When your biggest disappointment with a comic is that it just didn’t have another 100 pages in the issue or the lick and a prayer of some hope of continuing the series, suffice it to say you’ve enjoyed your reading experience.
Gotham by Midnight comes to its cataclysmic finale at the hands of writer Ray Fawkes, who has reimagined the Spectre in what’s both an interesting departure from previous incarnations, but also keeps intact the mythology that has borne the character through 75 years worth of stories (did you think the Joker was the only one celebrating his 75th birthday this year?). Happy Birthday, Spectre: you’ve been cancelled (fie!).
Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily created the Spectre and Jim Corrigan in a little forgotten compilation magazine called More Fun Comics, which had been running for over 50 issues. This same publication gave us characters like Doctor Fate, the Green Arrow, and Aquaman as well.
The Spectre’s seen some ups and downs throughout his history (and had played everything from horror to comedy depending on the fashion in comics over the years). But he’s almost always had a strong underpinning of Old Testament justice. He’s almost always punished sinners and avenged the murdered (or “unjust dead” as Fawkes calls them).
Warning: Spoilers Galore
When this new incarnation went off the rails was in Gotham by Midnight issue No. 10, when the police attempted to interrogate Corrigan and the Spectre decided he wasn’t having anybody probing into his affairs–so he obliterated the interrogators in spectacularly horrific fashion. If you’ve ever followed the Spectre in his previous adventures, this was exactly the sort of thing that shouldn’t have happened. Spectre smites the guilty, not the innocent! To complicate matters, Corrigan discovers that he’s the one responsible for the Spectre’s actions: he’s in control. This sends Corrigan into a tailspin of shock (in which he pretty much remained throughout issue No. 11).
Which leads us to now: the finale issue. We know the cancellation forced the creative team to, well, get creative about wrapping up a rather complex plot in a span of very few issues, and last issue felt the crunch with plot points and action smushed together as best they could go (and generally successful in spite of the smushing).
It feels dark, indeed
“Midnight”, our final chapter sees some of that smushing as well. At some point you just have to let certain threads go: Rook, Spencer, even Weaver. There’s no time to focus on their elements within the scope of this issue and that’s a shame because they were interesting (and Spencer was just getting started!). We also, unfortunately, have to jettison any hope of having questions answered about Doctor Tarr, Sister Justine, and even Drake.
Fawkes concentrates his efforts on resolving the problem of Corrigan’s split psyche and saving Gotham from total destruction at the wrath of both Spectre and Ikkondrid. For me, it works, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that as a reader I felt like I had to bridge a lot of gaps and make a lot of assumptions to get to the end. And again: I hardly fault the creative team or even the editors; I feel like we got the best wrap up under the circumstances, replete with gentle breezes and misty sunrises.
The plot elements that suffer the worst from the shotgun ending deal with Doctor Tarr and Sister Justine’s roles in playing prophet to–and subsequently helping stabilize–both Spectre and Ikkondrid. We saw briefly in the previous issue that Sister Justine had become a bit of a pop-up saint in the ghetto, but here she appears (literally larger than life) to intervene without any preamble: just poof and there she is: already attempting to stay Spectre’s hand.
Also, Sister Justine is kinda sexy-hot now!
While I love this and see how it was intended to develop organically out of her death, and while I equally love that she is the Redeemer flipside to Spectre’s Vengeance, this was a pretty complex outgrowth that feels dropped in quite literally deus ex machina-style. We’re dealing with godly things, though, so actually it’s fitting, but I would have liked to have spent more time with Sister Justine in this incarnation and had a chance to explore her function and dynamic in this world with greater depth.
Doctor Tarr’s input and experience feels even more thinly explored. He takes on an otherworldly power to become a vessel of protection, but where this comes from, why it chooses him, and what it means (if anything) is lost in the dust for us to speculate.
Similarly, Drake’s power remains vague and, at the end, when she indicates that perhaps it has left her (as a result of being healed by the cataclysm) we’re left with more questions than answers.
I can’t stop holding out hope that we’ll see these characters again and have a chance to learn more about them, but for now this is all we get: tantalizing, but unsatisfiable glimpses into a world cut short by the cruelty of comic book economics.
Even though I have personally been a fan of the Spectre for more years than I would like to admit, I have always struggled with his Vengeance–particularly his sweeping wide-scale destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah proportions: taking the good with the bad with broad, angry judgment. This has been occasionally addressed by various writers including one of my favorite runs under the auspices of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake from 1987-1989. Ostrander was a theology student who originally codified aspects of Spectre’s powers to the overt concept of being the embodiment of the “Wrath of God”. Ostrander didn’t shirk from connecting the Spectre to specifically religious themes, even if that wasn’t exactly in fashion in that era.
One of the things I think Fawkes has done with this series that echoes the best of Ostrander has been to probe moral ambiguities and the role of faith and justice. With the introduction of Sister Justine to temper Spectre’s wrath with mercy, this series could have gone on to explore some amazing and complex scenarios. Again: we can only hope there is some future for Jim Corrigan that continues down this path.
Until then, at least this single thin issue gives us some things to think about with regard to pain, suffering, anger, and justice. And Fawkes writes it beautifully–even elegantly. On first read I was a bit distracted by all the things we weren’t going to understand or resolve because of the cancellation, but on second read I could really appreciate the gifts of the things that we do get.
Speaking of Beautiful and Elegant
Juan Ferreyra renders page after page of gorgeous art here. He makes particularly stunning use of long, double-page spread panels to show the scope of these powerful entities battling over the city of Gotham, which is rendered to even the tiniest details of street lamps and parked cars (it’s this depth of environment which makes Gotham by Midnight so lush in its visuals).
I like, too, his use of shading over Drake’s features when she trains her gun on Corrigan. There’s nothing especially subtle about the book at this point, but Ferreyra handles the tone and emotions of the characters deftly. Corrigan’s features take center stage as he swings from shock and horror to anger, and then from fatalistic resignation to understanding.
Corrigan’s epiphany drives the conclusion.
I could go on about how beautiful this book is, but I’ve got to wrap this up so I will call out two additional things Ferreyra handles very nicely here. The first is, despite a sprawling cast and a lot of little events happening simultaneously, nothing ever bogs down the precision and clarity of action. We can follow each character through their response to what’s going on over their heads (even Jim Gordon, who’s pried out of his Batman suit after being struck by lightning). The second is the effective use of color. Ferreyra’s colors have always been rich and often dominated by blues and greens (almost to an overwhelming degree). But the dark cast works especially well for midnight in Gotham with all this crazy psychic energy radiating. And it makes the final page all the more impactful. The rising sun illuminates the characters’ features in a way we’ve never seen before (they have always worked in the dark). Cheesy perhaps? Predictable?
Necessary, I think. I know it was what I wanted to see at the end. And I think it was earned in spite of any and all smushing and rushing.
- You’ve come this far: you’ve gotta see how it all turns out.
- You want to show a last bit of love for a team that put real heart into a book that should have topped everyone’s pull list.
Gotham by Midnight was a lovely divergence from the typical superhero fare, melding crime drama and horror in a perfect symbiosis with one of DC oldest and most powerful entities–along with an amazing new cast of delightful (and tragic) characters. Is this bittersweet finale a bit tidy and quick? It kind of had to be, unfortunately. But at least we got an ending and I think it’s a good one. The aftermath is all for our imaginations; it’s the little bit we get to carry away in our hearts and into the world.