Batman is a character easily suited to tales of the supernatural and paranormal. And in this one-off story penned by Grant Morrison, with art by Klaus Janson, the creepier side of Gotham City is explored when a mysterious killer known as ‘Mr Whisper’ begins bumping off senior mob figures. Whisper appears to be unnaturally long-lived and impervious to physical harm, and when Batman realises he may have a personal connection to this seemingly unstoppable murderer, things quickly unfold into a tale of Faustian bargaining, serial child murder and a spine-tingling look back into Bruce Wayne’s school days.
Morrison is one of the most exciting Batman writers of the last couple of decades or so, never afraid of taking the character to interesting new places. Here, he sheds some light on what Bruce Wayne was like as a child, before his parent’s death, and also looks at some of Gotham City’s history, as though mirroring how the two have ‘grown up’ together. Whisper is a genuinely creepy villain, and it’s the implied horror of his history and actions that really sticks in the mind, more than any on-panel nastiness. Morrison also allows Batman to be The World’s Greatest Detective, using his intellect and mystery-solving skills rather than just swooping around punching things, as he’s often written to do (although there is some of that stuff towards the end).
Janson’s art is great; clear and naturalistic, feeling generally grounded in reality, which only makes the injection of supernatural elements feel all the more understated and sinister rather than ridiculous, as they could have been. He drapes proceedings in German Expressionist shadow when the mood calls for it, and lets bold splashes of colour accent the book’s more dramatic and action-oriented moments, making for a story as pleasing to look at as it is fun to read. One particularly dramatic full-page panel shows the Dark Knight hanging off the side of a building, overlooking Gotham as an inverted Bat signal – hastily constructed by the mob bosses as a way of getting his attention – hangs ominously in the clouds.
Batman Gothic is a solid read, exploring the rich gothic horror potential of the character and the world he inhabits. Despite its fairly slim page count, Gothic fits a lot in, and for those who like their Batman strange and a little unsettling, it’s thoroughly satisfying.