THE COMIC COMPENDIUM #44: Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Ed keeps up his recent theme of comic book tie-ins with Paul Dini’s prequel to the acclaimed videogame. 

Who made it?: Writers: Paul Dini (AC #1-5), Derek Fridolfs (AC Digital #1-5), Artists: Carlos D’Anda (AC #1-5), Dustin Nguyen (AC Digital #1), Ben Herrera (ACD #2), Ted Naifeh (ACD #3), Roger Robinson (ACD #4), Adam Archer (ACD #5), DC Comics.

Who’s in it?: Batman, The Joker, Two-Face.

Original run: Batman: Arkham City #1-5.

Released: July – October 2011.

When it comes to tie-in comics for videogames and films, the overall quality generally tends to be a bit poor, with little effort put into their creation both artistically and creatively. Until reading this, I hadn’t played either Arkham Asylum or Arkham City and I had absolutely no inclination to do so, what with me favouring RPG or FPS over story-led action-adventurers. Yet what I discovered was actually a darn fine comic in its own right, with an interesting plot, some intrigue and actual character development. This could have something to do with Paul Dini having also contributed to the Arkham City videogame, meaning that they haven’t just handed the writing duties over to someone who had no previous involvement with the in-game universe.

With no previous knowledge of Arkham Asylum’s storyline or conclusion, it was easy to assume that I would be a bit confused with references to the first game, but the important aspects of its climax are nicely referenced in an introduction narrated by none other than The Joker himself, who sadly appears to be much-less jubilant than usual. This is because he failed in his attempts to gain supremacy and spread chaos throughout Arkham via the use of a venom-derived strength-enhancing drug known as “Titan.” However, he is now paying the price for having dabbled with it, which leads to a much more morose take on the Clown Prince of Crime.

The comic is set six months before the events of the Arkham City videogame and, due to the recent events at the Asylum, the new Mayor of Gotham City happens to be Quincy Sharp, the former warden who was elected due to his claims of having prevented the riot. This is despite the Batman having taken The Joker down whilst Quincy was unconscious throughout the rioting, following his amusing mental breakdown. Yet this doesn’t stop him from not only being elected but also pushing through his plans for “Arkham City”, although, when he’s met with resistance by the citizens of Gotham, a dastardly scheme helps him achieve his goals. Yet Quincy has never shown any previous aptitude for cleverness and, as it turns out, these schemes are actually masterminded by someone else from behind-the-scenes. Whilst the existing residents of Arkham are moved into the city, there suddenly appears to be plenty of new inmates. Gotham City’s new security force are picking up anyone with a previous connection and just throwing them in, be it a mass murderer or a mere shoplifter. When it comes to a city filled with so many different villains, it was inevitable that a battle would begin for control of the city, with many players gathering both men and weapons for the purpose of either mayhem or power, all the while ignorant of the fact that there’s an Oz-like figure pulling their strings.

Throughout the comic, we go through a constant change of narrators, and whilst we obviously focus mainly on The Dark Knight, even the super villains, egotistical maniacs and henchman get a look-in. We get a glimpse of what’s going on from the perspective of those who are running Arkham City, as well as those who are suffering under the oppressive thumb of this new regime.

As you might have guessed, Dini’s writing shines throughout the entire series, taking some of the Caped Crusader’s most famous enemies into unfamiliar and unsettling territory. Dini is mostly well-known for having been one of the masterminds behind most of Warner Bros’ nineties cartoons based upon their superhero properties, including the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series which won multiple awards.  The most intriguing aspect of Arkham City is the new variations on familiar characters as, with the game not being set in normal continuity, the writer doesn’t need to follow previous iterations, meaning that for any characters not already featured in Arkham Asylum, Dini could create brand new origins, costumes and personalities for the heroes and villains. Despite any changes made to the characters, they still remain all instantly familiar; they all combine to make for a much more engrossing storyline than you would expect.

Dini received assistance with the downloadable issues, though, with Derek Fridolfs being the key creative behind the Arkham City digital comics. He does a good job, as while they pay more attention to individual characters rather than a larger storyline, they still remain interesting, even with multiple artists being used over the five issues included in the trade edition. There are two more digital comics that are not included with the collection, but if they’re as good as the rest, then they’re certainly worth hunting down. The artist varies between every digital issue, and the results are as disparate as you’d guess, although Ben Herrera’s work does stand out as a highlight.

The art of Carlos D’Anda is another reason for why the Arkham City comic just works. It’s not the “by the numbers” variety used in a lot of tie-in comics; the art and character design all manage to express the personality of the characters extremely well, be it the crazy insanity of The Joker, Two-Face’s dual obsession, or even the impotence of Gotham’s Police Department. Everything works just right, be it the splendid architecture or the expressions and stances of the characters whether they’re in one panel or the whole book.

I have only one problem with this comic: To find out what has happened beforehand, as well as what happens next, I have to play two videogames rather than just read a storyline. Don’t get me wrong, I love videogames but completing these will take up a lot of my comic-reading time, and there’s a third due out in October to snare my attention still. These tie-in books, they always have their downsides don’t they? I think we can forgive this one, though, as whether you’re interested in the game or not doesn’t matter because this tie-in does what it’s supposed to do, meaning that you’ll be absolutely hooked on anything related to the Arkham series after reading this.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Arkham City is based on the franchise’s long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a massive new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind Arkham’s sinister scheme, “Protocol 10″, while protecting inmates from the notorious criminals housed there. The game’s leading characters are predominantly voiced by actors from the DC Animated Universe, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively.

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