Classic Comics Cavalcade: Grant & Breyfogle Forge New Legends In ‘Batman: The Last Arkham’

by Tony Thornley

Continuing our series of classic comics from the creators we’ve lost this year, I had a tough choice when looking at the work of Alan Grant.

Cover by Brian Stelfreeze

There’s no denying that without Grant, Batman wouldn’t be the same today. He had long runs on Batman (3 years), Detective (5 years), and DC specifically created Shadow of the Bat for his work, which he wrote for 7 years. He was one of the architects of the Knightfall trilogy. And in all those comics, he created characters like Anarky and the Ventriloquist. That’s not even considering all of the miniseries, specials and one-shots like Batman/Judge Dredd, Batman/ The Demon and co-writing Batman/Spawn: War Games.

Much of that work was side-by-side with Norm Breyfogle, probably the most influential Batman artist of the 90’s. While most people point to creators like Alex Toth when talking about influences on Batman: The Animated Series, it’s impossible to read Breyfogle’s Batman and not see where BTAS drew inspiration from his work. He’s like the Image Founders but with a better grasp on using layouts to tell a story and character anatomy.

I read several Grant/Breyfogle stories before I discovered The Last Arkham. Their last major collaboration, the story was originally published as Batman: Shadow of the Batman #1-4. As far as their major contributions to Batman goes, this is probably their biggest.

The serial killer Zsasz has struck again, but he’s still locked up firmly in Arkham. Batman and Gordon concoct a plan to get him into Arkham to try to discover how Zsasz is committing the latest string of crimes. Unfortunately, Jeremiah Arkham has recently taken over administration of the facility that holds his family name, and he won’t let things like ethics or morals stand in the way of curing his patients, and that includes Batman!

This is an absolutely fantastic Bat-read (sorry, not sorry). While many fans will point to Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On A Serious Earth as the ultimate modern version of Arkham, this story has a much stronger influence on the Asylum as we see it today. Jeremiah is a fantastic antagonist that you can’t help but hate. Yes, he’s doing what he’s doing to cure patients, but he’s doing it in cruel and unethical ways, using therapies that would even get most fake doctors drummed out of the profession. Grant captures this perfectly, creating a fantastic antagonist, who isn’t a villain.

On the flip side, though, is the actual villain introduced here. Zsasz makes his first appearance in these issues, and if you didn’t know that going in, you’d easily assume that he’d existed for years. Both Grant and Breyfogle are at the height of their power when he’s on the page. His cadence of speech is haunting (which letterer Todd Klein captures so perfectly), and Breyfogle and Adrienne Roy make his gaunt pale form feel more like a supernatural boogeyman than an all-too human serial killer.

I’m still personally discovering that I actually like Batman. When I read stories like this, it just makes me think that I wish I’d gotten into Batman a little earlier. It’s not just “good for a Batman story” or “good for the big two” or anything like that. It’s a genuinely great comic and it’s completely timeless. I’d say probably the only bad thing about it is the completely bizarre Batmobile design of the era and I don’t think that one is Breyfogle’s fault.

Pick it up today, either in back issue bins or in one of many trade collections this story appears in.

%d bloggers like this: