For those out of the loop, Joker War was a mixed bag of a story wherein Joker destroys Arkham Asylum and murders most inmates and caretakers. Thankfully, you really don’t need to read Joker War to find out what happens to the few people that survived that story. Arkham City: The Order of the World is an absolute gem that takes the premise of Joker War and runs with it! You follow Dr. Jacosta Joy as she tries to herd the likes of Mad Hatter, Ten-Eyed Man, Solomon Grundy (and more!) back to safety where they can’t hurt others or themselves.
What I love most of all from this mini-series is the new perception it gave me of Gotham. The themes of the story (written by Dan ) and the artists (Dani, Dave Stewart and Aditya Badikar) take the destruction of Arkham Asylum as an opportunity to give a new avenue for justice. Instead of a crime fighter committed to capturing villains because of the tragic death of his parents in an alleyway, we are treated to the familiar face of the law and the inflamed figure of Azrael who mercilessly persecutes the fleeing inmates. Justice is no longer a caped crusader hoping to accomplish something good in a twisted world but is instead actively endangering the lives of people that are portrayed as (relatively) innocent. I’m a big fan of how the hero of the story really shines through as Dr. Jacosta Joy pursues an alternative to the violence of Azrael (and the police) by making it her mission to rehabilitate and heal the escapees of Arkham Asylum. Her desperation reflects that of the inmates she tries to take care of and the writer does a great job of making her spiral into madness seem like the natural conclusion to her prolonged exposure to it.
Dr. Jacosta Joy’s arc also ties into another way that my view of Gotham has changed. With Arkham Asylum no longer physically existing, Arkham City: The Order of the World really emphasize the idea that it has become a part of Gotham itself. The way this shapes the character dynamics sets this comic apart from other Batman stories I’ve read so far and presents a unique understanding of a world that had been simplified into a perpetual fight between good and evil. You will see some villains going back to the routine of evil-doing but what’s really refreshing to me is that most of the villains are actually in a constant state of self-preservation. The villains that run away and hide are feeling the fear that they had inflicted on the inhabitants of Gotham and this really adds a layer of humanity to some characters.
What about the art? Well, it’s stunning. I would honestly recommend this story for the art alone but rest assured the art is actively elevating an already engaging story. The stylized details in each panel add humanity to every character and make the world feel at once personal and revolting, like a familiar Gotham we realize we had only ever seen from a distance. Dani and Dave Stewart’s rendition of Gotham reminds me of the grimy aesthetic of Batman: The Cult while particular characters like Double-X bring a breath of fresh air as their light colors and rigid lines heavily contrast the murky world around them. The art does a great job of letting the humanity of each character feel fleshed out and visually appealing despite its dark tones and grimy feel.
The lettering adds onto the personality of each character as the speech bubbles and internal monologues each get their own unique and incredibly fitting aesthetic. The wandering eyes circling Ten-Eyed Man’s cryptic speech makes it obvious that he’s talking but also oozes with personality like the character is somehow watching you read his speech bubbles. The neat notes scribbled into a notepad work well to let us keep track of Dr. Joy’s inner thoughts as she attempts to unravel the mystery by our side.
My major criticism of the mini-series, that I don’t think should stop you from buying it, comes towards the second half of the story. The first half does an amazing job of introducing each character in a chase-like sequence while also involving the previously explored character. The early pacing is riveting and smooth while the second half, even though the characters are all together, fails to keep up the incredible pacing that I had come to expect. The second half does have a very redeeming end to the mystery that I hope y’all will enjoy as much as I did and I did feel very satisfied after reading the entire mini-series. After the story and art did so much to make each character feel unique, interesting and surprisingly humane I wouldn’t let the jagged pacing of the end distract you from a story that I will be happily re-reading far into the future!
-You love a satisfying twist
-A story that tackles our perception of insanity intrigues you
-You want to collect incredible art
Overall: Even though the final issue or two might not have the same incredible pacing as the previous issues, Arkham City: Order of the World is absolutely worth your while. From the art, to the colors, to the lettering to the character dynamics, this six-issue series possesses the grace and flexibility of Robin the Boy Wonder.