We’ve all encountered that guy before. Heck, some of us have been that guy. The one who rushes into the comic book shop, the bags under his eyes serving as a foolproof barometer to his sleep deprivation. “Look, I’m only missing issues nine and ten,” he says, attempting to contextualize his potentially unstable state. “Seven closed the arc poorly, and eight was an one-off and so I just convinced myself to cut the book, but months have past and everybody is saying that I missed out and I’ve come too far to switch this book over to trade I can’t I really can’t, I just can’t!

At said point, the employee of your local comic store will pick up the phone to helpfully dial another store in the area, or potentially “9-1-1,” depending upon how aggressively you’re flipping through the store’s long boxes, and at what volume level you’ve settled on for carrying on a conversation with yourself. But therein lies the dilemma: nobody wants to find themselves scouring the earth for a pair of issues…but nobody wants to be the stalwart optimist (re: “idiot”) who stuck with it for the next dozen issues either.

I sat on nearly the entire arc of Green Arrow that followed the Lemire/Sorrentino run...afraid that it wouldn't measure up.  It didn't.

I sat on nearly the entire arc of Green Arrow that followed the Lemire/Sorrentino run…afraid that it wouldn’t measure up. It didn’t.  And, sadly, I have a lot of reading material that proves it.

Some of you might be thinking, “Nick, this isn’t rocket science (undoubtedly true), you just wait until the arc wraps, and then decide.” While this is seemingly sound logic, it negates the fact that with Diamond, books are ordered/canceled two months in advance. Waiting until the arc ends (at least in terms of the “Big Two”) means you’ll still have to “eat” the first two issues of the next arc. Cutting the book so the issues stop when the arc does…well, that puts you in a bit of a pickle if the title improves. Granted, if one is willing to “go digital,” or switch the series over to trade paperbacks, there are alternatives.

And if one isn’t? Well, that’s the scenario I found myself in when it came to DC Comics’ series Gotham by Midnight. Admittedly, I’ve pulled series that had more things going for them; I really only got on board on the premise of a “supernatural Gotham” and the undeniably curious fact that DC Comics had somehow locked in journeyman Ben Templesmith on art duties. Of course, all of this spun out of Gotham by Midnight writer Ray Fawkes’ ectoplastmically-inclined issues of Batman Eternal. For being a Batwing/Jim Corrigan team-up, his Batman Eternal arc wasn’t awful, and discernibly better than his run on Constantine.

Corrigan's been known to wax philosophical from time to time.

Corrigan’s been known to wax philosophical from time to time.

Three issues in, I admittedly wasn’t anywhere close to liking it, loving it, or want[ing] some more of it. Sure, I wanted to see a different side of Gotham, but not one so far removed from what I knew that Corrigan was all I had to build on. It felt like Mulder and Scully had been saddled with several two-dimensional teammates that filled in the remaining spots in this game of archetype bingo: the pious believer, the asocial fringe scientist, and “that guy” from Internal Affairs who’s itching to shut down the branch, and vocalizes variations on this theme constantly. The backstory on these characters was sparse, and meaningful character interaction was tabled in favor of combating this first threat. While there’s no denying that Templesmith is an adept penciler of all things that go “bump in the night,” there’s something about his abstract drawing style of people that made the characters difficult for me to empathize with.

Then, amidst the eighteen quintillion announcements DC Comics rolled out in early February (which brought about what we now know as “DC You” or “The Great Culling of Nick’s Titles,” alternatively) I spotted a change was due for the Gotham by Midnight team. Specifically, Templesmith was calling it quits with the conclusion of the first arc, with Juan Ferreyra taking over art duties post “Convergence.” Having thoroughly enjoyed Ferreyra’s art on the Aliens: Fire and Stone: Prometheus miniseries just a month or two before, I had to ask myself a question: when a book has narrative problems alongside ill-suited art, how likely is it that a mere artist swap can “course correct” the book?

Sooo...for those wondering if Ferreyra could deliver the pants-soiling goods...

Sooo…for those wondering if Ferreyra could deliver the pants-soiling goods…

From the subject of this review, one can undoubtedly determine that, against all odds, I hoped the beginning of a new arc, as well as the addition of a favorite artist, could turn the title around. Unexpectedly, it would appear that’s exactly what this book needed. Granted, this isn’t to suggest that Gotham by Midnight has suddenly become a contender for “Book of the Week,” or anything of that sort. Rather, it’s a book on the rebound after appropriately addressing its shortcomings. That by itself merits discussion.

Right off the bat, Fawkes wisely uses the opening pages as an epilogue to the opening arc, leading off with the recap line that, “We paid in blood…but Gotham City lives.” For those who forgot, Jim Corrigan’s squad went toe-to-toe with Ikkondrid, an ethereal manifestation of the sins of Gotham’s settlers. Yes, it’ll likely come as a surprise to approximately nobody, but the original founders of Gotham didn’t fairly purchase the land from those they forcibly displaced. Corrigan, no longer able to hold him at bay, unleashed the Spectre, who for being quite green, seemingly only has the ability to see things in black or white. Where’s fifty shades of grey when you need it, am I right? Sorry.

It is Sister Justine’s sacrifice on behalf of the people of Gotham that stays the Spectre’s hand, and it is her funeral upon which this issue opens. Fawkes seizes the moment to unite the squad that’s been largely split apart in past issues, and finally slow the book down to a manageable pace at which extended conversation can actually take place. Look, I’m not an ardent defender of heavy-handed exposition by any extent of the imagination, but the positioning of this scenario allows for a roundtable (or whatever one calls it when the “table” is swapped out for a “grave”) Q&A that feels organic.

We're getting the squad back together!!!  Though, not under the best of circumstances.

We’re getting the squad back together!!! Though, not under the best of circumstances.

We have frightened teammates asking “should we be worried” of Corrigan’s “supernatural sub-letter,” and Detective Drake is confronted over her “canary cry” of sorts in last month’s issue. It’s a sneaky “info dump” that clears things up for confused readers, serves as a “jump-on” for new readers, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and breaks up the information as a “back-and-forth.” While I suspect most readers will gloss over these two pages as nothing special, Fawkes manages to check several items off his “to-do” list with this sequence.

From here, the issue splits its page real-estate between a serialized and an episodic narrative. Corrigan and Drake investigate the high-tech haunting of a company that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple, right up to their impending launch of Powers Design’s Powerwatch “that’ll connect to your stove, your car, your thermostat.” At the same time, bug-eyed Dr. Tarr continues his research on the ubiquitous black flowers from the first arc, with alarming results.

All of this sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?

All of this sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

If that synopsis seems startlingly concise (especially by my standards) it’s because the main narrative tracing the exploits of Gotham’s Mulder and Scully is one that, once set in motion, effectively writes itself. Slick and well-groomed CEO of Silicon Valley-esque company that hawks popular consumer electronics ultimately turns out to be a slave-driving control freak? Check. Launch of “world-changing” product right around the corner, resulting in “crunch time” for already fatigued employees? Absolutely. Corporation’s haunting is preceded by “non-suspicious” death of worker at said corporation? By all means, of course!

Hopefully by now I’ve established the point that the complexity of this month’s mystery runs closer to Murder, She Wrote than Sherlock. Those looking for a 1990s grade Shyamalan twist or a tale that isn’t neatly wrapped up by issue’s end, bow and all…would do well to look elsewhere. Yet, Fawkes intelligently utilizes these pages for a different purpose, to let us see how Corrigan and Drake interact and work together, as well as to observe how their newly recognized abilities and backgrounds contribute to the solving of the case. That being said, a riveting plot is nothing to scoff at, but likeable, fleshed out characters are what tend to stick in the minds of readers. Not to hammer the analogy home, but there’s a reason viewers of The X-Files recall the relationship between Mulder and Scully much more vividly (and fondly) than the plot of any given arc. Again, Fawkes (whether intentionally or not) takes the time to give his book a much-needed shot in the arm of solid character development.

When you get an opportunity to include pics like this...you do.

When you get an opportunity to include pics like this…you do.

Now, that’s not to say that Gotham by Midnight #6 is the narrative blueprint by which all subsequent issues should aspire. I’d wager most of us would prefer to not see the Midnight Squad handle a different self-contained case, every single month. However, I also don’t think the books’ gravitation towards the gumshoe genre lends itself to DC’s de facto editorial edict of “one size fits all” arcs…that size being “large.” Thankfully, it appears Fawkes is more than aware that, having turned things “up to eleven” for the first five issues, Corrigan and his team cannot find itself staring down the near obliteration of Gotham anytime soon.

There’s no denying that Ben Templesmith’s art embraced the abovementioned Spinal Tap derived idiom as well: a stylized blur of unadulterated terror that was well suited for the breakneck insanity of Gotham by Midnight’s opening arc. In fact, I sometimes suspect that the book was personally catered to Templesmith’s talents. That in itself would be a questionable idea, considering said artist’s documented aversion to working on “corporate properties,” as he’s called them, for more than a short stint. Granted, it’s totally conceivable that DC Comics knew from day one that The Squidder’s creator would not stick around past the first arc, and they decided the name recognition he’d bring would outweigh an artist swap so early in the book’s run. While it’s true that publishers like Valiant Entertainment have embraced a rotational “one artist, one arc” practice in recent years, I question whether DC or Marvel would willingly embrace such a model. In turn, Templesmith’s departure begs the question of whether DC will have trouble retaining some of the younger, creator-owned types that were brought on for “DC You.”

For the ramped up craziness of the first arc, Templesmith delivered.,

For the ramped up craziness of the first arc, Templesmith delivered.,

Industry pontificating aside, there will be those that were drawn to Gotham by Midnight solely to experience Ben Templesmith’s latest shipment of grade-A nightmare fuel. I suspect their departure from the book will coincide with his. And what of those not privy to Templesmith’s exit, or who assumed DC would somehow find someone cut from the same visual cloth? Same result, probably.

With that in mind, I realize that I’m one of the few that viewed Juan Ferreyra’s impending arrival on Gotham by Midnight as a boon, such that the announcement alone plucked the fledgling book right off my “Potential Cuts” list. After all, the man’s made a living drawing the grotesque and macabre, most recently on a pair of Dark Horse books: ongoing series Colder and miniseries Prometheus: Fire and Stone, both of which were written by Paul Tobin. On a superficial level, there are some similarities to be noted between Ferreyra and Gotham by Midnight’s previous artist, Templesmith. Each handle Gotham by Midnight’s art duties all by his lonesome, and both have a drawing style that has a textured, painted feel to it, as well as a proven pedigree of horror work.

When I saw that lower-right panel, I was like, "DAAAANG!"

When I saw that lower-right panel, I was like, “DAAAANG!”

Those parallels aside, the thing that sets Ferreyra apart, above all, is his ability to make his characters expressive and able to emote effectively. Even with a style that lends itself to coming across more “static-feeling” than traditional line art, Ferreyra manages a level of nuance that is undoubtedly impressive. With Templesmith, the awful monstrosities of unspeakable horror found within the first arc were well within his wheelhouse…relatively “normal” looking human beings were not. See, for Templesmith’s pet projects (The Squidder) and other works (30 Days of Night) this is less of an issue. But Gotham by Midnight, first and foremost, is about people…even if these people are harboring monsters themselves.

Ferreyra makes us feel the unrelenting power of The Spectre rippling through Corrigan’s veins as flails against said timeless arbiter of justice, as well as Dectective Drake’s shocked realization that she might have had something to do with Sister Justine’s unsavory fate. Heck, we even empathize with Dr. Tarr. That’s saying something. Ultimately, cultivating horror is a two-way street, between capturing the action, as well as the human reaction to such. Ferreyra has the latter down pat.

I absolutely love this panel sequence hopping between the two investigations, especially Ferreyra's use of color to signify the shift from one to the other.

I absolutely love this panel sequence hopping between the two investigations, especially Ferreyra’s use of color to signify the shift from one to the other.

That’s not to say that Ferreyra doesn’t bring the scares, either. Sure, he might have been tasked with drawing a “mere” ghost, which would seemingly pale to Templesmith’s physical manifestation of Gotham’s collective sins. Yet his color work absolutely delivers in spades, offering up something much more visceral and whole. Sometimes, at least to me, it feels as if there’s a disconnect in Templesmith’s art between his tonal painted backdrops and the sketchy line art placed on top of it, but Ferreyra’s collective contributions come across as a cohesive piece. The way the speckled shadowy blackness asymmetrically radiates around the ghost’s spindly blood-coated fingers when it first makes an appearance is a sight I won’t soon forget.

This, uhh...this is terrifying.

This, uhh…this is terrifying.

As I’ve touched on earlier, this issue of Gotham by Midnight is not a perfect one; Fawkes’ early expository dialogue still comes across a bit wooden and the main narrative isn’t exactly a head scratching “whodunit?” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, the addition of the supremely gifted Juan Ferreyra on art duties enabled Fawkes to believably shine a spotlight on the human aspect of the series, and allowed us to get invested in the day-to-day personal dramas of the Midnight Squad. Scaling back the stakes from those of a “world-ending” variety better suited to the Justice League family of titles, and embracing smaller arcs surrounding supernatural cases taken on by the Midnight Squad was a wise decision on Fawkes’ part…only time (subsequent issues) will tell if this is indeed his plan. For those such as myself who yearn for something akin to a Gotham-flavored X-Files, one can only hope so.

Overall Score
91 %

The second arc of Gotham by Midnight kicks off predictably, but takes the time to inject some needed personality into its characters, aided by Juan Ferreyra's art.

Writing 87%
Art 95%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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