The Storm Before The Storm: Reviewing ‘Detective Comics Vol 3: Arkham Rising’
by Scott Redmond
‘Detective Comics’ has been at its very best when the focus turns heavily to the characters themselves and Gotham itself as both a world and a character in its own right. This volume presents that on two fronts: digging deep into the horror and the reality of what Arkham has brought to this city while realistically tackling some huge hard-to-solve issues.
Before launching a twelve-part weekly contained event focused on the rise and fall of the new Arkham Tower facility, DC Comics ran a series of backups and an annual issue dedicated to the history, failings, and potential of Arkham in Detective Comics. Those backups and the annual have now been collected.
In this three-part story, Stephanie Phillips does a fantastic job capturing the spirit of Batman and his world. It provides a counter to the great work she’s been doing in the Harley Quinn series, showing what range she has and a deep familiarity and connection to the Gotham realm as a whole.
Phillips takes us to the past and shows the original version of Arkham and the massacre that arose from the seeming curse that radiates from this place that drives people to madness. These horrific vibes extend into the present day where Batman and Harley deal with Arkham’s effect on people and try to stop the destruction of the incomplete Arkham Tower.
Far too often the story of Arkham focuses on the super criminals that are placed there by the city despite most of them being just evil, and not suffering from a mental illness. Here the old man who is a former Arkham patient is our window not only into the curses of Arkham that have persisted for years but the effect placing those super-criminals there has on those who actually would benefit from mental health help. Diving into the effect that the Asylum and its history has had on the city is an interesting place to go, and there are definitely a lot of fitting horror vibes to this story that Philips is nailing with her writing, and David Lapham and Trish Mulvhill are enhancing with their artwork.
Lapham’s artwork really nails the creepy feeling that surrounds the original Arkham massacre in the past as well as the stirrings of a similar event in the present day. At the same time, the non-horror portions have good energy and feeling to them, because Lapham has a very distinct and welcoming style. We get some colorful work here from Mulvihill, which complements Lapham’s work wonderfully, that is also muted with enough darkness to give it more weight and fit the darker tone of the story.
Lapham and Mulvihill get to do some more really engaging dream sequence-type artwork, and the action is solid here too. This looks and feels classic Batman-like in many ways, in the best way possible. Having the panels and the white borders shifted and almost liquid-like for the dreams only to snap back to normal for reality is a great touch. There is also a really interesting panel where fear gas was making Batman see things, and the dream shattering actually was depicted as shattering panels, which was very creative.
Rob Leigh does great work with the heavy amount of dialogue within this story, and he also really elevates the horror vibes with his SFX and the ways that the dialogue bubbles change through the story. Not only does the dialogue flow well there are little things he does to make sure that each person’s dialogue is similar, but a bit of personality is allowed to bleed through. In those aforementioned dream sequences, he brings in some very fun word visuals on the page.
Phillips kicked off this storyline with references to the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and bookended it with those same references pointing to the uncertainty of what Arkham Tower will be for the city and those within it.
Included in this book is the 2021 annual issue for the series from Mariko Tamaki, Matthew Rosenberg, Lapham, Mulvihill, Lee Loughridge, and Ariana Maher.
Batman and the rest of the Bat family have been working hard for many years to deal with injustice and crime within the borders of Gotham City. It’s a city that is broken and corrupt from its very core in some ways, the slew of evil/bad coming from the city seeming to be never-ending. Here, Tamaki and Rosenberg aim their story at the very clear inherent flaws of not just Arkham Asylum and Gotham City but society as a whole when it comes to those that slip through the cracks, and the entire criminal justice/prison system.
What makes their version work so much more than some others that try to tackle the topic is that it’s messy and realistic and doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is not an issue that can easily be solved. At the same time, it beautifully and accurately places Nightwing as the voice of reason and the one that realizes the flaws of the system and knows that something new needs to be done. This is paired with the fact that the writers very much allow Batman to not only be wrong but be somewhat of a jerk about it before coming to the correct conclusion that his son is right in this matter, and he tries to do better.
Lapham’s artwork just works perfectly for this story, as it’s so clean and detailed and allows the emotion and facial/body language to stand out even more. There are no jarring transitions between more wholesome pages and ones that are more horrific or sad, all of it just flowing together as smoothly as the ice cream young Bruce is chowing down on at the beginning. A lot of his work and paneling allow for a great number of close-up shots of varying degrees, which is a great companion when one is telling a very heavily character-focused story.
That being said, there are tons of shots of the city proper or the sewers or other settings that are wonderfully detailed and beautiful in their own ways. The best art feels alive like it could leap off the page, and this is what you get with Lapham’s art.
Mulvihill and Loughridge’s colors match that same bright but also dark energy that Lapham is putting off. One would think that having such bright poppy colors as the start during the young Bruce moment would feel off with the other horrific moments of that scene, yet it doesn’t. In fact, the colors being so bright, and fun actually amplify the horrific feeling of what is happening. Because it feels more realistic, that unfortunately, a bright shiny day can take a turn at any point because it’s out of our control.
As the issue progresses the colors take on darker tones and the shadows increase, bringing out the gritty and street and horror sort of vibes that are usually part of the best Batman-related stories. There are also many pages where the colors come to that happy middle ground, especially when we’re given looks at the characters and Gotham itself in a light that makes them less scary and more just a city full of people trying their best in a system that is flawed to the core.
There is a ton of energy and care and variety that Maher puts into all of her work, and it fits perfectly with the art of this book in particular. A lot of that fun and variety can be seen through the SFX that fills the pages, it all feels similar but also wholly unique, but also heavily within the rest of the lettering. There are changes to the balloon styles and fonts for various characters, making their dialogue stand out and feel unique to them and their personality compared to other characters. Even during some of the extreme close-ups, the captions and dialogue are placed perfectly so that they are prevalent but never take up too much space or overlap the artwork too much.
Detective Comics Vol 3: Arkham Rising is now available from DC Comics.