This third volume in a hardcover series collecting the totality of "Gotham Central", DC's landmark series focussing on the frontline detectives of the Gotham Police Department's Major Crimes Unit, continues in the tradition established by the first two. Namely, excellence. Slightly shorter than the previous one, this volume collects issues 23 to 31 of the series. Separate, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka are two of the best writers in comics; their rare collaborations (and they are co-writing for most of this one) are always exemplary. Some spoilers follow. One should also note, starting out, that Amazon's product description for this volume is incorrect; "Dead Robin" (issues 33-36) are not included here.
The first volume, after the introductories stories familiarizing the audience with the concept and the initial main cast, was capped with "Half a Life", Greg Rucka's Eisner-winning Renee Montoya story, which is often thought of as "Gotham Central"'s finest piece. The second volume featured less of Montoya, but did include one of my favourite stories in the series, the Joker-centric "Soft Targets". Book Three features Montoya much more heavily in the lead position (a guarantee whenever Greg Rucka is writing), including revisiting some important elements from "Half a Life". Unlike the first two volumes of the series, marquee supervillains are not in evidence (though after back-to-back encounters with the Joker and Two-Face, there wasn't much of an ante to be upped, one supposes) for the most part, and even Batman's role in plot resolution is somewhat limited.
In terms of external influences on the series, Book Three picks up after the infamous "War Games" Bat-family crossover that seriously damaged Batman's reputation both among his fellow heroes (the Birds of Prey sought alternate living accomodations) and the police, who remove the Bat-signal when the story opens. Ed Brubaker's contribution to this volume is considerably smaller than in the past, writing only one of the three stories that comprise this arc, with Greg Rucka going solo on the other two (and those two take up most of the space, though Brubaker's supplies this collection with its title). The first story, by Rucka, originates what will become a significant plot thread before the series is out, dealing with the corruption of one Jim Corrigan (no relation to the Specter), a CSU technician at the GCPD. This is a decent story, though probably the least of the three (the peripheral elements of it, mainly dealing with changing attitudes towards Batman, are the most interesting parts). Next up is Brubaker's contribution, focussing mainly on detective Josie MacDonald, who, unbeknownst to everyone else on the squad, has some level of supernatural insight that she uses to solve cases, but must keep concealed. Her dilemma is effectively illustrated, and the story also features a cameo appearance by Catwoman (whose series Ed Brubaker was also writing at this time).
The real gem of the collection, though, is the final four-issue arc written by Rucka, called "Keystone Kops" (one can see why it wasn't chosen as the volume name), which begins with an ordinary GCPD officer, Andy Kelly, being horribly maimed in the process of rescuing a child from a mad scientist's lair. The effects cause Kelly to begin to mutate, and it is deemed the work of the Flash villain Dr. Alchemy. While Montoya and Allen head to Central City, a markedly different location than Gotham (with which some interesting contrasts are drawn), to enlist Alchemy's help, Kelly continues mutating. "Gotham Central" has been at its most effective when it showcases the reactions of the ordinary people who must live in a world full of superhumans and monsters, and this one is very affecting. Alchemy is an interesting foe (albeit at times perhaps a bit too transparently being written as a stand-in for Hannibal Lecter). The conclusion is bracing, though Montoya's personal life gets a bit of welcome good news.
The first story of this volume also represents the final artistic contribution of Michael Lark, whose distinctive pencils lent the series quite a bit of its distinctive atmosphere. Lark's final story is a nice one to go out on. Following that, there are some guest pencils by Jason Alexander (presumably not George from "Seinfeld"), and the final arc is done by Stefano Gaudiano, who would actually later colour Lark's art on "Daredevil". The whole series continues to look great, though.