Pulp #619

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Pulp #619

If there’s one thing that DC can do well – when they try, that is – it’s dark, creepy stories. Hell, their Vertigo imprint is basically just that, and has hosted some of the best horror titles in many a year, as well as boasting a roster of alumni titles that frequently populate “best of” lists. While their content has dropped in quality of late (read: since the New 52 and its subsequent relaunch), DC can occasionally pump out a good story from the few writers that haven’t jumped ship to either Marvel or Image. One of their better efforts in recent months is Arkham Manor, written by Gerry Duggan (Deadpool, Nova) and to be perfectly honest, I’m disappointed it didn’t run longer than six issues.
Arkham Manor is essentially just a Batman story with a twist, but it’s written in a way that emulates some of the better pre-New 52 Batman titles such as The Black Mirror. Following the events of Batman Eternal (which, despite being a lengthy read, actually does some interesting things), Arkham Asylum lies in ruins – the entire complex has been destroyed, and Gotham City desperately needs somewhere to keep its mentally ill and psychopathic supervillains., Unable to find a place to store the criminally insane Mayor Hady takes advantage of eminent domain and seizes Wayne Manor. Deprived of his home and with no other options, Bruce is forced to house the criminals he helps to lock up in his family home and seal off the house’s entrance to the Batcave. Things seem to be going swimmingly until inmates start turning up dead – apparently tortured to death. Determined to cleanse this stain on the manor’s honour, Bruce vows to track down the person responsible. His solution? Check himself into Arkham and root out the evil from the inside.
The Arkham name attracts some of the best horror-centric stories, and certainly seems to draw out the best in DC’s writers – Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and Arkham Asylum: Living Hell come to mind – and while Arkham Manor’s atmosphere is more overriding creepiness and mystery than full-blown horror, it seems to share the same kind of tone. Duggan crafts an excellent murder mystery, but a lot of the credit for the tone of the book has to go to artist Shawn Crystal (various flavours of Deadpool). His art style is rather cartoonish – there’s lots of heavy, black outlines – and it matches the story surprisingly well. His use of light/shadow is what makes his art really stand out – scenes both in and outside the manor could only be described as noir-ish.
While Arkham Manor does require a little bit of prior knowledge to appreciate fully – nothing a quick Google search couldn’t fix – it stands on its own as a great Batman mystery. Having Bats deal with his greatest enemies literally on his doorstep makes for some great scenes – Mr Freeze seems like he’s having a grand old time, and is all the more endearing for it. It’s small touches like this that make Arkham Manor memorable and, despite their recent shakiness, shows that DC really can put out some quality content when they want to. If only they could extend that quality to the rest of their content! Ah, a nerd can dream.
Written by Alastair McGibbon