Thursday, June 6, 2013

Batman: Arkham Unhinged #2 (Comic)

Last month, I began reviewing the Arkham Unhinged series of tie-ins for Batman: Arkham City. The first issue left good impressions when I first read it last year, but I knew that I was going to keep buying the physical print issues no matter what. This leads me to my review of the second issue, in which I will try not to discuss how it compares to the first issue, but rather review it as a story on its own. Having reread it though, I noticed that while it did make some connections to previously reviewed material, it manages to do something different, though not entirely well.

The story this time, titled "Observations", concerns Commissioner Gordon, as seen on the cover (I didn't mention this last time, but if you notice from here on out, you can tell who will have the issue's focus based solely on the cover art). This time, there is a framing device in which Batman and Gordon are on a familiar roof discussing what they've managed to find out about Hugo Strange and his involvement with Arkham City. Since the story is laid out in this fashion, I found it to be a nice attempt at something different. The book not only manages to tell this story well, but does so without violating any previous established continuity, including a callback to the Arkham City digital material and what is basically an extension of the events of the first Arkham Unhinged issue. Derek Fridolfs manages to do a pretty good job once again within the limitations he is given.

Where this book begins to fall apart however is the interior art. The pencils and inks for the issue were done by Brian Ching and John Livesay respectively, and while it seems like they have an idea of what they're doing, it seems their combined skill can't even match Mark S. Miller (though I didn't really expect them to). The art seems to have a sort of webcomic feel to it, since the construction of each character's heads actually feels a bit off when they aren't conveniently covered up by a mask, as with the Tyger Guards, or cowl, as with Batman. Unfortunately, the problems don't stop there. As I went through the story, and through skimming through an additional time, I couldn't help but notice that Ching seems to have a problem with drawing eyes and mouths, since I only counted about eight panels with visible eyeballs and fewer with open mouths that weren't just parted lips. It kind of gives the feeling that the characters are speaking even though their mouths are closed the whole time (try to say "They've been thorough." without opening your mouth and you'll understand), as well as how clever Ching is in trying to hide what he can't draw, since when he does draw an open mouth he's pretty bad at it. There are specific panels where a bit of structural genius shines through, but those are few and far between, especially considering that there are a couple where Gordon's cigarette seems to float between his fingers and another where the fingers appear to be broken to fit a certain position. Livesay's inks and Tony AviƱa's colors do a good job of making everything look better, but they can only do so much to salvage it.

While Derek Fridolfs continues to tell a pretty interesting story, it is the art that becomes the weak link. Thanks to the pencils, the art has some noticeable patterns in demonstrating what the artist can't do, and yet it is clear that Ching can do a layout pretty well. Though this issue is overall not as good as the first, it's still worth picking up for some nice background information on the events before the start of the game.

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