This week marks the premiere of Gotham, the new Fox television show focusing on Jim Gordon's first year as a cop in Batman's hometown, and the origins of young Bruce Wayne and the people who will one day become the greatest enemies of his war on crime. That the show exists at all is a testament to how strong Jim Gordon and the rest of the Gotham city Police Department are as heroes in their own rights.
So if Gotham has you in the mood to read about Gordon, Harvey Bullock and the rest of the GCPD -- or if you just want to dive into some solid Batman comics where the spotlight isn't entirely on the Dark Knight -- then I've got some suggestions for great comics about Gotham's top cops!
Let's start with the obvious: When Gotham was announced, a lot of viewers had high hopes that it would follow the mold of Gotham Central, a truly amazing, incredibly influential comic by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark that focused on the GCPD. With interest in Gotham's finest at an all time high, there's really never been a better time to read this 40-issue opus.
While the series has great stories like "Soft Targets" and and "Half a Life" -- and while the entire series delivers the gritty-crime-in-a-superhero-universe feel that the show aspires to -- Gotham viewers will probably be most interested in checking out "Unresolved" (Gotham Central #19 - 22 and handily available in paperback), a story that focuses on Harvey Bullock. At the time, Bullock had been kicked off the force in disgrace after taking the law into his own hands, but the unfinished business of a brutal case involving the Mad Hatter and the Penguin pulls him back in and shows just how far he's willing to go in the pursuit of justice.
Before there was Gotham Central, there was "Officer Down," a crossover event that kicked off in Batman #587 that both Rucka and Brubaker have mentioned was a sort of prototype for what they would go on to do later.
While Gordon is largely absent from Central, though, he's right at the center of this story, when an unknown assailant shoots him outside a bar full of cops on his birthday. Obviously, the bulk of the investigation goes to Gotham's caped and cowled population (it's their names on the covers of the comics, after all) but this is where the individual members of the Major Crimes Unit, who first start to pull focus in the pages of No Man's Land, really start to emerge as characters in their own right.
The story ran through Batman, Detective Comics, Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey and more, but again, that Comixology sale has it all grouped together for your reading convenience.
Now this is a story that has a lot going on. Not only are Ed Brubaker and Patrick Zircher giving you a team-up between Batman and Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern that adds a new element to the relationship of two men who have protected Gotham City in different eras, it also prominently features Jim Gordon as he investigates a serial murderer who's reprising a string of grisly killings that rocked Gotham in the '40s, years before Batman or Gordon fought crime in the city.
The victims, both the original set and the new ones, have the words "MADE OF WOOD" carved into their chests, referencing the weakness of Scott's ring and setting all three characters onto the trail. It's Gordon who cracks the case, though, and it remains one of the most sinister and engaging crime stories of the run.
While most of Brubaker's Batman work remains sadly uncollected, this story, originally serialized in Detective Comics #784-786, is available both digitally and as an extra feature in Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's The Man Who Laughed, a great take on the origin of the Joker that fans of Gotham will probably be pretty interested in.
Kelly Puckett and Mike Parobeck's work on The Batman Adventures, the tie-in series to Batman: The Animated Series, produced the best Batman comics of the '90s so it shouldn't be a surprise that they ended up doing one of the best Commissioner Gordon stories of the decade, either.
One of the neatest things that Adventures did was making Rupert Thorne, the crime boss who often took a back seat to Gotham's more notable arch-criminals, the main focus of a big part of the series. In this one, Thorne discovers the identity of an undercover cop sent in to gather evidence, and since Gordon can't turn to anyone in the department for help since he doesn't know who the leak in the GCPD is, he has to pull off a rescue himself. With a little help from Batman, of course. The end result is a classic noir-style story in the style of the Animated Series that's basically just Gordon being a badass for 22 straight pages.
While we're on the subject of noir-style Jim Gordon stories, it doesn't get any more on-the-nose than Batman: Gotham Noir, by Ed Brubaker (and boy howdy, isn't that guy a recurring theme on this list) and Sean Phillips.
This one's an out-of-continuity Elseworlds story set in the Gotham of the '40s, where Jim Gordon is a washed-up, alcoholic private eye who served with Bruce Wayne in the war and came back to a city full of crime and corruption. As is often the case with alcoholic private eyes, Noir's version of Gordon is framed for murder and has to dodge the cops while clearing his own name. It's exactly what you'd expect from Brubaker and Phillips, and I mean that in the best way possible -- they do pretty great work.
For a Commissioner Gordon story of a more recent vintage, your best bet is checking out what Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla and Jock did during their run on Detective Comics. Taking place at a time when Dick Grayson had taken over the role of Batman due to the original being presumed dead (he was actually traveling through time, it's kind of a long story), Snyder and Francavilla's story focuses on the commissioner's son, James Gordon Jr.
Last seen in Frank Miller's Year One, James Jr. returns not just as a villain, but as an extremely troubled, sinister young man who may have done horrible things -- and might still be doing them under the guise of getting back in touch with his family. It's hands down the creepiest story on this list, and the way that it's weaved into Snyder and Jock's parallel story of over-the-top superhero adventure that focuses on Batman is pretty fantastic. It's available digitally and in paperback.
As a prelude to "Officer Down," Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Chuck Dixon wrote a miniseries focusing entirely on the relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon and how it changed over the years. The cool part? It takes place at clearly defined moments -- or, y'know, turning points -- in the actual history of the comics.
The first issue, with art by Steve Lieber, takes place shortly after the events of Batman: Year One. The second focuses on Robin's arrival with art by Joe Giella. The third deals with the aftermath of Death in the Family and The Killing Joke with art by Dick Giordano. Issue #4 involves the brief post-Knightfall era when Azrael took over the role of Batman with art by Brent Anderson, and then finally returns to the "present day" of 2001 to finish out the story with art by Paul Pope. It's a really interesting look at these two characters and how they've changed over the years, but there's also another story that unifies the whole project, and makes it really work in an emotionally resonant way.
"Dr. Harvey And Mr. Bullock"
Up to this point, most of the comics on this list have focused on Jim Gordon, but his Gotham costar, Harvey Bullock, has been in the center of a few as well. In 1985, Doug Moench and Pat Broderick put the spotlight onto him for a very interesting take on the character.
For Moench and Broderick, Bullock's slovenly bluster was all an act, affected to keep the crushing weight of life as a cop in Gotham City from getting to him. At home, he was fastidiously neat and had a passion for classic movies. Unfortunately, his attempts to keep things separate don't last long.
Gotham's take (along with Batman: The Animated Series and most modern comics) don't quite follow this look at Bullock as a secret cinephile whose loud ties hide the soul of a poet, but this story, which appeared in Detective Comics #549, still definitely worth a read if you want to see a different take on the character.
What a difference a hundred issues make. The next time we get a story focusing on Bullock, it's from Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan in Detective Comics #651. Sometime in the intervening years, everyone's least favorite Gotham City cop seems to have fully embraced being a slob, replacing those nice framed posters with a clothesline hanging up dirty underwear in his living room. Oh, and there's also someone sending him death threats and opening up with an uzi while he's walking to work. That seems like it might be a more pressing concern.
It's a great done-in-one story that does a great job of blending action and comedy, and if you can't find the comic, don't worry. It was also adapted into one of my favorite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.