Every year the arrival of fall heralds a rush of spooky comics, and sometimes it feels like the ongoing superhero titles get left behind in the rush to get out appropriately themed books. Graphic novels and one shot issues are a far easier prospect when it comes to holidays and events, so consider Gotham City Monsters the exception that proves this rule. Written by DC veteran Steve Orlando with art by relative newcomer Amancay Nahuelpan, the book stars several of DC’s most famous monsters in a brand new role. Though Killer Croc and Frankenstein have both been featured in team-ups before, the former in Suicide Squad and the latter in S.H.A.D.E., this particular group hasn’t been seen together before. Croc, Frank, and Andrew Bennett (of I...Vampire) have all walked the fine line between antihero and outright villain, but there are newcomers to the table that all need a chance to prove themselves.
Orlando’s skill is rooted in character-driven action as exemplified in his runs on Midnighter and Martian Manhunter. The task set before him in Gotham City Monsters is a big one, diving into a plot populated by several characters who have very recently seen massive changes in their lives—and some that are wholly unfamiliar to a lot of readers. There are several editor’s notes in this first issue to guide readers that might be interested in the foibles of Frankenstein and Killer Croc in particular, but by and large Orlando does a good job of introducing every character and giving them enough space to breathe while hinting at their motivations. Orca and Lady Clay are both given short shrift, and the transition between the two of them is a little confusing, but as two newer and less recognizable characters it makes a certain amount of sense that they get fewer panels. If that trend continues into future issues it will quickly become frustrating, but Orlando has proven adept at balancing group books in the past.
Nahuelpan’s experience drawing interiors is limited to the six issues of Candestino that he both wrote and illustrated and four issues of BOY-1, but he hits the ground running in this book. The lines are crisp and clean, the panels are full of interesting details. The way he draws Killer Croc and the C-list Batman rogue Tusk are particularly interesting, rife with very human imperfections on very inhuman faces. Trish Mulvihill’s colors oscillate between the gritty and moody darkness required for the less savory parts of Gotham and the unnatural brightness of neon for magic; it’s worth paying attention to the colors she chooses for the skin of each of the inhuman characters. It’s hard to make these monstrous things look like they could possibly be real, but Nahuelpan and Mulvihill do a great job.
The biggest obstacle this issue has to overcome is the sheer number of words in it. Letterer Tom Napolitano does a good job, but some of the pages are overcrowded with text while a couple of big reveals are entirely empty. It draws attention to some uneven pacing around the characters, as Orca and Lady Clay both have particularly text-heavy pages. There’s a lot of exposition to get readers caught up; presumably the word balloons will start dwindling in number as the book continues. Frankenstein and Andrew in particular aren’t known for bloviating, and having a lot of explanatory text on top of that could hobble the art, which deserves more attention. Like Gotham City Sirens and Gotham City Garage before it, Gotham City Monsters is an easy entry point to dive into the mythos of one of the most famous comic book cities and her residents.