THIS WEEK: DC Comics continues to expand the world of Gotham with the debut of Arkham City: The Order of the World. Does the series add anything meaningful to the already-crowded line of Bat-books?
Note: The following review contains spoilers for the issue being reviewed. If you want a spoiler-free verdict for the issue, scroll down to the bottom of the review.
Arkham City: The Order of the World #1
Writer: Dan Watters
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Cover Artist: Sam Wolfe Connelly
I have a confession to make: For the longest time, I didn’t know what Arkham City: The Order of the World was. Is it a video game tie-in? Is it a Black Label book? Is it yet another tWiStEd take on Batman’s rogues gallery? Will The Joker be in it? The Joker’s in pretty much everything. It turns out Arkham City is none of those things, but is instead an in-continuity series that follows the GCPD and former Arkham employee Dr. Jacosta Joy as they track down former residents of Arkham who escaped during the events of A-Day. It’s also an engaging, impressive comic from a strong creative team who are both really coming into their own at DC.
Writer Dan Watters’s profile has been growing at DC, with a couple of Sandman Universe titles and entries in the Infinite Frontier Secret Files to his name, among other things, not to mention having a number of creator-owned horror series like Home Sick Pilots and Coffin Bound under his belt. It’s those horror sensibilities that he brings to Arkham City, teaming with his Coffin Bound collaborator Dani to present a story that’s moody and creepy as hell while still remaining completely grounded in character. Watters’s Dr. Joy is an engaging point-of-view character, and her interactions with the GCPD’s Detective Stone give readers a great sense of who she is and what’s important to her. This is a woman who clearly cares for her patients, and is doing the best she can to continue to help them, even if we come to realize that she may not be going about it in the best way, to say the least. The use of Dr. Joy’s files to give readers an intro to the characters of the series is a smart narrative choice, as is the narration from an unseen-at-first narrator that introduces that character’s terrifying new iteration beautifully.
The whole thing is brought to life visually by Dani and colorist Dave Stewart, and the two are a match made in horrifying heaven. Dani’s work here is gritty and dark, with a feel similar to the work of noir masters like Tim Sale and Eduardo Risso. Her characters are expressive, her page layouts visually engaging, and her looks for each of the Gotham rogues featured in the issue are instantly iconic. Stewart’s palette is muted without being drab, with occasional pops of primary colors that leap off the page in stunning, bloody fashion. This is an absolutely beautiful comic, and it’s almost upsetting that this isn’t a Black Label book, as the oversized tabloid format of many of those series would be a wonderful showcase for Dani and Stewart’s work.
Perhaps the most impressive thing that Arkham City does is to add yet another new layer to Gotham. There are already so many Batman-related titles, both within the mainline DCU and in other imprints like Black Label, that one might think there’s not much more to explore in that corner of the DC Universe, but this series seems out to prove those people wrong, and so far it’s succeeding. It hadn’t even occurred to me how much a ground-level title like this one, albeit heightened with costumed criminals, would add to the overall experience of the main Bat-line. Then again, Gotham Central was one of my favorite books way back when, so I’m not surprised at just how much this comic was basically made for me.
Arkham City: The Order of the World #1 is a fantastic first issue for this six-issue series. Watters, Dani, and co. have established a strong mood and an interesting, character-driven conflict that I can’t wait to read the rest of. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t really know what this book was going to be going into it and was able to just let the creative team go to work and pull me in. It has me excited not only to read the rest of the series, but to check out their other work both together and separately.
Final Verdict: Buy.
- October’s kicking off with a number of horror offerings from DC on top of Arkham City. Among them is the conclusion of the five-issue DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover series from writers David L. Johnson-McGoldrick & Sam Ogle, artists Garry Brown and Mike Spicer, and letterer Becca Carey. This is a series that’s best read in one sitting, as there’s not much to the main story, and what’s there – a closeted queer girl being tormented over her sexuality by an unknown force – feels kind of questionable. It’s also not a terribly satisfying read, as it’s all set-up for the latest Conjuring movie without a satisfying arc of its own. At least the back-up stories from all-star creative teams, and the fake ads by Dave Johnson, were pretty great throughout, but they don’t quite cover entirely for the lackluster main feature.
- As one DC Horror series ends, another begins with the first issue of Soul Plumber. This book from writers Marcus Parks & Henry Zabrowski, artists John McCrea, PJ Holden, and Mike Spicer, and letterer Becca Carey gets off to a great start, introducing a number of entertaining, likable (for the most part) characters, and deftly using humor to draw the reader in to what’s going on. The horror doesn’t really kick in until towards the end of the issue, but once it does it leaves the characters in a very interesting place, with a story that could go off in a number of different directions.
- Also out this week is a new issue of James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno‘s The Nice House on the Lake, which continues to be just stunningly fantastic. Not much more to say about this one because it’s worth going in completely unspoiled, other than to say if you haven’t been reading this series you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.
- DC also has a couple of oversized anthology one-shots out this week, with the Halloween-themed Are You Afraid of Darkseid? presenting a number of spooky tales of varying quality and impact. I’m a sucker for any time the Teen Titans go camping, so I particularly enjoyed the framing sequence from Elliot Kalan, Mike Norton, Allen Pasalaqua, and Simon Bowland, and an unexpected team-up between Harley Quinn and Darkseid by Kenny Porter, Max Dunbar, Luis Guerrero, and Becca Carey was also really enjoyable.
- The other, notable oversized anthology is the Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super-Spectacular. Of the two specials, this one’s the one to pick up, with a collection of stories that are across the board really fantastic. The main, full-length story from regular Wonder Woman writers Becky Cloonan & Michael W. Conrad, artists Jim Cheung and Marcelo Maiolo, and letterer Pat Brousseau is a lovely tribute to Wonder Woman that also catches readers up on what’s been going on with Diana’s supporting cast while she’s been touring different afterlifes, while the other stories set during different periods of Diana’s life and/or history, all from incredible creators including Amy Reeder, Mark Waid & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Tom King & Evan “Doc” Shaner, and Stephanie Phillips & Marcio Takara, are a wonderful showcase for the character’s versatility, and for what makes her great.
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