BATMAN: CITY OF MADNESS – Book One reads very much like the child of the books that inspired it – namely: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, The Cult and the Court of Owls, in terms of the narrative, the art and the lettering, but especially the latter two.
If you’ve read a book with Christian Ward’s art before (Aquaman: Andromeda), you know what you’re in for in terms of the art. Ward’s style isn’t a style that’s very familiar when compared to other comics, not that it’s a bad thing. Rather, it helps the book stand out, and in a time where we have so many Batman books with their own visual signatures, it’s great that this joins them on that front and can stand out on its own merits.
The art in this book is phenomenal, to the point where I feel like this could be Ward’s best yet. Right off the bat, I love the number of colours being used and the way they’re used to make scenes or elements in a scene glow. The panelling here is phenomenal too, inspired by the stories that inspired this book, keeping investigation and action bits interesting and letting them stand out without letting them be shelved as another standard comic book sequence. Otsmane-Elhaou kills it on the lettering too, as per usual. I’m especially in love with the sound effects, and how they, just like the dialogue, have fonts that fit the character.
In terms of the story, this looks to be a Batman who’s experienced, with an Alfred who still cares about him and is concerned by what being Batman is doing to the man he raised like a son. The initial premise is interesting. Two-Face wants Batman’s help with the new voices in his head, while the Court of Owls has to deal with the creature that they’ve set free in Gotham.
It’s a premise I’ve bought into, and one that I will certainly follow because, as previously mentioned, it is interesting, but I can’t help but wonder that there’s a loss in the hook that the stories that inspired this had. Each of those is interesting enough on their own merits, and each tells a story in their own way, but it’s not like those characters are limited by the stories that they were told through.
You could do a Court of Owls story in the style of Morrison and McKean’s Arkham Asylum, but that requires the story to reel more into the very esoteric, ghastly art style of that book, where you let a lot of the artistry do the talking. Meanwhile, here, there are a lot of moments where the dialogue feels like it’s saying too much, where I feel like there’s such pretty art that could be telling a powerful story, but they’re held back by over explanations, moments where I feel another draft over them could have benefitted from it. It’s nothing that truly takes away from it, but it’s something I hope improves in Book Two.
Overall, the first part of BATMAN: CITY OF MADNESS is solid. If you like any of the books mentioned previously or just want an interesting cosmic horror book, definitely consider picking this up.