Sunday, 26 August 2012

Police Corruption in Gotham City

From 2000 to roughly 2009, it was something of a golden age for me in regards to the kinds of stories in the Batman universe that were being published. There were the Cassandra Cain Batgirl stories, obviously, but with Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and the like at the helm of the Bat Books, Gotham really began to shape itself up into being like an actual city, rather than being merely the backdrop where Batman punches bad guys. Stuff happened in the background when the superheroes and villains weren't present, and one of the best series in this regard was Rucka and Brubaker's Gotham Central.

The series was a police procedural story that operated within the city, but had Batman and his foes largely on the periphery as the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit had to solves various crimes and murders within the city, be they the kidnapping of a teenage girl or the murder of a famous televangelist. Despite its setting, I thing that I admired about the series was how the creators attempted to make it seem that the series operated in the Batman Comics as a whole, and the conflicts that this would cause. Such as the more lazy cops in other departments passing cases up to the MCU by claiming that all burglaries are performed by Catwoman to ease their caseloads, for example.

One of the subplots that I thought was exceptionally good was the exploration of the increasingly endemic corruption that began to take hold in the GCPD following Commissioner Jim Gordon's retirement. It's also touched upon in Ed Brubaker's Catwoman series, but the idea that so many people could be corrupt kind of didn't make sense to me until I saw Serpico, as it demonstrated, in reality, how it had become so engrained that NOT taking money is considered to be weird if not downright dangerous.

I thought that the way that it's handled in the post-Rucka and Brubaker DCU (it's all fixed offpanel via an investigation run by Harvey Bullock and Jim Gordon during the One Year Gap) kind of fell flat. Yeah, I know that they'd likely had a very public purge of the GCPD (to the point where Gordon's replacement is forced to resign) but the fact that it seems to be so much part of the culture kind of makes how easily (and again, OFFPANEL) it seemed to be fixed, seemed to be kind of cheap. I mean, I know that they'd be under very heavy scrutiny from the press and Internal Affairs, but the decision to have everything suddenly be all hunkydory still felt kind of a cop out. Kind of like suggesting that all the people who thought slavery was okay, just evaporated once the American Civil War was over, you know? Just because a lot of work has been put in to improve the situation doesn't mean that there wouldn't be some stubborn people clinging to the bad old days.
I did like how they actually explained, somewhat, how police corruption comes to exist (the Mayor was corrupt and deliberately cut money to the GCPD and other social services as a means to save money), and it wasn't just a case of people taking it because they're Evil and are out to make a quick buck. A lot of the non-MCU sorts where having to start taking money because they just flat out needed the money and the city was reluctant to pay them what they deserved. Trying to ban overtime, for example. Not that there aren't people like that within the book and its counterparts, in addition to the aforementioned guys in Catwoman's series there is also the titular Corrigan and the guys from the Poison Ivy issue of Gotham Central.

The cops from the Poison Ivy issue, Nature, who accidentally kill a homeless girl while trying to rob a drug dealer, and then play the system so that her murder never will be solved, were fascinating in an odd way. Their justification for the murder and their actions (she's just a homeless person, and they're just doing what they need to to survive) is interesting, but it seems to shift from messed up but kind of understandable to really damn stupid with their decision to cosy up to Black Mask as "he's where the money is" post-War Games.

Even though the things that he gets up to are probably not known to the two cops like they are to the readers, surely the guy who rigged the deaths of dozens of cops wouldn't be the one who they'd decide "Welp, here's the new boss, same as the old boss". Considering they considered themselves to be "Real Police", opposed to the Major Crimes Unit who are almost considered to be snobs by even the good uniformed policemen in Gotham at the time, you'd think that they wouldn't be so eager to sign up with him. But then the hypocrisy of the two policemen was self-evident throughout their entire issue.

Corrigan, meanwhile, was a CSI guy who used his job as a means to line his own pockets, by accepting bribes to "misplace" evidence, selling supervillain related evidence as memorabilia on the Internet, and outright stealing things like heroin from narcotics busts to sell for himself through his contacts. The irony that the man had the same name as his polar opposite, the straight edge 1940s cop James Corrigan (who became the first Spectre) is kind of striking, particularly considering what happens to one of the modern Corrigan's victims...

On the other end of the corrupt scale is Harvey Bullock, created back in the 1970s, who is a guy who everyone knows/knew was corrupt to some extent. He was a guy who planted evidence, had ties to organised crime and was suspected of police brutality more than once, but at the same time... even the best cops in the MCU would swear until they were blue in the face that it was a good policeman. Bullock was a cop that, like Harry Callahan, bent the rules to serve what he saw was the greater good, instead of doing it for power or money like the above examples. Ironically, it's this attitude that got him kicked out of the GCPD prior to Gotham Central, as it was heavily implied that when they weren't able to convict a man who attempted to murder Jim Gordon (an attempt that lead him to retire due to the injuries sustained) Harvey tipped off the perp's former mob contacts who then murdered him for his earlier betrayal. His reappearance in Gotham Central, which handled his dismissal and brought a lot of closure to that period of his life was also well done, as it demonstrated the positives and negatives of his style of policing. It is an interesting contrast though, as Harvey's portrayed even in the likes of Batman the Animated Series as a kind of rough around the edges cop who does a lot of morally questionable stuff, yet he's still at the same time really popular both in and out of universe. Again, it's probably more the intent of his actions that makes his corruption more acceptable than Corrigan's.

The fact that there is a long and established problem with the cops in Gotham either taking bribes if not being directly involved in illegal activity in some form (Batman Confidential's Wrath Child storyline involved a cop who burgled people's houses for extra cash for example) probably should be something that should be kept in mind when dealing with the Batman books. People complain about the likes of the Joker and his cohorts escaping from proper convictions lately, but considering the ease that they could just pay someone to loose any important evidence and the like, it probably shouldn't be seen to be that surprising that they're able to get away with the stuff that they do. Much like how their escapes can't be that surprising considering the staff in Arkham Asylum apparently skim money that they should spend on improving security (Batman: Cacophony), sell candid photos of the female inmates to tabloids (Birds of Prey) and openly trade contraband with the inmates (Arkham Asylum: Living Hell), the fault that they keep breaking out and going on rampages shouldn't really be placed on Batman for being incompetent, at least completely in my mind.

Now, the handling of police corruption within Batman media isn't exactly something that Rucka and Brubaker introduced to their work. Frank Miller introduced the idea of cops that were nearly as bad as the local gangsters within his brilliant Batman: Year One story, which was then lifted from the story into other media, such as Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins film. The creators of Gotham Central definitely handled it in such a way that made it seem more a human or cultural failing within the police than it being just blamed on the cops being "evil".


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