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    Smallpox and Shadow Monsters Abound in the Unnerving “Gotham By Midnight” #3 [Review]

    By | January 29th, 2015
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    The creative team behind “Gotham By Midnight” injects the DCU with a major dose of the heebie-jeebies, and the result is grippingly unnerving.

    Written by Ray Fawkes
    Illustrated by Ben Templesmithl

    There’s a dark secret in Gotham General Hospital – a supernatural menace that could infect the whole city! But Detective Lisa Drake of the Midnight Shift has a dark secret of her own…and when this new threat brings it out, the only thing Jim Corrigan can do is get out of the way!

    The third installment of “Gotham By Midnight” finds the midnight shift team assembled at the Gotham County Hospital. They have been called in because a patient has arrived with some unusual symptoms, namely being infected with a deadly and eradicated disease, and a shadow that turns demonic and moves on its own. While the team tries to stop the illness, or the demon shadow, from spreading any further, flashbacks illuminate the history of a young detective and how she got pulled into an even darker corner of Gotham City.

    This is a straight-up horror story, complete with a shadow monster stalking a woman and speaking a demonic language. While readers who are more familiar with the mainstream DCU might be off put by the lack of flying superheroes in bright costumes, but Fawkes peppers references to Jim Gordon and the rest of Gotham as helpful reminders. Once of the smartest decisions he made was to tie the supernatural component of the story to a very real-world fear: a plague. Although it might be hard for anyone under the age of 30 to realize, when the eradication of smallpox was announced in 1979 it was considered the great medical accomplishment in human history. That fear, however, has stayed with us and every couple of years there’s news of mystery illness that threatens to spread across the globe. Fawkes takes the supernatural elements of the story, which is simply every-reader’s cup of tea, and mashes it together with the realistic threat of a smallpox reappearance that fits in Batman’s backyard.

    One of the most interesting things about this issue is that Fawkes has structured to be simultaneously a stand-alone story and exist as part of a larger arc. The first three issues have pointed the reader’s attention to dark forces that are slowly coming together, while fleshing out the members of the midnight shift one by one. The pieces start to fall into place over the course of the three installments, but you could pick up any one of them in any order and still be able to follow along. Fawkes is playing the long game, seeding smaller plot points along the way, but he using the scary elements presented in each issue to hold your attention as the puzzle is slowly solved.

    The flashbacks in this issue highlight the past of Detective Lisa Drake and her first meeting with Jim Corrigan. This is another example of Fawkes combining the extraordinary with ordinary for the betterment of the series. The police procedural is an incredibly popular and palpable format, and Fawkes crafts a scene that will appeal to any fans of The Wire. The undercover drug sting is certainly a familiar set-up, but Fawkes keeps the scene short enough, and throws in enough supernatural elements, that it doesn’t feel like a genre retread. The view that Fawkes gives us of Drake is a committed detective willing to stray into the shadows momentarily for the greater good. She seems tough and capable, and she just happens to have mysterious supernatural powers. Corrigan seems to know more about her condition than Drake or the readers, and this adds a fair amount of intrigue for both characters.

    The most distinctive thing about “Gotham By Midnight” is the art by Ben Templesmith. As the co-creator of “30 Days of Night”, Templesmith established himself as horror artist and he couldn’t be a better fit from this new series. His art is unnerving and deceptively scary, and even the dialogue scenes have an air of menace to them. Templesmith comes from the Bill Sienkiewicz school of creeptastic art that isn’t afraid to mend the nature of reality. In fact, the famed Sienkiewicz actually contributes a variant cover to this issue, highlighting the lineage even further.
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    Templesmith’s character designs are every distinct, with large heads perched atop slender and pointy bodies. This allows for clear emotions to be displayed on their large faces, while it only takes one point of a disproportionally long finger to increase the tension. There are moments when the art appears deceptively innocent, such as the initial appearance of hospital patient. This is juxtaposed only panel later in the twisted visage of the shadow time. Templesmith presents things that appear familiar, and then immediately morphs into something unknown and frightening.

    The flashbacks give Templesmith the opportunity to show off how skilled he is at penciling scenes that aren’t even supernatural at all. The streets of Gotham look even grimier than we are used to, especially now that we are viewing them from the perspective of the criminals. The fact that Templesmith acts as his own colorist is a great asset to the tone of the book, and the flashbacks are awash in unending grey smog. Even the present scenes utilizes a muted colour palette of mostly monochrome browns, besieges and blues, punctuated by flashes of bright greens and oranges that make individual panels burst off the pages.

    “Gotham By Midnight” is only three issues into its run, and it has ready carved a unique spot for itself in the DCU. Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith has created a horror book that grabs the reader’s attention by taking real world fears and adding a supernatural twist that makes it even unnerving. Fawkes plays with genre conventions of both police proceduralss and horror books to create something different than either genre, and Templesmith’s art is gripping and just unrelentingly creepy. This creative time has picked up right where the glory days of Vertigo finished, and are doing something that feels different and stretches the constraints of a mainstream DCU comic.

    Final Verdict: 8.5 – Gotham is already a strange place, and Jim Corrigan and the team working the midnight shift are just starting to explore its mysterious shadows. This is the perfect time to jump on-board this unique series.

    Matt Dodge

    Matt Dodge is originally from Ottawa (go Sens!), where he attended University and somehow ended up with a degree in history and political science. He currently resides in Toronto where he is a full-time procrastinator who occasionally takes a break to scribble some pretentious nonsense on a piece of paper. He knows way too much about hockey, Saved By The Bell, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter @Matt_Dodge.