Eisner award-winning writer and artist Rafael Grampá drags readers into a scrappy thriller set within a new kind of Gotham. In Gargoyle of Gotham, Batman faces two equally creepy serial killers in a corrupt city. However, as Batman uncover the darkness of the city, he begins to exposes the darkness within himself.
A City of Sin
Rafael’s worrying vision of Gotham depicts a city slowly decaying into madness. Advertisements, hotels, and gargantuan but saintly statues characterize its skyline with exaggerated prestige. Even still, the gnawing presence of macabre scribbles and erratic graffiti creates an unsettling atmosphere. Below, Rafael illustrates corruption and poverty with sex shops, drug use, violence, homelessness, and even slavery. Sadly, this disparity in the troubling setting is overt and lacks subtlety. For instance, wealthy shoppers literally step over beggars as a visual aid for the “rot” of society.
The key component of Gargoyle of Gotham is the tone of its artwork. Firstly, the immediate detail, texture, and washed out paper look of the rendering are strong identifying standouts. Most of the character designs straddle a line between hyperrealism and cartoonish caricatures. For one, Batman’s costume has an alien-like cowl and gauntlets, with a leathery cape resembling a thick animal hide. Secondly, the use of dark inks and shadows gives the book a ominous tone. Rafael uses stylized segments of black and white to underscore the inner thoughts of both Batman and the major antagonist.
Don’t Touch My Thoughts
Batman spends much of this first issue tracking down a crazed serial killer named “Crytoon.” Although it begins with Batman liberating slaves from a “TNT lab,” the real surrounds the fiend behind it. Crytoon is a stylized murderer with obelisk black skin, an inky black suit, and psychotic tears running down his face. For now, Crytoon’s tears are not only their emotional calling card, but possibly the result of over exposure to ether. Most importantly, Crytoon’s name comes from the in-universe rubber hose cartoon of the same name. Crytoon obsessively watches projections, doodles, and casually murdering his victims with hammers, anvils, and various Popeye-like antics.
The key takeaway of Crytoon is how his behavior compares and contrasts to Batman. Bruce swears to live as a monstrous creature because of a childish pledge. In contrast, Crytoon swears to live as childishly as he can while pledged to a life of violence. Truthfully, both men can’t detach from the joy or trauma of their childhoods. Nonetheless, the self-aware Batman intends to fully dissociate by subsequently swearing to “kill Bruce Wayne” once and for all. Similarly, Crytoon seems to be on a journey to fully become a cartoon by any means possible. Though Bruce is doing it to save the city, neither man is altogether sane.
A Godly Man At Heart
Even amongst weirdos like Batman and Crytoon, Detective James Gordon is the most fascinating character in the book. For example, Gordon’s apartment paints the picture of a devout man trying not to erode with the foundations. Everything in his home like the crosses, religious portraits, unkempt bottles, cigarettes, weights, and more illustrate a hierarchy of religion, health, family, and duty. Cleverly, Rafael uses Gordon’s religion and dedication to characterize the detective as someone willing to martyr themselves for a higher cause. Grampá depicts this metaphor in panel as Gordon chooses to grab his gun from an end table aside from a photo of his wife and children. With Batman also giving his life to the crusade, the two easily form a dynamic duo.
The writing is best in the middle of Gordon’s investigation. Several wealthy business men in Gotham turn up naked with a cluster of puncture wounds on their backs. However, because Crytoon uses blunt objects, the murderer could easily be a completely different serial killer. The crime scene almost mirrors the murders in David Fincher’s Se7en one to one, even copying the greenish hues of the film’s color grading. Incidentally, the victims’ names are references to David Fincher, Frank Miller, and even Bob Kane as possible tributes to their inspiration. Amid Gordon’s detractors on the police force, Batman and Gordon resolve to share information to solve both cases. Luckily another detective is on the case, because this version of Batman can neither see nor smell a cake inches near him.
Gargoyle of Gotham also introduces a brand new character named Nia who advocates for change and equality in Gotham. Adding to the series of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns-like monologues; Nia serves as an in-universe mouthpiece for the state of corruption. Particularly, Nia broadcasts her discontent with the class warfare in the city against the “faceless poor.” Her thoughts stir up a grassroots movement called #SPEAKUPFORTHEM around Gotham City that promises to make real change. Considering this, I doubt Nia would mind the brutal torture and murder of the rich captains of industry by the mysterious second killer.
Regardless, it would be interesting to gauge her opinion on whether Batman’s actions ultimately defend the rich or the poor. Worse of all, would that opinion change if Nia were to discover that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person? In this very story, Batman uses most of his massive inheritance to create this universe’s answer to the Batmobile called “The Blind Machine.” In more ways than one, this car takes inspiration from Bale, Affleck, and Arkham Knight‘s Batman. Batman operates this windowless, modular, tank-like vehicle with advanced technology synched to his thoughts! Although disgusted with his own wealth, he clearly only uses it to pursue his frivolous desire for violence.
- You’re into gritty noir Batman stories.
- You’re open to a weird new interpretation of Batman.
- Gung ho about David Fincher’s Se7en, The Batman, or The Dark Knight Returns.
Any Batman that actively wants to kill Bruce Wayne is a deranged individual. Although it may take a devoted psycho to catch one, Batman’s journey should heal his trauma instead of referring to himself as a child. If that’s where Rafael Grampá is taking the story, then I’m easily on board with this version of the Bat. While not saying anything new about corruption or innocence, the tale does nicely position Batman and his new foe as interesting analogues. Even if the metaphors aren’t subtle whatsoever, the artwork has a lot of distinct detail and unique personality like Crytoon and the neat cartoons he obsesses over. Despite that, the character designs like Batman’s textured body and bulbus head, caricature-like Asian characters, among other artistic liberties Grampá takes are a hard sell. Overall, it is a blast to read, even if it’s over the top.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.