New Bat-Books Roundup : “Arkham Manor”

Posted: November 27, 2014 in comics
Tags: , , , , ,

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So here’s the set-up — in the pages of the ongoing weekly series Batman Eternal, Arkham Asylum was blown sky high in some kind of supernatural explosion, and the city fathers of Gotham have consequently found themselves at loose ends in terms of where they’re going to warehouse their rogues’ gallery of “criminally insane” patients/inmates. After much discussion ,debate, and deliberation, the answer they come up with is — Wayne Manor?

I guess if you can swallow the notion that one of the richest guys in the world actually cares about other people, and expresses his warped notion of “concern”  by dressing up as a goddamn bat and fighting crime at all hours of the night, then the aforementioned- premise of the new monthly  series  Arkham Manor shouldn’t prove to be a bridge too far. I just find it very curious — to put it mildly — that DC would choose to put this out before the events that lead up to it had even happened yet (the destruction of Arkham and Bruce Wayne losing his home, and his company, are only now unfolding in Batman Eternal, yet Arkham Manor  is already on its second its second issue), but whatever. In this day and age of several-months-in-advance Diamond previews and solicits, I guess there are no such thing as “spoilers” in comics anymore.

To make things even more convoluted, though , the first story arc of this series involves Bruce Wayne, sans Batman garb, going undercover as a patient in his former home in order to track down a murderer who’s offing the other inmates. You know you’ve got it rough, I guess, when you have to pretend to be someone else in order to get back into your old house, which is now both a psychiatric prison and an active crime scene.

Obviously, at some point, Brucie boy is gonna get his family estate back — but  the question you have to ask is, after all this shit, why would he even want it?

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Okay,  it’s called “suspension of disbelief,” and it’s a notion we already discussed pretty thoroughly right at the outset here, so I’ll just leave that little query to play itself out at some inevitable point in the future. And I’m sure that point will come right around the time  at which Arhham Manor is scheduled to be concluded/cancelled, since, like its two other new Bat-brethren, this is a title that’s clearly designed for the short (or at best semi-long) haul. The thing that it needs to prove to us now is — will it be worth seeing through to the end?

As of this moment, I’d have to say that my honest answer is “I’m not sure.” Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal (both of whom cut their teeth on Marvel’s Deadpool, among other projects) definitely give the proceedings here a unique flavor, and it’s wise that for a book this outlandish they don’t appear to be taking themselves too seriously, but this is no out-and-out comedy a la the just-finished (and already sorely missed) Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. Earlier today I  finished up reading the second issue, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit (just as I did the first), I’m still not completely clear on what it is they’re “going for” here. One moment we’re in a group therapy session that’s clearly being played for laughs, the next we’re hunting for stone-cold killer Victor Zsasz in the bowels of a creepy old mansion full of evil crazy people. I’m tempted to say something about the whole thing feeling as schizophrenic as one of the manor/asylum’s inmates, but that would probably be both in poor taste and a bit too obvious.

Whoops.

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All misgivings aside, though, this book at least shows both some potential and, crucially, individuality. Crystal’s style (which can be seen on the main covers reproduced with this review, with the variants, also shown, coming our way courtesy of Eric Canete and Rico Renzi, respectively) is a lot more free-flowing and naturalistic than most of the bog-standard product DC is clogging the racks with, and lends itself to both “lighter” and “darker” scenes with equal ease, so that’s a big plus, as is Duggan’s solid grasp of dialogue and characterization. In short, plain language, then, it’s fair to say I like both the art and the writing here. I just don’t know if I like the comic — yet.

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How’s this for a conundrum, though? I don’t have any solid reason to drop it from my pull list, either. So far it’s been intriguing, even if it’s been hard to pin down. In fact, we might even be in the early stages of a very solid, long-form Batman story. The potential is there, and these guys (along with colorist Dave McCaig, here employing a decidedly more traditional and subdued palette than he’s using in the pages of Gotham Academy) seem talented enough to pull it off.  There are so many borderline- tantalizing glimpses of what might be on our way that I’m willing to take a “wait-and-see” approach for the time being. Unfortunately, the book’s initial struggles to find its “voice” also ensure that I can’t say anything more for it than “wait-and-see,” either.

Lock me up in Arkham Manor for now, then, I guess — but please,  don’t go throwing away the key just yet. I may yet decide that my stay here is better off being a short one.

 

 

Comments
  1. Victor De Leon says:

    Gonna check these out, Ryan. I love those covers.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      It’s a book with its own distinct vibe. I like the art, totally unsure if I like the story yet. But I’ll stick it out for a few more months and see where it goes.

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