When it first debuted, "Gotham by Midnight" felt like a real breath of fresh air, a different take on the DC Universe. However, as of late, the series has started to feel a little less inspired, and Ray Fawkes and Christian Duce's "Gotham by Midnight Annual" #1 is a perfect example of where the series is starting to take some missteps.
"Gotham by Midnight Annual" #1 has a strong first half, with Corrigan and Drake hunting down the Gentleman Ghost, "who kisses and then vanishes through walls with his loot." The opening sequence -- with the duo trying to save the latest victim of the Gentleman Ghost -- is fun; there are some fake-outs, a bit of suspense and an overall air of mystery.
Unfortunately, the second half of the annual loses all of the momentum that was built up early on. A rendezvous on a train slows the book to a crawl, with a series of small fights that seem like little more than stalling tactics for the book, a small burst of exposition and a conclusion that uses the Spectre to fix everything. It's that last part that's the most worrisome; the initial storyline didn't use the Spectre until its final chapter, and then it was akin to dropping a nuclear warhead on a problem, complete with consequences for everyone in the vicinity. Since then, though, it seems like characters can't so much as stumble before the Spectre is trotted out to bring about the conclusion. Each new appearance of the Spectre feels less dramatic or powerful and, if anything, it's starting to chip away at the conclusion of that first, excellent storyline because the drama has been so diluted.
Duce's art is perfectly reasonable, with good depictions of the regular cast members, and works well with colorist Lee Loughridge to drench nighttime scenes in blacks and blues alongside the inked shadows. The update to the Gentleman Ghost's physical characteristics never quite works; it looks somewhat awkward and tacked onto the body in a way that is visually odd. It's easily the most traditional art that a "Gotham by Midnight" comic has had to date, but it's a good enough detour for an annual.
"Gotham by Midnight Annual" #1 feels like a half-finished comic. The conclusion goes back to the same well as several previous issues, which is disappointing in part because it would have been a much more satisfying conclusion if Fawkes and Duce had shown us something involving Drake and Corrigan outwitting the Gentleman Ghost. Instead, the conclusion seems to happen in spite of the duo, rather than because of them. Hopefully, this series can find its way forward again soon, because it started so much stronger than this utterly average version we're getting now. If there's some sort of spell or charm in Precinct 13's arsenal, now is the time to use it.