I owe a lot to Arkham Asylum.
That can be taken in a few different ways. I owe a lot to the video game, of course – probably one of my favourite pieces of Batman media ever, and probably the game I’ve replayed the most times in my entire life. I also owe a lot to the book it’s loosely adapting, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. I didn’t read it until recently, but I now understand how popular and influential a book it has been since its release – and that popularity is clear when you look at the branding for Arkham City: The Order of the World. Knowing nothing about the book but its advertisements and cover, you’d easily be tricked into thinking this is some kind of continuation of Morrison’s graphic novel.
For the record, it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good – in fact, it’s probably one of the most interesting debut issues DC has released in some time.
When I say I owe a lot to Arkham Asylum, I also mean the concept of the institute itself: home to some of comic books’ greatest villains and madmen, and possibly one of DC’s biggest creative goldmines. It says a lot that this location is so iconic, because Asylums themselves are now an incredibly outdated concept. It’s in this anachronism where Order of the World thrives: pointing out the cracks that lie within an outdated criminal system, while still acknowledging how little we truly know about the “damaged” mind.
For those of you who want a basic rundown: Order of the World is written by Dan Watters (Lucifer, Home Sick Pilots) and pencilled by Dani (whose work in the Miracle Molly one-shot earned the book a 10/10!). It stars a character known as Jocasta Joy, a newcomer to the world of Gotham who remains the last operating doctor from the wreckage of Arkham Asylum, after the events of Infinite Frontier. Basically, it’s her mission to find and recapture several of the facility’s escaped inmates, attempting to do so without incurring the wrath of the police force or the scrutiny of the media.
This premise almost seems like what you’d get out of a procedural drama within the world of Gotham – and I’d be concerned by that if Gotham Central didn’t prove how excellent that concept can be if used in the right way. Here, it’s a vessel for showcasing corners of Batman’s world we don’t necessarily get to see as much! From Professor Pyg to Doctor Phosphorus, from Mad Hatter to even characters such as Double X; Order of the World sets itself up to be a showcase of what it means to be a mentally ill criminal in the world of Batman, and how that doesn’t always mean the same thing as “villain”.
Jocasta has potential, and I’m excited to see how the other villains (and Azrael!) play into the story – but the highlight of issue #1 has to be Ten-Eyed Man. We’ve seen some interesting depictions of the character before, but I think that this approach to him has to be the best yet: he embodies a level of creepiness and acrobaticism that seems distinctly unique to him, especially when complimented by a personality that almost makes him out to be the protagonist of the comic. Almost.
Honestly, conceptually this book is right up my alley – it’s only really minor things that hold up my complete enjoyment of this book. Detective Stone hasn’t really sold me on his character yet, and I didn’t adore how Watters wrote the character of Ratcatcher in the beginning of the story. I understand why one might need an example of how Doctor Joy handles talking to her patients, but the repetition of his “squeaking” made his portrayal seem somewhat like that of a generic madman, which doesn’t line up with how he was written in Second Son only a few months ago. Still, these aren’t major complaints, and they’re easily overlooked in the face of what the book does right.
One of the things the book does truly right is the artwork. Dani is a superstar of an illustrator, and what’s great about her work in this book is how much she gets to flex. Drawing characters you’ll see every day is a skill in and unto itself, but drawing supervillains gives an artist a certain level of creative freedom. It’s a treat to admire the spindly limbs of Ten-Eyed Man flailing about, shortly before comparing them to the short blocky silhouette of Mad Hatter, running through the sewers.
While I don’t think Dave Stewart’s colours work all the time here, there are moments when they really add to the mood of a scene – probably to greatest effect during the establishing shot of Arkham I already showed you, the teals painting a sad and lonely picture of what is typically a house of horrors. Dani and Stewart work perfectly together in this moment, giving the buildings a ghostly quality, which circles back to one of the many subplots Watters introduces in the issue. There’s a lot going on here, and all of it’s good.
(Runner-up for best panel might have to be this one of Professor Pyg, though. God, I hope they do this guy justice.)
- You want to see the weirder side of Gotham.
- D-List villains like Ten-Eyed Man are up your alley! I think Joker’s Daughter is in this too, and I’m… curious, to say the least, about how they’ll handle her.
- You’re looking for a Batman story that isn’t tied down by events – from what I can tell, this is going to stand on its own.
It’s hard to say if this is the best opening to a new series that I’ve reviewed, but I think I can safely say it’s the most promising. With a unique and captivating premise, an artstyle that knows how to be charming and distinct, and a cast of characters that have a lot of different things to offer, this series is shaping up to be a very fascinating creature. It’s got me excited for the next issue, and I’m keen to see if the creative team can hit their stride and truly tame this beast of a comic.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch