Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith have produced something in Gotham by Midnight that is as different as it is refreshing: a new lens with which to experience Gotham and all of its haunted underpinnings. The supernatural has been a part of Batman’s world for at least the least the last 40 years with varying degrees of success. Some of its mythology has been more grounded, but occasionally it has entertained an out-and-out ghost story.  It makes sense–the Dark Knight’s work in the shadows fosters a setting rife with spookiness.

So it doesn’t feel the least bit unnatural to meet the “Midnight Shift” special GCPD task force (created by Gordon himself), whose duty it is to mind the things that go bump in the night. In this first issue titled “We Do Not Sleep”, Lieutenant Weaver, Lisa Drake, Jim Corrigan, Sister Justine, and Zsandor Tarr make up the team. Their first case involves kidnapped children who have been returned with a “psychic infection” that causes them to babble in tongues. The team also must contend with Sergeant Rook, on investigation from Internal Affairs. He’s convinced the whole operation is a lot of bunk and means to shut them down. Meanwhile, Corrigan consults with Batman briefly at the set up. Maybe it’s just to remind us where we are, but I think the book doesn’t actually need much grounding.

Why you should read Gotham by Midnight

There’s a handful of things that makes this series really exciting for me:

  • The long-anticipated return of Jim Corrigan to a regular series. Spectre’s been around briefly in the New 52, but he hasn’t really had a chance to show us what he’s made of. One of the interesting things about how Fawkes is handling him (it seems) is that because he’s part of an actual police team, he’s well-tethered to Gotham in a focused way that goes back to his roots (as opposed to the more “cosmic” entity overseeing broader world events). While being a destroyer of worlds is always a thrill, to see Corrigan and the Spectre in a more intimate relationship with day-to-day life is something sadly lacking in the DCU. And just for the sake of clarity–we know Spectre’s part of Jim, but we don’t get to see him yet, so suspense is already built-in.
  • Ben Templesmith pulling art duties: pencils, inks, colors. If you’ve never read anything from Templesmith, you might want to come out into the sunlight and pick up Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse or Hoxford. His style is very loose and his lines, though often simple, manage to convey a lot of detail. And despite his figure work being very broad, his characters display vivid emotion and wonderfully telling body language. He makes it look easy: almost like a child’s drawing. And yet compositionally his images are complex and he wastes no lines. Also, his colors are always surprising, like a dye spilled on a wet plate: blues and reds swirl without ever getting muddied. Occasionally it feels like his added touches of luminosity might overwhelm the eyes, but they are generally well-placed to direct the eye. Given the grimy world in which the action is taking place, they also add a sort of glowering mystical threat.
  • If you’re into creepy, this book will no doubt bring it. Fawkes is also writing Constantine, so he knows his way around the supernatural mythos of the DCU. While other books (like Constantine and Justice League Dark) have appeared to relish in exploring the principalities and demons of the larger pantheon, again, Gotham by Midnight appears satisfied so far with smaller concerns of individual souls and the spirits that bewitch them. Can’t say yet whether this might spiral out big, but at the moment I am loving it for starting out with a small canvas.

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Oh, hello Batman! Hope to see more of you!

The Good

Additional things I loved:

  • Batman!  I sincerely didn’t expect to see him here. While he doesn’t do much, I was happy just to spend some panels with him and know he has some connections to the Midnight Shift.
  • As a kid, Jim Corrigan wanted to be a firetruck and drinks out of a cup that reads “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
  • Templesmith really likes to vary body types and all of the characters have very distinct physical personalities. Check out the Attwood family: Julie and Francine are a bit plain, but their parents are very specific. More to the point, they represent “real” people rather than generic models.
  • The inclusion of Sister Justine, references to Lot’s wife, and questions aimed at Sergeant Rook as to his religious leanings hint that this book, like Spectre’s solo series of the past, will have some interesting spiritual tints.
  • The juxtaposition of the Attwood girls going ballistic just as Corrigan and Rook find the haunted schoolhouse is a great use of intercutting scenes. It builds some wonderful tension in a book where the action is spare, helping it to ramp up wonderfully in the end.
  • The final reveal of the schoolhouse is just spectacularly creepy; exactly what I want from this book!

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Deliciously atmospheric!

The Bad

While the angle and manner of telling this tale are wonderfully fresh, the story itself is just getting started. Effective exposition is still exposition and though we’ve met all the characters, we only vaguely have a sense of what talents they bring to the task force. We do learn that Corrigan has kept Spectre a secret and that will likely add some intrigue later on. This is a great first issue, but I’m also really looking forward to investing in this team and seeing what they’re actually capable of against the perfidious evil in Gotham.

The Ugly

As mentioned above, Templesmith’s use of glowing light is often effective, but occasionally distracting when it washes out details or seems to come from a too non-specific light source. This is, admittedly, a huge nit-pick just because my eyes are sensitive to this kind of contrast, especially on high-gloss. So your own visual feedback may vary.

Recommended If…

  • This is the Gotham horror you’ve always dreamed about!
  • You love a little spiritual edge on the fringe of your comics.
  • You want something new to read that feels pretty stand-alone in a sea of crossover continuities.

Overall

The team of Fawkes and Templesmith give us something savory and exciting: a shadowy Gotham world populated with quirky after-hours caretakers. Despite this being a maiden voyage, it manages to push through a lot of introductions and exposition while getting a compelling story to roll. I’m betting that exciting things are up ahead for this series, so you’ll definitely want to get on board while the engine is warming–before this peels off and leaves you in its eldritch wake.

SCORE: 8.5/10