Gerry Duggan brings Batman back inside the manor in “These Walls Must Hold,” as the Caped Crusader takes on a silent killer in a story with a setting much like “The Shining.” Other than the psychotic killer and the piles of snow in an east coast setting, however, “Arkham Manor” #5 is much less a psyhco-drama and much more a vigilante procedural.
Duggan writes a quick moving issue and triggers the drama of the mysterious menace by waving a Joker playing card in the readers’ faces. Without spoiling the story itself (which certainly has deeper-reaching tendrils spreading beyond the fate of the silent killer), this issue is smartly self-contained. Duggan keeps the tale action-packed, choosing to divulge only enough for the reader to edge forward in their seat, focusing on the fisticuffs instead of the mental evaluations. Duggan’s Batman is gruff and angry, on track with Snyder’s but not as wide-ranging.
Showcasing a blend of influences that would certainly include from John Romita Jr., Kelley Jones, Sean Murphy and Shawn Martinbrough, Shawn Crystal’s art is filled with edgy lines, crosshatched shading and ample detail. Crystal backs off from backgrounds during the actual fight, choosing instead to pack power and fury into Batman’s movements. Colorist Dave McCaig pitches in to help out in those instances, adding texture and depth through variation of tone and pattern. Working with a complimentary palette packed with blues and oranges, McCaig really amps up Crystal’s work. The art would be fine in gray tone, as befits a gritty Batman story, but — with McCaig’s colors and textures — “Arkham Manor” #5 glows a bit brighter. Seizing his opportunities around a lean script, letterer Travis Lanham brings the same introspective tone to Batman here that the Dark Knight carries through “Batman” but adds in appropriately dynamic sound effects.
Crystal keeps the readers locked in by visually shaking up the entirety of “Arkham Manor” #5. The action is dynamic and edgy, depicted by angled panels that threaten the page borders, but — when Batman isn’t hitting anyone or scenes are being set up — the story reverts to narrow, widescreen panels that mostly divide the page into fifths. This keeps the comic uniform but moving at a snappy clip.
The end of “Arkham Manor” #5 sets the series’ future upon the notion of a procedural by placing a hit list in Batman’s hands. This becomes an interesting parallel to what could be on a television series set near Gotham City with a tighter, more personal feel in its scope. With stories that are fairly light on continuity, solid on action and briskly paced, that future should be worth checking out.