Clear stakes are vital for a single-issue comic book to succeed and overcome the pitfalls of serialized storytelling. Steve Orlando’s script does a great job in establishing a simple, yet involving, plotline where the stakes are never obfuscated behind a surplus of subplots or self doubt within its heroes. Our lead characters know what to do and it’s a joy to see them operate, guided by the steady hand of Orlando and artist Amancay Nahuelpan. Gotham City Monsters #5 is a comic book through and through, well balanced with action, character development, and a last page twist that promises a strong finale to come next month.

Things pick up immediately where last month’s issue left off. Our heroes now fight the Monster League of Evil, which consists of real life versions of classic movie monsters. It’s a fun, albeit short-lived, set up to have some of our heroes battle against mirror images of themselves. They’ve been revived by Melmoth in exchange for taking out our heroes and Orlando uses this as an opportunity to craft one of the series better fight scenes yet. There’s far more variety in this sequence than normal, which is highlighted by the Red Phantom’s obliteration of Dracula himself. Since the Red Phantom currently lives within a brick of the theater he’s forever tied to, Frankenstein throws the brick into Dracula and allows the Red Phantom to explode him from the inside. The resulting carnage is comically gory, as Dracula’s severed hand falls next to the brick that the Red Phantom talks out of. It’s a great balance of tone, as Orlando doesn’t allow the gore to become too abrasive and accompanies it with a good degree of humor. Nahuelpan’s pencils are also exquisitely gore filled and brutal as the two Frankenstein’s pummel each other, culminating in the series most gory moment yet. Even still, Nahuelpan’s rendition of the evil Frankenstein’s head being punched into smithereens is equally as comedic. His eyeballs pop out of his skull with gusto and his purple blood keeps things from getting too stomach churning.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

Our other characters don’t get as much to do in this action sequence, but Orlando clearly put time into pairing them up with a worthy adversary. Lady Clay fights the Wolfman as they are both shapeshifters and of course Andrew Bennett fights Dracula until assisted by the Red Phantom. There are a couple of nice two-page spreads that show our heroes fight their evil counterparts, but unfortunately Orca and Batwoman’s presence isn’t quite as well thought out. On the second two-page spread, they both seemingly take on the Mummy, but their poses don’t make it entirely clear what they are doing beyond broad strokes of movement. However, the spread’s effect as a whole is successful and Nahuelpan’s placement of smaller panels below allow more complex beats to play out with clarity. The dialogue during this sequence is also laden with rich character moments too. Frankenstein bemoans his very existence as he takes out his impostor and the Red Phantom gives thanks for being granted the opportunity to show his power and reaffirm the power of ghosts like him. With the sheer amount of chaos on the page, Tom Napolitano’s effective letters make it clear who’s talking which is impressive given the amount of characters present and their similarities to each other. It’s a great opening.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

Things do slow down a tad afterward, but Nauelpan’s pencils and the appropriately atmospheric colors by Trish Mulvihill keep things looking great. Melmoth taunts yet another set of victims in Slaughter Swamp as they stand knee deep in its murky waters. Mulvihill’s palette is gorgeous and doesn’t overwhelm the reader with the swamp’s sickly green colors. The shadows on Melmoth’s soon to be victims are also perfectly rendered and capture the pulp horror aesthetic of the best classic horror comic covers. Less effective is a quiet scene between Red Phantom and Lady Clay. The dialogue is well done, however. Red Phantom relates to Lady Clay as a fellow being that is “trapped in clay” and gives her a pep talk about seeing her powers as an opportunity and not as a hindrance. What distracts from the scene is that Orlando interweaves this quieter moment with the entire team later making their way to find Melmoth. We also see Lady Clay and Red Phantom talk as the others argue in the background, but we don’t know what the others are talking about yet. It comes across as if Orlando wanted a quiet, character driven moment but realized the fast pace he set for the plot wouldn’t allow for it. Nahuelpan’s panel layouts don’t exactly help differentiate the two different timelines as they share the same page either. Orlando and Nahuelpan attempted this technique before unsuccessfully and are better served by keeping things strictly linear, as the simple plot doesn’t require any non-linear tricks.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Napolitano

Despite a slight hiccup in the middle of the issue, the final moments wrap things up nicely with a good cliffhanger that introduces a new obstacle for Frankenstein and company to overcome. Things are set up well for a final confrontation between our Gotham City Monsters and Melmoth and his minions. However, with only one issue left to go, the final page doesn’t exactly feel like a penultimate cliffhanger, and I hope Orlando can wrap everything up satisfyingly. The high, multiverse stakes feel increasingly modest, as it appears everything will hinge on just one more fight between Frankenstein and Melmoth.

Recommended if…

  • You like a little gore in your comic books.
  • Horror comics are your preferred genre.
  • You’ve tagged along with this ragtag team of monsters until

Overall

Gotham City Monsters #5 is a very well balanced comic book that entertains with exciting action sequences and even finds time for some quiet, character driven moments. While Melmoth’s plan feels increasingly small and simple to overcome, Orlando and Nahuelpan have put out a consistently entertaining series with an unorthodox set of lead characters. For those who like a little bit of horror mixed into their super hero books, Gotham City Monsters #5 is a great chapter in an overall very solid series. Now is the time to catch up before next month’s finale.

Score: 8/10


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