By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Moritat (artist), Gabriel Bautista (colorist), Jordi Bernet (feature artist), Rob Schwager (feature colorist)

The Story: A rough beat for a Gotham cop is…pretty much everywhere in Gotham.

The Review: One of the more intriguing elements to this series has been the “fish out of water” story placing Hex within the trappings of an increasingly urbanized city.  Gray-Palmiotti haven’t played up this aspect so far, but they’ve made it clear Hex can’t wait to get the men on his list and leave this crummy town.  At the same time, the plot has slowly revealed that even if Hex has no use for the city, the city needs him.

This issue makes that need very clear.  Commish Cromwell turns out a pretty decent guy, and now armed with the knowledge of how far the Religion of Crime goes, he plans to clear out the roots of evil before they implant themselves into Gotham’s fabric (terrible mix of metaphors, but this isn’t Shakespeare, so…).  Unfortunately, all his hopeful plans, as so much does in Gotham, comes to naught.

From the very start we saw the number of high-powered men whose rings identified them as the followers of Cain, and last issue showed they’ve already laid down their plans for taking control of the growing city.  Add that to the fact they’re well aware of how much Cromwell knows about them, and you can easily predict that no matter what, the Commish’s time in office would be limited, even if the Crime believers have to go all Rambo to do it.

The end of Cromwell does not cut off Arkham’s dreams of establishing a facility to treat the criminally deranged, but the bloody circumstances which accompany the very mention of his idea bodes badly for its future.  Ultimately, we know the constant recidivism of Arkham inmates today shows that his legacy proves fruitless.

Even his attempts to get a glimpse into the psyche of Hex, a man he’s accompanied firsthand, ends up a wash, as Hex makes it clear he wants nothing of it.  Although Arkham often acts the cipher around the bounty hunter, questioning the reticent Hex to get the necessary exposition out of him, their interaction has been gold for this series.  Sadly, even though the doctor extends a respectful hand, no friendship seems in the works, but that wasn’t likely in any case.

This hardly means their association is over, however.  They both still have a blood debt between them, and as long as Hex remains in Gotham, the doctor may audaciously try to collect.  And in fact, Hex can’t leave the city just yet, as he still has three bounties on the line (though in contrast to the Religion of Crime, they seem like commonplace ne’er-do-wells ripe for the hit).  With any luck they’ll prove slippery enough to keep him around for a while longer.

And if there’s luck to spare, maybe it’ll ensure this issue lives up to its promise of ending the “El Diablo” co-feature, which hasn’t been disastrous, but pointless distracting to the series.  There’s interest here, but nothing novel enough to make up for the time it takes away from the star, and certainly Bernet’s sketch-cartoon style doesn’t encourage you to take it all that seriously.

Moritat, on the other hand, grows more in tune with this comic with every issue.  Strong from the start, he’s really figured out how to use wide and tight panels to reveal the massive amount of detail he’s capable of and launch incredible intensity.  That said, it’s clear his strength lies in drawing men; the women tend to have a doe-eyed, smooth-cheeked sameness that makes it hard to tell them apart.

Conclusion: A grim, intriguing beginning for a series showing the grim, intriguing beginning of Gotham City’s dark shadow.  Get rid of the unworthy co-feature and this title will have plenty good going for it.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “I… I have…never…shot a man before…”  Well, I must say, dear doctor, you’re quite a natural.  Headshot on your first go, my goodness.

– Actually, I would be interested in a story where Merle shoots Dr. Lazarus and El Diablo possesses him in the doctor’s stead.  That, at least, would be a somewhat different take on the spirit of vengeance tale.