Sunday, August 20, 2017

Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 (1992)


Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 (June, 1992)
"The Last Arkham, Part One"
Writer - Alan Grant
Artist - Norm Breyfogle
Letterer - Todd Klein
Colorist - Adrienne Roy
Assistant Editor - Scott Peterson
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $1.50

Today we're going to discuss what just might've been my first Batman comic book ever!  This was around the time of Batman Returns, and my local shop set up a display with this (polybagged) new release, and a three-part story arc that ran between Batman and Detective Comics called "The Penguin Affair".  I wanna say I bought them all at once, but I'm pretty sure I grabbed this one first... on account of the polybag, and the "#1" on the cover.

Either way, this was the start of my on-again, off-again relationship with the Batman's sequential art adventures.  From here I would binge on Bat-books for upwards of a year... then drop'em all for another... again and again.  I think my current run with the character might just be my longest "stint" yet!

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We open with Arkham Asylum being... emptied?  Ya see, new director, Jeremiah Arkham isn't so fond of the Gothic and Victorian digs, and wants to bring the joint into the (late) 20th Century.  He's hired a crew from Hiram Contractors to... not only knock over the building, but even to dispose of all the old Arkham files!  As Jeremiah watches the blaze and discusses "logic v lunacy" with one of the workers, he thinks back to a run-in with a mad man at a liquor store.  He found himself facing the business end of a shotgun... however, is somehow able to "see" the baddie's pain... says a few things... and before we know it, the robber turns the shotgun on himself!


Time passes, and we are introduced to the new-look Arkham Asylum... which Jeremiah based on a classical labyrinth.  Here we join the new director on his rounds.  First stop, Cornelius Stirk... a disfigured multiple-murderer, who was once known as "Fear".  It is clear that he isn't comfortable in his new well-lit room.  His panic attack prompts Arkham to suggest some tranquilizers.  Stirk ain't diggin' that one bit, preferring to be "drug free".  He says drugs are unnatural... to which, Arkham compares that to Stirk's having eaten his fair share of human hearts.  The orderlies... well, beat the hell out of the inmate... and force-feed him his pills.


Next stop, Everard Mallitt... who I wanna say is a one-off (or at least a new) character.  He's suffering from nightmares... and so, Arkham has him hooked up to a machine to wake him whenever he enters REM sleep... which doesn't sound like a terribly pleasant way to live.


Then, Jonathan Crane... the Scarecrow!  He's trying to convince Arkham that he isn't a dangerous man... ya know, while dressed like a six-foot tall scarecrow.  He protests being locked in a glass cage, and calls it "inhuman".  Arkham suggests that he can make the accommodations much worse, should he deem it necessary.  He then begins talking about behaviorism... then proceeds to scare Crane with holographic birds.  Wouldn'tcha know it, on the very next page we see Arkham in bed reading a book by, one of my favorite psychological theorists, B.F. Skinner (I've written a few theses on his theories and practices).  His approach with Crane is sorta Skinnerian... but, with the volume up to eleven... maybe twelve!


Now for something completely different... to the streets of Gotham where a man named Horse is being roughed up by some street toughs.  Lucky for him Robin is in the neighborhood, and makes short work of the creeps (in a wonderful two-page scene).  After the dust settles, Nightwing arrives to give him an "attaboy" and ask if there's anything he can do to help out.


Back at Arkham, Jeremiah is meeting with probably this series' most notable new villain... Mr. Zsasz!  He is locked in a metal "pod" of sorts... that only has an opening for his mouth.  They discuss Skinner, an orderly Zsasz recently... I dunno, mutilated a little bit (?) and also, whether or not Jeremiah might fall prey to the same sort of mania that claimed his uncle Amadeus Arkham.  This chat doesn't appear to be going the way Jerry wants... so he leaves.


Last stop on our tour of new Arkham brings us to a particular maximum security cell.  Jeremiah insists the orderlies have their nightsticks ready before they enter to greet their newest resident... Batman?!


A rather disgruntled Batman, actually!  So much so that Arkham immediately suggests sedation.  When Batman refuses to doze quietly, he sics the orderlies on him.  Batman is able to fight them off (his hands are chained to the wall, by the way).


Or, they were!  He manages to break the chains off the wall... however, before he might act, he finds himself on the business end of a high-pressure hose.  He's doused... then beaten by the nightstick-wielding orderlies.  One orderly goes to unmask him, but is halted by Arkham.  He doesn't want the cowl... not that way.  The only way he wants it, is if a "cured" Batman hands it to him himself.


The issue ends with Arkham and the orderlies (a great band name!) leave a battered Batman on the wet floor of his room.


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I'd forgotten how neat this issue was... my initial thoughts about this opening arc always go back to reading it as a kid... and not really getting into it.  A few issues later (I think it was Part Three) it grabbed me... until I realized that Batman was having like three different adventures at the same time throughout his other titles... and it kinda killed any urgency this story in particular had.  This was pretty early on in my "expanded" fandom... so I guess I wasn't quite used to that kinda thing yet.

Reading it back today... I really dug it!  It's a creepy-as-hell "day in the life" for (the debuting) Jeremiah Arkham.  I appreciated seeing him on his rounds... as it allowed for us to observe his approach without having to sit through a scene consisting of expository captions.  We see the disdain he has for the mentally ill... and how extreme he can be with his "treatment".

Use of B.F. Skinner as his go-to theorist is... well, like I mentioned, I am a (non-practicing) Skinnerian... but, even I must say, it kinda makes sense.  Skinner's approach (like any, really) could be exaggerated to the point of abuse.  I appreciate Skinner's take Operant Behavioral/classical conditioning as I feel it has a higher potential of, um... "visible success/failure".  Psychology is what many refer to as a "soft science"... and a potentially slow-moving one at that.  Skinner's approach, at least to my mind, works (or is proved not to work) quicker than many forms of psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.  In fairness, however, I should mention that my "experience" in using it is about 80% theoretical and role-play... and 20% "mesearch", which is to say, applying Skinnerian behavioral theory to various aspects of my own life.  I should also mention that I doubt Skinner would be on-board with beating patients with nightsticks.

Wow, that was a skippable paragraph!

Back to the story.  We've got a Batman locked in Arkham... and he's been accused of murder!  This is such a weird way to open a story, but it works so much better than had we seen his "arrest"/intake.  Even as a kid who didn't have a whole lot of investment... finding out why Batman was admitted was why I came back for the next issue.  It's a great cliffhanger, made even more so in Jeremiah's refusal to unmask the man.  I mean, it could be argued that that is a "convenient" thing to have happen... but, under the circumstances, it makes complete sense.  Arkham wants Batman to unmask voluntarily.  In his own twisted way, he's giving Batman a measure of ownership over his situation.  It's subtly played... but, it's there.  Batman's "wellness" and terms of release are almost completely in his own hands.  Really awesome touch.

Overall, this is definitely one worth reading... and in my experience, it's among the easier 1990's Batman books to find in the wild/on the cheap.  It's been collected in trade (fairly recently) and it's also available digitally... for 50-cents over cover price!

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(Not the) Letters Page:


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