Prior to “No Man’s Land,” an earthquake had practically destroyed Gotham City, and the U.S. government decided to condemn the city and isolate it from the rest of the country. People had a window of time to evacuate, and those who stayed behind would be stuck in a lawless land.
You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the premise, but once you get past that, it’s a great set-up for a year of Batman stories unlike any other. The villains carve out their respective territories to lord over, while the remnants of the Gotham City Police Department, no longer with any legal authority, try to impose order and protect the innocents left behind, with Jim Gordon serving more in a general role than a police commissioner role. And Batman is initially AWOL for reasons known only to him.
Throughout the long arc, resentment and tensions build between Batman and Gordon, and they come to a head in Legends of the Dark Knight #125, which is basically just a conversation between the two.
It’s an excellent conversation, one that was years in the making, with Gordon finally calling Batman out for acting like a jerk—treating him like a subordinate, leaving him in the dark about major events, and frequently walking out on him in mid-sentence. It was long overdue, and Batman’s response is meaningful…as is Gordon’s response to that response.
Batman may be the title character, but for this storyline, Gordon provides the emotional core and serves as the most compelling protagonist. A good man who has dedicated his life to upholding the law finds himself in a lawless situation and must make difficult, ethically murky choices along the way. That’s great stuff right there.
And yeah, Batman really was a jerk at this point in his history.
By the way, the “No Man’s Land” novelization by Greg Rucka is also excellent. There’s more than enough going on here to fill a novel.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciler: Rick Burchett
Inker: James Hodgkins
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: No Man’s Land vol. 4 (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 12 and up