DC loves Batman stories, and every other week there’s a new title about the Dark Knight or the Bat-brats on the shelves. Written, drawn, and coloured by Christian Ward and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Batman: City of Madness #1 is the latest entry in the Black Label series. Yet, there’s something different about this book. It doesn’t feel like yet another superhero comic. It feels special – in much the same way as Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth feels.
In Batman: City of Madness #1, a new nightmare reveals itself. Underneath Gotham City exists another Gotham – yes, this is very much Stranger Things and the Upside Down vibe. Protecting this gateway that would unleash unexpected horror and terror is the Court of Owls. However, after the door is unlocked, Gotham Below’s Dark Knight makes his way into the world above – and he isn’t exactly the same heroic protector as the original Batman.
While parts of Ward’s story do overlap with ideas introduced in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Death Metal – especially the concept of an evil Batman who behaves differently from the main universe’s one – the writer-artist does infuse more of a twisted horror atmosphere into the tale à la Clive Barker. There’s a sense of pending doom and dread lingering in the air, as Ward creates a knife-edge tension to the story that refuses to settle for a second. At the same time, Morrison’s influence rings throughout this story as it utilises symmetrical metaphors and symbolic themes to convey its message. It’s the type of narrative that reveals more with every re-read.
From an art perspective, this is where Batman: City of Madness #1 feels like the perfect continuation to Arkham Asylum. Ward isn’t afraid to get weird or push the boundaries as the artwork shifts from traditional comic book aesthetic to visceral and surrealist paintings on the page, much the same way McKean did many moons ago. The journey from the first page to the last feels like a fever dream as the images and colours transform into the sort of vivid nightmare that wakes you up in a cold sweat. It’s haunting and scary, but there’s a beauty in the bedlam. Otsmane-Elhaou doesn’t try to outshine or take away from what’s taking place on the page, complementing through the lettering style or by allowing the artwork to breathe on its own.
While the Dawn of DC has brought reinvigoration for many characters, Batman appears to be the odd one out here. The Caped Crusader’s best stories have always been when the creatives lean into the darkness of his world and how Gotham is literally the seventh circle of Hell. Batman: City of Madness #1 captures this essence in a story that plunges the hero into new depths of horror. It’s about time that the Dark Knight got weird and scary again, and this tale delivers exactly that.
Sergio Pereira is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. He has a strong interest in comic books, film, music, and comedy, having been in the entertainment journalism space for over 15 years.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities in this time. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.