Things are starting to spiral out of control on this series, and I don’t mean just for Arkham itself. Duggan started off with a great premise (Arkham set up in Bruce’s family home), delivered an interesting follow-up (Bruce enters as patient to investigate murders within), but now seems to be foundering on his next step. Last issue’s Joker revelation definitely threw the story off track, but Duggan hasn’t always kept a firm hand on the steering wheel to begin with.

Too often, he veers from character to character without focusing on each enough for their appearance to count. Some enter the story suddenly, only to exit just as quickly, like Sybil Silverlock, who inexplicably arises from her coma, only to be attacked by Clownface then later disappear, to be a problem for Bruce another day. Between her and Seth (whose escape Bruce hasn’t even noted), that makes two Arkhamites at large, and when is Bruce ever going to find time to deal with them? Intent as he is on controlling the inmates within the manor, it seems unlikely he’ll ever get to the ones outside.

Besides, the danger of taking Bruce outside the manor is defeating the whole purpose of this series, which is to keep him latched to one place. Tracking down escaped maniacs in Gotham sounds more like, oh, every other Batman title’s thing. With Bruce setting aside the Jack Shaw persona* to re-don the cowl, the series already loses much of what makes it unique among its peers. You’d think Duggan would keep up his basic premise for at least a whole arc before returning us to the status quo.

As Bruce’s team-up with Fries to take down Clownface shows, there’s a lot of potential in keeping Batman out of the picture, most of all in exposing us to a side of his rogues we rarely get to see. Their animosity with the Bat makes it impossible for them to be as candid, down-to-earth, and cooperative as they are with Jack Shaw. You’re not interested so much in the predictable way Fries and Bruce defeat Clownface as you are in Fries’ decision not to take advantage of the chaos to escape. “I have nowhere to go,” he explains simply to an incredulous Bruce, making a snow angel on the manor’s front lawn as he does so. This is the type of stuff Duggan should be giving us more of.

Instead, we get brief glimpses of characters with questionable significance. There’s a short sequence of Tommy Elliot (a.k.a. Hush) mocking Bruce from his personal cell in the Bat-cave, but this seems to be a throwaway scene, with no bearing on what’s actually happening. The same goes to another new inmate whom Bruce recognizes as one of the thus he beat down in #1; why should we care about that again?

On a completely different topic, it’s not great that Bruce fails to put it together that Border, who was charged with the “Clayface fragment,” is now missing and the fragment has become Jokerized. True, we have the benefit of knowing more than Bruce does, but this seems like a fairly simple deduction to make, which again calls into question Bruce’s status as the world’s greatest detective.

While Crystal does an okay job conveying the horror of Clownface, his vision is a bit too straightforward and small to be memorable. Clownface is a bit scary and gross, but he’s not terrifying. In contrast to the rugged, lanky look of the humans, Crystal’s monster has an almost cartoony look that doesn’t quite unsettle. It’s up to Duggan’s creepy, giggling gibberish (“Eat your vegetables. Eat all uh ha uhn.”) and Travis Lanham’s garish lettering and dripping word balloons (“HAW HAW HAW”) for Clownface to display his terror.

Some Musings:

– Observe that he shaves off that sweet mustache. Apparently, he went through the trouble of growing that sucker himself.

Grade

C+

Conclusion

If Duggan continues to skimp on his truly novel details and pushes towards more of the same, Arkham Manor will quickly lose its appeal.