Shadows Of The Bat continues to create new mysteries while poking at the darkness that surrounds the shining new Arkham Tower, building more and more to the eventual collapse we’ve already been witness to. Stellar artwork and great depth of character are major selling points to this already truly fascinating and engaging event story.
Arkham is a name that comes with a lot of darkness and expectations for bad things when it comes to the various titles of the Bat-line over the many decades the place has existed. Now that a new Arkham has risen in the twelve-part Shadows Of The Bat storyline in Detective Comics, that darkness and those expectations are front and center once more.
When this new Arkham began to pop up in conversations through this series, its backup stories, and other books a lot of the focus was on how the last Arkham was a constant failure. Rather than spend too much time trying to convince us the readers that this Arkham would be different, Mariko Tamaki swerved right into those expectations in the first issue showcasing how in the near future of this story it would all come crumbling down in a dire and fatal way.
The fact that this issue and the last both are heavily setting up why it will fail is a great choice in my opinion. Especially since Tamaki also avoided the usual idea that would have seen the book try and convince us that this mysterious Doctor Wear might actually not be the bad guy we assume, by just outright showing in these issues that he is very much a bad person. Taking his own tragedy of his mother’s mental health issues, he directed his anger against those with mental health issues and is shown here to be using this new tower and its mysterious nondrug “remedy” (that sees even the most hardened killers rendered almost childlike) as a way to bilk money out of the Mayor and the city.
All of this storyline is fascinating to see play out, but it’s the bevy of characters that are popping in and out with their own plotlines and motivations that are really making this sing. Tamaki captures all their voices perfectly and writes the relationships between many of the Bat-family characters so well. I would honestly not mind seeing this stay a Bat-family-focused book even after Batman makes his eventual full return to Gotham City in the likely near future.
Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson are just doing stellar work with this book week after week, with this being their penultimate issue for their part on art within this massive weekly event. There is such fluid energy to Reis’s work that is amplified and given even more weight by Miki’s inks. Reis also has such a good sensibility about paneling, that allows each page to have its own look in a way, allowing for shifts in how the panels are laid out or what types of panels we have (full shots, closeups, mini establishing shots, etc).
Overall, the horror/ominous aspect is kept up here, even in the brighter pages. Arkham Tower itself in the lead-up to its failure is brighter and made to appear ‘warmer’ but the shadows and uses of black space help to remind that there is a dark energy permeating the place despite appearances. At the same time, there are so many eye-catching bright popping colors that are just a feast for the eyes, hitting all the right notes for comic books.
Ariana Maher always looks to be having absolute fun when she handles a book’s lettering because that energy is apparent on all the pages. There are the colorful bits of dialogue or SFX that show this, but there are also other often time overlooked bits of emphasizing that are done. To me it stands out, in a good way, when letterers make sure to do things like having font sizes grow or shrink or change in some way to indicate when people are whispering/lowering their voices or yelling/raising their voices. In the grand scheme, it’s a little thing, but it’s a little thing that speaks volumes and makes things have more real weight to them in my opinion.
While the main story is showing some major flaws of Gotham through Arkham itself, in the continuing ‘House of Gotham’ backup stories we get another view on how it’s broken. Choosing to showcase the flaws of Gotham from the point of view of a young man whose entire life was upended by an encounter with the Joker and Batman was a smart move.
I truly appreciate that Matthew Rosenberg is using this a way to play with a variety of the various characters, allies and enemies alike, around Batman but in logical ways rather than as just gratuitous cameos. Last issue we got Doctor Harleen Quinzel at Arkham, and this issue we a Doctor Jonathan Crane who is early into his role as Scarecrow. We’re getting to see the obsessiveness of these rogues and much of this city through fresh eyes, but eyes that are attached to someone that still is trying to process how they got to this point.
Fernando Blanco and Jordie Bellaire keep leveling up with each story that they do together. There is a ton of darkness to be found here, but there are pages that bring to life nightmares and fears that are just trippy and horrifying and gorgeous all at the same time. The heavy use of green to depict the fear gas and the nightmares is a great touch. Even in the brighter daytime panels, there is the looming presence of darkness, especially when concerning the unnamed boy that is our protagonist here, as he is continuously manipulated around this world by the whims of others.
Rob Leigh brings more creepy horror energy to the various pages, especially around Crane himself when he’s Scarecrow, through the lettering. Jagged broken bubble shapes, colorful filters over those bubbles, fonts that grow and shrink or change, all add to the atmosphere in great ways. We can feel the fear and rage and other emotions that are radiating off the page even more.
Detective Comics #1049 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.