Man, when I see promos for prequel comic books/novels to video games, I really do cringe. Maybe I haven’t caught up with the times, but prequels in general seem very unnecessary to me, even in the form of video games (I play very few prequel games). So you understand my trepidation when opening Batman: Arkham Knight‘s prequel book from Peter J. Tomasi (Batman and Robin) and Viktor Bogdanovic, who is a relative newcomer. Luckily, it’s actually quite the treat, an enjoyable piece of Batman non-canon for hardcore fans of the Arkham games and Batman fans in general.
The Vol. 1 HC collects the first four issues of the book, picking up the story right where it left off, in the immediate aftermath of Arkham City. The Joker is dead and Batman/Bruce has to help rebuild Gotham now that the prison is closed. The series is also meant to setup the mysterious Arkham Knight, but in that aspect, the book doesn’t quite succeed. The villain (anti-hero?) isn’t given anything interesting to do in book besides be super ominous and pop up after Batman has left the scene. His closest encounter with Batman is a bit confusing and doesn’t really resolve in a satisfying way. But again, this is only four issues in.
Arkham Knight’s inclusion is as prequel-y as the collection gets, besides the introduction of the new Batmobile you’ve seen in all those trailers. The series, so far, is much more of a Arkham City sequel. It’s really about the characters dealing with what happened to them during that very long night with Joker, Hugo Strange, and friends. And that part is vastly more interesting than the things yet to come. You don’t really get a sense of the world in Arkham Knight, but you can start to put the pieces together a tiny bit, mostly through watching Harley out on her own, trying to be someone in a post-Joker world.
Very early on, Tomasi and Bogdanovic deal with the Joker and Harley Quinn, and take off from there into relatively standalone issues that see Batman battle both well-known rogues and C-listers I don’t want to spoil. But they’re so much fun and a definite high point of the book. Scenes with the lesser-known rogues capture the spirit of the Arkham games, which have embraced plenty of bottom-listers, nicely.
While Bogdanovic’s Joker isn’t the most convincing part of the art (he’s not my favorite in the games, either), his work on most of the other characters, scenery, and sequences is spectacular. The action is dynamic, as in one scene, where Bruce Wayne is forced to throw some punches during a speech gone wrong. During this scene, the artist is able to make a distinction between Bruce’s fighting style and Batman’s. Bruce has to be more restrained so as to not raise Gordon’s suspicion during the fight. His punches are a bit more wild (but actually very calculated), and look lucky when they land.
The chases (there are several) are exhilirating, as Bogdanovic grabs Batman’s gadgetry straight out of the games and puts the gear to good use. It’s a nice little touch to see the Arkham Batarang and a sign that the artist did his homework. Bogdanovic’s Batman is convincing, whether by land, sea, or air. (I actually think we see Batman in all three situations in the course of 100+ pages).
A final note has to be said about the art: the coloring by John Rauch ties the entire book in a deliciously bright red bow. His colors of choice are purple, yellow, and harsh flashes of green that are almost electric. In the climactic scene of this collection, we’re treated to a beautiful blueish-purple sky that you might have to look all the way back to last year’s Batman: Zero Year to find. It’s inspired work from this Marvel veteran. Let’s hope we can see more of him and Bogdanovic in print and digital very soon.
Batman: Arkham Knight is so cheap online (99 cents a chapter) that, even if you’re the least bit interested in this universe, it’s a nice get. Will it prepare you for the upcoming video game? No, at least not the first four issues in this collection. But as a return to the immediate aftermath of Arkham City and the crazy villains that inhabit it, it’s tons of fun.
Batman: Arkham Knight Vol. 1
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Viktor Bogdanovic
Inker: Art Thibert
Colorist: John Rauch