It’s still winter at Arkham Manor even though I believe we’ve moved well into Spring already in the other Bat Books. It requires a few mental gymnastics to return to this title and try to unthink where the rest of the stories have gotten to because we’re living in the past here: Joker has just shed his Eric Border identity, but not yet revealed himself to Batman. We’re still somewhere in the Batman Eternal timeline, but heck if I know where precisely. One clue is a discarded Christmas tree in a waste basket in the opening scene. It feels like an oddly particular detail, but there you have it. Continuity craziness shouldn’t ruin your experience of enjoying this book, anyway, so let’s get to it!

Last we saw, Joker had unleashed a toothy laughing blob called Clownface (a jokerized vestige of Clayface).  Once Bruce encounters it gobbling up Arkham inmates, he acknowledges that he’s well in over his head. He needs to get back to the Batcave to effectively deal with the killer in the walls, but first he’s got this new gooey problem with which to contend. The issue follows his plan for neutralizing Clownface as well as escaping from Arkham.

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Serious nightmare fuel

The Good

Pitting Jack Shaw and Mister Freeze against Joker’s monstrous leavings is logical and fun–it works completely despite a lot of distracting details flying around this as the central action. The book also made me really hungry for ice cream.

Shawn Crystal’s art captures the ickyiness of Clayface, and even though his snow looks a little like whipped cream, the soft luscious folds work. I’m not entirely sure why Bruce has an angel of death out in the yard, but the statue or grave marker or whatever it’s supposed to be is pretty cool. Also, Batman shaves. No more prickly kiwi chin!

Travis Lanham is again worthy of a nod: perhaps in collaboration with Duggan, there are some really great lettering moments. My favorite ones are the slurpy Clownface sounds that are “written” in fashion that mimics his composition (stretchy and gooey) as well as his (its?) word balloons that likewise follow in that fashion. And on page twelve is a “Skrabamshk” which, I believe, may be the only one of its kind.

Other particular moments I especially enjoyed:

  • That image, above, of Clownface chewing around the bars of the window (super freaky-weird-wonderful).
  • Mister Freeze! Rambling around as a robot, eating ice cream, and making snow angels. I’ve always found Freeze to be one of Batman’s most sympathetic rogues and Duggan writes him as funny and strange.
  • Hush.
Spoiler
I laughed at Hush’s brief cameo so hard (I know, I have a dumb sense of humor), but just the way he looked: like a bandaged Mr. Potato Head lamenting that sprawled-looking, knifed turkey dinner.

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Such a sad panda

Random fun observation: look at the cover above (which is the version used for the solicit). The actual cover shows Jack Shaw reflected in the pool of blood. I like those little misdirects that try to help keep some of the mystery intact.

The Bad

I feel like the storytelling is a little sloppy and disappointing outside of the Clownface thing. Dr. Arkham is the worst, most ineffectual hospital administrator that ever lived, the staff is the most incompetent ever hired, the “rules” surrounding Freeze’s tolerance for temperatures above freezing feel muddy, there seem to be a lot of non-crazy patients brought to Arkham for reasons not explained (the guy Batman beat up from issue no. 1), and also a lot of random stuff going on that I am feeling doubtful will get resolved within this series (Silverlock, I’m looking at you, girl).

To be sure (and I believe I said this before), this isn’t the book about Arkham Asylum that I was really hoping for (a serious take on the problem of Gotham’s hospital for the criminally insane). But it also seems to be unravelling even within its own framework. I believe this may be deliberate based on the direction that the storyline is going, but I still can’t help feel like it’s a bit facile and starting to get silly.

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Nevertheless, it’s time spent in good company

The Ugly

After reading this, I wondered about DC’s plans for it in the future? Collect it into a trade? I feel like it would need so many editorial notes to even make sense. A reader picking it up divorced from Batman Eternal (and even the main Batman title to some degree) might have a frustrating experience with it. That said, it’s entertaining and has its own throughline. I just find myself distracted by the purpose of it all and I’m pretty sure that’s not what DC had in mind.

Recommended If…

  • Victor Fries is one of your favorite Gotham denizens.
  • You want to see what laughing toothpaste with teeth might look like (it’s a bit unsettling).
  • You’re on board for the haul seeing as this is a mini-series and we’re more than halfway through it.

Overall

There were a lot of things I felt nitpicky about with regard to this issue, but even so, when all is read and said, I enjoyed this very much. I’m anxious to get to the killer in the walls (we’ll definitely get a reveal next issue, I’m guessing), but it was also fun to see Jack Shaw team-up with Mister Freeze against Clownface. And getting Batman back in costume is great too. So even though this might go down as one of Batman’s more inexplicable (and convoluted ) spin-off adventures, the style and storytelling have definitely made a mark.

SCORE: 7.5/10