Is anyone else having trouble keeping their Gotham disaster stories straight? There are two big storylines going on in our bat-titles this month. One is Zero Year, which takes place in the past where Riddler shut down power just as a hurricane blew into town. Then there’s Forever Evil, which takes place in the present, but actually kind of the future since some titles won’t be caught up to that event until 2014. In Forever Evil—seen in Arkham War—we have a massive power outage caused by the Crime Syndicate. All of the heroes are missing, the city is in shambles, and all of the criminals of Arkham and Blackgate have been unleashed on Gotham.
Arkham War is a book I want to love. Seeing the majority of the rogues gallery in one comic in which they’re all at each other’s throats sounds like a great deal of fun and with a good artist like Scot Eaton behind it we should see some cool imagery. But issue #1 was almost entirely a recap of what we saw during villains month and issue #2 is very much a mixed bag from cover to cover. And speaking of the cover, it’s false advertising almost on par with that issue of Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics that showed Batman flying a rocket ship.
In Fabok’s cover we see Bane fighting several Talons among the ruins of Blackgate Prison accompanied by the tagline “Rise of the Talons!” (I hate those taglines, I really wish DC would let the art speak for itself). But in actuality you never see a single Talon throughout this book. And while it’s a very good chapter for Bane, it’s more because this is a return of the character’s cunning and twisted morality, not a showcase of his brutality. Nevertheless, the title is Arkham WAR and in issue #2 war is exactly what you get.
We open with a full page of the experimental henchman Brute ripping a Man-Bat’s winged arm from its socket while shouting a message for the other creatures to deliver to their leader. It looks cool and it’s one hell of a way to kick off the second part of a comic that was rather short on the “war” aspect in the previous installment, but it immediately raises questions for those of us who read all of the bat-titles.
- Since when can Brute speak? Maybe he’s growled a word or two before but he’s always been portrayed as quite mindless in the Talon series
- Where did all of these Man-Bats come from and why would Langstrom align with Jonathan Crane and the Arkhamites? It’s a totally different portrayal than what we saw in Detective Comics AND his solo Villains Month issue which actually took place during the Arkham War timeline. Perhaps it’s a team-up of the scientists! Mr. Fries’ name is mentioned as well.
But if you’re not a stickler for continuity among the dozen or so bat-titles coming out and you’re just wanting to see the sort of action that only a comic can provide then I think you won’t really care about those discrepancies or any others that pop up in this issue. This is feeling more and more like a comic made for fun rather than something that’ll have bearing on the ongoing stories of any of the bat-titles. But while there’s no shortage of popcorn action, I think that the scene that follows will satisfy the crowd that wanted something with more depth to it. I know that for me the main highlight of this issue was a conversation between The Penguin and Bane who both form this mutually fraudulent partnership. Bane offers Penguin protection in exchange for information, but it’s clear that they both know that they’re going to betray one another at some point. It’s a lie agreed upon until either of them sees an opportunity to stab the other in the back, and I like that. I also like how writer Peter Tomasi showed Bane as less of a cold-blooded conqueror in this scene and instead showed off the character’s diplomatic side. Bane may be disgusted by the freaks of Arkham, but he is a strategic mind who understands that there is something to be gained by forming an alliance with Cobblepot, even if it is a fragile one.
After that insightful scene the comic dives right back into violence and cameo country for the remainder of the issue as we see page after page of famous bad guys hitting each other. Much like the pairing of Langstrom and Crane, not all of the guest stars make perfect sense. Two-Face is there when he had essentially told Scarecrow to go **** himself during Villains Month (is he there to gun-down both sides? Dent’s smart enough to have a better plan than that), Clayface is present but I thought he wanted to make a name for himself and stand out from the crowd in his Villains Month book, Poison Ivy is helping out in the fight despite never really being friends with any crook on either side of the war, and Ignatius Ogilvy is still dressing up like the Penguin despite changing his name to Emperor Blackgate and dropping the Penguin shtick in Detective Comics. We also see a large number of Blackgate inmates in the fray, but none of Bane’s mercenaries, which I found odd when you consider the boatload of them that Bane had shipped into town.
Of course, it’s not all villains. Gordon gets some attention, but not nearly enough. He does have a nice monologue about how Gotham has survived earthquakes and plagues (references to classic stories like Cataclysm and Contagion), and there’s also a funny, subtle nod to the fact that comics are published on Wednesdays. But his storyline still remains the weakest of the bunch when really we should care a lot more about his survival and the rescue mission he’s willing to risk his life for. Gotham itself has been turned into a really big set piece for the villains to play in but the cops and average citizens have been neglected and it gives us a city that really doesn’t feel alive the way it did back in the similar No Man’s Land saga. This city should be far more populated than it was in NML, at least in that epic we had an evacuation that got most of the folks out of town.
The artwork by Scott Eaton is all well and good, but the colors and abundant dialogue put a damper on what should be a feast for the eyes. Tomasi over-writes much of the dialogue and jams in too much exposition, which causes giant speech bubbles that prevent Eaton’s pencil from having the space to flourish. As for the colors being a problem, for the most part they aren’t but there were a couple of scenes where I found the choices made to be questionable. The most detailed scenes in the book take place within Blackgate, which is running on emergency lights that are red. Both Eaton and colorist Andrew Dalhouse do their jobs right with this scene, Eaton put a ton of detail into a two-page spread that showcases a very cool fight scene and Dalhouse saturated everything in red, which is what would happen under the intense lights. That’s how thing should be given the context, but by drowning everything out in red and black, Eaton’s pencils just look like noise, a cluttered mess that makes it hard to distinguish what all is happening. And the other coloring mishap was the way Bane’s eyes are illustrated. Eaton draws the mask has having cut-out holes so that we look directly into Bane’s naked eyes, but Dalhouse still colors the eyes as red which gives Bane an otherworldly, glowing gaze that I don’t care for. On another note, fans of TDKR should be happy to see Eaton employing Hardy’s trademark grasping of the vest as he struts about in many panels.
I give this book the slightly above-average score of 6.5-7 or so. There’s some fun to be had here, but it’s not a must-read.
- You love to see a ton of famous villains brawl
- Bane and Penguin rank highly on your list of favorite villains
While there’s definitely more action in this issue, I think what fans will enjoy the most about Arkham War #2 is a particular scene between Bane and Penguin. For the most part, the battles don’t carry much weight and we haven’t seen enough of the motivation behind the team-ups, everything done for the sake of eye-candy. Many characters are used without purpose and merely serve as fan-service cameos to pop up in the background during battle sequences. The actual story hasn’t hooked me yet, but it’s admittedly fun to see Scott Eaton draw Bane vs. Man-Bat or Clayface vs. The Reaper, etc. etc.