I have been searching, and I mean really searching, for a DC book that I wanted to talk about. So far there has been nothing either mind blowing nor mind numbing. I see many of you sitting forward even now, all standing up in defense of “Animal Man”, Scott Snyder’s “Batman”, or perhaps even “Superman”—just kidding, not even Snyder was able to resuscitate that character. The problem with these books is it doesn’t feel special. In “Invincible” we the reader are intimately connected to every aspect of the world that Mark Grayson touches, even some of the bits that aren’t close to the surface. I had to find a book that could hook me like that from DC and I think I found that in “Batman Annual #2” by Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett.
I want you to picture Arkham Asylum. Do you see the decrepit dungeon? Is it filled to the brim with incurable lunatics? Are the security systems a lark, a system of pointless locks and bars that even the most mundane criminal can escape? Of course, we can all imagine the place, its infamy is only slightly less than the Batcave. And indeed every themed bank robber gets tossed inside, locked away until the next breakout. But what is Arkham Asylum? What is it without the murdering psychopaths and the ballistic defense grid? Take away all those “unbreakable” cells and what you have is a hospital. Somewhere along the way that was lost in the spooky concrete halls. This was once a place where the seriously deranged could get treated instead of locked away to never see daylight. Scott Snyder helps us remember this in true Arkham style: with the creepiest sociopath the Asylum has on lockdown.
Tucked away in a corner of the Asylum is a woman known as the Anchoress. Yeah, not the catchiest name, but she makes up for this with absolute creepiness. She looks like a week old corpse, her clothing deteriorating, skin sallow and rotted with pock marks, even her eyes are a vibrant black that seems to devour all life around her. Exciting isn’t it, and her powers are even better. Not to spoil anything but her powers are basically the same as Kitty Pryde from the X-Men only creepy and painful. She does this thing where she sticks her hand into Batman’s head and makes him relive all the worst parts of his life: his parents’ murder, his unknown brother becoming an arch-nemesis, and his son dying in the line of duty. Let me just say this, dead parents in a Batman book is an automatic win, adding Damian was just extra credit… But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.
Sometimes a story can have the best plot and be incredibly well received, but sometimes that same story can have a little bit of trouble getting off the ground. This book starts with the same hackneyed cliché that super hero books use all the time: Batman is testing the security of Arkham Asylum by becoming its newest inmate. Did you just read that sentence in the movie announcer voice? Anytime that happens it means the story is inorganic and forced. In the story, they lock him in a cell and he proceeds to make them all look like Class A morons—even though the solution is to stop locking lunatics away there in the first place. Anyways, this really old, classic story kind of smashes into the story of the Anchoress with the subtlety of a train car. Her story is really interesting in a gothic, Victorian way. Everything is tragic and beautiful and even her purpose in life is misguided and sad in the loneliest sense. She originally came to Arkham Asylum in the early 1900s. Her powers allowed her longevity but at the cost of her sanity. She desperately needed the comfort and treatment of the Asylum. Then Batman comes along and fills the place with killers. So she has no choice but to go cuckoo banana pants and try to murder him.
Do you see what I’m saying about tone? There’s this tragic tale of loneliness and insufferable guilt and misery all wrapped up in spandex and a cape. Not to say this kind of story hasn’t been achieved before but these two stories don’t mix well so it has to be crafted better. “Invincible” had moments of this like the time that Mark decided to stop blindly fighting his villains and to actually figure them out, that Valkyrie from another planet who needed energy being a good example. It explored the depths of these characters in an interesting way that felt tonally similar to the rest of the book.