Written By: Tim Seeley
Art By: Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons, Rob Schwager
Letters By:Travis Lanham
Cover Price: $0.99
Release Date: December 28, 2015
Something Wicked This Way Comes
*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*
Looks like Santa forgot to drop off some presents on Christmas Eve, because today a brand-new comic book, never before announced or revealed, appeared as a digital title on the DC Comics website. But of course, it’s not tied into any big DC Comics properties, just fucking Batman and specifically the Batman: Arkham Knight video game and even more goddamned specifically the critically successful Batman: Arkham Knightcomic book prequels. And with that, I have done more for this book than DC’s marketing department has done for the entire line of digital comics all year. What the hell is happening over there anyway? I don’t expect billboards and prime-time network commercials, but an e-mail, a Tweet, a fucking Facebook post would be something. Maybe this comic book stinks, huh? That would explain why DC doesn’t want to talk about it. If only there were some resource we could exploit, some way we could find out about this mystery comic…wait a second, I reviewed it! Read on!
Now we journey to the Gotham City as defined by Rocksteady Games’ Batman: Arkham Asylum series, except this time we visit it before the Joker ever wrecked the asylum, when everything was idyllic and peaceful and…wait, there’s the enormous form of Killer Croc standing in a sewage runoff pipe, threatening Batgirl. Yes, it’s Batgirl! You remember her from Batman: Arkham Knight, right? She’s Commissioner Gordon’s red-haired daughter Barbara, who showed up in a DLC and was used by the Scarecrow to freak the Batman out in-game. Well, now we get to find out about the character before she was paralyzed by the Joker, before she became the intel-dispensing computer whiz Oracle, before she…well, that’s pretty much all we know about her. She’s a librarian in the daytime, too. And I think she dated Dick Grayson or something? Anyway, while Killer Croc and Batgirl are having a chit-chat, Batman swoops in and takes charge, telling Barbara to beat it. It was nice to see that Batman was an asshole long before he tangled with a ‘roided-out Joker atop Arkham Asylum.
Speaking of which, we cut to the asylum in question where Dr. Harleen Quinzell is making an appeal to have the Joker switched to a minimum security wing because he’s been such a good boy. The warden, not being an idiot, denies the request, and in an awesome panel shaped like a gavel striking the, uh, gavel-thing, which I liked so much I’ve included it below:
Dr. Quinzell returns to the Joker’s cell, which is so maximumly secure that she can just walk up to the plate glass window and talk him up, despite being described as an intern. She gives Mr. J the bad news, and then they come up with the bright idea for her to cause mischief in Gotham in the Joker’s name, and decide on the name Harley Quinn. This scene disappointed me, because it makes Dr. Quinn’s transition into Harley a deliberate act, instead of something that grew almost naturally over time as the Joker made her more and more insane and devoted over repeated treatments. I know that this is not regular continuity, but it seems like they’ve made Harley Quinn’s origin more lame than before, and it seems to go against the Joker we’ve come to know through the Rocksteady games, who is definitely pathologically insane. Also, I know this story predates the video games, but the Joker is not really depicted the same way as he is in the game—while in the other comic book adaptations he usually is. A middling point—it’s not like we don’t know it’s the Joker—but it would be a better signifier that we were reading a Batman: Arkham Knight tie-in if the characters looked similar to the way they look in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Then we cut to Barbara eating lunch outside when a monkey dressed like Charlie Chaplin comes over and hands her a flyer for the Liquid Black Circus and Carnivale, which simultaneously comes rolling into the park square led by an old steam-powered locomotive engine, somehow. And then we have what I am calling the Biggest Rip-Off Page in Comics for the Month of December 2015, shown below:
Take a bow, Arkham Knight team.
Right there we are seeing Barbara looking around the square at all of the carnival delights unfolding before here—and we get to see some of those on some very stylized pages that follow—but what we get here are four panels of Barbara shifting her eyes from left to right. Four. Fucking. Panels.Since this is a digital title where pages come half-sized (or in landscape view, if that’s how you prefer it), this constitutes an entire page of this title. Therefore, this is the worst value in comics for the month of December, and I defy readers to prove otherwise! Anyway, Barbara is watching all of the sexy carnies, when the lock on a tiger’s cage is blown with plastic explosives, and the new Harley Quinn reveals herself and her intentions to Gotham, and she’s dressed in a terrible costume that bears no resemblance to the one in the game whatsoever!
I’m actually a fan of Matthew Clark’s from his time penciling the Doom Patrol five or so years ago, and there are moments in this book that are lovely: the aforementioned (and shown) gavel panel, the pages showing what to expect from the Liquid Black Circus and Carnivale, and even a few close-up shots of Harley Quinn when she devises her new identity with the Joker. But there were a lot of panels that looked like afterthoughts, and worse I didn’t see much that would tie me to the Arkhamverse as I know it. Sure, this is a prequel, but the tie-in comics are all prequels and yet they evoke more a sense of the game than this issue. The plot was okay, nothing to write home about, but the origin of Harley Quinn as described in the story was pretty lame. I suppose there are worse ways to spend a buck, but I can see why DC Comics didn’t make a big deal about this book.
Bits and Pieces:
Here we get some adventures of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and the origin of Harley Quinn as defined by the Rocksteady video games, and it’s fairly well a dud. There are some really creative storytelling choices made by Matthew Clark, but they aren’t really worth the price of admission despite it being only ninety-nine cents. The sad thing is, if someone does a search for this comic online, they’re likely to turn up this shitty review since DC Comics didn’t say word one about the issue coming out. So while I have your attention, have you pledged to Weird Science DC Comics Blog this year? Thirty dollars gets you a free tote bag.