Gotham’s shadows color every Batman story. Her buildings loom better than the Bat himself. She has always been the unnamed lead actor in the Batman universe. As Bruce asks himself in this series, did Gotham make him, or did he make Gotham? No Man’s Land is about Gotham and her residents. In the absence of any of the rules of civilized society, without electricity or running water, in a city run by gangs, Gotham’s citizens find a way to survive. This is their story.
The authors have created a nuanced, layered story about what makes us who we are, and how far we will go to protect those things. It’s a story about family, and about friends, and about how much we need both in our lives. It is about the choices we make under extreme duress, and its about accepting the consequences for those choices. The end of the series is moving and heartbreaking, and it made me cry.
The art in this series is touch and go. Sometimes it perfectly conveys the moody, never black and white world of Gotham. Other times, the characters are too simplistically cartoony, and sometimes the artwork is so dark and so cross-hatched that it makes it difficult to follow the plot. My favorite features were Oracle’s maps of the city that were scattered into the text at periodic points and allowed you to track who held what territory.
Gotham is not having a good year, even by Gotham standards. First there was the Clench, a filovirus plague, and its even nastier mutated follow-up, the Legacy virus. Just when Gotham was settling down again came 20 seconds of a 7.6 earthquake. The city was destroyed, its citizens shaken and homeless. Following hard on the heels of the earthquake’s devastation was the news that the government was abandoning Gotham, closing down the city and declaring it a No Man’s Land. Those who could left, those who remained were the ones who couldn’t leave–the illegal immigrants, the poor, the weak, the criminals. Now Gotham is divided into tribal zones run by gangs–the Steet Demonz, the LoBoyz, Lynx and the Triads, etc., and the Gotham PD.
Commissioner Gordon refused to leave when the government ordered the city cleared, and now he’s trying to take it back block by block. He’s not the only one trying to take the city back. In the absence of telephones or computers to hack, Oracle has downgraded to lower-tech options for information retrieval. No one has heard from Batman, but three months into the abandonment of Gotham someone is starting to leave signs of the Bat painted onto walls. The question is, who exactly is leaving those signs? Is Batman back, or is it someone else wearing the cowl?
Batman: No Man’s Land, vol. 1
By Bob Gale, Devin K. Grayson
Art by Alex Maleev, Dale Eaglesham
DC Comics 1999