Comic Review: 'Batman: Arkham City'

Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady and WB Games' fabulous follow up to 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum, hinges on a very irrational idea: relocating the former island-based asylum to a sizable portion of Gotham City in which the inmates would be left to their own devices an open-air prison.  Writer Paul Dini and artist Carlos D'Anda, as well as a few others, detail the events that lead to the creation of the savage prison in the 5 issue miniseries Batman: Arkham City, which DC has finally collected into one hardcover volume.  Does it reach the mile-high standards set by the games?  Find out after the break.

As I already detailed in my impressions of the first issue months ago, Arkham City sees Arkham Asylum's warden Quincy Sharp rising to political power in the wake of the Arkham Asylum incident, eventually becoming the mayor of Gotham City.  The Joker is no less affected by the incident, with the overdose of Titan that he took to battle Batman slowly killing him.  With the crime situation in Gotham being as terrible as it always has been, it takes a Titan-fueled terrorist attack by a pair of Two-Face's henchmen on Gotham city hall to finally push Sharp—and his shadowy puppet master—to put Gotham under martial law and convert a portion of the city into a combined prison for the lunatics of Arkham Asylum as well as the more "normal" criminals of Blackgate Prison.  Batman, working in the open as Bruce Wayne as well as behind the scenes as the Dark Knight, tries to make sense of how and why all of this is happening.  What he finds is Hugo Strange, who has his own motivations for trying to open Arkham City.

If there's one complaint to be leveled against the Arkham City comic, it's that there are really no surprises.  Once the shocking act of the attack on city hall is out of the way, the remaining issues of the series unfold exactly how you would imagine they would.  However, Dini's indirect interaction between Batman and Hugo Strange is fantastic, bringing to mind Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty in their chess-like game of wits.  Every attempt by Wayne/Batman to undermine Strange and his nebulous scheme is countered by a bold move on Strange's part.  The ending of the series is chilling in its simplicity: Strange explaining how he's manipulated virtually everyone in Arkham City's walls to the perfect position to execute his master plan without them even realizing it.  It shows just how truly brilliant—and dangerous—he truly is.

The whole thing is so well written and drawn overall that it's easy to forgive the few hiccups that occur during the story's run.  Dini's dialogue, while usually snappy and satisfying, occasionally hits a rough patch ("You idiots!  Gotham City grovels to crime!") and there are some stretches in the story that feel a little decompressed for the sake of keeping the series running for a full five issues.  However, the overall flow is still intriguing and swift enough to keep readers glued.

The artwork, by Carlos D'Anda, helps as well, offering just enough anatomical realism to keep the characters grounded but still with enough of a cartoony edge to pull off some of the more absurd moments well.  The Titan-riddled "T&T" for example, look absurd, but no less dangerous for it and his rendition of the Joker, with his rubbery facial expressions belying the fact that he is a dying man, is a joy to behold.  The end of the book also holds a wealth of concept art from the video game, which show several rejected but no less intriguing designs.

The same can't necessarily be said of the additional Digital Chapters, which vary wildly in the quality of their presentation.  These bite-sized vignettes expand further on certain aspects of the story, such as Strange's hunt for officers to fill out the ranks of his Tyger guards or the Riddler returning to his hideout to torment Batman.  While they fill in some interesting backstory elements, they never feel particularly necessary to the plot at large, and the art—handled by an assortment of artists—never quite has the same punch as D'Anda's. 

Ultimately Batman: Arkham City, just like its video game namesake, is a satisfying and intense experience.  It never hits the same sense of epic scale as the game, but it fills in a rather meaty portion of backstory that fans will find intriguing, especially with the brilliant back-and-forth between Batman and Hugo Strange.