Batman: Arkham Knight #1– “Death of a Rival”
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Illustrated by Viktor Bogdanovic
Inks by Art Thibert
Colored by John Rauch
Letters by Travis Lanham

It’s so very easy for a tie-in comic to become a cash-grab: get a familiar property, write a series that “reveals more of the story” or “expands the universe,” and people will buy it. Sadly, more often than not, these series come off as superfluous fluff that don’t have any actual bearing on the main property, especially those acting as a prequel or lead-in.

It’s oh so much more difficult to write a tie-in comic that is worth reading, let alone good. For every, say, ROM the Space Knight or Injustice: Gods Among Us there are a dozen Scribblenauts or Infinite Crisis: Fight for the Multiverse.

Those that work take the concepts set forth by their source material and build on top of them, using it as fertile ground to tell stories that flesh out characters, locations and events rather than just phoning it in to shill an established property.

Truth be told, it might be a bit too early to tell how effective Arkham Knight will be as a tie-in book, but even in these early stages it has several things going for it making it lean far more toward the latter than the former.

First things first, it has a solid foundation to build off of. The Arkham games had some of the best gameplay ever found in a superhero game, and even if the story in Arkham City went to some places near the end that you can’t really come back from, they still built a fairly well realized world to continue making games and telling stories.

Building off of that, Arkham Knight takes what (little) worked with the previously published companion books, Arkham Unhinged and Arkham City: Endgame, and either completely ignores the rest or twists the circumstances in ways that make them make sense. If you haven’t read either of those books… well, I’d hesitate to use the word “recommend” in this instance, but you could easily skip Unhinged without missing anything. Endgame is a little different, in that the book is actually decent until the last two pages or so, but this story actually borrows pretty heavily from that one. To make it easy on you, just in case you can’t track it down, I’ll sum it up thusly: the Joker is dead, his body has a bounty on it, and Batman goes back to Arkham Asylum to follow up on a clue the Joker left behind.

What struck me most about this book that most others of its ilk lack is that it’s funny. That’s not to say it’s a luagh-a-minute riot, but it doesn’t get bogged down in the Serious Nature of the Circumstances that its predecessors did.

photo 2

Tomasi, no stranger to most comic fans, really breathes some life into this book and adds depth and characterization that could have easily been glossed over. Those panels up there follow a conversation Bruce has with Alfred, and their rapport is as spot-on as you could possibly want it to be. While the games had Alfred and Oracle as guides and not much else (which, to be fair, is about all they could be given the circumstances), Bruce actually interacts with the two of them here that shows just how close of a relationship he has with them. They’re nice little character moments that show that he has a history with them and that they’re his family, not just allies and partners.

The illustration is quite nice, too. The Arkham reimaginings of the characters have been softened and streamlined a bit to flow easier on the page, and Bogdanovic has a good feel of the action inherent in this series. He illustrates the trademark takedowns in a way that make sense on the page, and are just as brutal as they are in the games.

Oww.
Ow.

So far, we’re three installments in, and the limits of the a series like this are there, if not glaringly obvious or to the detriment of the material: the Arkham Knight is hanging out in the background, but we’re not given any more hints to his motivation or characterization; the events of Endgame are for the most part built upon incredibly well to the point that it redeems that book, but there are still a few awkward moments where things don’t quite flow smoothly; and the ending of Arkham City, as great as it was, has left certain characters in spots that won’t be easy to move on from.

All in all, though, this was a great, fun read. Hopefully it doesn’t lose any steam or energy as it leads up to the long-awaited next installment of the Arkham video game series and keeps telling good, entertaining stories to boot.

Recommended if:

  • You’re a fan of the Arkham video games.
  • You’ve read the previous Arkham tie-in comics and want to know more.
  • You just enjoy seeing Batman punch crooks in the face really, really hard.

Overall: There are a few hiccups, but this is far better than a tie-in comic to a video game has an expectation of being.  It’s fun, funny, and fast-paced, building on what works from previous iterations and doing away with what doesn’t to tell a streamlined, gripping story that feels like it’s actually worth reading.

SCORE: 8/10