Arkham’s Curse Reborn: Reviewing ‘Batman: Shadows Of The Bat: The Tower’
by Scott Redmond
A powerhouse team of creators came together to make Shadows of the Bat, an ambitious effort to tell one mega weekly story in one Batman-related title, an emotional, gorgeous, powerful, character development-filled, roller coaster of a ride. There is a fun but dark energy through this book and its ensemble nature and shuffling character spotlight help to make this one of the best Bat-family-related runs we’ve ever gotten.
Within superhero comics, a 12-part storyline, especially a weekly release one, is quite a massive undertaking. There are a number of directions one can take in order to make the story resonate & be as memorable as possible. One route is the slow build where it’s like a full roller coaster that includes the slow ascent up the hill before the drop. Another route is to open the story in the middle of the plot, in media res, which plunges you off that first roller coaster drop from the word go.
Shadows Of The Bat chose a neat variation of that second choice for its roller coaster of a ride.
Gotham’s new Arkham Tower was something that was built up slowly across a handful of issues of Detective Comics, and other books, ahead of this event storyline. This allowed writer Mariko Tamaki to begin in a space where the facility is not only already up and running but the new man in charge, Doctor Wear, is able to showcase the “success” of his facility at the story opens. It being Arkham of course, everything falls into absolute bloody chaos before we turn back the clock and ascend the hill towards this drop once more to see how we got there in the first place.
Tamaki has shown a deft ability to capture the voice/character of so many of the bat family (adding more here like Nightwing) while making a slew of new or newer characters feel just as fleshed out and as important as the ones we’ve known for years. Stories work whether the plot leads or the character leads, but I would contend that the character leading the way enhances the plot to all-new levels. This story would be an example of that.
Truly Doctor Wear is a perfect example to focus on here of how well Tamaki handles the character. From the start, he’s a new character that we suspect because we know something is off at Arkham and he’s so shifty and cagey about how they supposedly help their patients. We’re then shown his eventual path through life to get to the point where we met him and while it’s a dark and terrible path, him being the consummate conman, there are things weaved in to make us potentially feel sympathy for the man and the very grisly end that we saw is waiting for him.
Grounding Psycho-Pirate by focusing on his relationship to Doctor Wear and how they grew up together in Gotham, running cons, is a great touch. It makes the character feel less like an overwhelming über-powered multiversal force and more a guy that has always been in way over his head. We see this visualized by the fact that he is crumbling before our eyes here trying to hold Arkham Tower together, and almost fails. This also sets up the eventual total collapse of the Tower that we already saw is coming thanks to issue one’s flash forward.
This is all the same for the variety of ‘villain’ characters we meet in Arkham, all of them newer or more recently returned characters rather than typical Batman Rogues. This is for the best because it allows Tamaki to do different things she can’t do with the main rogues, but it also allows us to connect more as we know them less. Just like how Batman is very much off the table till the end of this storyline, letting Huntress and Nightwing, and others get a much bigger spotlight as they try and handle themselves and this city in Batman’s absence.Often there is a discussion on social media or forums about cast sizes of books and how many is too many, but truly Tamaki makes it look easy to fill a book with a massive cast and do every single one of them justice along the way, no matter how often they actually show up
A twelve-part storyline like this is one that needs all hands on deck, which brings us three separate art teams that handled four issues of this story each. The team of Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson kick things off, and what a start it is. Reis’s artwork is just electric here as it vividly brings this story to life and exactly fits the tone needed to leap from the slower steadier moments at the start to the more plunging roller coaster moments that dominate the story. He has very realistic feeling energy that still at the same time screams comic books in the best way possible.
I really like the way that the Reis’ panels are set up, not just in the heavy amount of great closeups that allow for some really good facial expression work but in where the panels are positioned. The way they are different sizes and shifted around to allow for a lot of white space (or in this case gray space) is really neat because it makes things stand out more. It feels different in a good way.
Miki’s inks bring such depth to the work, and overall it very much fits the darker more ominous tone that inherently will come with a big Gotham story like this. This is also showcased in the colors that Anderson brings which slide between the shinier brighter ones needed for the first looks at Arkham (which stands out perfectly as the sore thumb among the older-looking parts of Gotham) but then plunge right into darker and haunting and ominous for when things go quite bad.
Max Raynor and Luis Guerrero are a great pairing for this second act of the event, bringing such a fun energy that makes the overall dark events and tone even more effective. Raynor captures so many emotions and moments as there are a vast number of close-up style panels in use, while the paneling work brings the focus tighter and tighter the further the issue goes on and the more things crumble apart.
There is a lot of depth and weight to the world from Raynor, but Guerero’s colors also make sure we don’t forget this is a book in a fantastical world as well as a book taking place in the dark realms that are Gotham. We get a Gotham here that is a beautiful blend of dark and light, with a smattering of bright colors being reserved for the overly bright costumed shenanigans that go down. Bright colors and dark highlighting shadows make it all pop.
I really enjoy the paneling style that Raynor has, especially in some of the more action-packed or out-there pages here. Such as when Psycho-Pirate makes everyone in Arkham Tower sleep and forget after the big riot. It would have been easy to just do the page standard, but instead, Raynor has the panels in a chaotic spiral with Guerrero bringing all the bright reds to the panels as well as the swirl behind them and then the SFX on the page with the words “Forget” spiraling around cap it off.
The third and final portion of the book brings colorist Jordie Bellaire in alongside artist Amancay Nahuelpan to help bring the story towards its giant conclusion. Nahuelpan has a really detailed and smooth style that really captures all the emotions and great body language moments and flows great between the exposition/talking scenes and those that are filled with action. There are a lot of great instances where the panels are laid out to maximize the most out of the frenzied and horror vibes that are high in this particular issue, especially when it comes to the entry of Scarecrow into the story.
There is a reason that Bellaire is one of the best and most well-regarded colorists out there, what she does sets so much of the mood and paints a gorgeous image of any given city or character in question. She has a very visually appealing palette of colors that bring just such a life to Gotham. Lots of darkness and shadows are used to frame things and moments, with the colors being at their peak here.
Greens are vivid greens, same for reds and blues and purples and everything else. Beautifully colorful without losing a bit of detail/reality or impact/grimness. While Bellaire uses a lot of really bright sometimes neon colors to the table at times, allowing them to be like colorful deep filters over things, she also knows when to pull back and let the natural colors and shadows of a place do the same work.
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 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.
I’m a huge fan of when the speech bubbles change color and shape to allow the font within to expand into either big giant letters or logos or anything else that makes them stand out. Just like all the SFX that have their own personality and style that are right up front and part of the scene adding depth to what they are bringing sound to on the page.
Batman: Shadows Of The Bat: The Tower is now available from DC Comics.