Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal’s “Arkham Manor” #3 continues to entertain, as we watch Batman undercover within his old home try to solve murders from within the prison. But even as we move forward, it’s becoming increasingly clear that “Arkham Manor” was a book that would work better as a limited series, makings its conclusion in a few months that much more understandable.
After three issues, the big takeaway from “Arkham Manor” is that there’s no reasonable protagonist within its characters save for Batman himself. While it looked at first like Seth in the previous issue was being set up as an eventual replacement for him, by this point it’s clear that there’s no one else in this house of freaks who could anchor the title. That’s actually a little bit of a shame, because “Arkham Manor” ceases to become a book about the people within the system, and transforms much more simply into another Batman story. There’s no real attempt to try and humanize the prisoners or their staff, and everyone comes across as slightly disposable.
That said, “Arkham Manor” #3 does manage to bring the creep factor, something that both Duggan and especially Crystal succeed at. The discovery of where the missing Zsasz is ends up startling; the marks in Zsasz’s skin serve as a great counterpoint to the whorls in the wooden planks, something that Crystal nails in the visuals. With the flashlight circle illuminating Zsasz’s figure, it’s hard to not give a little jump when you first see where he’s been all this time. Crystal and colorist Dave McCaig use shadow and obscurement perfectly here, and it’s one of the strongest pages in the series to date.
The story’s starting to weaken a bit here, unfortunately. The final page feels a little disappointing rather than an exciting twist on an old villain, for starters, and at this point the greater mystery of who’s responsible for the deaths within the manor is starting to come across a bit telegraphed. I appreciate that Duggan’s not hiding the clues where we can’t find them (and to be fair, this could also be a big fake-out), but the faces left have been narrowed so much that the detective angle of “Arkham Manor” — originally a large appeal — is greatly reduced.
I’m still enjoying “Arkham Manor” enough to stick around to its conclusion, but at the same time I’m also not quite so disappointed to hear that the book is ending with #6. As a mini-series, that means that Duggan and Crystal are heading towards the slightly limited shelf-life that it seemed headed towards. I’d much rather have a book get in and out with the appropriate amount of time than to overstay its welcome.