Field Notes: Arkham Unhinged

I’m marching towards Batman: Arkham Knight and before playing it I want to wrap up any extended lore from the previous games. First up, the Arkham Unhinged comic book series.

Batman Arkham Unhinged Cover 1

There are 58 issues is all and the canonization is a bit fuzzy as things don’t always match up with the games but I think there are elements that can be mined to enhance one’s experience of the Batman Arkham series.

Unhinged has been described as a prequel but it goes all over the all place. While this makes it confusing at times to know what’s happening when it does allow for the Akrham-verse to bring in much of the established Batman lore.

Many things were touched upon and I was surprised that with Unhinged (and other comics) this original game universe has been able to capture capture so much of what has been established as the Dark Knight’s domain.

While playing the games I thought of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City as one night events – and chronologically they are – but there are a lot of goings on before and after that make them part of an even more layered story

Origins

We see some earlier footage of characters we’ll come to know in Batman: Arkham City. Dr. Hugo Strange moving about the facilities like a concerned member of the medical staff was almost laughable as we know what’s really going on behind those circular spectacles. The way the man studies the patients’ fears and nightmares of Batman, and how that fuels Strange in his quest to rid Gotham of the criminal element and the Dark Knight himself was something that the comic brought out in the overall story.

Killer Croc gets an intro as someone clearly on the wrong side of the moral spectrum yet we see the brutality he has endured his entire life. I felt the little blind girl was created just to be tragic; his story was sad enough that it didn’t need another ugly fact to darken it even more.

Azrael’s story is told in miniature and I thought it interesting that he and Officer Cash had been partners. I did not remember (although it may have happened) Mayor Quincy Sharpe feeling remorse for his being tricked/controlled by Strange, but that was there along with hints at Azrael’s mystical training.

Experiencing Bruce’s first meeting with Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia was well done; all the basics were there with you seeing how these two characters could’ve worked together if not for radically different interpretations of how justice should best be served.

There’s also a good “honeymoon shot” of Bruce and Talia – you’ll have to ask me about that one.

Further Machinations

In addition to a lot of intros we see characters furthering their plans to either add to up things in the games or just throw in some additional flavor. The original team of TYGER operatives (on commands from Hugo Strange) stealing the jewels Catwoman eventually gets back, and that Two-Face was in on it, is a great example of this.

There is also a glimpse of Hugo’s plans for taking the Arkham City model global – he names several large metropolitan areas that he believes the Arkham model would work well for.

A redundant Mad Hatter section about him kidnapping all the “Alice’s” (Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Vickie Vale) and then Batman eventually freeing them – it gave the Hatter more time in the story but did not add to it in any developmental way.

Two-Face had a trail attended by all the villains testifying against Joker, but Batman swooped in and broke things up. Joker seemed to have a plan to get out anyway, but it was another reminder that the villains are not all on the same side. Batman is a common enemy, but they each look out for number one.

Batman Arkham Unhinged Cover 2

The Penguin captured and furnished Black Mask with the means to escape Arkham City and then told him to go after the Joker; this happens right before Bruce Wayne is thrown in to Arkham at the beginning of the game, literally off to the side while Bruce is being processed into the facility. If looking out for number one in the Penguin’s case means supplying Black Mask with some needed resources, then so be it.

We’ve Already Met

While the games do a great job of making the (supposedly) first meetings of characters fittingly dramatic,  the comic provides a much more familiar world where everyone’s already met.

Batman’s run-ins with Catwoman (trying to get her to leave the city for her own good) and Vicki Vale (her first crash in a helicopter) are two instances of this.

It was especially fun to see Robin go through many of the same places as Batman would later (Iceberg Lounge, etc.), and the Boy Wonder evened assumed an alter ego as Batman would later do in the Arkham City comic.

Killer Croc and one of the Abramovici twins even had a moment together, reaching an understanding that you won’t see in the game but it’s still nice to know it happened. They didn’t solve the mysteries of the universe but they did recognize something in each other and it’s more than most villains do.

Mix ‘n Match

In keeping with the “more familiar” theme for the characters, we see several groupings of characters working together/against each other that didn’t get as much screen time in the games.

Robin, Oracle and Nightwing all together and knowing about Arkham and what’s going on from earlier on was cool and something that made everyone seem more like a team when I think back through the games and subsequent DLC.

Especially Robin – knowing he had been all over Arkham before the Harley Quinn’s Revenge added to his standing.

Bane gets time with the good and the bad as he saved Robin when he was about to be taken out by the penguins thugs while later entered into a grudge match with Solomon Grundy. The latter just makes sense – they’re the two biggest dudes in the story. They … must … fight!

The so-called Gotham Sirens – Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn – also had their own set piece and history together, predictably betraying one another with a lot of personal inter-relational drama. Not bad things, and it’s what had to happen if the Arkham universe was going to stay true to these established characters.

Further Development

The final way the Arkham Unhinged series adds to the game experience is how you see each person’s story develop that much further.

Batman Arkham Unhinged Cover 3

You see Commissioner James Gordon officially opposing the construction of Arkham Asylum, going down legal avenues to try and halt its progress even while the story of how Arkham was enabled to happen is told as an almost inevitability.

The Penguin and Joker’s relationship turned sour and we see how and why; we see how much the Joker goes out of his way to mess with Penguin, and their clear animosity towards each other in the future makes perfect sense.

It was interesting that Harley spared the life of one of the Abramovici twins and sent him to the Penguin; was that a hint of compassion?

So Poison Ivy did see Catwoman crush her plant and the end of City – I wondered about that.

I’m including something that didn’t seem to further anything, and that’s the Book Binder. His story took place in the last issues of the entire series and unfortunately it didn’t go anywhere – there’s a lot of set up and when Batman is seemingly outsmarted by him the comic comes to an abrupt end.

We see the Dark Knight in more of the detective role and that’s worth something, but t’s a lot of space used for no payoff. While there may be more to the story in real life (series was unexpectedly canceled, etc.) it was unfinished and unfulfilling.

But we’re not ending on a down note! Seeing Batman go in and out of Arkham to quell crime and find out as much information as he could reminded me again that the Arkham universe didn’t happen in one night, it spans time and has room enough for the story to grow.

The final insight Unhinged gave us was Batman questioning how he would feel if the dream of Arkham came true – if all super criminals were contained and he would only have the regular crimes, regular criminals to fight. Would he accept that? It was an interesting take on the tired “does Batman create the villains?” theme which has been (I think) overdone.

Arkham Unhinged was uneven in quality but a rewarding read if you want to know about every corner of the Asylum and city found in the Arkham series games.

 

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