ArkhaManiacs | Review
Writers: Art Baltazar and Franco
Artist: Art Baltazar
DC Comics; $9.99
Any adult who has spent much time with Batman will likely find the premise of ArkhaManiacs pretty bizarre. A young Bruce Wayne meets The Joker and the other colorful characters who live in the Wayne family-owned Arkham apartment complex, and through their influence he gradually learns to see the world differently, indulging in his imagination to unlock new levels of fun.
Art Baltazar and Franco, the team behind Tiny Titans and previous DC original graphic novel Superman of Smallville, therefore seem to present mental illness in the romantic, old school pop culture form of “madness,” a sort of noble eccentricity. Not that they use the words “mental illness” or “madness” in the book at all, of course; that the villains are generally presented as maniacs—homicidal or otherwise—in other comics and media goes unmentioned outside of the title, which is likely an intentional homage to cartoon Animanicas.
In fact, the villains are not even really referred to as villains in this book. They’re just a bunch of fun weirdos that young Bruce can’t seem to resist hanging out with. Their transgressions may draw the ire of the building’s strict security manager Jim Gordon, but it is more harmless naughtiness than any actual crimes.
Bruce accompanies Alfred to Arkham Apartments one rainy day to collect the mail, and there he meets The Joker (although Bruce is a little kid, most of the villains are grown-ups, with few notable exceptions). We follow The Joker into the building, and through him meet some of his neighbors, most of whom go by their first names rather than their criminal aliases. So, for example, The Joker stops to visit Oswald, Jonathan and Pamela, rather than The Penguin, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy.
Most of the characters appear just long enough for a single joke about them—like Jonathan being despondent he is unable to scare crows, for example, or Hush’s name leading to an Abbot and Costello-esque misunderstanding—but after a series of visits, Bruce learns to use his “Maj”, as Clayface calls his imagination, and essentially becomes one of the gang.
It’s a simple story, and a fairly wholesome one (even if I personally have some reservations about the romantic view of mental illness that is implied), as weird as it might be to think of The Joker and company teaching Bruce Wayne the value of play.
It’s targeted toward the youngest readers, and therefore an audience that has (hopefully) never seen the films The Dark Knight or Suicide Squad or Joker. But Baltazar and Franco are at this point in their careers as DC Comics gag men quite adept at creating kid-friendly comics with plenty of jokes for grown-up fans as well, and there are a few extremely specific jokes that only the most hardcore fans would get (like Bruce Wayne’s first attempt at a Batman costume being the one that Bob Kane originally designed in the 1930s, but which never actually saw print).
So whatever cognitive dissonance it might cause among grown-ups, they’ll also find plenty of rewarding gags. And as for the target audience of non-grown-ups, well, they will surely find little or nothing to complain about, as ArkhaManiacs offers yet another dose of this creative team’s signature silly sense of humor and super-cute art.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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