Batman: Arkham City is a five issue mini-series that bridges the gap between 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum video game and this year's sequel, the appropriately named Batman: Arkham City. Basically, this is the story that will attempt to wrap up the aftermath of the first game and show the events that lead up to the second game, namely, the founding of Arkham City and Batman's role in it. It seems like more and more video game releases are accompanied by a comic book one shot or mini-series these days. Mass Effect did it. The Witcher did it. More often than not these accompanying books read exactly like that: an extra you get with the game that provides a few minutes of fun and a bit more back story on the events of the game. Of course, the scenario we see before us now is that of a video game based on a comic book getting a comic book based on the game. Does this mean readers can expect more from this series than most game-based books or does it look like this series will simply continue the trend?
Simply put, these first couple issues do not take great strides in defying one's expectations. I'm just going to say this now for all who have not finished Batman: Arkham Asylum and do not want the story spoiled: the first page depicts the final boss fight of the first game and a couple more plot spoilers for the game are mentioned throughout. If you do not want to be aware of these bits of information, then go finish the game and come back. Anyways, as I said the first page of the series begins as the first game ends. This makes the timeline for the books a little difficult to follow. Issue #1 seems to take place in the direct aftermath of the game with Joker being pacified after his night of fun and being reinstalled in his padded cell. From here we move directly to an appearance of Arkham Asylum's warden Quincy Sharp, who has already been elected mayor of Gotham City. It seems like Batman would have wanted to railroad such an election campaign, what with being aware that Sharp is a diagnosed schizophrenic, but apparently we have a plot that needs moving along.
Shenanigans transpire by the end of the first issue that work two-fold to our plot progression. Item one is that Batman becomes aware that there is someone pulling the strings behind Sharp, but he does not know who. The second is that a tragedy is staged that allows the citizens of Gotham to be comfortable enough to allow Sharp to create his own military force and to quarantine half of Gotham City to create the titular Arkham City. All of the inmates from Arkham Asylum and Black Gate Penitentiary will be moved here. On one page we encounter an inmate at the asylum who is relatively innocent and vents his concerns that dropping him in an open city with convicted criminals and murderous clowns might be hazardous to his health and not entirely warranted. This came across as an entirely valid and interesting focal point for a story of government extremism, but the inmate's doctor, by proxy for the writer, expresses brief concern before quickly washing his hands of the matter.
While the premise for Arkham City is reminiscent of the "No Man's Land" story from over a decade ago, which fits as Arkham City writer Paul Dini worked on that series as well, it still just seems off to me. "No Man's Land" worked on a much broader concept that seems more believable, while Arkham City, at the end of the day, just feels like a set up for a cool place to set a video game in. Granted, that is exactly the function this book serves, but I can't help but think that it could have been more. The idea of throwing a normal crazy person in with the likes of Batman's rogue's gallery calls for a more interesting and serious contemplation of these events, but I have a hard time believing that this plot thread will be picked up in any of the remaining three issues.
The rest of the issue concerns Batman looking for clues on who his true enemy is (hint: check the cover of the issue Batman) and setting up Joker and Harley Quinn's entrance into Arkham City. Again, the main idea is to get us to the game's plot, but there is some legitimately fun dialogue between Joker and Harley, although it is not much one has not heard before. There is no sign of Robin as of yet, so anyone looking to see him in the game beyond the announced challenge maps should probably look elsewhere for hope.
All in all, these are not bad books, but they are shallower than one might hope. There are plenty of Batman books that have a lot of depth to them, but this just can't seem to get over being a game tie-in. Some plot points are picked up and then quickly dropped and the pacing seems a little erratic as well, but it is not all bad. While the plot could have been more, Paul Dini's dialogue is not difficult to read. Carlos D'anda has a striking art style that was a really nice match for the character profiles that could be found in the first game and it looks great here as well.
Check it out if you really want an accompaniment to the video games, but don't expect it to be anything more.