As most everyone has probably heard by now, Arkham City, the sequel to the popular Arkham Asylum, premiered only a few weeks ago to great fanfare. Already, people have praised it for everything from graphics to story to the feeling that the player really is Batman as he or she plays. Judge reviewed the game recently, going with the majority opinion that the game is amazing. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that DC actually released a series of comics this past Spring in order to bridge the gap between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Though I’ve never played the games, I still took the liberty to read the comic collection with an open mind. Did this comic series even remotely live up to the game’s hype?
Batman: Arkham City details the announcement and building of Arkham City, a massive section of Gotham modified to house dangerous criminals. Mayor Quincy Sharp, formerly the warden of Arkham Asylum during the first game, assuages public fears and recruits soldiers for Tyger, a paramilitary force trained to keep order within Arkham City. Batman slowly realizes, however, that Sharp is not the brains behind the operation and it is not long before he comes into contact with Hugo Strange, a scheming psychiatrist who seems to always be one step ahead…even of the Dark Knight. While criminals vie for territory in the growing Arkham City, Batman hurriedly searches for clues to Strange’s master plan. Batman is quickly caught in the crossfire of old foes and Strange’s private army. Even with all his skills and gadgets, can Batman hope to survive in a literal city where everyone is against him?
Paul Dini, the mind behind the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, penned both the Arkham City video game and this comic series. As a Batman veteran, Dini brings the reader into Gotham itself, inspiring feelings of awe, amazement, and dread as we the readers follow the Dark Knight’s escapades. The writing, as with The Animated Series, is great. The characters all fill necessary niches and Dini even manages to make someone as ridiculous as the Penguin intimidating and villainous. Sadly, however, the story feels a bit limited given that its resolution can only come by way of the Arkham City video game, though that is not to suggest one cannot enjoy the narrative. My personal favorite scene involved the Tyger forces attacking Batman while Strange, who has hacked into Batman’s communication systems, waxes lyrical about how his forces were trained specifically to counter and crush the Caped Crusader. Though it seems Batman is trapped and outmatched, he still manages to remain resolute and escapes with the help of an old flame. The character of Hugo Strange is especially well-written, his aura of unnerving knowledge making him an omniscient puppeteer, manipulating events in Gotham City to suit his twisted ends. Overall, the writing is great and there is enough explanation so that even without any prior connection to Arkham Asylum or its sequel one can successfully understand and enjoy the tale.
Carlos D’Anda handles Arkham City’s artwork, giving life to the inhabitants of Gotham City. The character designs, especially the outfits and costumes, look exceptional. Harley Quinn deserves special praise for combining innocence with sensuality, an indication of her complex and troubled persona. Two-Face, despite a brief appearance, also looks awesome, his duality exemplified not only by his outfit but also cleverly by the gang members who surround him. The Tyger forces come off as incredibly tough, their dark, highly detailed military garb making them appear almost like more violent versions of Batman himself. Hugo Strange looks intimidating as any good villain should, his large glasses lenses magnifying his eyes as if he is staring into the soul of his foes. The action scenes in Arkham City are exciting and complex, without becoming hectic or overdone; given what I’ve heard about and seen from the games, these fights very much mirror gameplay so fans of the electronic title will not be disappointed. My real complaint about the artwork comes in the form of one character: Robin. Though he only appears briefly, he still stood out from the rest of the comic. He appears too old for a Robin in my eyes, looking as if he is in his early twenties. I am not sure if they intend him to be Tim Drake or Dick Grayson (I assume the former given I’ve heard Nightwing appears in the video game), but either way his look did not strike me as either one of them. Ultimately, I felt he could’ve been handled differently and felt like more of a cameo than an integral part of the comic. Regardless, the rest of the artwork is near perfect.
I enjoyed Batman: Arkham City: the story was interesting and the art exceptional. Is the comic flawless? No, and nor will it go down in history as one of the defining comics of our era. It is, however, worth the read for anyone who is a fan or Batman, and especially for anyone who likes the Arkham Asylum game series. The hardcover collection also includes concept art from Arkham City, making it a must for any hardcore fan of the game. It’s a great read to tide you over while awaiting the next Batman or Detective Comics release, so go pick it up!
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old comic enthusiast. He wonders if Superman will ever get a game title as well made and popular as Arkham City.
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