Batman: Arkham Reborn (2009)
Writer: David Hine
Penciller: Jeremy Haun
Inker: Jack Purcell, John Lucas
Colorist: John Kalisz, Richard and Tanya Horie, David Baron
Letterer: Pat Brosseau, Sal Cipriano
I have to neglect my quest to expand my comic book knowledge and return to the Batman… simply because I took out nearly a dozen Batman graphic novels from my local library and they’ve just been sitting in my room for a while now.
Also, having been playing a LOT of Arkham Asylum on my Xbox, I’ve become more and more interested in the story of the Asylum. I’ve read a good number of comics that focused on Arkham’s history and its inmates and I have always enjoyed the idea of Arkham Asylum, though there have been plenty of times where I’ve read comics and wondered how it could possibly get funding as there seems to be no social workers or real sense of rehabilitation.
Anyway, I picked up Arkham Reborn without any big expectations. I was surprised, however, and a little embarrassed, by how sad it made me.
It was just a damn dark and depressing storyline, which is one of the things I love about Batman but here, it was just relentless. There was very little Batman in the story at all, which I did not mind, as it focused entirely on Jeremiah Arkham and his attempts to rebuild Arkham Asylum and usher in a new era of positive rehabilitation for its patients. He strives to make the Asylum not a prison for the criminally insane, but a mental health facility.
Overall, the tone and the art of the comic reflected the plotline very well. It was dark and harsh, with Jeremiah’s increasingly damaged inner monologue as the central narrative voice. As always, things are not what they appear to be at Arkham as he attempts to rehabilitate Killer Croc, Clayface, Mr. Freeze and the rest of the traditional gallery of inmates. There seems to be subterfuge, internal sabotage, attempted murders and more shady goings on at the Asylum that Jeremiah cannot explain.
What struck me as sad were the lives and outcomes of some of the patients in the Asylum, especially the Raggedy Man. I feel like in Batman comics, especially more recent ones, the issue of mental illness gets brought up a lot, sometimes in a smart, sensitive, thought-provoking way, or a completely clumsy pop culture influenced understanding of mental illness, most likely gleaned from serial killer movies. While Arkham Reborn is definitely not the best or most accurate exploration of mental illness I have seen in comics, it at least strived to have the reader understand that these villains are simply mental health patients that need rehabilitation. The storyline itself, unfortunately, ended in a very Hollywood scary movie way that sort of nullified all it was trying to do earlier, but for a while there, it had me rooting for these so-called bad guys to get better.
Another thing that Batman comic writers seem to love is extremely confusing and somewhat nonsensical storylines. I understand this as Batman is considered the world’s greatest detective, so of course the mysteries are going to be complicated and difficult to follow. More often than not, however, the writer tends to go overboard and just try to essentially confuse the hell out of the reader and leave the reader with no clear answers, as if that shows their strength as a writer. Hush is one such comic that immediately comes to mind when I encounter this issue. Arkham Reborn was also very convoluted so that by the conclusion, I wasn’t sure just who was in on the big scheme, how they knew about it, how long it had been going on, who was really in control: was it really Hugo Strange and the Joker and if it was, how come they weren’t mentioned until the last few panels?
That complicatedness really weakened the story to me, and though I was interested while reading it (not just because Jeremiah Arkham had a bit of a Dr. Herbert West thing going on), by the ending I felt nothing for the work as a whole. Well, I did feel one thing: it made me want to play some more Arkham Asylum.