City of Crime

#1 Posted by Green_Tea_Light (150 posts) - - Show Bio

I have just finished reading City of Crime (which, may I add, took a long painful time) and I am completely confused about what happened in that story.

Has anyone read it, who can explain it to me?

I have read a lot of Batman stories and have never been this baffled.

This is what I have deduced that far:

The story opens with Bruce Wayne meeting a young girl at a party who is living life on the edge. He berates her for her reckless lifestyle. The next day she turns up dead, dying of a drug overdose. Bruce feels guilty about this.

Later on, a woman accidently sets fire to her flat. While Batman and Robin are rescuing victims of the fire, Batman stumbles upon a room containing six dead girls, all pregnant. Batman believes them to be part of a pregnancy ring.

Not long after, the mother of a young girl named Cassie Wells, reports her missing. Batman believes her to be involved in the pregnancy ring too. Still feeling guilty about the death of the girl from the party, Batman vows to find her and bring her home.

It turns out that the pregnancy ring is run, in part, by the penguin. With Batman on his tail, the Penguin's employer sends a man to kill the Penguin, causing what appeared to be a henchman blowing up the Ice Berg Lounge with Penguin inside. It is revealed later that the Penguin survived and that the henchman who attempted the assassination was made of dirt.

People made of dirt begin springing up all over Gotham, in the disguise of various people (shapeshifers if you will). One such doppelganger is the partner of a corrupt police detective who is also investigating the pregnancy ring and the missing Cassie Wells. This all comes to a head when the partner tries to fake the suicide of the Wells' and the corrupt detective - luckily the doppelganger does not succeed - but the police detective is driven insane and can trust no one, resulting in him being taken to Mercy General Hospital.

It is also revealed that The Ventriloquist was the Penguins partner in this whole affair, and the dirt people come after him too. They manage to injure Arnold Wesker, but he is saved at the last minute by Batman and Robin. Wesker is left in a coma and is sent to Mercy General too.

Penguin meets Batman and tells him to investigate a small community within Gotham to get to the bottom of the problem. Batman goes there and infiltrates the community under the guise of a beggar. Through observation he notices that the head of the construction team - who are building Gotham's new waterworks, which is funded by the Mayor who is up for re-election - is certainly the "leader". Bruce Wayne infiltrates the builders and befriends this man.

One night Bruce follows the man. The man meets another person - who is not named but referred to as the "smiling man" on account of his big grin (no - he is not The Joker). The smiling man goes into the forest which is at the center of the community. Bruce follows, but is suddenly crippled by fear (remembering his past mistakes) and blacks out. Luckily, the head of the construction team finds him, and takes him back home - nursing him back to health.

Meanwhile - a crazed man from the community wanders the forest and comes upon the smiling man, who offers the crazed man some cheese.

Later on the crazed man runs through the community in a state of frenzy. It appears he is giving off some kind fear toxin (no - the villain is not scarecrow either...), which sends the whole town into a rage. They fight among themselves, and begin killing each other. However, the head of the construction workers gets a hold of himself and kills the crazed guy. Suddenly, everyone snaps out of it.

The body of the crazed man is taken to Mercy General, where he is ressusitated and brought back to health. Casing the same effect in the hospital - and it begins spreading all over Gotham. Also - at Gotham General - dirt henchmen begin infiltrating the building to kill Wesker and the corrupt detective, who both know too much. Luckily Robin is also at Mercy - and he calls for backup (aka James Gordon). The trio, and some extra policemen, begin to take Weskers still comatose body out of the hospital via the roof - so the Batplane can pick them up. However the group become hit by the fear toxin and start fighting among themselves.

There is a side plot where the dirt people have replaced the aid to the mayors wife with one of their own. Placing him under their control. They convince him to convince the mayor that he is under attack by Two Face - (I don't really understand this bit!) and get him to get the commissioner Atkins to turn the Bat-signal on (again, don't really get why).

Batman recovers and attempts the forest again, this time he ignores the hallucinations. In the center of the forest he finds the dirt peoples base, which leads him underground into the catacombs. In the catacombs Batman finds a derelict cathedral, which houses a pool of mud - which transforms people into mud men. Batman witnesses a man with no face leading a cult meeting - made up of dirt people. They are about to initiate the head of the construction workers into their fold (who is more than eager to become stronger through their power) but Batman knocks him out before he can reach the pool.

The fighting at Mercy is halted when the corrupt detective, in a delusional state, kills the crazed man - and then himself.

The man with no face puts on a mask to reveal that he is the smiling man. Who Batman apprehends, but not before the smiling man detaches his own head. Batman then sets about putting a plan in motion.

Later on Batman goes to respond to the bat-signal - where he is intercepted by hundreds of dirt henchmen. He leads them on a merry chase back to the waterworks - where he promptly detonates charges he had set on the building. This causing the dirt men to be blown up, and the catacombs beneath Gotham to flood - which submerges the cathedral and the mud fountain.

At the end Batman visits the mother of Cassie Wells and reveals that has figured out she had nothing to do with the pregnancy ring - and that her mother herself had in fact murdered her and lied about her involvement in the pregnancy ring to take the heat off herself.

Here's what puzzles me the most - What was the dirt peoples plan? What did the pregnancy ring have to do with anything? What were the dirt people trying to do with the waterworks, if anything? What was the mayor subplot all about?

Any help will be really appriciated

#2 Posted by Crom-Cruach (8930 posts) - - Show Bio

@Green_Tea_Light: You've got most of it understood and the plan of the mud people was basically an invasion of the body snatchers like scenario. Nothing more.

What really needs to be understood to "get" city of crime is that what it really is about is Gotham and how sick it is, the mud people are the supernatural energies of that corruption coming to fore and all the events are just batman seeing numerous symptoms of the corruption without them having any clear source other then the city itself.

#3 Edited by arnoldoaad (1038 posts) - - Show Bio

@Green_Tea_Light: oh this is a classic one

someone told me to read this because it was one of David Lapham best stories and i ended up pretty much like you here

the story has a lot of plots that basically have no end and never interconect to the bigger picture as well as parts that just lack explanation, in essence the mud people were a representation of Gotham City, not a subtle one though, so the actt of Batman beating them up was a way of enacting his dominion over the city.

This is what i got from the guy who recommend it it to me on CBR

02-10-2012, 06:16 PM
Here's what I said to Arnoldo in our PM conversation about the book:

I think you're right when you say that the plotting doesn't feel right, and I think that's where all your other issues stem from. Lapham was rushed. He clearly plotted the thing out like he had more time than he ended up getting. He was interrupted for War Crimes--an absolutely useless story that really could have waited, or could have been published in some other context--and then he was cut short for a decent-but-not-great couple of issues about Zsasz, and then it was time for the OYL jump. I think if Lapham gets those extra four issues, City of Crime ends up damn near perfect. As it was, however, he was rushed and so he didn't get to fully articulate a lot of what he needed to articulate.

As it stands, the story is one of the only examples of a true noir Batman, a Batman story in which everyone and everything is ultimately doomed, whether that doom is imminent or distant. A Batman story about the ugly sides of good people, and the good sides of ugly people, about the cruelty of life in a modern civilization, about the ordinary lives of everyday people. It's heavy with symbolism and character work. I think you're focusing on the plot details, which are secondary, or even tertiary, to a truly great work of fiction. I think that superhero comic book fans have unfortunately been trained to focus on the plot, but plots are inherently weak. There are only seven basic plots in the world, but there are infinite numbers of ideas, of themes, of characters. Some elements of the plot were predictable, and some were bizarre, but I think they were that way for a reason. Yes, we knew that the body wasn't Cassie's, but all that does is lend an extra bit of fatalism and despair to the story. No matter where Batman turns, he's a step behind where he should be, and we--omniscient readers--know that long before he does.

To answer your specific questions, the mud people are rather murkily defined, but what we do know is that they seek to control the city, and almost everything else--other than Cassie--is a manifestation of that. The waterfront project, the church, the park, everything. It's all about controlling the city. The mud people are an allegory for rich people/good old boy networks/corruption/politics/Wall Street/whatever.

They infect the hobo so he'll do exactly what he ends up doing: going to the hospital and infecting a lot of other people.

You're right that the girl who kills herself is significant only in that she serves as a motivation for Batman--but that's all she needs to be. She is loosely connected, via her family, to the mud people in the sense that the mud people are a politically powerful entity, and the mud people are in some sense an allegory for rich people. But primarily she's a motivation for Batman--and THE REASON he's such a bad detective in this book. His mind is clouded by his failure and his desperation to atone.

The undercover segment is there to introduce the other side of Gotham. We spend a lot of time following the rich and powerful, so in those passages, we get to see the working class. It shows, through heavy symbolism and allegory, how the working class are tainted by the evils of the wealthy.

The rest of your issues are down to bad plotting, I think. The bits with Ventriloquist, Robin, and all the rest of it, simply scream "condensed plot." Lapham had more to say and he wasn't allowed to say it, so there are some awkward plotting issues that make certain story threads feel strange.

In general, I'd suggest reading it again, but look deeper than the plot. Plot's just scaffolding around which to build something more important. It's a vehicle to get the characters, ideas, and themes from point A to point B to point C. But in great art, it's not the primary focus. I would describe City of Crime as sort of a supernatural 100 Bullets, except there's a more clearly defined lead character, and it's Batman.


my direct response was

If this was Only about Batman being undercover in a bad neighborhood of gotham an kept exploring the regular gothamite way of life as well as making an actually compelling mystery with the suicide and missing girl
and completely dropped this thing of the mudppl then It might had been a good memorable book

#4 Posted by Green_Tea_Light (150 posts) - - Show Bio

Oh!! This makes much more sense. To be fair - I assumed throughout most of the story that the bad guy would be connected to a Clay Face and ignored what they really stood for. Thanks to both of you!

I'm still not sure I enjoyed the story. But tonally i think it pushed the boundaries little.

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