As the cover might suggest, Batman: The Last Arkham is a four-part miniseries in which Batman finds himself locked up in the lunatic asylum. As the comic opens, the reader isn’t aware how or why this came to be. We just know that somehow Batman has gotten himself into a pretty sticky situation.
The bulk of the trade focuses on a series of killings in Gotham. Batman believes it to be the work of one Mr. Zsasz, because the murders fit his very specific M.O. Unfortunately, Zsasz is locked up in Arkham and no one else believes it could have been he who committed these crimes.
Batman knows better, and as we learn, worked with Gordon to conspire to get himself locked up in Arkham to better dig into the mystery. While this is going on, we meet a new head of the asylum, Jeramiah Arkham: the nephew of Amadeus Arkham from Arkham Asylum. Jeremiah has a new and rather disturbing method of dealing with his patients, and is far too susceptible to Zsasz’s coercion. Zsasz is a conniving, calculating maniac, murdering innocent people at random and posing their dead bodies so as to appear still living. What’s more, he cuts a gash on his body for each of his victims:
Obviously Zsasz was very busy before being captured, and this physical representation of his sheer number of victims is astounding and more than a little unsettling.
This is, as it turns out, Zsasz’s first appearance in comics, and he certainly starts off with a flourish. Batman ultimately finds Zsasz out, but not before he escapes Arkham multiple times and murders another handful of people. All the while he maintains his calm, cool demeanor, proving that he can hold his own against the dark knight. I can only guess that this will not be Zsasz’s last appearance in a Batman comic.
On an entirely unrelated note, I have to address the artwork in this trade, particularly one panel. Generally I like Norm Breyfogle’s artwork, but as with every writer or artist, there will occasionally be a moment where someone misses the mark and creates something that’s truly baffling. Case in point:
Nightwing is jumping off a building, swinging away as he calls back to Robin. It’s a fairly basic image, one used by countless artists. Yet something went wrong. What exactly is going on with Nightwing’s lower half? His legs are disproportionate to the rest of this body, and the distortion due to the drawing’s angle is off. Also, what exactly is that bulbous mass growing out of his leg?? An abnormally defined quad? His butt? It’s not really clear, but either way it’s distracting.
Every once and a while this type of odd image will creep up within a story, but generally I can overlook it. This one gave me pause though, as I stopped to consider just where exactly this panel went wrong. I understand Breyfogle’s desire to play with perspective and make the action feel more real, allowing the panel to seem more fluid and call attention to movement, but the execution here just fell short. It was enough to make me pause while reading and really study the panel. While I don’t fault Breyfogle’s artwork as a whole, this individual drawing leaves something to be desired. I generally wouldn’t nitpick over a single image like this, but it was noticeable enough to warrant mention.
This miniseries was entertaining for what it was. The story was engaging, the action was fun, and in the end Batman wins, which is always a plus. It may not have the same subversive depth of other comics, but it’s a straight-shooting action/detective story, the continuation of a long line of Batman comics, and surely the predecessor of countless more to come.