Commentary by Dan W.

It’s 1999.

You can’t go a day without hearing Prince’s seminal hit of the same name on the radio. (Everyone still listens to terrestrial radio.)

DC’s Batman comics are in the midst of “No Man’s Land”, an ambitious year-long project that ties every Batman series together in a tapestry of stories revolving around a Gotham City devastated by a cataclysmic earthquake and cut off from the outside by the US government. If you want to read Batman, you better damn well be reading Detective, Legends of the Dark Knight, and Shadow of the Bat also. And probably Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman and Azrael for good measure. DC pulls this off admirably; aside from a few dogs, most of the NML comics tell solid stories while still contributing to the larger narrative. Their success here with weekly storytelling would eventually lead to further experiments like 52 (novel and entertaining) and Countdown (eye scouring). But long before reaching those, “No Man’s Land” would come to an end with the new millennium and a New Gotham.
“New Gotham” restores Gotham to comic-book-normal, and would drive the next couple of years of Bat-titles. Unlike NML, New Gotham let each creative team do their own thing. Greg Rucka, embracing the freedom, immediately began turning out gems in the pages of Detective Comics, the kind of work that would eventually lead to the Eisner Award-winning Gotham Central in 2002. Point of fact, Detective Comics #747, “Happy Birthday Two You…”

(Brief aside: The Gotham TV show, which was a half-hearted attempt to replicate Smallville, (Aside aside: Smallville was never good.) should have been a Gotham Central show. Police procedurals have a long and storied history on TV and a procedural where Batman or the Joker pops in occasionally would have been broadcasting gold. Imagine Homicide or The Wire set in Gotham City and tell me it wouldn’t have been amazing.)

So, in Detective #747, it’s Montoya’s birthday, and it’s a $#!+ birthday. Parents hounding her about grandkids (foreshadowing!), court cases, new partner. When birthday flowers from an anonymous sender land on her desk, Montoya starts investigating, if for no other reason than to take her mind off the date, but it isn’t a meant to be a mystery to the reader, I mean, even the name of the story gives it away. The clues point to Bruce Wayne, who playing to his foppish public persona, strings Montoya along for a page or two before she puts the pieces together (“Tulips”) and goes to pay a visit to the men responsible.

It is a slice-of-life issue that highlights the best aspects of Batman and this era/run of Detective, often bite size stories that humanize and flesh out the city and supporting cast of Gotham. It was a welcome shift from the expansive and heavy “No Man’s Land.” Rucka, alongside Ed Brubaker would later perfect the formula with the aforementioned Gotham Central series. And the best part? It still holds up today. The “New Gotham” era would also introduce excellent characters like Sasha Bordeaux (Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard; think about it) and thanks to the agelessness of superhero comics, even if events like Infinite Crisis or Flashpoint have wiped away parts of the related continuity, these stories are still great reads.