Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham
Written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace
Illustrated by Troy Nixey
Inked by Dennis Janke
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Dave Oakley
What would Batman be like had he been written by H.P. Lovecraft?
That is the question that the recently collected miniseries Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham seeks to answer. Given that Lovecraft’s works were steeped in the macabre and filled with no small amount of gothic horror elements, the Dark Knight of Gotham seems a natural fit. Taking into consideration that Arkham Asylum was named after a fictional town found in Lovecraft’s lore, and that natural fit turns into a no-brainer.
Published in late 2000 and early 2001, the Mike Mignola penned series had inexplicably not been collected until just a few weeks ago. That seems strange considering the pedigree and level of talent involved, but better late than never I suppose.
Let me just get this out of the way up front: this book is weird. What initially seems like a good successor to one of my favorite Batman stories, Gotham by Gaslight, wastes no time in demonstrating just how bizarre of a story it’s going to be. I mean, in the first ten pages you see a giant Cthulu-esque creature frozen in ice, a new take on Mr. Freeze, and Oswald Cobblepot strip naked and join his flippered friends.
Like I said: weird.
After twenty-some years of traveling abroad, Bruce Wayne feels the call back to Gotham City. Accompanied by his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth and his young wards Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Timothy Drake, they take the cadaver-who-will-be-Freeze and head back home.
Also: a dark omen that “the Thing is coming.” This is initially spooOOOooOoooOOoOoKy, but it, uh, doesn’t really coalesce.
But we’ll get there.
Upon arriving back in Gotham, Bruce discovers a dying man who has been left tied up in Wayne Manor. Ever the detective, he examines the body, determining that the corpse was in a struggle before dying, and casually asks what his name was.
No bonus points if you guess that it answers.
“Langstrom,” he says, followed by a massive burst of fire and Tim giving you your new favorite exclamation.
And who should appear amidst those flames? None other than Jason Blood, host of Etrigan the Demon. It was about this point that I realized the kind of story we’d be getting, and for a while at least I was ok with it.
There are several other familiar characters who make an appearance in one way or another: Oliver Queen is a fellow socialite and friend of Bruce; Harvey Dent is running for mayor; Jim Gordon pops in a few times, as a Batman book wouldn’t really feel complete without him; and there are even variations on Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, and Barbara Gordon as a literal Oracle.
The main villain, or at least he would like to think so, is Ra’s Al Ghul. Accompanied by his daughter Talia, Ra’s has still lived more lifetimes than should be natural, though the pair are interested in necromantic arts rather than ecological terrorism and Lazarus Pits. Putting it another way: Ra’s is now a one-dimensional maniac rather than a three-dimensional maniac.
Therein lies my biggest problem with this book: the Doom of the title amounts to nothing more than a tentacled mess that pops up at the eleventh hour, only to be dispatched just as quickly. Mignola knows horror and sets a suitably creepy tone for a while, but it’s not enough to sustain the bloated 140 pages of narrative. Frankly, I grew bored by the whole thing more than once, stopping and picking it up again a few days afterward.
The problem may have been trying to cram in too much of Batman’s existing mythos instead of crafting its own. The best Elseworlds stories were those that existed in their own universe, but almost made you wish they were canon. That isn’t the case here, as the state things are left in at the end don’t leave many things open for a continuation. A lot of what Mignola was working with had the potential to be great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s never really an immediacy to anything. For instance, I really like the idea of Harvey running for mayor, but it’s introduced and then forgotten, then reintroduced some twenty pages later, only to be taken in a completely different direction with barely a page dedicated to any stage of his story. I wouldn’t call it sloppy, per se, just unformed. The pacing is just nonexistent, to the point that I really stopped caring what was going to happen because nobody really sticks around long enough to build any empathy towards.
In its way, though, some of that is to its credit. Two major characters are dispatched fairly early in the proceedings, so you know Mignola isn’t pulling punches, and the state Harvey is left in is more disturbing and unsettling than anything else in the series.
Also unsettling? Some of Nixey’s faces.
That is a… handsome Tim Drake.
At least they made sure to include the most important aspect of life in the 1920s: newsies.
Besides some truly weird faces, the artwork is suitably dark and unsettling, especially the environments.
Dave Stewart’s colors and especially Dennis Janke’s inks really evoke a mood that’s unsettling, and Dave Oakley does some nice work with sound effects and word balloons.
What should have been the shining star, the narrative, was ultimately the weakest aspect, and no amount of doom and gloom visuals can make up for that. Even more disappointing is Batman himself, as he’s a complete cipher for most of the proceedings, hardly concerned with the deaths of loved ones or the insanity going on around him. There are a few bits of humor late in the game, as Bruce has an almost nonchalant attitude toward literally everything that’s going on, but it’s too little too late. Mignola never really gives a good feel for this Bruce’s personality, so what should be a tragic curse and battle for his soul just falls completely flat.
It doesn’t help that the finale suffers from what I like to call Final Boss From Final Fantasy IX Syndrome (Patent Pending, at least until I come up with a snappier name): you think you’re getting a big showdown with one character that the whole story has been building towards, only to have him be swept aside almost casually to make room for a new big bad who comes out of nowhere. It’s not quite as bad here, as the Thing is at least referenced throughout the book, but the swiftness with which Ra’s is dispatched and the manner in which Thing itself is defeated happens so quickly that I thought some pages had been left out of my book.
It’s such a shame that this was a disappointment, because Mignola knows what he’s doing. Plus, as the illustrator of one of my favorite Batman stories and one of the best Elseworlds tales ever written, he at least knows the character too. I don’t know if this was a case of scarcity and hype over time raising my expectations too high, but as it stands this is one of the most disappointing Batman stories I’ve read in a long while.
Extras: None, thought the packaging is nice and the Gothic title pages up the suspense and mood well.
Overall: It starts off strong, I’ll give it that, but ultimately what should have been a 64 page one-shot runs too long and collapses under its own weight. The supernatural elements aren’t creepy, none of the characters are particularly memorable, and the rushed ending feels silly more than spooky. It’s a mixed-bag visually as well, with every locale or creature that works being off-set by three or four things that don’t. Had this not included Batman, it would have been a forgettable horror comic, and even with the Dark Knight it barely registers at all.