Review: Gotham by Midnight Volume 1: We Do Not Sleep by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith (2015)

Gotham by Midnight Volume 1: We Do Not Sleep

Gotham by Midnight Volume 1: We Do Not Sleep
DC, 2015 (containing material from 2014-2015)
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Artist: Ben Templesmith

Review by N Emmett.

Gotham by Midnight Volume 1: We Do Not Sleep is, as its title suggests, a Batman spin-off. Its premise is that, while the run-of-the-mill costumed bad’uns can be dealt with by the Caped Crusader and his fellow vigilantes, Gotham City has an undercurrent of malignant supernatural forces that require more specialised solutions

Enter Precinct 13, an elite team that comprises Jim Corrigan, a cop who can channel the power of the god-like Spectre; Sister Justine, a nun who knows a bit about the occult; Lisa Drake, a detective with strange powers; Szandor Tarr, a forensic specialist; Sergeant Rook, the resident skeptic; and Lieutenant Weaver, who acts as something of an everyman.

Artwork can make or break a comic, that is something that should go without saying. There are plenty of well-written comics that are let down by low-quality illustrations; it is less common for a comic with a poor or mediocre script to be redeemed by its artwork, but that can sometimes happen as well.gothmid1

How is this relevant to Gotham by Midnight? Well…

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that the comic’s writing is not itself fatally flawed. It is certainkly a more competent slice of urban fantasy than Constantine, also penned by Ray Fawkes. It has a promising set of characters. It has some memorable supernatural touches:  the team’s headquarters contains a roughly humanoid lump of salt which, we learn, is all that is left of a villain after one the Spectre’s Old Testament punishments.

But having established this inviting playground, Fawkes struggles to find something worthwhile to gothmid2do with it. The narrative is a jumble of supernatural concepts – including hauntings, strange children and possession – which are never developed to their full potential.

All of this culminates in a final battle against Ikkondrid, a dark spirit made from the psychic remnants of a genocide that took place in Gotham’s early history. This would, of course, be the genocide of the local Indian tribe, yet Fawkes’ script never specifically mentions Native Americans. Perhaps this is for reasons of sensitivity: popular culture has a long and ignoble history of associating American Indians with dark supernatural forces. But if you are not willing to engage with an ugly side of history, why work it into the plot at all? With no more than a token backstory, Ikkondrid ends up as a generic devil; hollow notes such as this are a little too common in Gotham by Midnight’s scripts.

And that is where Ben Templesmith’s artwork comes in.gothmid3

Gotham by Midnight is a long way from your typical superhero comic, or even your typical horror comic. Templesmith uses a loose, naïve style broadly similar in spirit to the illustrations of Quentin Blake or Ronald Searle; the kind of style that would look right at home in a children’s book.

Templesmith’s art and Fawkes’ scripts are an ingenious combination. The illustrations place the comic in a world of childhood fantasy, adding a whole new level to the story.

Take, for example, the scene in which Corrigan vanquishes a ghostly schoolteacher by playing a recording of a school bell. In terms of writing, this seems a sloppy concept: nothing in the script had established that Gotham by Midnight’s ghosts behave in such a manner. Once we factor in Templesmith’s drawings, however, the scene suddenly makes sense. It is gothmid4the logic of a child, entirely consistent with the childlike world that the characters inhabit.

Gotham by Midnight is part of an attempt to diversify DC’s line of Batman spin-off titles. This attempt also resulted in the whimsical Gotham Academy, the bubblegum Batgirl, the spy saga Grayson and a gangster drama Catwoman. Of these five titles, it is the least successful. Still, largely through Templeton’s distinctive drawing style, the book does have a charm of its own. If nothing else, it is nice to see new things being done with one of comics’ oldest franchises.