Now that we know Arkham Manor is among the titles on the chopping block for March, that casts a whole new perspective on what we’re reading.

I think we all knew going into it that Arkham Manor was going to be a short-range stint. Bruce has to get his house back and return Batman to the status quo (as he always does). Additionally problematic is the continuity between this title, Batman Eternal, and Batman. So while there are murmurings that writer Gerry Duggan was called back to Marvel for an exclusive contract, I think it’s also just as possible that there was never any intention of running this series beyond the end of Batman Eternal.  Regardless, I think it’s been a fun book so far, and knowing it’s so finite makes it easier to review in many ways.

Issue no. 3, titled “Cold Comfort” is, then, the midway point for this 6-issue mini-series.  It does well to amp up the mystery of what’s happening at the Manor, but also sends us reeling in new directions. I’m dropping the big surprises under a cut since many of you who didn’t originally pick up the series might now want to jump on board.

Spoiler

  • Seth Wickham is alive! Somehow I don’t think this was clear in the last issue (drill to the head and all). But he’s survived the attack and now he’s gotten loose and is crazier than ever. Not sure how that works with what amounts to a partial lobotomy, but it’s comics, so let’s roll with it.
  • Eric Border (a.k.a. the Laughing Man) looks to be abandoning the ship. This could be disappointing because it was fun watching him pretend to be the slightly nebbish orderly. It’s also interesting how really obviously he intends to blows the joint (which I am guessing is for the casual reader’s benefit, though I can’t imagine anyone reading Arkham Manor and not knowing what’s going on in the main Batman series). It makes sense to lose the character since the focus should be on the murder mystery anyway and let’s face it, the Joker has a way of stealing every scene (even when he’s not the Joker).  This issue alone was principally about him.
  • The old man in the wheelchair is Clayface! Wait, what? Yes folks, that might officially put him in three places all at once (at least comic-wise; time-wise you’ll have to work it all out yourselves while I recover from the whiplash).
  • Zsasz is not the killer. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the case, but I was startled to see what had become of Zsasz at the killer’s hands. Delightfully gruesome!

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Border nearly breaks character; note the font for “Heh.”

The Good

Naturally just as the story gets really interesting and the setting, characters, and artwork are all coming together nicely, the book is going to conclude just three short months from now, but it’s better to have enjoyed a brief series full of interesting and exciting things than to have nothing at all (more Batman!). There are a lot of things in this issue that I found especially exciting, especially in the realm of the artwork. I admit Shawn Crystal’s style at first took me aback a little: it was so jagged and the characters so blocky and heavy, but this issue he proves he can handle more lithe body types, more facial variety, and more dynamic character posture. I’ve really grown to like his mustachioed Bruce Wayne (oh, sorry: Jack Shaw–don’t want to blow his cover), and Robo-Freeze made me laugh in this issue. It’s also great fun to see Border devolve right before your eyes: he goes from downright heroic to unhinged over a quick span of panels until he’s absolutely unrecognizable as the orderly and emerges fully as himself. I love the line: “I even went out and got my hair done!”

Jack Shaw’s confrontation with the killer within the walls is a great moment both in terms of the story as well as the visuals. The use of long horizontal panels is brilliant as it conveys the claustrophobia of the tight space in which the fight takes place; the characters are walled in with the darkness and when the killer lights up, there’s no escaping the flare.

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Take a breath!

Dave McCaig is, once again, to be commended for his colors throughout: the cool tones of the snowy November exteriors are nicely juxtaposed with the heat of the light inside, and all those sickly yolky-greens in that final scene are spectacularly rotten.

Other favorite moments:

  • Wickham being bit by the rats; not sure what they are setting this character up for, but the whole sinkhole scene was brilliant
  • Zsasz begging for help
    Spoiler
    –where he’s been entombed in the walls. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
  • “Working with crazy people is hard!”

And lastly this one of bit of phenomenal lettering from Travis Lanham:

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It doesn’t get much cooler than that!

The Bad

Clarity in the images continues to be an occasional problem throughout. Bruce’s concussion is conveniently treated by a doctor who looks just like him, who he then knocks out and steals his uniform and keys. Well there’s so much staff lounging around the place (and so little security), it doesn’t seem the physical resemblance was necessary. When Bruce goes to Wickham’s room to continue the investigation, he hides in the shadows while a woman in go-go boots passes out of the room. She must be a weirdly-dressed staff member, but it’s a bizarre moment to say the least. Especially since the woman looks vaguely like another one that was wandering through the hall on the page before. There’s a similar bit of visual confusion when the ambulance arrives at the hospital and the orderly who greets it looks too much like Border.

Speaking of Border: Is Bruce really that duped by Border? That he relies on him as his ally within? And does Border know Jack Shaw is Bruce? We know he knows Bruce is Batman. It feels like he knows Shaw is Bruce (and if he doesn’t, that would be absurd). But then why is he leaving to get Batman’s attention? Oh heck…I’m going to stop asking these questions because I’m not sure they will ever be answered. All that said, I think Lanham missed a huge opportunity to switch over to the Joker’s “voice” in the lettering once he revealed himself.

I love Clownface, but did he strike anyone else as vaguely Farlane-esque? Something about the design was just off-putting, though I suspect that thing will continue to evolve.

The Ugly

While I like the cover of this book by Crystal and McCaig, it’s not really in anyway an accurate depiction of anything going on in this book and you know how I feel about that. If you’re going to draw a provocative picture of Batman scrawling his dead parents on the walls with chalk, I want to see that happening (because it’s frankly a great image, just not a great cover for the contents). Also note: I see that owl, Crystal, are you trying to tell us something?

Shaw comments early on that Dr. Arkham is just as neurotic as his patients and sure enough we see Arkham being kind of a flibberty-jibbet. Not exactly what I was hoping for this character and maybe he’ll grow a pair in the next issues, but it seems like the only person who should ever be in charge of Arkham is someone who can at least put on a good front of total well-adjustment and confident stability. Because, you know, “Working with crazy people is hard!”

Recommended If…

  • You want to see the moment in which Eric Border gives up the game.
  • Now knowing this is a mini-series makes it irresistible (it’s not too late to catch up!)
  • You like to see all-new villains being born (this issue spawns 3 of them! Well, okay, 2 and a half, let’s say).

Overall

Is it too early to be sad to see Arkham Manor go? Despite its finite premise, Duggan is writing a tale that’s got many hairy legs and lots of traction. I’m still crossing my fingers that this book spawns an Arkham Asylum title where we can really explore the problems of running a psychiatric hospital for super-villains, but in the meantime, there’s this and it’s good.

SCORE: 8.5/10