Writer Steve Orlando knows he must keep a fast pace in order for Gotham City Monsters to tell a complete story within its six issues. Previously, the quick pace hampered the book as it found itself racing through a recruitment plotline, at the expense of characterization, while simultaneously setting up Melmoth’s villainous plans. However, with both the team and the stakes set, Gotham City Monsters #3 course corrects the series as Orlando and artist Amancay Nahuelpan find a better balance between action and characterization. Orlando’s cast of monstrous outsiders is an interesting team and this chapter promises a lot of fun is coming with them on the hunt for Melmoth.

The two least developed characters from the previous issue get their due here as both Killer Croc and Orca take over the book’s early moments. A strength of the series is Orlando’s theme of outsiders not being able to find their place in the world and being used for someone else’s benefit. This theme reappears here as both Killer Croc and Orca vow vengeance on Melmoth for killing their innocent friends and family. Orlando has done a great job establishing that any promise or potential in their future is wiped away by outside forces, as if some cosmic judgment always falls negatively upon them. This sense of fighting against a hopeless future is what gives Gotham City Monsters a unique edge compared to most other super hero books. These characters fight against evil fully aware that their efforts will go unnoticed. Or in other words, Killer Croc comically bemoans he’s now part of yet another “squad”.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

Even with a strong theme, some of the characterization is still iffy due to a lack of set up. Orca’s motivation for revenge is that Melmoth killed her nephew, yet we never saw Orca’s relationship with her nephew actually play out. The same also applies to Killer Croc’s friendship with Tusk, though we did have a short scene with them together. Orlando leans too much on telling, not showing, a character relationship having developed. There’s also a lot of convenient plot machinations in the dialogue that accompany the questionable moments of character work. For example, Orca’s conversation with Killer Croc convinces him to join the team despite the conversation’s short length and lack of substance. Additionally, some plot devices are haphazardly established as Frankenstein is able to track Melmoth since they share the same blood. Many plot points hinge on the power of blood in general, including how Melmoth can now control Andrew Bennett. It’s a fine enough device, but it can feel too convenient and makes some narrative developments feel unearned. It’s easy to have our heroes continually find our villain when they always seem to have some magical way to track him without requiring any actual work.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

The first scene where our heroes talk among themselves on a rooftop featured stiff character work and simplistic panel layouts. Nahuelpan attempts to spice up the scene by placing panels of each character digging a hole from a future scene, but the non-linear storytelling creates more confusion than excitement. However, things improve across the board when the book shifts focus to Melmoth. Beforehand, I found Melmoth’s plan to be vague and uninteresting on both a plot and character level. This time around, Orlando’s dialogue gives Melmoth more personality and allows him to clarify his motivations. Nahuelpan’s art also takes a step up here and remains consistently strong for the rest of the book. A panel where Melmoth tears open a sealed Crime Bible has as much energy as a great action scene. The Crime Bible pops out toward the reader as it is revealed, while Melmoth has an eerily joyous grin.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

Throughout the entire issue, Nahuelpan has Melmoth chew the scenery with dynamic poses combined with detailed facial acting, and makes him the most expressive character in the book. He leans on Bennett’s bent body as he taunts him, kisses the Crime Bible with glee, and slices open people’s necks with exaggerated gusto, sending himself off his own feet. Nahuelpan brings back more edge to the violence in these scenes as well. While an excess of gore could be a distraction, the darker tone of the book requires a tad more bloodletting than most books to maintain the tone. However, as Melmoth’s plans grow cosmic in scale, the book tips more into a sci-fi atmosphere and loses some of its gothic charm.

We do finally get to see our team of monsters fight together as a team as the book enters its final pages. Nahuelpan keeps the action exciting and dynamic, particularly when he draws Lady Clay in combat. One of the better pages has Lady Clay throw dozens of blades at Melmoth’s Mandrill army in a panel that oozes energy. Lady Clay’s pose displays her power while the blades shoot off panel and toward the reader with a great sense of dimension. The next panels show the blades strike the Mandrills in a variety of directions. Each panel changes up the angles and makes her onslaught feel inescapable. The flaw with the action is that each member of the team has a very similar set of skills. Besides Lady Clay, each member of the team is a pure brawler which results in a lot of similar action beats. Frankenstein has his gun to mix things up a little, but for the most part we see our monsters scrape and claw their way through wave after wave of Melmoth’s army. As fun as it is to see Frankenstein and Killer Croc take turns chopping off Mandrill heads, Orlando will best be served coming up with new action beats before the action turns monotonous. Trish Mulvihill’s color choices in the action sequences help keep the slightly repetitive action beats punchy and vibrant however. From the Mandrills’ purple blood to the bright orange backgrounds, the gritty action never looks dull or oppressive.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano
Spoiler
As the cover generously spoils, Batwoman makes an appearance in the final page of the book. With Kate Kane joining the team, I worry that Orlando may find himself stretched too thin and struggle to find interesting character moments for each member. With Bennett back on the team having fought off Melmoth’s mind control, Orlando now has seven team members to develop in a book that has already had trouble giving each character enough time to shine. However, the new team number could have a deeper meaning since Orlando references Grant Morrison’s DC work, which includes Seven Soldiers.

Recommended if…

  • A little blood and gore doesn’t scare you away.
  • You want to see Melmoth chew up the scenery.
  • References to Morrison’s DC work piques your interest.

Overall

Gotham City Monsters #3 is a step in the right direction primarily since Orlando nails down his villain’s personality and motivation. Like with most team books, some of the character relationships feel rushed, but Orlando keeps the pace fast and allows Nahuelpan to craft multiple exciting action scenes. However, Orlando must change up the action beats sooner rather than later since seeing our monstrous leads brute force their way through waves of enemies can grow numbing. The thematic work remains strong as ever, but with Melmoth and his plan growing cosmic in scale, the tone of the book loses some of its appealing gothic charm.

Score: 7.5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with this comic for the purpose of this review.