The Vanier Report: Week 11
Gotham By Midnight #5
Written by: Ray Fawkes
Art by: Ben Templesmith
Letters by: Saida Temofonte
I am not a spiritual man. I don’t believe in souls or the afterlife. I certainly don’t believe in God. And yet, I find few things as fascinating as stories and mythologies that centre around the spiritual. That includes Wonder Woman’s focus on Greek mythology, Thor’s exploration of the Norse pantheon, and of course the “Dark” corners of the DC Universe.
Gotham by Midnight has been exploring one of my favourite characters in this context, the Spectre, a deeply complicated and intriguing character that serves as one of the few windows into the true spiritual framework of the DC Universe. As a direct agent of the Presence, he eclipses even the Phantom Stranger in both power and connection to the divine forces of the universe, and that’s what makes Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith’s horror-genre title so compelling.
In the series’ opening arc, Jim Corrigan and the Midnight Shift have been investigating the mysterious and vengeful spirits that have been attacking Gotham. Eventually, the situation becomes so dire that Corrigan can no longer hold back the Spectre and unleashes Heaven’s Blade on Gotham City, which turned out to be the spirits’ plan all along. As the Spectre battles the spirits, he ponders the true nature of evil and must decide if all of Gotham City deserves to be punished for its collective sins. Corrigan is a passive observer during this, unable to interfere or reign in the rampaging Spirit of Vengeance, while the rest of the Midnight Shift scrambles to decide what they should do: kill Corrigan, kill themselves, or simply pray for forgiveness.
What Fawkes and Templesmith capture so well is the unnatural side of the spiritual. Of course, that’s not exactly the right word – the spiritual is as much a part of the DC Universe as is science – but what I mean is that the magical and divine defy our understanding of nature, and that is what comes through in the pages of the book. Templesmith’s art is beautifully ragged; the scratchy line work evokes a sort of visceral quickness that is so unlike the finely contoured line work of most mainstream comics. This helps to set apart the frighteningly uncontrollable divinity of the Spectre from even the more manageable magics of the DC Universe. Likewise, Fawkes’ script is mired in shadow and ambiguity: morality, evil, justice, and a host of other oft-bandied terms are treated with a vagueness uncharacteristic of the superhero genre.
The irony, of course, is that the Spectre is an agent of God – a being associated with clarity, purpose, and the absolute. But the mythology has never fully bought into the “loving God” of modern Christianity, instead positioning the Presence as aloof and disconnected from the trials of mortals. The Spectre is the perfect example of this; an agent granted immeasurable divine power and relative autonomy charged with executing a mission of vengeance on a world of souls unable to defend themselves from judgment. Fawkes and Templesmith wisely follow in the footsteps of stories like Day of Vengeance and use the Spectre as a cracked and distorted lens through which to explore the ambiguity of God and his place within the DC Universe. If this sort of thing interests you, you can read my full take on God and the Spectre in an old article of mine HERE.
Gotham by Midnight is one of the dark horse success stories of DC’s New 52 – a book that balances action and stakes on a cosmic scale with intense and grounded personality and character work. The Spectre has never felt more real or more terrifying, and the book’s genre aesthetic distinguishes it further still from a litany of like-feeling titles. This issue’s terrific conclusion to the first arc is a more than promising start to what is quickly becoming one of my favourite books to read.
Feature Written By: Reid Vanier
“Reid is a comic book fan masquerading as a theatre artist. His love of comics (specifically DC) was inherited by his father’s collections of Flash, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Justice League of America. Reid is now the Editor and Lead Writer of Modern Mythologies.”