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BATMAN: OFFICER DOWN - Greg Rucka

Shot in the back, the fate of Commissioner Gordon is decided in this month-long story arc.

By James Busbee     January 10, 2001

It's the perfect crime, a shooting so mysterious that even Batman himself may not be able to solve it. And worse, it's happened to one of the Dark Knight's closest friendsCommissioner Jim Gordon.

So began 'Officer Down,' one of the grimmer crossover arcs in Batman's history. It started last week in Batman #587 with gunfire behind a bar, and it will end by alteringand perhaps endingsome of the longest-running character relationships in comics.

'It's almost an 'anti-superhero' story,' says Greg Rucka, Detective Comics writer and one of the chief architects of the story arc. 'It's really a mundane story, dealt with in a mundane way. David Simon [author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets] wrote that the perfect murder takes place in an alley at three in the morning, where somebody's been shot three times in the back, with no witnesses. That kind of case is nearly impossible to solve.'

The seven-part storylinewhich may or may not end in Gordon's deathruns through nearly all of the Bat-books in January, all of which feature painted covers by new artist Durwin Talon. In Batman #587, Gordon was shot in the backwhile Catwoman watched. The action moves this week to Robin #86, where a citywide manhunt begins for Catwoman. In Birds of Prey #27 and Nightwing #53, OracleGordon's daughter Barbaraorganizes her own team to bring in Catwoman before the cops can. Catwoman takes center stage in her own issue #90, and sheds light on other possible suspects. The Gotham City police department finally tracks down the shooter him/herself in Detective Comics #754with unexpected results. And Batman: Gotham Knights #13 finally resolves the story of Jim Gordonone way or the other.

'This story isn't so much about the crime itself as it is the effects of what happens when Gordon is shot,' says Rucka. 'What does that do to everyone around him? We see the cops reacting. We see the major crime figures reacting. We see Bullock, Montoya and several other detectives reacting. One of the things we've been trying to do is build up a depth of characters in Gotham [city government], so you'll see the chief of police and the mayor weigh in on things. On top of all that are the effects it has on Batman and the other heroes. Just about everybody is in on thisAlfred [Batman's butler], Dick [Nightwing], Tim [Robin]everybody has a strong, distinct reaction.'

Piling on Jim Gordon

Longtime readers of the Batman books may be asking, 'Why Jim Gordon? Hasn't the poor bastard suffered enough?' First, the Joker maimed Barbara, shooting her through the spine and paralyzing her. Then Gordon's wife, Sarah, died at the end of the 'No Man's Land' arc. And now this.

'Bad things happen in threes,' says Rucka, whom Batman group editor Bob Schreck credits with creating the basis for the 'Officer Down' storyline. 'That's the glib answer. Actually, there's a dramatic reason. He has been through all these things, and this is part of the crucible that he needs to pass through. This is a logical extension to what's been going on in his life. There's also a pragmatic reasonyou can't do something like this to Batman. Batman's already had this sort of thing happen [in the early-90s 'Knightfall' crossover, in which his back was broken by Bane], and there's only so many things you can do to a guy before people say, 'Enough!''

Rucka also notes that 'Officer Down' will lay the groundwork for the next year of Batman stories. 'We wanted certain things to result from 'Officer Down' to get certain dramatic results in place,' he says. 'Gordon was the only guy we could go toother than Batman and Barbara, he's the only one who has the same polarizing effect on a community. When something happens to him, the entire community mobilizes.'

At the forefront of the investigation is Batmanthough this case is, naturally, unlike any he's ever faced before. 'Batman responds to all this in a very different way than he has in the past,' says Rucka. 'Catwoman is the first suspect, but she isn't the only suspect. [However], Batman's Rogues' Gallery isn't really an issuethey're all present and accounted for. The Joker, for instance, couldn't have done ithe's locked up. So that, by necessity, changes and lowers the focus. This story takes place less on the rooftops and more on the street.'

Of course, the years-old relationship between Batman and Gordon adds a poignant twist to the case. 'Whether Batman wants it or not, he can't help but look at Gordon as his father,' says Rucka. 'Gordon reminds him of his father, and Batman's inspired by him in that way. Gordon cannot look at Batman as a son, because he doesn't know who Batman is! But he does look at him as a friend, a colleague and a partner. They're not the kind of friends who would hang out and watch the football game on Sundaybut I think Gordon wouldn't mind inviting Batman to do just that.' The question now is whether he'll get his chance.

The Shot Heard Round the DCU

Rucka warns readers straight out that 'Officer Down' won't be a standard superhero smackdown. 'This is a subtle story,' he says. 'The writing throughout is elevated. This ain't just four-colors-slap-you-in-the-face. You'll hopefully think about this when it's over, and try to figure out what actually happened.'

The lack of big-screen madness isn't the only aspect of 'Officer Down' that distinguishes it from your average comic. 'One of the problems in comics is that writers and artists do not respect their audience, and treat them like they're stupid,' he says. 'They have to put a caption over everything'Fighting with his inner demons, Batman looks out over the city, wondering if tonight will be his last...'no, there's none of that here. You've got to look at the art, and see the facial expressions and the posture, and listen as much to what people are saying as what they're not saying. That's really how people react, especially in times of stress.'

DC is careful to note that this is no brief deviation from the status quo. Even if Gordon gets better, the changes his shooting will wreak won't be undone. 'In places, this is going to be the straw that's going to break the camel's back,' says Rucka. 'A lot of relationships are going to change or be pushed around. If I say more, it becomes clear how the story ends, but every writer, every editor working on this story intends to have lasting effects come out of it.

'Officer Down' also marks the first stage of a makeover of the Gotham City Police Department, a makeover that will continue in this summer's still-unannounced DC Universe crossover. In the interim, the Bat-books will see a brief return to 'normalcy,' including shorter stories and a Superman crossover, before the next major arc that kicks off in September.

In the near term, though, Gordon's shooting will affect the entire Bat-universe in some unexpected ways. 'This is going to change some relationships between some very classic, much-loved characters who have interacted in a certain way for a very long time,' says Rucka. 'This ain't Zero Hour, kids. It's not the end of the world. It's far more important than that.'

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