In a lot of team books the initial gathering of the lead characters tends to be the most exciting part as we get to see personalities clash and stakes get established. Gotham City Monsters #4 frees itself from that trend as the series has more fun once it’s settled into its groove and lets our heroes do what they do best with minimum fuss. Orlando’s narrative is simple, but he gives artist Amancay Nahuelpan ample opportunity to craft both exciting action sequences and quieter, yet funny, moments when our monstrous team plan their next move.
The weakest aspect of Gotham City Monsters is that the once mysterious plot has devolved into a simplistic McGuffin chase with Melmoth on the hunt for blood sacrifice victims. This issue follows a similar formula as last month’s. Frankenstein and company track Melmoth as he kills some innocent civilians, they get into a fight, and then Melmoth attempts to escape. The only wrinkle is the addition of Batwoman, who joins the team when they inform her of Melmoth’s plan. There’s a comforting, B-movie vibe to these proceedings, but Orlando could elevate the book even further with a more complex narrative that does more to change up the stakes. Given that Orlando plays with remnants of Grant Morrison’s multiverse and Seven Soldiers plotlines, the story structure feels surprisingly straightforward.
Despite the simplistic plotting, Orlando and Naheulpan make each action sequence thrilling to read with good pacing and different action beats to keep things from getting stale. Nahuelpan understands that effective action art does not require outlandish panel layouts to add unnecessary flash. His pencils are dynamic enough to imbue each action beat with energy and impact. For example, when Batwoman appears from the sky to strike Orca, Nahuelpan places smaller panels to help set up his bigger, more impactful action beats. As Batwoman falls from the sky, Nahuelpan uses a small panel to show her equip her baton before he follows up with a larger panel that shows Batwoman strike Orca in the face. It’s an effective paneling technique that allows the reader to follow the action and doesn’t clutter the page to distract from the art. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue driven sequences don’t carry the same amount of energy and feel more flat. Some visual gags do inject more personality into the larger than life characters. Red Phantom appearing from a brick taped to Frankenstein’s arm gets a laugh, but for the most part, the art has our monsters stand around in brightly lit rooms as they plan their next move without much atmosphere.
Colorist Trish Mulvihill deserves credit however for effective work in any scene that deals with Melmoth and his Mandrills. While I think some of the scenes with Frankenstein and the others could stand to be a little more dark and atmospheric, the scenes with Melmoth capture an eerie vibe that distinguishes the series from others on the stands. There’s a page where we get a few panels that show Gotham under control by Bane and his mind controlled gang of Batman rogues. The purple police lights from Scarecrow and Victor Zsasz’s cruiser cast their glow across a city street and down a manhole into the sewers. We then see Melmoth and his Mandrills stroll along in the sewers, with that purple glow washing over them. It’s a great page that masterfully creates a sense of place. Above and below ground, evil infests Gotham. Additionally, the color coded narration boxes done with letterer Tom Napolitano are also effective in that they are always clear as to who is talking. The font used to establish settings is also appropriately Gothic, though at times it clashes with the more modern settings such as the underwater “Batcove”.
Orlando’s dialogue is weighed down by a large amount of exposition, but he captures each character’s personality in the limited time available. For example, Orca’s science background emerges when she questions what Andrew Bennett’s bite force is when he drinks Frankenstein’s blood. It is surprising that Orlando’s own creation, the Red Phantom, doesn’t get to leave an impression here as he finds himself in the background of most scenes. However, Frankenstein’s dialogue comes across effectively as antiquated, but not difficult to understand. Best of all, however, is Melmoth who is always a joy to read as he chews the scenery in his attempts to sacrifice innocent civilians. Orlando gives Melmoth’s soon to be victims a lot of personality in their brief appearances before Melmoth arrives. If anything, it makes their eventual deaths all the more sad, but Melmoth’s creepy grin as he hunts down his targets is a consistently haunting image. This climax in the hospital effectively ends the issue. Mulvihill’s colors are deliciously inky and makes the hospital hallways feel grim and ominous which then explodes into bright orange when Melmoth bursts onto the scene. Orlando doesn’t give the action too much variety here as he focuses on Frankenstein’s attempt to reach Melmoth before he escapes again. The final moments of the issue are exciting, with a new obstacle introduced to give our heroes a new challenge besides the Mandrills.
- You’re a fan of classic movie monsters.
- A new version of Seven Soldiers sounds interesting to you.
- Batwoman’s appearance draws you in.
Gotham City Monsters #4 proves that a book can provide entertainment within the comforts of its own simplistic plotline. While I wish Orlando’s narrative will fully commit to either being a small scale Gothic adventure or a large scale multiverse extravaganza, watching this fun cast of characters interact with each other is worth the read. Nahuelpan’s art is strong as ever with multiple exciting action sequences that don’t rely on overdone panel layouts and instead put the focus on his strong pencils. Melmoth threatens to take the spotlight from the true leads of the book, but with the series edging closer to its finale, Gotham City Monsters finds itself in a great position to end strong.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with this comic for the purpose of this review.