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The Madness of Dr. Arkham

April 20, 2010

      Batman #697 brings a close to the question that has lingered since Batman: Battle for the Cowl: who is the new Black Mask?  Gotham City is in flames, and in a fit of dissociative identity disorder, Black Mask argues with himself over what he has done.  However, with the aid of Fright, the Black Mask personality wins out.  Oracle uses her tech skills to keep the military from invading, and Batman and his allies take the fight to Black Mask.  Dick follows the path to Mask’s lair, remembering parts of what happened the previous issue.  When Dr. Death and Hugo Strange try to release all their toxins into the air, Dick arrives to stop them.  When Reaper shows up, he deals with the problem by using some of the andodite to give Reaper enough free will to see what he’s become and to turn on those who revived him.  Dick then gets tricked by a trap set by Fright and Black Mask and fights the two of them.  Ultimately, he wins, revealing Black Mask as Dr. Jeremiah Arkham.  Arkham is put in his own asylum, and Dick ponders the origins of his insanity.  Elsewhere, the Penguin and the Falcones reestablish themselves, and Fright prepares to take Black Mask’s place.  Dick talks with Catwoman, who now has a new sidekick in the form of Kitrina Falcone, now Catgirl.  And Dick affirms his role as Batman and puts the Blask Mask’s mask as the first trophy of his victories.

     Admittedly, this wasn’t that shocking an issue.  Clues as to Black Mask’s identity have been scattered throughout Battle for the Cowl and this arc, so it wasn’t much of a surprise.  Tony Daniel did manage to make the reveal sufficiently dramatic, however.  The most interesting concept is the theory Dick comes up with, that perhaps Arkham was another “False Face,” and that the real Black Mask was just controlling him.  That idea is really cool, and I hope Daniel is serious about using it, as that’s the kind of villainous drama that Batman thrives upon.  I’m not massively thrilled about Catgirl, especially considering her absolutely ridiculous outfit.  Catwoman has fortunately looked at lot less silly since her solo series, but this just feels like a throwback.  She looks like some fashion disaster from the 90s to me.  Daniel’s artistic work in this issue was much closer to the quality of Battle for the Cowl than previous issues, which was definitely a plus.  Battle for the Cowl was Daniel’s highest point in terms of art, and the fact that this issue echoes it really bodes well for his development.  I particularly like the panel in which Batman is swimming.  The perspective and the way his fingers are drawn is really quite good.  So although Daniel’s writing isn’t exactly brimming with originality, it’s quite solid.  That’s a trait that seems to be severely lacking in comic books today, with crazy ideas being more highly valued than just consistently entertaining, lower octane storytelling.  I personally appreciate that quite a lot, and I’m glad to see that this title is very much in good hands.

Plot: 8.8      Art: 9.2      Dialogue: 8.8      Overall: 8.9

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