Gotham by Midnight gets its own annual, which, though a bit surprising, is certainly very welcome given the overall quality of the book and the range of possibilities available to the mixed cast. Detective Drake is front and center in this tale called “The Gentleman Ghost” (should be obvious from the cover), about the return of Jim Craddock, said Gentleman Ghost, who was last seen in the New 52 battling Hawkman for the Mortis Orb. While I’m not very familiar with that story, this new incarnation seems to diverge a bit from that one: the ghost has a new origin (or an altered one), and seems focused on a different kind of objective.
The story: Detectives Drake and Corrigan are hunting down Craddock and attempt to apprehend him at the scene of a crime: Craddock has stolen a necklace called the Tears of Eurydice from a young beautiful heiress. In Greek mythology, Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the land of the dead with his musical lyre. The necklace is a strong clue that this robbery has deeper meaning than the worth of simple gold and opals.
I’d like to see the legal definition of “unlawful manifestation”–ha!
Ray Fawkes’ story stays on task without getting too sentimental despite the subject matter. While the underpinnings of it all is a tragic love story, it’s not played for sympathy. Drake and Corrigan work well together as a team: both of them are consummate professionals in spite of the wiggy underworld that they deal with, and I love that Drake is feminine without being a damsel in distress: in fact, again, this is largely her story, and she spends most of it working hard to catch Craddock (even with the odds stacked against her). Her moment of weakness toward the end is well enough motivated to keep the reader from rolling their eyes, and there’s a nice moment between her and Corrigan in which they ruminate about the fact that the Spectre’s wrath does not affect her.
Series regular Juan Ferreyra gives us a delightfully ghoulish (and gorgeous) cover, but it’s Christian Duce on art duties for this annual’s interior and though we have yet another shift in style, it’s a shift that works well: heavy on the blacks without blobbing out the faces, nice detail in the character expressions (which is awesome because a lot of what goes on is subtext beneath their words), and a color palette from Lee Loughridge that works well to balance all those shadows, though might rely too heavily on blues for the exterior shots.
As is the case generally with Gotham by Midnight, the action all takes place in the dark (we’ve yet to see any of these characters in the daylight, I think), so it’s essential that the colors not get muddy or so uniformly dark that the action gets absorbed. Even though I was surprised to see Craddock not outright glowing as he’s done in the past, the lack of luminescence did not prevent the dynamics of the story and action from coming through (and Corrigan does plenty of glowing late in the story).
Or perhaps “sparking” is a better description for him here
Room for Improvement
A couple of notes about the use of the Spectre in this book. While I can see that there’s a reason this book is called Gotham by Midnight and not The Spectre Volume 5, I do think he was used a bit too sparingly here. In fact, almost all of the action with the Spectre happens off-panel. While this can be effective, it felt a little cheaty, especially when Drake’s response to the outcome is so melancholy. We only get one really good look at the Spectre, and Craddock’s judgment, which seems like it ought to be shared visually, is merely referred to after the fact. I’m also curious about the train full of people, many of whom would likely be “sinners” in the eyes of the Spectre. So far in the course of the series we have yet to see Spectre’s judgment smote the bystanders. Maybe I’m just bloodthirsty, but I’d like to see that impact and how the Midnight Shift deals with it. Perhaps it didn’t need to happen in this book, but the close quarters of the train really made me think of this more acutely than I had previously. If anything, the fact that the book is causing me to ruminate this deeply is a good sign of my engagement with the content.
Craddock’s affection for Drake was a little thin (and her sympathy for him could have been better explored). I’m willing to go along with it, but his attraction to her could have used a little more bolstering than merely physical resemblance to Pauline. And Drake’s story about the dog-walking boyfriend not only goes nowhere, but feels like a missed chance for building on a potential connection.
I also hoped, briefly, that the Gentleman Ghost wouldn’t go all spidery (though the cover art left little chance of it). I think the fact that they kept him gentlemanly throughout the majority of the book helped, however. He turns a bit Anton Arcane toward the end there with the fangs and rotting face and spider legs, but otherwise he mostly holds his form.
- You enjoy a little romance in your horror comics. This isn’t treacle, but it does have some strong sentiment.
- You’re a fan of the marauding hotdogger Jim Craddock (lady killer that he is).
- You want to see another side of Detective Drake.
We briefly see Doctor Tarr in this book, but the rest of the shift (and all of their Internal Affairs worries) are set aside as we focus on Jim Corrigan and Lisa Drake hunting down the specter known as The Gentleman Ghost. Of course Corrigan’s own Spectre makes an appearance as well, though the majority of this tale is heavier on the sleuthing. An interesting story that doesn’t add much to the regular series, but provides an opportunity to spend time with some of the coolest characters working in Gotham, this annual is an entertaining digression and worth an evening’s read.