Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Gotham By Midnight Book 1: We Do Not Sleep (#1-5)

"This is a bad one.  Bigger than it seems.  I've got a feeling" - Jim Corrigan

Well at least this is a series I can't complain about being cancelled in the upcoming DC Rebirth... because DC cancelled it months ago, hah take that DC!  Oh wait. Damn.  Because this is really good quality stuff and once again proof that the office within DC doing the best and most consistently good work is the Bat-family office.  Like Black Canary which I picked up on the strength of the art, I impulse bought this in Forbidden Planet because I really like Ben Templesmith's artwork, he's best known for his vampire tale "30 Days Of Night" but I have covered his work on the excellent "Dead Space" mini-series on this blog.  Luckily the writing by Ray Fawkes matches the brooding quality of the artwork as we are introduced to the "Midnight Shift" of the Gotham City Police Department, a group of misfits who deal with the paranormal assaults on the city.  Cleverly this first arc introduces a "Scully" to the "Mulders" of the unit in the form of a man auditing them, through him we get to see the Unit at work as they take on a powerful and frightening force that just might be too much for them to handle.  All the characters are new bar one, Jim Corrigan, the human vessel for The Spectre.  The Spectre is basically the Wrath of God given angelic form and bound to a dead human, and Corrigan's struggles to hold the Spectre at bay become central to this arc as it unfolds.

The story begins with our skeptic, a sergeant Rook, arriving at the headquarters of Precinct Thirteen, the Midnight Shift. He's from Internal Affairs, who is querying their very existence, they have two officers and two consultants on the payroll working under Lieutenant Weaver.

Rook: "I hear crazy rumours about weirdo supernatural investigations, crazy stuff.  Smells like accounting fraud to me.  I'm going to ask you outright, what exactly is it you do?"

Weaver introduces their consultants, forensic specialist Doctor Szandor and Sister Justine, "expert uh.. in things".  Rook says his investigation is just a formality, he's going to shut them down no matter what.
Weaver, Rook, Szandor and Justine
Elsewhere Detective Corrigan is meeting with Batman.  He hands him some paperwork saying he can't send stuff digitally because electronics "react poorly to my touch.  Spirit images burnt into the screen".

Batman asks if Corrigan's colleagues know about The Spectre.  Corrigan replies, "it's complicated".  Then Detective Drake pulls up in a car, she calls Corrigan over saying I.A. are sniffing round the Precinct so he leaves with her. In the car they chat about what they wanted to be as kids.  Corrigan says he wanted to be a firetruck. Drake says she always wanted to be a cop, ever since she saw one save a kid from drowning and thought "how good it was.  How pure."

Back at Precinct Thirteen, Rook is still dismissing what they do, even after being shown a person who turned into salt.  Sister Justine says to him:

Justine: "Look closely sergeant.  The truth is here.  We have nothing to hide.  It's you people who deny what you see."

Then Corrigan and Drake arrive at the Precinct saying they've got a case.  A kidnapping of kids from Gotham Heights.  Rook says that case is closed, the kids were runaways who returned home a week ago.  Corrigan invites Rook to ride along with him, "I bet you change your mind in one night".

Corrigan, Drake and Rook go to Gotham Heights and note "some kind of ritual mark" on the porch wall.  Inside are the worried parents of the girls who came back wrong.  They are speaking a language no one understands.  Corrigan asks if they still have the clothes the girls disappeared in.  They do, they kept everything as they were.
Corrigan investigates the girls.
Corrigan examines the clothes while Drake checks the girls over.  Corrigan then tells her to bring Sister Justine over and record everything the girls say.  Corrigan asks for reports of missing kid in the past few days and is told fourteen have gone missing from Gotham Heights since yesterday.

Corrigan tells Rook the ritual mark was "black flowers from Slaughter Swamp".  It was a sign.  He and Rook drive out to Slaughter Swamp to investigate, Rook tells him he is "this close to citing you all for misappropriation of funds and recommending psychiatruic evaluation".  Corrigan says that in their own way the Midnight shift are "serving and protecting when nobody else can.  When nobody else knows."

They arrive at the Swamp and get out of the car.  Corrigan says this can't be the worst place Rook has visited.  Rook says the worst he saw was a wine cellar with a multiple homicide in it.  They see black flowers.  Corrigan says he has a way of reading the world of the dead, and asks if Rook is a religious man.  Rook dodges the question but Corrigan says:

Corrigan: "You feel that?  In your gut?  That's your soul saying... uh oh"

And they stumble upon a large wooden shack.  At Gotham Heights, Sister Justine arrives and the girls start screaming.  Corrigan and Rook venture into the wooden shack and they find a school room with the missing kids in it and headed up by a monstrous figure dressed as a nun.  "'s a hell of a job" says Corrigan to Rook upon making this discovery.
The evil nun.
The monster nun attacks Corrigan and Rook. Corrigan yells to the freaked out Rook to get the kids out of ther while he deals with the creature.  He starts to glow green with Spectre power, but holds it in for now.

Corrigan: "I'm the expert here.  I can handle her.  I have to handle her or we're in more trouble than we know."

Rook starts getting the kids out, meanwhile at Gotham Heights, Justine leaves the apartment where the girls are hysterically freaking out at her.  She sits in the car and has a flashback to when she discovered something weird going on at the seminary.  She spotted altar boys drooling green goo into a sleeping man, so she reports this to the Father in charge.

The Father asks if she went to confession that day, then he turns into a monster and says he'll have to "initiate her earlier than expected".  The nun with him says Gotham is sick "this city is a dirty place.  A mad place.  It needs us as well".
Spectre power is go!
In the present, Corrigan has unleashed some Spectre power at the monster and blown its head apart.  It lifts him up and speaks the same strange language as the girls were.  Back in Justine's past, Corrigan arrives on the scene just as the monster Father is about to do something to her.  He says, "this is no garden variety possession.  Sorry I didn't get here sooner."  He tells Justine he hopes she did go to confession today,"It's about to get biblical in here." And he disintegrates the monster Father and nun.

In the present, Rook has got all the kids out of the building.  He is understandably scared by what he has seen, "I'm not equipped to deal with this" he says to Corrigan.  Corrigan says he did want to see what they do.  Then he uses his phone to play the bells for the end of the school day and the monster nun blows apart permanently.

Corrigan: "Ghosts.  You won't get anywhere fighting them.  Sometimes you have to tell them time's up."

In Justine's past, Corrigan says she is safe now but everyone else in the building is dead. She is OK because she is a "bona fide pure soul".  He asks her not to tell anyone about seeing The Spectre, and offers her a job as he thinks she can be of help to him.
Wanna job?
In the present Corrigan calls her and orders a bus to come collect the children, who are all speaking the same weird language.  He and Rook talk about what happened, Rook says he isn't exactly sure what he saw.  Corrigan invites him for a drink and they drive back to the precinct.

There, Doctor Szandor and Sister Justine are examining the recordings of the language the kidnapped girls were speaking. Justine recognises some of it as what she heard when she first met Corrigan.  Corrigan says this was just part of a heavy case, the kids need to be quarantined.

Corrigan: "Everyone on this, gang.  Something big and bad is moving into Gotham.  Something that has either got five names, five bodies or both."

Drake and Corrigan go to the hospital having been invited there by a Doctor Patel. They have a girl in an isolation ward.  He tells them to look at her shadow wich appears to be moving independantly of her.  Also she has smallpox, despite having been vaccinated against it. 
Drake undercover.
We flashback to Drakes past, she was working undercover for narcotics.  She is pretending to be high as she is driven to a meeting with some dealers with a male companion.  They have a job they want her companion to do, they have Corrigan bound and gagged in the boot of a car and they want him killed.

Back in the present, Szandor and Justine are working on decoding the mystery language while Rook checks through their records.  Corrigan calls them up and summons Szandor to the hospital:

Corrigan: "Over here we've got an autonomous human shadow with an articulated heart tha looks like it's made of fungus or mold or something.  The heart might be sentient."

Szandor rushes off. At the hospital, Drake and Patel are suited up in protective gear and go in to examine the girl more closely.  Patel approaches her but the shadow rears up and attacks him through his suit, killing him immediately with the smallpox type disease.  Then it escaped through the door and starts killing staff close by.  Drake confirms Patel is dead and that the disease isn't smallpox it just looks like it.
The killer shadow.
In Drake's past, she pulls a gun and reveals she is an undercover agent.  But one of the gang members sneaks up behind her and puts a gun to her head.  She lets out a blood curdling shriek that knocks her attacker down.  And then she shoots the dealers.

In the present, Szandor has arrived.  Drake asks the girl if she can control the shadow which is still attached to her, but she can't.  Szandor speaks some of the mystery language to it, and it pauses in it's killing spree and talks back to him.  Corrigan says to Szandor to keep it busy while he thinks of how to deal with it.  Drake decides to try shining a light directly on it, but has no idea if it'll work.

In her past, she frees Corrigan and asks him not to tell anyone what he saw her do here today.  He asks if she knows what she is, why she screams the way she does before someone dies.  She wants to know, having lived with it all her life.  He says he is setting up a taskforce and could use a partner.
Drake deals with the shadow monster.
We return to the present and the light separates the shadow from the girl.  They realise they are all going to have to go into quarantine because they are surrounded by diseased bodies.  Szandor says the shadow says it's name was "Ikkt".

Szandor: "Gotham is under attack.  And after seeing what this one alone almost did.. I shudder to think what's next."

Corrigan and Rook are in a Gotham bar getting drunk.  Corrigan comments that this is the oldest bar in Gotham, dating back to eighteen-twenty-something.  Rook makes to leave saying he knows that, his ancestors lived in the first Gotham town.  Corrigan says stay, he knows Rook wants to bring them up and charges and thiks they are all nuts, "it can't mean we can't be friends".  Rook disagrees, they are both pretty wasted by now.  Then a tentacle monster attacks them both.
Monsters are such buzzkills.
Drake and Szandor are driving through Gotham and come across several dead bodies.  Szandor says he wants to tell Corrigan something chemically weird is going on in Slaughter Swamp and that he thinks the monsters they have been dealing with come from there.  They examine the bodies, "bluish cast to the skin.  Smells of alcohol", and there are leech like things on them.  Then the leeches suddenly grow into huge tentacle creatures and Drake and Sazandor dive back in the car.  In the bar, Corrigan grabs one of the tentacles, and the creature says it is "Amodr".

Corrigan: "What did you come covering for me?  After I took care of your buddies? Ovovo in the swamp and Ikkt in the hospital?"

Szandor gets through to him and Corrigan holds out the phone so he can hear what Amodr is "saying".  Szandor confirms it is the "ghost langauge".  Corrigan says Amodr is trying to poison them with alcohol.  Outside the tentacles all start lashing out and killing everyone around them.  Drake puts her foot down and drives her and Szandor through them.  But Corrigan has other problems, Amodr has triggered the summoning of The Spectre, "judgement" is coming as he manifests himself in the bar.
Meet The Spectre.
The Spectre: "Foul creature.  Hellspawn.  You shall find no purchase here.  I am The Spectre.  I am Heaven's Blade.  Behold, the Whirldwind of the Lord goes forth in Wrath.  Swirling down upon the heads of the wicked.  I am the Storm and you... Abomination."

And he destroys Amodr.  However outside Gotham, the blackness of Slaughter Swamp has risen up and is advancing on the city.  Szandor is trying to speak to Corrigan over the phone still, saying he knows enough of the ghost language now to know that the creature was asking him if he knew what Gotham was?
Ikkondrid manifests.
He believes the creatures want judgement.  He has realised that it all makes sense now, stealing children and returning them speaking a different language from their parents, infecting people with smallpox and now poisoning them with alchohol.  These are all the things the founders of Gotham did to the indigenous tribe that originally lived there.

Szandor: "These things are the progeny of their great sins.  The psychic remnants of genocide... They want Gotham City to be judged!"

Drake is overwhelmed by premonitions of death and lets out her banshee scream.  As a now huge Spectre walks through the streets of Gotham to confront the living swamp, Weaver and Justine set off to find Corrigan.  Szandor still trying to reach Corrigan begs him to call the Spectre off, "what if we are judged and found wanting?"  And the Spectre and the swamp monster clash epically as Batman arrives on the scene in his plane.

We then get a two page spread of the Spectre holding the Swamp creature at bay, "while he decides whether he agrees with it.  While he decides whether we all live or die."  Drake and Szandor find Corrigan in the bar, he is slumped unconcious with heavenly light streaming from his eyes, nose and mouth.  Rook is there as well, his heart stops, but they shock him back to life.
Corrigan while The Spectre is manifest.
Corrigan narrates that when The Spectre manifests he doesn't mentally pass out.  He leaves his body and goes with him, "and then I have to watch".  The Swamp tells The Spectre who and what it is:

Ikkondrid: "I am Ikkondrid the Corpse.  I am Gotham's caul, torn from the city at the moment of it's first breath.  Betrayed.  Murdered.  Cast into the swamps.  I am not from the Unnatural Order.  I am the village tha once was and is now forgotten.  My children and I have summoned you that you might hear our plea".

Weaver and Justine arrive at where Corrigan, Drake, Rook and Szandor are.  Weaver is about to shoot Corrigan believing it to be the only way of stopping The Spectre.  Drake lets out another banshee scream which stops him cold.

Drake's banshee scream.

Batman fires missiles at Ikkondrid which have no effect.  His plane is showered with black flowers which cause the plane to crash.  Drake takes Weaver's gun away from him saying he won't shoot Corrigan, "he's my damn partner."  Weaver starts to beg the insensible Corrigan to regain control saying the city is "riddled with sin".  Outside by the crashed Batplane, Sister Justine makes her appeal directly to God.

Justine: "Please Lord.  If I am a pure soul, as Corrigan says.. though I don't believe I am... please spare this city".

Ikkondrid and The Spectre are still grappling with each other.  Ikkondrid says the village were fooled by words of friendship, their children taken and had the langauge of the ancestors beaten out of them, they were poisoned by disease and poison, and the founders of Gotham "folded their crime into the shape of a city".  And The Spectre stops fighting it, and turns to regard the city...
Uh oh...
While Weaver keeps begging Corrigan, Justine says to God that the people of Gotham are worth saving "will you take me in their place?"  And The Spectre is called off by the Voice of God.

Corrigan: "I don't understand.  Maybe one of us got through somehow.  Maybe one of us was heard.  Ikkondrid turns to the swamp.  I don't know why.  The Spectre knows, but it's somehow too big and nothing was forgiven here... this doesn't make sense to me..."

He catches a thought just before The Spectre vanishes, "something about remembering the innocents sacrificed for us.  Something about paying respect."  And Corrigan comes too finding the others and Batman standing round the body of Sister Justine.  It was her death Drake predicted.  Corrigan tells Batman they are safe for now.

Corrigan: "...but we paid.  It's not over. And damn, we paid."
Awww no..
Considering all the mad stuff that goes down in Gotham daily, having a unit of the Gotham PD dealing with the supernatural stuff feels like an idea that is so obvious it's amazing it hasn't been done before.  Fawkes and Templesmith bring us a team of likeable characters with two cool female ones, the brash banshee Drake and the meekly devout Sister Justine.  I was a little sad Sister Justine died, because although she died saving the whole city by offering up her soul in return for it, I felt like she still had more to offer as a character.  Still she went out a massive hero proving superheroes come in all guises, even only the Midnight Shift know about her sacrifice.  Corrigan and The Spectre fit beautifully into this set-up and this incarnation of The Spectre is definitely the most awesome and frighteningly judgemental I've seen since his appearance in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run.  The fact the haunted past of Gotham CIty given form actually wanted The Spectre to manifest itself because it knew The Spectre would judge Gotham and find it wanting was a clever twist, and it was a humble nun that saved the day, not Batman in his Batplane with his Bat-missiles. The incidents leading up to the climax are also creepily effective, especially the haunted smallpox shadow. Templesmith excels at horror, his frantic line work and splashed inks imbuing everything with a sense of chaotic menace and he gives us a very impressive take on The Spectre as well, towering above the city shining with Divine Radiance, and we truly we get to see how The Spectre embodies the whole Good Is Not Nice trope here, only instead of going after petty evil doers, he's been manipulated into nearly destroying a whole city.  Unfortunately I believe Templesmith is gone from this series for the next (and final) volume, but the characters and concept are so appealing I shall be picking it up regardless and you can expect coverage of it on here when I do.


  1. The fact that this was cancelled was a crime against comics. The reveal of the precise nature of the threat facing Gotham was brilliant — a really neat, clever idea.

  2. Yes I was really impressed with it as well and having it manipulate The Spectre was another really awesome idea. Of all the cancellations DC have performed, this ties with Dial H as the one that annoys me the most.

  3. this was like the perfect arc. I mean the stuff that comes after is good even if the art isn't, but this arc could have stood alone as a miniseries. Still shouldn't have cancelled it dc!

  4. It was a very impressive start to the series, I think I'm just disappointed that a) DC didn't see if trade sales could keep it afloat and b) I'm annoyed fellow comic book readers didn't support a less traditional looking series. Bah.