Today, Mikyzptlk and Scott are discussing Batman Annual 2, originally released July 31st, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: In what seems like a parallel universe now, I was once a Psychology student. I learned a lot about how the body and mind interact, and how Psychology impacts our lives every day without us ever even realizing it. One of the lessons that stuck with me was about a study conducted by a group of very brave Psychologists. They wanted to check to see how patients in mental hospitals were treated, so they decided to commit themselves voluntarily to find out first hand. What they discovered truly saddened me. It seems that, for the most part, the patients were completely ignored by hospital staff. Well, the quiet patients anyway. The Psychologists learned that if patients wished to get any attention at all from hospital staff, they would need to learn to start acting up. In other words, they’d need to dial up the “crazy.” I’m not sure if the writers of this Batman Annual are aware of that story, but it seems they have just given voice to a controversy that surrounds mental hospitals to this day.
The story begins with Eric Border, Arkham Asylum’s newest orderly. Fresh from Metropolis, he’s full of hope and eager to help. He’s chosen an interesting first night as Batman has become Arkham’s newest patient. All right, not really. It seems that Batman is being locked up in Arkham’s newest secure wing in order to test its effectiveness. Batman begins to escape in some particularly badass ways, until he is confronted by Arkham’s first, and oldest, inmate: The Anchoress. It seems she’s quite upset with Batman for turning what was once her “sanctuary” into a den of evil. Using her powers, she enters Batman’s mind and “traps” him in what would have been an endless loop of the deaths that Batman was never able to prevent. Batman somehow manages to escape, and the Anchoress is eventually subdued once again.
Now, is it just me or does The Anchoress remind anyone else of the Librarian ghost from Ghostbusters? Either way, if the creators aren’t directly referencing that character, I think they are definitely implying some ghostly attributes for this character. Her powers are interesting. They can easily be mistaken for simple phasing abilities, sported by the likes of Kitty Pryde, however they are a bit more complex than that. Through a series of unfortunate events, The Anchoress gained the power of “quantum tunneling,” giving her the ability to, yes, phase through stuff, but more specifically the “electrons of [her] cells can escape their atoms, launch through barriers, and draw the rest of [her] with them.” This is how she was able to “tunnel” into the mind of Batman in order to do some pretty creepy shit like this.
Yes, that’s a young Bruce Wayne, and yes, that is The Anchoress taking on the form of his deceased mother, and yes, this is creepy as hell, and yes, I love The Anchoress. I’ll explain exactly why in a moment. First, I need to let The Anchoress speak for herself.
The reason why I’m blown away by this issue, and more specifically, the character of The Anchoress, is because of what she is seemingly representing. The event that gave her powers also inadvertently killed her parents. Looked upon as a “murderess,” she committed herself to Arkham Asylum to seek sanctuary. Each generation of the Doctors Arkham all attempted to treat her, until Batman came along and destroyed her peace. With each new villain locked away by Batman, the doctors had less time to spend with The Anchoress until she was eventually forgotten. For years, she sat alone in her cell until she decided to act out. Only then, was this scene possible.
So, this issue is a historic moment for Batman. It is the first time, unbelievably, that a woman has penned the Dark Knight. Marguerite Bennett is a protege of Scott Snyder in the vein of James Tynion IV. Both Scott Snyder and Ms. Bennett were credited for this issue’s story, while Bennett was credited for the script itself. I can’t be positive, but I do believe that she and Snyder have just created a character that not only comments on the issues found in actual mental hospitals, but the problems with Arkham Asylum as well. Arkham has often been said to have a rotating door, where villains go in and then escape only to be captured again, never to be treated properly. While I don’t think that’s bound to change any time soon, it’s fascinating to to see a new character created to be the voice of not only Arkham’s inadequacies, but perhaps the inadequacies of actual mental hospitals as well.
So Scott, I think it’s clear that I’m thoroughly sold on the concept of The Anchoress and the talent of Marguerite Bennett. I know that it’s only been one issue, but I can’t express to you enough how much I want to see both of these women again in the future. Though, in The Anchoress’ case, only on paper please. What did you think of this issue? Are you as sold on The Anchoress as I am?
Scott: I like the concept of The Anchoress, but I think she might have been a better character in a smaller dose. I enjoyed seeing a villain get inside Batman’s head and threatening him with his own worst memories, as it’s not often Batman appears as helpless as he was here. The Anchoress is clearly a worthy adversary for Bruce. And I understand her motivation- the comfort and safety she once found in Arkham has been taken away by the supervillains Bruce has brought to the facility. My only complaint is that her character was too repetitive. The Anchoress didn’t have enough to say to fill the extra pages of an Annual, and after a while she seemed to be explaining her motivations on a loop, until I felt like I was being beaten over the head with them. Had this been a shorter, non-Annual length story, I think that problem would have been avoided.
Mik, I was not aware of the study you referenced, but it certainly adds some real-world context to The Anchoress’ story. If there’s one mental hospital where you can be sure that most of the attention is given to a few “problem pateints” at the expense of the many quieter ones, it’s Arkham Asylum. I so readily associate Arkham with recognizable supervillains who are beyond treatment- like the ones we see in the early pages of this issue- that it’s strange to imagine it as a hospital people actually go to seeking help. But really, The Anchoress has every reason to be upset that she’s being ignored in favor of these hopeless head cases. I did find it funny, however, that she felt that the treatment was helping her before Batman showed up, considering how little progress she made during her extended stay at Arkham. This is highlighted by the most unnecessary and humorously under-explained detail of the story: that she’s been in Arkham for ~100 years.
Marguerite Bennet was faced with a difficult task- it’s hard to step in and pen an annual for a title like Batman, one that always carries extremely high expectations. This story basically had to exist as an annual, since it doesn’t truly fit into the Zero Year arc Scott Snyder is writing, despite what its cover suggests. On conceptual and thematic levels, I thought it worked fine. I liked the sequence of Batman breaking out of Arkham’s new wing while listing ways each villain, and potential occupant, might do the same (though I doubt any of them would be given a full Batsuit to assist them in their effort to break out). Ultimately, I felt the issue ran out of steam too early and could have benefitted from a shorter page count, but there were enough good ideas here that I’m excited to see what else Bennet can do.
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