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‘Arkhamaniacs’ (review)

Written by Franco, Art Baltazar 
Art by Art Baltazar 
Published by DC Comics

 

Art Baltazar & Franco’s Arkhamaniacs is one of those books that probably has DC’s old guard rolling in their graves.

On the surface it seems to be targeted to children but I don’t really think that’s the case.

There are far too many insider references to Batman’s history. Even the average adult reader wouldn’t catch them all.

Ostensibly it’s a simple story. Rich kid Bruce Wayne is intrigued by a nearby apartment building where a bunch of odd older kids (?) seem to be having a much better time than he is, living in a mansion with his rich parents and their butler.

The thickly inked characters are cartoony to the extreme and the reader has no problem imagining the panels as being animated. One can almost hear the cartoon sound effects and music.

Although ultra-simplified, the characterizations of each and every one of the different baby Bat-villains comes through. Joker and Harley, Ivy, Scarecrow, Riddler, Man-Bat, Clayface, Catwoman, Penguin, and (Killer) Croc are all here and all recognizable and young Bruce is absolutely infatuated with each and every one of them. He wants desperately to be part of their fun world even though he’s a bit scared by it.

The whole thing can be read on several levels, the most obvious being that it’s a story of a young boy seeking and discovering his own uniqueness by being open to the uniqueness of others around him.

The whole thing also works as a metaphor for how Bruce became the obsessive Batman in order to deal with the craziness of the world surrounding him. (It even throws in a relatively subtle Bill Finger bit with his costume!)

On a darker level, it’s the story of a young boy falling in with a bad crowd and slowly being corrupted by them. In the beginning, only the crazies see the talking Toontown house but by the end, so does Brucie.

I don’t know which version Baltazar meant, if any, or if he was just having fun drawing cutesy versions of Batman’s rogues’ gallery and making some jokes that he figured at least some people might get.

Either way, he accomplishes it all with his usual skill and aplomb and I enjoyed reading Arkhamaniacs. Bob Kane would have hated it.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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