matter of hours. But something isn't quite right. Surely it's not normal for the victims to return to the scene of the crimes as flesh eating zombies.

Author Steve Niles has taken three genres (zombie movies, detective dramas and masked vigilantes) and attempted to splice them together into a gripping tale. All three elements are represented well and it should work a treat, but something just doesn't feel right.

I couldn't quite put my finger on it... but the narrative just didn't flow as smoothly as it should have. It could be that Niles attempted to throw too much into the mix, and ended up with a bit of a tale that was a little undecided in its direction. It's almost like Batman is being used to sell what is, at heart, a zombie detective story - it's not even set in Gotham. And I really couldn't work out why The Joker was thrown in there at the start? Was it, he asked cynically, to make people really identify that this is a Batman story from the opening pages - so that when it all spirals into a zombie tale you don't question what on earth is going on.

There were some interesting ideas that were started but never fully explored. For example, Batman's Internet search for scientific proof of life after death stopped dead (no pun intended) when Alfred found there was none. So maybe you'd expect the message here to be about the quest for another world after this one... but, no that's never really explored deeper. Sure we visit a possible after life (whether it's a drug influenced illusion or a real journey into the world of the paranormal is up to the reader to decide), but the question of life after death is never really explored properly.

Another negative for me was that the conclusion felt a little childish - like a first time writer had written himself into a corner and then half-heartedly tried to come up with a solution. As I mentioned earlier it also didn't really feel like a Batman title and I thought it may have read better as a general sci-fi/horror graphic novel without the need to use Batman to sell the story.

Take Batman out and put in a detective and you have yourself an interesting tale. But when Batman is thrown into the mix it just doesn't seem to work all that well. Nice idea, but sadly misses the mark.

Pete Boomer

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