The Batman family of titles has been unleashing some titles with interesting angles this fall (“Gotham Academy,” the “Batgirl” revamp, and the upcoming “Gotham by Midnight”) and add “Arkham Manor” to that category. With the release this week of “Arkham Manor” #1, readers get to finally see how Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal’s new series pans out: a slow but careful setup, with some different-looking and pleasing art.
Duggan’s setup for “Arkham Manor,” spinning out of this week’s “Batman Eternal,” is fairly simple. With Arkham Asylum destroyed, Wayne Manor is eventually seized and turned into the new home for so many of its prisoners. And so, with Bruce having sealed the entrance to the Batcave with concrete, his ancestral home is now full of the freaks that he’s been putting away. But now, of course, who better than Batman to go undercover inside a building that he’s lived in since birth?
I like the concept of “Arkham Manor,” which is a little silly sounding at first but is played seriously and works surprisingly well when you stop and think about it. Duggan takes his time establishing the new status quo within the title; rather than jumping into lots of flashbacks, we instead move forward throughout the process until we get to the post-“Batman Eternal” timeline that “Batman” itself has already stepped into. The upside to this is that by the time the issue is over, there’s no need for any future setup; you understand the concept and the thrust of the comic, and he can hit the ground running. The one downside is that it does provide for a slightly slow debut issue, and it makes me miss the old days of a double-sized first issue where you can include not only the setup but the immediate follow-through in one fell swoop.
Still, there’s enough to bite onto to come back for a second helping. Duggan is clearly a fan of the idea of Batman-as-detective (something we saw in his co-written “Batman” #34) and here we get to see Batman constructing a new identity as part of that process. This isn’t “Batman the thug,” it’s “Batman the genius” and I love whenever we get a take on the character that doesn’t solely rely on his impressive physical skills.
That said, Crystal’s art doesn’t lose sight of Batman being a fairly powerful physical specimen, something we see near the end of the issue. This is a man who’s rippling with power, something that is even commented on by the Arkham staff. It almost makes me eager to see Crystal’s Batman leaping into action and kicking butt. Crystal’s art style is intriguing, an angular, sharp-edged look at the world that isn’t afraid to have figures and objects bound through the air and leave trails behind them. It’s different looking and it’s hard to pull your gaze away from it. It’s great to see a Batman family book that not only unabashedly strays from the house style, but revels in one that is fun and different.
“Arkham Manor” #1 is a reasonable enough start to the series. With the setup presumably complete, the second issue will make or break the comic. For now, though, I’m pleased enough to want to see what happens next. If the pace picks up a bit, we’ll have a real winner. For now, I’m optimistic. Not bad at all.