Thursday, January 24, 2013

Batman: Arkham City (Comic)

In our endeavor to review comic book tie-ins to video games, I immediately knew exactly what I should be trying to talk about, only to unfortunately never get around to actually doing it until now: Batman. Batman is one of my favorite heroes and not only have I played both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but I've also been keeping up with the comics that tie into the latter (as well as reading Scott Snyder's run on Batman, a New 52 title that I highly recommend). While I had been planning to cover these comics for the longest time, I will now, beginning with this post, finally discuss my opinions of these works, including how well I feel they fit into the canon presented by the games (it's been a good while since I last played though, so more often than not it may get a free pass if it really doesn't fit and I'm unaware). So with this introduction out of the way, let's begin with the first Batman: Arkham City comic.

Although I own the individual issues of this comic, I will be reviewing it based on the hardback collection since I re-read it from that source.

Following the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Joker is now back in his cell looking back on how Batman had defeated him. Even with Joker back in Arkham though, Batman's not done dealing with the substance known as Titan, as it is currently in use by a brother and sister duo, the Trasks, who were formerly under the command of Two-Face. Batman goes to Two-Face for information about the duo that could help him on this case, which leads him to the ground breaking ceremony of the new Gotham City Hall. While the dark knight is able to stop the Trasks from causing the desired death toll, Mayor Sharp announces the construction of Arkham City, which is to be Arkham Asylum on a larger scale to contain prisoners of both Arkham and Blackgate. Something seems fishy about this, so Batman decides to investigate, uncovering a much grander scheme at work.

This story, penned by Paul Dini, does a really good job at not only bridging the gap between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but also advancing a plot in itself. The time frame jumps forward a little between issues, but there is still a continuing plot that feels like a true Batman story, highlighting the caped crusader's detective skills in a good balance with his fighting prowess. I love how everyone is in character the whole time, no doubt helped by the fact that Dini had written the story for both Arkham games, so while reading the dialogue I could actually imagine the proper voices in my head (the video game cast in this case), even The Joker's. The story does seem written for the trade due to its rather quick pace, but this isn't such that you'd want to curse out the writer, since there is still a bit of story depth to make up for this.

Thankfully, the artwork by Carlos D'Anda, with colors by Gabe Eltaeb is simply fantastic. The style is very consistent and creates an atmosphere a little unique to Batman, which displays the sort of synergy that writers and artists should have more often. I also liked the consistent character designs and proportions for the fact that not only are they consistent with each issue, and for the most part the games, but they also feel more alive. The environments are also impressively detailed and have a certain touch that helps them feel more visually distinct; I know exactly where each character is because it feels like it was mapped out and they stayed true to it. Plus, the effects are applied well, assisting the atmospheric feeling and even complementing the characters that occupy them. Of particular note is a series of splash pages at the end of the final issue that each highlight a certain character, with each position and background seemingly crafted to bring out their unique personalities. The action is coordinated well and I can easily tell how each character is feeling in each scenario.

Cover art for Issue 1.

As for how the issues are laid out in the hardcover, the covers are actually present, which helps to break the action nicely. Personally I feel that for the way the story is written, taking the covers out would have created a terrible way to go between each issue, since time doesn't flow uninterrupted between them. Plus, there's an opportunity to show off the gorgeous cover art by D'Anda and Eltaeb, which are good at hinting at the events of each issue as well as putting emphasis on certain characters and traits.

While I'm discussing the hardcover collection, I'd like to give my thoughts on the included Arkham City Digital Chapters, which were previously collected in a special comic that came with the video game. Since each chapter is only eight pages long, there won't be much to say on them, but I'm doing it anyway. All of them have give the story credit to Paul Dini and script to Derek Fridolfs, except for the last one with complete writing credit to Fridolfs, which helps them all tie in to the game in a way that feels canon. Each story gives the spotlight to a different character, with narration by them to help the reader get into their head: "Hugo Strange" does this for Professor Hugo Strange (obviously); "Cut and Run" with The Carpenter; "Riddle Me" for The Riddler; "Guardian Angel" for Robin (Tim Drake); and "Fall of the Titan" with Bane. I think Fridolfs did a good job in writing these characters and he seems like a good man to trust with this continuity.

But while the characterization for these chapters is all consistent thanks to having a universal writer, it is the art that is different between each of them. The artists, Dustin Nguyen, Ben Herrera, Ted Naifeh, Roger Robinson and Adam Archer for chapters one through five respectively, manage to give each one a unique and appropriate atmosphere, but it is a little more in line with a quality where you can easily say "digital comic" if you look at it. That is not to say that they are bad, it's just that they aren't quite on the same level to me as D'Anda's artwork for the main series; then again, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't supposed to be. The individual styles actually help make each story feel unique and actually showcase each artist pretty well. I can easily see them doing more digital material in the future.

In the end, Batman: Arkham City is an amazing tie-in to a perfect video game. The characters are consistent, the story is suspenseful and the art is simply fantastic. The hardcover collection is also really good at holding it all together and it's nice to have some extra content as well to make the investment feel more worthwhile. If you were to try and get the entire comic right now, I would tell you to buy the hardcover, since you'll also get the digital chapters as a nice addition. Plus, there's also a gallery of concept art for the game in the back as a bonus, which is always fun to look at. The comic is admittedly more written for people who have actually played the game, but fellow Batman fans may get a kick out of it as well; only consider a purchase if you fall into either of those groups.

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