One of the best-written, most consistently entertaining mainstream comics on the shelves today, Gotham Central is the four-color cousin of popular TV police procedurals like Hill Street Blues, Homicide and NYPD Blue - telling stories of the DC Universe's toughest town from the perspective of the hardened detectives of the GCPD's Major Crimes Unit. Technically a Batman-family title, it is the one that is simultaneously the least and most reliant on the Dark Knight's presence, one that looms heavily over every story arc even if he himself rarely appears in them.
"RENEE MONTOYA HAS A SECRET." says the back cover blurb rather coyly. Specifically, she's a lesbian, a truth she's kept from her parents, her fellow officers, and her current partner, Crispus Allen. When she's outed and the man seemingly responsible turns up murdered, her backup gun found at the crime scene and incriminating evidence at her home, she finds herself under arrest and fighting not just for her job and her reputation, but for her life when help comes from a most unexpected source. Unexpected in the original run, at least. In this trade collection, DC generously includes two reprinted stories - all for only $14.99! - that serve as preludes (one from Batman Chronicles #16, the other from Detective Comics #747, both written by Greg Rucka but not illustrated by Michael Lark), shedding light on and setting up what originally seemed like an out of left field situation for those not well-versed in Gotham continuity.
The strength of this collection lies not in its overarching plot - solid though it is, despite some elements that suggest a fondness for Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels - but in its three-dimensional characterizations and smart dialogue, a trait that marks much of Rucka's work, both in comics and his novels, particularly when it comes to strong women. From the conflicted Montoya and her deeply predjudiced parents; to her arrogant but stand-up partner, Allen; to the bigoted taunts of her fellow officers, including the female ones, Rucka manages a realistic, nuanced take on a potentially exploitative subject, without any of the heavy handed objectifying, glamorizing or proselytyzing that one might expect in a relatively mainstream comic book. (Or, say, from Mark Millar.) Montoya works as the emotional center of the story, more about her than her sexual preference, because Rucka has given her multiple layers and not simply settled for a cipher on which to hang his story, an important factor that makes the ending work as well as it does, even when Batman and one of his classic rogues gets involved.
Gotham Central in general, and the "Half A Life" collection specifically, are stellar representatives of the best the form currently has to offer.