Thursday, November 25, 2010

Batman: Arkham Reborn (comics)

Writer: David Hine
Artist: Jeremy Haun
Collects: Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum, Arkham Reborn #1-3, Detective Comics #864-865

Man, that's a striking Cliff Chiang cover, innit? I love the guys work. Wish he did more interiors.

Anyways, despite his prominence on the cover, Batman doesn't figure much into this story; he's in it, but he's only an element in the story instead of the protagonist. The star of the show is Jeremiah Arkham and Arkham Asylum itself. The whole of the Arkham Reborn saga is kind of a parallel plotline to the "Batman Reborn" retooling of the Batman line; while the rest of the line was fooling around with the shiny new status quo, David Hine quietly crafted a story of Arkham's rebirth into something quite possibly even more sinister than ever before. It's status as a parallel plot is both a blessing and a curse, however, which I'll get to later.

During the events of Batman RIP, Jerimiah Arkham was ejected from his beloved asylum by the Black Glove. Not long after, the asylum was destroyed by the new Black Mask while a battle for Batmans cowl raged. Unwilling to give in, Jeremiah decides to rebuild Arkham, but what it turns into may be even more dangerous than what it was before. Mysterious incidents involving the inmates occur and it almost seems as if the asylum itself is working against him. The question quickly goes from asking if anyone can be rehabbed in Arkham to asking if the asylum itself can drive a man to insanity all on it's own. The title - Arkham Reborn - is apt, as in a way this story is something of a rebirth for more than just the infamous home of Batmans rogues.

In all, it's a compelling read. David Hine writes a tight story with plenty of tension. You just know everything is going to go horribly wrong - it is Arkham Asylum after all - but there's the question of how it's all going to come crashing down. Hine brings in elements of past Arkham Asylum related stories to play off of and the result is gripping. Jerimiah Arkham has always struggled to keep some semblance of control over the asylum and there has always existed the question of whether it's affected his sanity. This book seems to settle that question rather definitively and I'm interested in the changes it brings to the asylum.

An action packed book this is not, so if that's what you're looking for, this probably isn't for you. A lot of the page time is spent on Jeremiahs thoughts and mental health. Even when a riot occurs a bit after the halfway mark of the book, it doesn't focus on the action or Batman getting things under control. After all, there's no need; that's just another Tuesday in Gotham. It's used as a device for the story, wrapped within a few pages and putting more pressure on the principal character.

If there's a problem with the book, it's that it's abundantly clear that it was hampered by the need to keep from spoiling events in another book; events I'm now forced to dance around while talking about it in case I have a reader who doesn't want to be spoiled. The presence of the new Black Mask - a plotline handled in Tony Daniels "Life After Death" storyline - is made clear throughout the book, but Hine is forced to work around the subject for most of the storyline. But between the Arkham Reborn mini and the publishing of the Detective two-parter that ends the story, that whole business had been resolved, so the Detective issues open with it clear who Black Mask was, assuming that we read that storyline. Also, a character incarcerated at the end of the mini is suddenly walking free in the 'Tec issues with absolutely no context; again, I assume it's a question answered elsewhere, though I'm not entirely sure, as I haven't read "Life After Death". It's very jarring, as some of this stuff simply does not flow from the ending of Arkham Reborn. It harms what's an otherwise compelling read; even just a few pages showing what happened between them would have helped with the transition. Instead, the knowledge is assumed; not good, especially when it isn't something minor or easily ignored.

Why this happened, exactly, I just don't know; the Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum one shot collected here summarized the events that affected this story, effectively getting us up to speed. Why it didn't happen with the Detective issues that desperately needed it, I haven't a clue. Hell, the fact that this story was being finished up in a book that had nothing to do with Arkham prior - Batwoman was starring in 'Tec right before the two part wrap-up of the Arkham story - should have been reason enough to get readers up to speed. It makes no sense whether you put it in the context of a trade or a monthly.

The art by Jeremy Haun is good, solid work, but I'm not entirely sure it was suited for this sort of story. The bulk of the story deals in madness and insanity; I don't want to rag on this too hard, as Hauns work here is quite good, but my point is that it seems more suited to a superhero book. I personally think this mini needed the work of an artist whom's style is more apt to dark, haunting imagery. So, basically, very good art paired with a story it wasn't suited for.

Still, despite the flaws, I felt that the story still managed to come together. Arkham Asylum's always been an interesting part of the Batman mythos to me. It's pretty over the top by this point - we're at the junction where even characters are referring to it as a revolving door for the insane - but nonetheless fascinating in it's own way. Not too many stories really focus on it a lot though; it's more of a backdrop in most regular Batman adventures. But it seems that every now and then we get a story spotlighting Arkham and its crazies. When they're this good, they're welcome.

I just wish the choppy transition late in the book didn't hurt it so much.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

In all, the book is still a good read despite everything. I wish I could give it a higher score, but I felt that the trouble late in the book surrounding the jarring shift hampered the book too much. But it's still a worthwhile read. Maybe even worth a purchase, especially if you like a good Arkham story.

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