The old Arkham Asylum, an institution for dangerous criminals has been renovated by the new owner Jeremiah Arkham, the nephew of the original owner Amadeus Arkham. He plans to bury the the past concerning his uncle and begins new treatment for the inmates. While going on his daily run he comes upon his newest patient in shackles... Batman. -summary
Being one of DC's bread and butter characters, and no doubt their hottest character around this point and even up to this very day. Batman was set to receive another long running series in the form of Shadow of the Bat. When looking at the reception of Legends of the Dark Knight, it really wasn't a surprise. Shadow of the Bat got off to a very good start with the four part series The Last Arkham. This story is mainly remembered for the debuts of two characters in the Batman universe being Jeremiah Arkham, who would make a larger impact later on, and the sinister serial killer Zsasz; a man who is so consumed by evil and the need to kill anyone who crosses his path, that Batman (much later) once stated that he hates him more than any other lunatic he has ever come across. Very harsh words when looking at the Joker as his number one nemesis. This trade paperback collects the four part story and was written by Alan Grant.
The plot follows Batman being locked up in Arkham Asylum. He's being accused of snapping on a murder scene and killing a police officer. Arkham doesn't seem the least bit surprised with this all of a sudden change in behavior, since he believes that Batman walks a thin line between sane and insane anyway. I mean after all; how can a man who dresses up like a flying rat be all together up there? The initial story has a whole lot of potential into becoming a completely different Batman story. However, Batman being a murderer becomes very hard to buy into fast, not because we all know Batman wouldn't go that far, but once you learn more on what's going on, there's just no way to find this story even half way believable. Now does this make the overall story bad? Not at all, Alan Grant manages to turn this unbelievable tale into a thrilling and suspense-filled ride, by delivering the usual Batman mystery.
There happens to be a killer loose in Gotham, who's M.O. fits the serial killer Zsasz.. But he's locked up in Arkham Asylum and everyone knows this for a fact, Batman saw him there for sure. The only possibility could be a copy-cat killer. Batman doesn't believe this at all and it just has to be Zsasz.. The question that's burning him up is; how is he able to do it?
Grant does a well enough job in keeping the reader in the dark with the stories suspense, along with some very good character interactions and the occasional action scenes, but it's the character development I think is the strongest. Jeremiah appears to be a man obsessed with what he's doing. The reader will get a good look on how he handles his inmates through some brutal treatments, such as subjecting the Scarecrow through his own fear tactics, by creating holograms of his fear which happens to be attacking birds. When looking at the crimes that were committed by these villains, it's very hard to feel sorry for any of them. I only wish this part was a little more developed. He also comes off very narcissistic and this plays into the story as well, explaining what some may believe to be plot holes. Zsasz is built up just as well. He's a cold blooded killer; he kills his victims by slitting their throats and sitting them up as if they're still alive, and making him even more psychotic, he scars his own body with tallies to keep a victim count, with intentions on reminding himself that he's still only human. He also appears to have a very sound criminal intellect by staying steps ahead of Batman. Nightwing makes an appearance here that doesn't feel forced at all, and it was also an early clue that there was no way Batman could be a murderer. Batman is developed pretty well too, by using whatever tactics he has to in order to solve this murder case.
The story rides the coattails of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth. It acknowledges that story by displaying Amadeus's journal and the fact he was taken over by the madness. There's always that possibility that Jeremiah will follow his uncle's path and this plays into the story as well. I can see this as a plot hole in some ways, because I recall Amadeus being the only child, so I don't know where this nephew came from, and this may bother some if they prefer their stories to be completely wire tight.
Norm Breyfogle's artwork is entertaining when delivering the action panels. There are some good moments with Batman fighting off other inmates and Robin battling against two-bit hoods. The murders are left up to the imagination, with only the aftermath being displayed, such as a couple left murdered while playing a chess game. Zsasz has quite possibly the sickest character design I seen for a character, with his body having scores of tallied up scars, from his shoulders down to his feet. My only issue with the artwork would be some of the coloring. Perhaps the use of one solid color was meant to add to the grittiness of the story. I kind of found it to be on the lazy side since it was used frequently. It almost seems as if Breyfogle heavily chose the color yellow because that was all he had at his disposal. I'll give credit to the dialog, which happens to be another strength here, that really works in developing both Zsasz and Arkham.
Stories like these that heavily utilize the thriller aspect are the best fit for Batman, when considering that he's the most human of all superheroes, and taking on serial killers is right up his alley. Alan Grant did a nice job here maintaining a fine balance with your basic comic escapism and reality. The story also receives more points due to being newbie friendly, as it doesn't require any backstory whatsoever. If you're a casual comic fan searching for something to just dive into, this would be a fantastic Batman story for you.
Other recommended newbie friendly Batman works:
Batman Year One
Batman: The Wrath
Batman: The Killing Joke
-Easy to get into, well paced, interesting characters
-Backgrounds and coloring feels rushed
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