Arkham Manor 1

Today, Mark and Taylor are discussing Arkham Manor 1, originally released October 22nd, 2014. 

slim-bannerMark: As DC’s unquestionable cash cow, there is never a dearth of new Batman-related titles and spinoffs in the works. Within the past month DC has launched two new Batman-adjacent titles, first the youth-oriented Gotham Academy and now Arkham Manor.

Caught between hooking readers with a Batman narrative, and setting up the Who, What, and Where required of a spin-off, Arkham Manor 1 shows a lot of promise without being super satisfying as either a straight Batman book or its own thing. As with any series that intends to shake up the status quo, the issue has a lot of ground to cover. Plot-wise these efforts are hamstrung a bit by taking place AFTER the events of Batman Eternal 30, but releasing a week BEFORE that issue comes out, leaving some of the events leading up to Arkham’s takeover of Wayne Manor rather murky.

Still, even without a full understanding of the mechanics, the basics are clear enough: Arkham Asylum is in ruins and the city of Gotham needs a place to house Arkham’s patients. Mayor Hardy decides to stick it to Bruce Wayne and uses the right of eminent domain to seize Wayne Manor and turn it into the eponymous Arkham Manor. And that’s all before the title page!

Really, there’s so much plot to cover (the issue has to set up Arkham’s move to Wayne Manor, answer questions about the fate of the Batcave, shed some light on Bruce Wayne’s current living situation, and try to define Batman’s motivations [as they aren’t readily apparent]), that writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal can only spare a few seconds to breathe and have a little fun. The issue is at its most enjoyable in these moments, such as when a construction worker modifies the Wayne crest from a “W” to an “A” for Arkham, or later when Batman takes out his frustration on some low level street thugs.

arkhammanor2These moments exemplify the balance Duggan and Crystal strike between grim and fun. Batman spends basically the entire issue angry, going so far as to punch out the central console in the Batmobile for seemingly no reason at all. Still, I laughed at the ridiculousness. My favorite touch in Crystal’s art is Batman’s cape spreading out beneath him like a puddle. It reminds me of the this shot from Alfred Hitchcocks’s Topaz:


The contrast between the gritty and playful aspects of the story pays off when, based on a tip from the police scanner, Batman heads back to the Manor and finds an inmate has been tortured and murdered. The scene is grisly, but rendered in a style that allows it to be visually interesting without falling into Saw territory.

arkhammanor4Here, basically at the end of the book, we have Arkham Manor‘s inciting incident: How was it possible for the patent to be tortured and murdered in his cell? Was it an inside job? Batman takes on the identity of a dead homeless man, Jack Shaw, and gets himself committed as a patient in Arkham Manor to investigate.

The issue ends with Bruce removed from almost everything that has defined him. No money, influence, title, or gadgets (for now). Still, one way or another, he has his home. And Batman.

arkhammanor5I touched on this briefly when talking about the amount of plot this issue has to cover, but most of Batman’s inner monologue throughout the issue is devoted to buffing his relationship with Wayne Manor and explaining his motivations. There’s a lot of talk about how much his home means to him, and how much it meant to his father, but it’s something that never really clicked for me and feels a little out of character. At this point it’s just superfluous justification, but it’s difficult to judge on a single issue.

There’s a lot promised in Arkham Manor‘s cover art, with Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and other rogues gallery heavies glowering at us from the front. But narratively this issue feels like it should have been Arkham Manor 0 instead of Arkham Manor 1. I’m definitely on board to see where it goes, but I’m left wanting more to embrace from the get go.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the various contortions current Batman titles are making to keep in check with Batman Eternal‘s continuity. With Arkham Manor taking place after the events of Batman Eternal 30, does that mean that Batman will be absent from Eternal for a few weeks while Bruce is undercover? Are we going to see a time jump after issue 30? Am I completely misinterpreting the situation?

Do you think I’m being too harsh on this as a first issue, Taylor? Are you looking forward to seeing Arkham Manor play out? And am I way off base with the Batman Eternal timeline talk?

slim-bannerTaylor: I’m right there with you Mark when you say this issue is a little underwhelming. Really, there’s just not a whole lot going on in this issue aside from extended monologue. A major cause of this is the lack of any sort of narrative arc in the issue. We get a fair amount of exposition about why Arkham Manor is even a thing, but there’s no rising action or climax to speak of. I suppose some might argue that the climax comes when Batman see the grizzly murder in his former house, but that just serves to further justify more positioning of characters. That’s not to say this makes the issue bad by any means, but it fails to grab emotionally in any way. It washes over you like a lukewarm shower.

Yet for all that, the narrative space devoted to Bruce’s relation to the manor does intrigue me. One minute he’s a cold and calculating crime-fighter who sees the logic of keeping the world’s most dangerous criminals within arms reach of him at all times. Other times, he’s a nostalgic man who sees memories of his childhood slipping away with the transformation of his boyhood home into a place for the criminally insane. Duggan never explicitly makes it known which motivation is winning out on Bruce emotionally. We never fully understand if Bruce hates the ideas of convicts being in his house or not. This might go a long ways towards explaining the punch the Batmobile receives for basically no reason at all. Bruce is a man who is torn between the desires of the self and the desires of society.

Of course, to justify turning his home into a prison Bruce comes to the conclusion that this is what his father would have wanted.

Would he have wanted this?But this is circumspect logic. How could Bruce’s father ever have conceived of a scenario where his son would open his home to likes of Gotham’s worst? Sure, it’s all an extended metaphor Bruce is operating with here, but his rational borders on the disturbing all the same. It begs the question: is this what Bruce’s father would have actually wanted or is simply what Bruce, as the Batman, wants?

This leads us to ponder Bruce’s own sanity in a way. He’s already Batman, an occupation which for various reasons is hard to justify. Housing his enemies on top of his former lair simply seems to be the icing on the cake of a character’s decent into madness. Viewed in that light, doesn’t it make sense for Bruce to have himself committed to the asylum at the close of this issue?

All this being said, I’m looking forward to where this title goes. All of the Batman stories revolving around Arkham have always possessed a certain flare for the dark and psychological and it would be a delight to see the same happen here. Add to this the possibility of Batman’s own mental-state being thrown into the mix and it seems like it would be a title well worth a read. Whether it fits into the Batman Eternal timeline or not, I really can’t say. But as a stand alone entity, I see potential for Arkham Manor, just like Bruce.

slim-bannerFor a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

One comment on “Arkham Manor 1

  1. Reading this issue, made me wish we had an Arkham Asylum ongoing comic, where Batman is not present, and the stars are just characters in the prison. And we get to watch the inter-prison relationships and scheming, like the show Oz, except with Batman’s rouges, how awesome would that be! But I think this moving Arkham Asylum to Wayne Manor is a stretch and kind of silly. Having Batman undercover as an inmate can only last so long.

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