A Cop's Kid's Thoughts on Cops in Comics

Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
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In my last blog, The Difference Between a "Killer" and a "Killing," I told a story about my dad, from when he was a police officer (he's now retired), and how he was almost forced to shoot one of my friends. This being a site about comics, it got me thinking about cops in comics. For the most part, in comics, cops are pretty stupid. They don't have the same powers of deduction as a private investigator or superhero, they never hit who they're shooting at (unless the target still escapes), they never fight as well as someone in a costume, and they are always the last to arrive at any scene of importance to the story, unless they are there to be killed. Cops are usually there to collect the bound up badguys, left on the steps of the local precinct house. They stand there scratching their heads and puzzling over the note left by the local superhero. They get slaughtered without landing a shot, if the badguy makes his escape, or his cronies bust in to break him out. Very few police characters break this mold, unless they are the officer that a superhero deals with on a regular basis (Jean DeWolff and Captain Stacy, in Spider-Man titles), or the main character of their own title (Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin of the Metropolis SCU, from the Superman titles).

Probably one of the best cops in comics is Commissioner Jim Gordon, but thanks to Frank Miller, he's got a drinking problem and lost his wife. While quite capable, he relies on the Batman to come in and find the important clues in most cases. One of Gordon's cops, Harvey Bullock, is two stereotypes in one: the fat, doughnut-eating slob, and the hardnosed, slightly bent cop that gets things done by being slightly outside of the rules. There was one other, truly good cop on the Gotham force, named Renee Montoya, so of course she had to be outed as a lesbian (a black mark to some, like her parents), and later become a vigilante - the new Question. Crispus Allen was introduced to the Gotham PD, but wasn't around long before he became the Spectre. It's kind of disturbing that good cops always seem to go for vigilante identities, as if they cannot do enough good on their own, simply by being good cops. As if justice doesn't move swift enough, and needs the fast nudge that a vigilante can give it. Dick Grayson did the reverse, being a vigilante first, but becoming a cop in Bludhaven later. It wasn't too long before he found he couldn't do both, and gave up being a cop.

There are some old school cops in comics, like Commissioner Dolan in The Spirit, and my all-time favorite, Dick Tracy, who has probably plugged as many badguys as he's arrested (although the shootings were always on the up-and-up). There has been Matthew Bright in Rising Stars, who was basically Superman with a badge, and a title that has been one of my favorites and most hated at the same time: C.O.P.S. It's a favorite, because even with all the gimmicks they fight with, they're cops, and they're actually good at their jobs. I hate it, because it never reached the potential I felt it could have, had it been applied to something besides kiddy fare.

There have been a few titles that were actually about cops, like Archie's Super Cops, which was based on two real cops, and Marvel's Cops: The Job and The Call of Duty titles. I always find it odd that though the bulk of comic sales are about superheroes, these titles about real life heroes never seem to do very well. Maybe that's because the same medium that glorifies super powered paragons of virtue also makes light of police officers, finding every opportunity possible to show them as inept, crooked, or just plain hated.

Once, I'd like to see a title that shows the cops to be as capable as the superheroes. Let them shoot straight, show their deductive powers, and shine as the heroes that they are in everyday life. Without being some kind of sick, twisted freaks behind all the shine. There are bad cops out there, but they're not all bad cops - not even close. I wish that was reflected in comics a bit more often.

EDIT (9/15/10): I've received several comments saying that cops are supposed to be there to make the superheroes look good. I thought I said this already, but I agree with that. My point here though is that cops are habitually downplayed to make the superhero look good, and that isn't necessary. Show the cops as actually good at their jobs, and that makes the superhero look even better when they outshine the police (and the supervillain look like even more of a threat). Firemen are not depicted as unable to aim their hoses at the right spot, and EMT's are not shown as incapable of doing their jobs. To downplay cops as incompetent or incapable is nothing except a bias against cops.

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#1 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio

u still have skiped me -_- lol sory had to point it out.  
Another good post i however must disagree that there are no good usefull cops in comics while they are lacking i will bring up some

#2 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio

Twitch Williams is of image comics he is depicted as the brains of the operations. Hes 1 of 2 ppl who heavily deal with the Spawn related cases. He is an xcelent marksman an has held his own aginst Overkill. Twitch has the nickname Twitch because he never dose.

#3 Posted by jamesewelch (616 posts) - - Show Bio

I think you'll need to look outside of "cape" comics to get a more realistic view of the world.  When there's capes flying around, police will always be background roles that only serve purposes to further the plot, much like a plot device or equipment. The stars of the comics are those wearing the capes and in order for them to appear fast, smart, tough, then there has to be a counter balance of something we know - such as police, military, etc.
 
There's various stereotypes of police in comics, movies, and tv:

  • Donut eating
  • corrupted, dirty,
  • "itchy" trigger finger
  • etc, etc.
 
 
Brian Michael Bendis published a letter in Scarlet #2 from a policeman that was upset at his portrayal of policemen (corrupt) in Scarlet #1. It's a pretty good exchange between the two. I think you should try and read those letters printed in Scarlet #2 for some reasoning from a writer.
#4 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio
@jamesewelch: this is true an is even the case for Sam in the Image comics but there are some characters who are good infact even great portrails of an officer. Twitch in Spawn is great. Also to conclude previous post Overkill is this guy
#5 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio

another example is Lt Stone he is a Swat/Police officer and though i dont know much about him his page dosent depict him as a lightweight or corupt. 
 
p.s sory bout the various posts instead of 1 solid 1. 

#6 Edited by Metatron_Da_Don (1037 posts) - - Show Bio

Dakota North,  former CIA  very competent although she is technically a P.I.not a cop

#7 Posted by Amegashita (3601 posts) - - Show Bio

  Some cops are bad while others are good.  I do agree that in the big two, a lot of their cops are just plain horrendous. 

#8 Posted by Jotham (4564 posts) - - Show Bio

What about Gotham Central? I haven't read every issue, but I thought it was pretty good, and a good representation of cops. They weren't as successful as Batman (obviously), but for normal humans in a superhuman world, they were pretty good. And of course there's Powers. Although, I think they made one or both of the main characters superheroes after I stopped reading.

#9 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@614azrael said:
"u still have skiped me -_- lol sory had to point it out.  Another good post i however must disagree that there are no good usefull cops in comics while they are lacking i will bring up some "
 
I'm still thinking about it. :)  Also, I didn't say there were no good cops, I said that in general, they aren't portrayed well, unless they are stars of their book or interact closely with the superhero featured in the book. 

@614azrael:
@Metatron_Da_Don:
@Jotham:

Sam & Twitch, Dakota North and Gotham Central all had their own titles, so that falls under "stars of their book." 
Lt. Stone of Code: Blue falls under "interacts closely with the superhero."
#10 Posted by CATMANEXE (17052 posts) - - Show Bio

Nice post. Very insightful and well thought out.
 
Toxin is actually a pretty good police character that I can think of.
Super-powered, but he exemplifies the standards and commitment
to the field correctly.

#11 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@jamesewelch said:
"I think you'll need to look outside of "cape" comics to get a more realistic view of the world.  When there's capes flying around, police will always be background roles that only serve purposes to further the plot, much like a plot device or equipment. The stars of the comics are those wearing the capes and in order for them to appear fast, smart, tough, then there has to be a counter balance of something we know - such as police, military, etc...  Brian Michael Bendis published a letter in Scarlet #2 from a policeman that was upset at his portrayal of policemen (corrupt) in Scarlet #1. It's a pretty good exchange between the two. I think you should try and read those letters printed in Scarlet #2 for some reasoning from a writer. "

Yeah, I get that police are traditionally dumbed down to make the hero look good.  I guess I'm thinking that's a bit played.  Why can't the cops be good at their job, so the superhero has to be even better? 
 
TV is the worst for it right now, but it's another blog altogether to talk about it.  One example though - a show I like - White Collar. On WC, the FBI have a top con man in their custody, and he's working with them to catch other criminals.  These guys were good enough to catch him, but the con man still has to explain every new con featured in story to the FBI, as if they've never encountered it.  But that might be a bad example, because that show has gaping plot holes regularly.
#12 Posted by Jotham (4564 posts) - - Show Bio
@cbishop said:
" @Jotham: Sam & Twitch, Dakota North and Gotham Central all had their own titles, so that falls under "stars of their book." "
Oh, didn't catch that. Still, I'm not sure what you're expecting. If you're not counting main characters, or cops who work with superheroes, of course there's not going to be many well-rounded positive police characters in superhero books.
#13 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@CATMANEXE said:
"...Toxin is actually a pretty good police character that I can think of. Super-powered, but he exemplifies the standards and commitment to the field correctly. "

I actually haven't been familiar with Toxin, so I read the CV page on him.  Seems like a decent character, but a) he starred in his own book and b) he's a super powered vigilante, as well as a cop.
#14 Posted by geraldthesloth (33313 posts) - - Show Bio
#15 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@Jotham said:
"Oh, didn't catch that. Still, I'm not sure what you're expecting. If you're not counting main characters, or cops who work with superheroes, of course there's not going to be many well-rounded positive police characters in superhero books. "

Yeah, I get that.  I'd just like to see that change.  There's no reason, even if it's a passing cameo, that a cop can't be shown as a positive character and fully capable of doing their job.  Even a good cop can be shown to be overpowered by a supervillain, or outclassed by a superhero.  It's just the tendency to go further, and show them not able to hit their target, or as incompetent or crooked, that I think should change. 
 
By comparison, you don't see EMT characters that are incompetent at First Aid, or firemen who can't seem to aim their hoses at the right spot.  Showing cops as incapable is nothing but a bias against cops.  Making cops seem incapable in order to make a hero look better is kind of like making the Hulk a whipping boy to show how strong a new character is.  The new character should succeed on its own merits, not to the detriment of the Hulk.
#16 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@geraldthesloth said:
"Have you read Gotham Central? "

Nope, haven't read Gotham Central, but it falls under "stars of the book."  I'm glad DC did that title, but there's also the skewed perspective there, of a few honest cops against a predominantly crooked police force, as well as the badguys.
#17 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio

think about it lol how rude, an your corect these all were stars we mentioned however felt like droping in some names. R there good officers yes i have to second u though that there should be more. Why arent there fellow officers Daredevil knows? And what about the police who follow the cases of Punisher, there should be pages talking about a portion officers thinking he comitts a killing while others say he is mearly a killer ;) (sounds familiar huh?)
#18 Posted by moshimoshi (63 posts) - - Show Bio
If cops were as good as super heroes their wouldn't be any superheroes.
for the most part their role is to take badguys to jail and make super heroes look good by comparison, sorry if that hurts your feelings.
#19 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio
@moshimoshi:
there wont b a load of comics with them handleing deadpool in hand cuffs we can all admit. but dont u think they deserv 2 b more then target practice/donut eaters/corupt/useless? Im not asking for Bishop to become a cop or anything but ther should be atleast mor regards to them along the lines of mentioned characters
#20 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio
@moshimoshi: Two things: 1) It doesn't hurt my feelings, but I could do without that tasteless picture in your comment.  2) I agree with you: cops are usually there to make the superheroes look good by comparison.  However, if the story has to downplay what a cop can really do, then the superhero isn't really all that.  Show cops at their true potential, and then the superhero would be impressive, when they are shown to be better.
#21 Posted by 614azrael (10316 posts) - - Show Bio
@cbishop:
To second this coment i would like to state that its not epected of the oficer to have a ironman suit or the ability to make force fields(though it would be cool to see). What is desired is that there more then target practice or corupt. For example in the Xmen film the cops were clearly beet by Magneto in the end and were all in danger. They however were still shown through out the scene as couragous and willing to be put at risk for the safety of others. Its not a mater of tackleing the heroes job so much as simply being a bit more respected in there job and hounor
#22 Posted by Ultimate JSA (2840 posts) - - Show Bio
@614azrael said:
"@moshimoshi: there wont b a load of comics with them handleing deadpool in hand cuffs we can all admit. but dont u think they deserv 2 b more then target practice/donut eaters/corupt/useless? Im not asking for Bishop to become a cop or anything but ther should be atleast mor regards to them along the lines of mentioned characters "

what she said
#23 Posted by Kairan1979 (16759 posts) - - Show Bio

John Dusk from Absolution comic book. Superhuman with a badge. Competent, powerful, but slowly goes over the edge after one too many horrible sights, and begins to murder those he believes do not deserve to be alive because of the magnitude of their crimes, and his belief that the "revolving door" will just put them back on the street again. He is portrayed as a sympathetic character.

#24 Posted by cbishop (8250 posts) - - Show Bio

@Kairan1979 said:

John Dusk from Absolution comic book. Superhuman with a badge. Competent, powerful, but slowly goes over the edge after one too many horrible sights, and begins to murder those he believes do not deserve to be alive because of the magnitude of their crimes, and his belief that the "revolving door" will just put them back on the street again. He is portrayed as a sympathetic character.

I read the first issue of Absolution (or the #0, whichever was released first). He's exactly the kind of cop character I am tired of seeing - being a cop's not enough, so murdering scumbags is the way to go. It just shouldn't be that way. Occasionally, it can be a cool read or an entertaining movie, but it's being overdone. I'd just like to see some decent cops in comics again.

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