If you haven’t been following the DC Universe event Forever Evil then this comic might come off as a little strange to you as it casually mentions that the moon is permanently eclipsing the sun, Batman is missing along with the rest of the Justice League, and every inmate from Arkham and Blackgate has apparently been on the loose for some time. The easiest way to explain is that an evil Justice League from another dimension came into our world, wrecked all of our good guys, freed all of our bad guys, and then blotted out the sun before announcing a new world order in which evil reigns (For crying out loud, add a recap page to your comics, DC). The evil Justice League AKA The Crime Syndicate also outed Nightwing as really being Dick Grayson but, much to my disappointment, none of the villains in this issue discussed that important revelation.

What the villains in this comic do discuss in detail is territory. Arkham War appears to have quite a lot in common with the 1999 Batman event No Man’s Land in that it’s about a ruined Gotham that’s been divided between rival gangs led by various members of the rogues gallery. However, this time there doesn’t appear to be any gangs of civilians supporting one another or a tribe made up of the GCPD or members of the Batfamily. We see some cops, but they aren’t doing anywhere near as well as those we saw in No Man’s Land. There aren’t any good guys, only villains and victims so far. It’s No Batman’s Land.

In addition to an explanation of the divided landscape (which you’ll already be up-to-date on if you read most of the Bat-Villains Month comics) we also see the destruction of Gotham’s bridges, thus cutting the city off from the rest of the world. If that sounds similar to The Dark Knight Rises, it should. TDKR borrowed quite a few elements from No Man’s Land. Both works even had Batman’s return to the city take place at the Gotham equivalent of the Brooklyn Bridge. The borrowing comes full circle in Arkham War though as the story opens with a scene very reminiscent of TDKR’s climax in which the GCPD and Bane’s mercenaries charge at one another and battle in the streets. Interestingly, we see that the T-For Teen comic book can do what the PG-13 movie could not and that’s have the combatants actually shoot and stab one another rather than display a crowd of extras who lose their weapons and halfheartedly take swings at one another.

WarInTheStreetsTDKR

Speaking of The Dark Knight Rises, I found it almost impossible to not hear Tom Hardy’s voice

Spoiler
(I loved the moment when he killed the guard and said “Would you like to be free also?”)
while reading Bane’s dialogue. The villain plays a very large role in this issue and it seems clear that writer Peter J. Tomasi is definitely channeling the Nolan interpretation of the character, who is leading an army into the city to conquer it all for himself (a plan he had in motion before Forever Evil even began, a sign of just how confident and bad-ass Bane is– see Talon #7 and on). Numerous other villains also make appearances, many of them as cameos. even The White Rabbit shows up inside of Black Gate prison, but I found that to be confusing and unnecessary (I hated that character). You see, she’s a villain that was never actually apprehended so I’m unclear as to why she would be in Blackgate unless she decided to teleport there just to add to the chaos (yes, she can teleport, don’t ask).

Besides Bane, the baddies who play the largest role in this chapter are Scarecrow, Penguin, and, surprisingly, Professor Pyg. Pyg is a creation of Grant Morrison’s from the original run of Batman & Robin and who has recently made appearances on the TV series Beware the Batman albeit in a much more kid-friendly depiction that doesn’t mutilate bodies or lobotomize his henchmen. These villains are all used very well, but I found that Pyg’s dialogue should be more shaky, disjointed, and downright incoherent (he was even fond of oinking and slobbering from time to time in previous appearances). His actions certainly come off as unhinged, but his way of speaking has always made that point loud and clear as well. Tomasi’s Pyg certainly shows off some demented behavior but his words lack that unsettling quality that Morrison originally brought to the character. Admittedly, the letterer could do wonders for this by simply adding a little quiver to the speech bubbles or varying the size of the lettering here and there. Here’s an image from Batman & Robin for example:

PygCrazy

The overall story of Arkham War #1 doesn’t take us very far. If you read such Villains Month titles as Scarecrow #1, Bane #1, or Two-Face #1 (all written by Peter Tomasi) then Arkham War #1 won’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. It’s basically an enjoyable recap of all the exposition those other books contained but with added cameos of popular villains and much bigger action.

As for the imagery within Arkham War #1, it’s a nice looking issue. Scott Eaton has a style akin to that of Jason Fabok, who drew the cover. Eaton’s splash pages such as the one of Black Gate Penitentiary and Bane standing before a couple of subdued Doll-o-Trons are especially stunning, but it’s the brief fight scenes that show the most promise. As I said earlier, the battle in the streets between the cops and mercenaries is absolutely brutal and if that’s any sign of what’s to come when the real war begins then we’re all in for a real treat. However, there was one shot of Bane booting an inmate at Blackgate that looked slightly awkward as if the perspective was off, Scarecrow’s look was somewhat inconsistent, and there was one page that showcased the different villain territories in every panel and there was one that only seemed to feature a purple hue to distinguish it from the rest. I was unclear as to who that was supposed to belong to. Who rules Purple-town? Besides that setting, I much enjoyed the backdrops of other scenes such as the hospital. The way Eaton drew the scene between Pyg and a certain violinist was perfectly paced horror material and it reminds us just how looney Pyg is, but it’s Eaton’s illustration of the massacre outside the hospital that drives the point home that Pyg is more than just a psycho, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

Recommended If…

  • No Man’s Land is one of your favorite events
  • You’re enjoying Forever Evil
  • You like Bane, Scarecrow, Penguin, and Professor Pyg
  • You want to play “Name that Villain” with Jason Fabok’s awesome cover

Overall

It’s very derivative of No Man’s Land and even The Dark Knight Rises (which borrowed many elements from No Man’s Land itself) but it’s quite a bit of fun and really well illustrated. However, I do wish more actually happened in this issue as it mostly recaps all the Arkham War setup we saw in various Villains Month issues like Scarecrow #1.

SCORE: 8/10