Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 3: Arkham Rising hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

I’ve been cutting down on my comics news intake maybe for about a year now, trying to reintroduce the element of surprise into my comics reading. Especially for trade waiters, when your comics company of choice is done with one event and off to the next before the collection has even arrived, it’s hard not to know what’s coming next, but I’ve been trying for the collected comics solicitations, at least, to catch me a little more off guard.

One success is that I didn’t know, and still feel some disbelief about, that Mariko Tamaki’s Detective Comics went weekly for three whole months alongside Batman Vol. 6: Abyss in the “Shadows of the Bat” event. First, that must have been bunches of fun to read week in and week out (and I’m no less excited to dig into the trade). Second, given that Tamaki’s Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State was a weird appendage grafted on to Batman Vol. 5: Fear State proper that by most logic couldn’t have “happened” simultaneously, it’s a nice change now to see Tamaki’s Detective and Joshua Williamson’s Batman now specifically accounting for Batman’s presence in one title and absence in another, when the titles don’t normally.

With six-issues-and-a-special from Detective tying in to “Fear State” and then 12 issues of “Shadows” (which DC thankfully decided to collect in two volumes simultaneously), they apparently felt the need to stuff a small amount of interstitial material into Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 3: Arkham Rising. Being three backup stories, an annual, and a single issue, it comes out to about 90 story pages. That’s in contrast to Detective Comics Vol. 2: Fear State’s 190-ish and Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood’s 150-ish.

[Review contains spoilers]

I don’t necessarily begrudge DC the Arkham Rising collection, though I see at least one way DC could have backed some material out of it toward eliminating it or making room for other material. The backup stories that lead in to Matthew Rosenberg’s Task Force Z are in the Detective: Fear State book and also in the Task Force Z book proper; this seems an unnecessary double-dipping when “Foundations,” Stephanie Phillips' three-part “Shadow” lead-in backup story, ended up shunted to Rising. “Foundations” is far more relevant to “Fear State” than Task Force Z is, particularly since Batman: Fear State: Omega (collected in Fear State Saga) directly references the new “Arkham Tower” that comes out of “Foundations.” I’d as soon have seen “Foundations” in Detective: Fear State and the Task Force Z backups in their own book only.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

(Indeed, reading in trades, the entire rollout of Arkham Tower has been vaguely confusing to me, with Batman “first meeting” Dr. Chase Meridian [of Batman Forever fame] happening at least twice by my count. I haven’t yet clocked the first mention of Arkham Tower, such to follow along from there, and in all I maintain an earlier presentation of “Foundations” would have helped.)

That leaves the Detective Comics #1046 and Detective Comics 2021 Annual. All else equal, it seems to me one splits the difference and puts the regular issue at the end of Detective: Fear State and the annual at the beginning of Batman: Shadows of the Bat: The Tower, eliminating Rising entirely. At the same time, I do recognize that Tower, collecting 12 issues, is somewhere at the upper limit of DC’s collections (neither wanting to make the collection too expensive to make or too expensive to sell). Also, just my speculation, but I imagine the bookkeeping department would just as soon not have to calculate one annual half-written by one author (Rosenberg, in this case) among a trade otherwise entirely written by another (Tamaki).

If it made any sense, I’d say the single issue and annual in Arkham Rising ought be joined by the only remaining uncollected backups from the recent Batman era, some Batman vs. Deathstroke stories by Joshua Williamson and some Clownhunter backups by Brandon Thomas. But both of these (from the Batman title) clearly have less to do with Arkham than “Foundations,” so grudgingly, “Foundations” makes more sense for inclusion. The lack of relevant filler material is, perhaps incongruously, an indication of how much better the Bat-titles are doing at collecting their backups than their Metropolis counterparts, for instance.

None of the stories in Arkham Rising have the particular punch that Tamaki’s Detective has had so far, but again, hardly do they have much runway before the book ends. Of them, Tamaki and Rosenberg’s annual is the best, simply in that it’s creepy and bloody, juxtaposes past and present often on the same page, and begs questions of criminal justice and rehabilitation larger than the heroes and villains on the page.

I’m glad to see the writers going there, though of course they do so by positing Batman as starkly uncaring about the villains he puts away. It’s a position no more lasting than until the next writer needs Batman to feel differently, not to mention the unbelievability of someone as worldly as Batman not recognizing the importance of good mental health care. As well, I never quite caught the writers' explanation for how a supposedly dead character was still alive, and so the annual was enjoyable but didn’t feel fully cooked.

“Foundations,” as I’ve described at length, is important as indeed what seems the debut of the Arkham Tower idea, though page to page I was underwhelmed. Without discounting art by David Lapham, Phillips' plot involves rogue Scarecrow gas and an escaped prisoner who pits Batman against a runaway construction crane, and it all seemed small against the story’s larger implications.

There’s not overmuch to say about “Out and Gone,” the single issue, except that Tamaki teams Oracle, Batwoman, Spoiler, and Huntress, and to be sure that portends good things for “Shadows of the Bat.” Here, too, everything seems mildly undercooked — that the heroes all know of the serial killer villain but the audience doesn’t, as if we’ve missed something; that Mayor Nakano’s wife Koyuki, formerly his strong supporter, has now mysteriously taken to her bed; that Tamaki’s explanations for Batman’s departure from Gotham don’t quite line up with Batman Vol. 6: Abyss. It’s a fine issue, but more meaningful in the context of what’s to come.



On the topic of things that are already over before the collections come out, Mariko Tamaki’s Detective Comics run has now ended — ended before or right around when Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 3: Arkham Rising came out. That’s in and of itself a kind of spoiler, knowing the end of a run is nigh, though not nearly so surprising on a title with as high turnaround as Detective, vs. some lesser-tier title being cancelled. Anyway, it’s hardly the end — still two volumes by Tamaki and a related one by Matthew Rosenberg to go. This volume was not the strongest, but I liked the previous two and I’m interested to see how it wraps up.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and designs, afterword by David Lapham]


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