By Alex Batts — A familiar foe recently joined Batman’s rogues gallery in the comics: The Arkham Knight. This character was first introduced to the broader Batman mythos in the final chapter of Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham video game franchise via the 2015 release of Batman: Arkham Knight. Though many fans immediately deduced the character’s not-so-secret identity well before the game’s official release, the character design and Arkham Knight mantle was excellent, making it something worth introducing to the main Batman continuity.
Meanwhile, writer Peter J. Tomasi has been on an absolute roll since taking over Detective Comics with issue #994. So, when it was announced that for his short story in the milestone Detective Comics #1000, he would be introducing the Arkham Knight, my excitement went through the roof.
And that’s what I’d like to talk about today, who is the new Arkham Knight, where do they fit into the comics, and how was the arc that introduced the character? Let’s check it out…
Arkham Knight in Detective Comics - The Arthurian Angle
This new Arkham Knight obviously needed to be much different from its videogame counterpart. For starters, it couldn’t be Jason Todd, as it was in the game. This immediately brought up a new “Who is the Arkham Knight?” fan theory train (I’ll get to their actual identity shortly), while also offering a chance to make this characterization standout in more than just name. From the get-go it was apparent that this Arkham Knight was taking the “Knight” aspect of their title more literally. This Arkham Knight sports a shield and sword, and the mythos surrounding them feels heavily inspired by tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable.
I suppose I should drop a **spoiler warning** before I go any further, because from here on out I will be getting into spoiler territory for Detective Comics #1000 to #1005. Detective Comics #1000 introduced the new Arkham Knight to the comics with a 12-page monologue about their perspective on Batman and how he is a plague to Gotham, doing so with excellently-rendered splash pages of Batman in action by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and David Baron. It’s in Detective Comics #1001 that the Knight’s story kicks into high gear. We see the Arkham Knight knighting followers of their own, while talking about a crusade to burn back the darkness that Batman has shrouded Gotham in.
The Arthurian angle for the Arkham Knight is something I’ve been very vocal about on social media—I think it’s the best possible direction the creative team could’ve taken with the character. As previously mentioned, it sets them apart from the videogame version, but it also just makes so much sense. The Arkham Knight should be knightly (it’s in the name!), and seeing Batman go up against a Knight and crusaders is plain awesome.
Before I go any further, though, it’s time for a gigantic shout-out to the art team for this story arc.
Arkham Knight Artwork
Brad Walker (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inker), and Nathan Fairbairn (colorist) all produce top tier work throughout this story, elevating it to a next level. Their contributions are inseparable from what makes this arc work so well. When I think about this arc, I imagine the bombastic action, stellar character designs, and striking color work this team brings to the table. There’s some obvious Batman: The Animated Series influences at times—from the look of the Batmobile to the Woman-Bat chase sequence in Detective #1001 that’s reminiscent of the very first episode of BTAS. One thing about Batman himself that stands out in this arc is the use of his cape and the detail of the lenses in his cowl. He uses his cape to shield himself, for offense, and is also cloaked in it to a noticeable degree in various panels throughout the story. Artists incorporating the cape in this way is something I always appreciate, and here his lenses actually look like lenses, constantly changing depending on lighting situations and facial expression.
Then there’s the design of the Arkham Knight itself, which takes the best elements from the game and makes it work brilliantly in the context of this story. They’re slightly more armored, yet the design isn’t as busy. Oh, and THEY’VE GOT A SWORD AND SHIELD! Pardon my excitement, but how can you not be hyped seeing Batman take on an adversary with a sword and shield in hand? The colors in the Knight’s design also create a great contrast and I can’t help but marvel at them in every panel they’re in.
Phew. With the art teams’ praises sung, let’s get into the story of the Arkham Knight...
Who is the Arkham Knight?
I don’t want to break down everything that happens issue by issue (I implore you to read the arc yourself, trust me, it’s worth it), so I’ll instead focus on the Arkham Knight as a character and what they bring to the table. It is revealed that the Arkham Knight is Astrid Arkham, daughter of Jeremiah Arkham. She grew up in the halls and catacombs of Arkham Asylum after her mother was murdered at the hands of a rogue inmate, moments after giving birth to Astrid, during a riot within the facility.
We learn that Astrid’s mother was an overwhelmingly compassionate woman, and because of this had developed a positive relationship with many of the inmates of the Asylum, from the Joker to Clayface. It is these inmates who deliver Astrid into the world, and it is them who support and comfort her as she grows up in the secret halls of the Asylum. So why does Astrid have such a grudge against Batman?
Well, Astrid’s mother was murdered by a batarang to the jugular, and while Batman isn’t the one who threw the weapon, Astrid is not aware of this. All Astrid knows of Batman is what her friends, the inmates, tell her. She sees Batman as a boogeyman who visits at night, beats on the people she trusts, and uses a signature weapon that she eventually discovered caused the death of her mother. Her father doesn’t fully explain what really happened, and because of this Astrid harbors a burning hatred for Batman. She turns this hatred into a passion to better herself, working to eventually take down the evil that she sees Batman as. Inspired by fairytales she read as a child; she wants to be the Knight who saves Gotham from the darkness.
Astrid’s plan is to create a total eclipse of blinding light over Gotham, effectively removing the darkness that she believes Batman has cloaked over the city for so many years, and she’s got a handful of Arkham inmates and loyal followers to help her do so. The result is a clashing of perspectives. Unaware of the full truth of her mother’s death, she sees herself as the hero of this story, regardless of what her actions may mean for the citizens of Gotham. Delusional but dangerously effective, Astrid presents a formidable challenge for Batman while remaining someone that we as readers can sympathize with.
Though Astrid’s plan doesn’t succeed—this is a superhero comic, after all, and our hero must come out on top—her impact is memorable, and I can’t wait to see her inevitable return in future tales. This arc had it all, a compelling villain, great moments between Batman and Robin (Tomasi gets these two, and their banter is perfect), a perfect balance of suspense, intrigue, and action, and incredible art throughout. The climactic battle is a sight to behold, and the mystery in the issues leading up to it keeps you engaged and engrossed in the story.
A blast of an arc from start to finish, the introduction of the Arkham Knight into the main continuity and Batman’s mythos exceeded my ridiculously high expectations in every way.
Read more of Alex’s writing about Batman here.
Alex Batts is from Texas. A lifelong comic book enthusiast and movie lover, if he’s not talking about comics, he’s probably not talking. You can find him on Twitter by following @BatmanFiles.