Temporarily coming in as a last minute substitute, I’ll be your “Dante” through Neo Gothic‘s increasingly weird “Inferno.” As Batman and Kyle delve further into the underground, they begin to experience gnostic hallucinations. Unfortunately, that means an entire issue of fighting their way out of a seemingly never ending nightmare!
A Long Strange Trip
Max Dunbar’s dreamlike illustration in this issue depicts jarring metaphors of regret. Clearly meant to parallel real life mushroom highs or acid trips, each sequence feels like a way for Terry to work through his issues. Although, I’m not in the mood for new nightmares so soon after DC’s Knight Terrors just ended. In any case, the comic is an often colorful yet trippy adventure deep into our hero’s subconscious. Even if it is not exactly clear what’s happening half of the time.
Moreover, the book uses an enormous amount of poetic language. The combination of its purple prose and near abstract imagery makes the book a tough read. In fact, in much of the dialogue is equally as impenetrable. For instance, the book opens with the same disembodied narration found in Neo-Year. Before, the esoteric gutter text represented the thoughts of a powerful A.I controlling the city, but now they belong to a mystical entity known as the “Garden.” So far, using mystical elements allows Kelly, Lanzing, and Dunbar an excuse to use broad psychological depictions of Terry’s mindset.
Drowning In Metaphor
Neo-Gothic #4 forces Terry to face his unresolved feelings. However, the meaning of the distorted visions only confuse him more. Admittedly, not unlike actual interpretations of dreams. One in particular follows an internalized fear of leaving his parents behind. Kelly and Lanzing depict a nonsensical argument where Terry’s parents chastise a young Terry for skipping school and hacking his grades. Ridiculously, his half remembered conversation makes it seem as if his acting out was a sign that he’s “too good for parents.” Additionally, his mother and father continue to mumble more vague memories to play on Terry’s regret.
Worst of all, Dunbar’s art keeps warping. While accurate to the mind’s inability to hold continuity, Terry flows in and out of costume, changes age and form, and even disintegrates into glowing bat symbols. At one point, Batman literally falls through the metaphorical void in his love life. The cooler parts involve shifting art styles every so often, even incorporating Batman: The Animated Series or Batman Beyond inspired designs. Furthermore, the look of the necrotic, rotting, mushroom covered, Batman-like antagonist nicely fits the psychedelic tone.
Yes, But What Does It Mean?
Finally, the odyssey of Neo-Gothic rests on “Catboi Kyle’s” shoulders. The writers finally give the mysterious spliced magician an overdue in-depth backstory. Despite close allusions to the “jellicle cats” from CATS, or the “Beastials” in Spider-Man Unlimited; Kyle is simply an anthropomorphic stray from Gotham. Apparently, at some point an elderly Constantine takes Kyle under his wing and teaches him the mystical arts. Partly, I suspect the writers used this to draw parallels between Terry and Batman with Kyle and Constantine. The best part of the issue in general is Constantine’s heartwarming but sociopathic montage of instilling Kyle with the tools to survive. Although, readers should expect the obvious pitfalls of trusting someone like Constantine.
Regardless, the conclusion of this story is hammier than I expected. The decrepit specter guiding their bad trip represents the omnipresence of rot in their lives. Also, the trauma and rejection that led both “orphans” to seek out father figures is what gives them the strength to know love. Why the Garden wanted them to experience a “Christmas Carol” acid trip to understand their grief is up for debate. Even the final metaphor of grief being the “shadow to their night” feels underthought and a bit silly. I get that the characters should process their complex feelings, but it all comes off like the exact kind of rambling epiphany a drug user would come to.
- You’ve been waiting with baited breath for Catboi Kyle’s tragic kitten backstory.
- You’ve ever had a dream you couldn’t remember, but fully insisted on telling people about.
- Batman Beyond is even remotely your jam.
In conclusion, I believe the lack of continuity, nonsensical prose, dialogue, and esoteric metaphors aid the nightmarish premise. While this book takes a lot of effort to read, its execution significantly lacks clarity. Objectively, neither the abstract art nor the heavy text lend itself to easy reading or interpretation, but it may be up to readers to decide if they like it. I certainly don’t. Yet, I think Constantine’s selfish but entertaining story fit right in with the mystical tone. If you aren’t willing to drop Neo-Gothic by this point, you might be the target audience. Personally, I’m certainly happy to hand the reigns of wrangling this incoherent mess back to Jackson as soon as he gets better!
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman-News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.