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02/24/2003: some whining, and after that a Batman comic review

Today -- well technically yesterday -- wasn't a very good day. It started when I woke up from a nightmare of me picking splinters of a broken glass out of my bleeding throat and mouth (there was more unpleasantness, but that was what I was dreaming right before I woke up, and all that stuck in my memory), and as soon as I was fully awake I noticed that my throat was hurting for real. Granted, not like "bleeding and cut by glass" hurt, so waking up to a sore throat was maybe still an improvement. Anyway, the whole day I've been feeling like in a limbo between being well and the real onset of a cold, not feeling ill or in serious discomfort, yet not quite right either. I don't have a fever, and still my body temperature feels off to me, my throat doesn't hurt so much that swallowing is painful, but it feels scratchy, my neck and head feel achy etc. So while I hope that this goes away without getting worse, I have a suspicion it will not.

Of course I realize that my onsetting cold is not the most interesting thing, however, I spent a good part of the day in bed reading comics, and because I took a nap earlier, I have a problem to fall asleep right now, so I thought I'd start to share my opinions on them. I read The Batman of Arkham, Batman: Prodigal, Nightwing: A Knight In Blüdhaven, and Superman: Metropolis #1. I have half-composed comments in my head on all of them, however since I do want to sleep (after all it's said to be good against colds) I'll just comment on The Batman of Arkham for now.

The Batman of Arkham is an Elseworlds story, 48 pages, written by Alan Grant, art by Alcatena. It is set in 1900, and I bought it because I really like the idea of a Batman in that era, and I like other Elseworlds stories set then, however unlike The Golden Streets of Gotham (which I reviewed here) and Gotham by Gaslight, this one didn't do much for me.

Part of it is the artwork. It's not bad exactly, but for example it is not very dynamic. It rarely uses perspective for dramatic or composition purposes, though maybe I just noticed that because I read it right after Nightwing: A Knight In Blüdhaven, where Scott McDaniel goes, IMO, totally overboard with the other extreme, using unusual perspectives so much that the art is sometimes hard to follow and the perspective looses its impact (but more about that in my hopefully upcoming review of that comic). Also the bodies in motion and the fight scenes aren't great. And the hatching isn't really done well. I know from experience that hatching well is frelling hard, and I'm not good at it either, but look at the hatching of artists who really know how to do this well, like for example Bryan Talbot when he uses the technique (for Batman fans I can really recommend his two-parter Mask, in Legends of the Dark Knight #39/#40), and then at The Batman of Arkham. And after all there is no rule you have to use a lot of hatching in comic artwork. But I think what works least for me are the broad white ornamental panel borders. I think they are supposed to evoke a turn of the century "feel", and reflect the theme of the page, but they just were somewhat annoying to me, and another very "static" thing.

All that said, there is much worse comic artwork out there, and I guess it wouldn't have mattered this much to me, had the story really worked, but that was somewhat flat too.

The premise is okay, this Batman isn't looking for justice or for revenge as much as for understanding, why his parents were killed. And since in this reality his parents were killed by someone mentally ill, this Batman sums up his mission like this, when talking to Gordon: "My parents were murdered by a lunatic when I was a child. I vowed then to dedicate my life to the prevention of such needless tragedies -- by curing the madmen responsible." So he studied the emerging theories of psychology, bought Arkham Asylum, reformed its methods, and captures mad criminals during the night as Batman, to research and cure the criminally insane as Doctor Wayne during the day.

We meet a number of Batman villains briefly, some getting better (like Killer Croc), some not or not yet (like Two-Face and the Ventriloquist), some still on the loose (like the Joker), also Crane as a psychiatrist with a rather different set of theories from Wayne's ("Fear will accomplish what kindness never could!") and if the reader didn't get that anvil, all the time his shadow is cast in the form of a Scarecrow. Also we see Poison Ivy (with whom I'm not familiar at all) who turned to crime because her feminist suffrage demands were denied, though we never get details, but I thought it was interesting touch that she's incarcerated as insane because she's feminist (and also refuses to comply with the demand to wear "decent" dresses). The main plot finally is about Batman thwarting Joker's plan to turn all of Gotham mad through his laughing gas.

All this could have been interesting if there had been a real B plot besides the Joker-Batman thing. That alone isn't enough for 48 pages, at least for me it isn't. The only thing that might count as B plot is Crane taking over the asylum when Bruce is disabled by Joker's gas, and Killer Croc helping him, but we don't really see enough of the characters for them to have an emotional impact. Instead of developing some of the altered characters, who then get to do something that ties into the main plot, we meet all those others just as briefly, as if just to show them and how they turned out in this Elseworld, but they don't really seem to have a purpose and we don't really learn a lot about their fates either. The one or two page flashbacks and doctor patient talks with each of the bad guys who are not really involved with anything in the action just slow things down, and take up space that could have been used to make me care more about the characters who actually do things, like Crane.

I think my final verdict on this one is that it is thoroughly mediocre, both in its artwork and in its story, and I wouldn't spend $5.95 on it again.

Now this review turned out longer than I thought, it's after four a.m., and I hope I'll be able to sleep now. More on the other comics in some future entry.

Posted by RatC @ 04:14 AM CET
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