Thursday, May 16, 2013

Batman: Arkham Unhinged #1 (Comic)

Soon after reviewing the amazing Batman: Arkham City video game, I learned of the existence of a tie-in comic called Batman: Arkham Unhinged. I had already read the Batman: Arkham City comic, and later reviewed it, but I was curious enough to pick up this book, especially since I had enjoyed the game and wanted to read the expanded universe. As promised in my review of Batman: Arkham City - End Game, I'm finally going to share my opinion of the Arkham Unhinged material, though I have opted from the start to review each print issue individually. The reason for this is that even though they all have the same writer, each story is pretty self-contained and the artist, and by extension the art quality, varies between issues. Today, we'll be taking a look at Arkham Unhinged #1 to see how well it creates a first impression.

The story of this issue, titled "Inside Job", takes place before the events of the game and, according to the credits, is based on a teleplay by Marly Halpern-Graser. At this point in time, Two-Face and Catwoman are the only criminals who have not yet been taken by Tyger guards to the recently constructed prison known as Arkham City. After Selina Kyle suits up, she receives a call from Harvey Dent, who has decided that she will go to the prison instead of him. Just then, a group of Tyger guards invade her apartment in an attempt to capture her, but she manages to fight back and flee through a window before they are able to react. As she witnesses her wall safe being emptied, she encounters Batman, who plans to take her out of the city. Inside the Batmobile, she decides she'd rather get her stuff back before trying to leave with the masked vigilante.

Inside Job goes at a pretty good pace, wisely spending its 30 pages setting up the background for Catwoman's story in the game proper. As I was reading, I began to understand why Catwoman felt animosity towards Two-Face and why it was important that her side of the story play out the way it did. Though the story was conceived by Marly Halpern-Graser, Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Derek Fridolfs manages to channel their idea into a script that reads pretty well. Everyone's personalities worked well on each panel and I could hear the character's voice actors saying each line, at the same time mentally fitting it neatly with the game proper. In the end, I have no real complaints story-wise and don't really have any major questions about events. The only thing I will say however is that I know it collects three digital issues, and at certain points I could tell where a section might have been from those digital issues, which just gives it the effect of being slightly awkward.

Aside from the good cover art by Dave Wilkins, the interior art by Mark S. Miller, with colors by Gabe Eltaeb, really fits the art style of the games and is great to look at. However, I do have some issues with it. While the characters feel like they do in the games, there are some things that come off as a little awkward and actually feels like it was meant to be a digital comic. Miller's art is definitely meant to work for specific lighting and angles, since sometimes the texture of the lines doesn't seem quite right, like a shot of Hugo Strange where it almost feels a little too smooth. Batman also has a rather awkward pose at one point, which may be good perspective wise, but just feels plain odd with all of the elements that are in the shot; this is to say nothing of the one panel that makes it look like he might have an 8-pack chest (or maybe there are different muscles highlighted as well, I'll admit I'm not an expert when it comes to that).

The majority of my complaints are directed at Catwoman, since she gets the most screen time. Sometimes, her expressions seem a little off, though I can't quite put my finger on why. It's not that they make her unattractive, it's more like they seem a little too expressive (ex. mouth open a little too wide). Then there's her figure. I'll admit, even in this comic she's easily one of the hottest characters in the DC universe; the comic even takes every opportunity it can to show off her cleavage without being spine-breaking in posture (so props for that). Unfortunately, I have something to say that's a little hard for me to admit, but here goes: her breasts seem a little too big. I'm going to ignore that the size is a little different from her appearance in the game, it's more of an issue of practicality regarding her flexibility and stealth. There's one scene that depends on her to drop down from a corner to knock out a Tyger guard, but I think gravity would have made that feat more difficult. Big breasts can be a sign of how powerful a woman is in a fictional universe, at least according to the "Boobs of Steel" trope, but the size just doesn't seem to suit her and I'm a little surprised that no one tried to disarm her by taking advantage of that weak point. But I play stealth games, so what do I know?

Overall, this comic is a pretty good example of what a tie-in comic should do. It uses the characters rather well and gives a solid background for one of the sub-plots in the game proper. However, the art, while commendable, is a little disappointing in some areas. Still, I felt that Mark S. Miller clearly has some real talent and Derek Fridolfs proves that he can write something well for an expanded universe story without Paul Dini (the scriptwriter for both Arkhamverse games). If you've played the game and see this issue either in print or online through a reputable vendor, do yourself a favor and pick it up. I think you'll find the three dollars to be well spent.

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