This is squarely within the wheel house of the types of novels I have always loved the most, direct prequels/tie-ins to franchises I love, and not just franchises I love, but specific versions or installments of the franchises I dig the most.
The Arkham game series might actually be my second favorite version of Batman, the main Rocksteady games (I, sadly, never played Origins) were groundbreaking and breathtakingly perfect games, the Arkham City prequel comic was fun as hell!
So a prequel novel to the 3rd game!?
How could I pass that up?
But I’m not going to pretend every single prequel novel I’ve read has been great.
Where does this stack up?
I’m gonna slip in to Detective mode and attempt to figure that out, gang!
As always, this is your mondo mega ***SPOILER ALERT*** so act accordingly.
The Joker is dead and in the months since his cremation a quiet has settled in on this toxic town and a power vacuum has emerged.
One man decides to step up and try to fill that void in the only way he knows how, through a test of problem solving abilities and the most circuitous route that man or beast could possibly dream up.
Batman is called in when an envelope comes through the GCPD mail room allegedly from The Joker containing a flash drive which kicks off a deadly game that sees some of Gotham’s most sinister villians teaming up with a maniacal menace to take on the Bat Family.
In short, Andy McElfresh’s favorite bat villain, The Riddler, tries to fill those green and twisted dress shoes.
Alex Irvine wrote the Iron Man 2 novelization, as well as original Iron Man & Ultimates novels and a Batman novel titled Inferno, all of which I’ve read and loved.
So, going into this, I wasn’t worried at all about his ability to handle these characters and this world.
But having said that, goddamn it!
He fuckin’ nailed this one seven ways to Sunday.
The relationships are spot on, I’d say most especially Batman & Commissioner Gordon’s semi-antagonistic, yet mutually beneficial partnership.
Gordon knows that the Bat is definitely the best at what he does, but running against that is the fact that Batsy is an outlaw vigilante.
Watching Gordon struggle with saving lives, but getting the best results for the citizens of Gotham is perfect, and that’s all due to Irvine’s expert handling.
A good portion of the villains you want to see are involved, one way or another, in Riddler’s intricately plotted game, showing once again why Batman has one of the top two greatest rogues galleries in all of fiction.
From Harley Quinn, to Mr. Freeze & Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, Deadshot, and even Ra’s Al Ghul has a small part to play.
They’re all layered in well and nobody feels like they are jammed in just to have another recognizable name.
As much as I love all of the Bat Family action, my absolute favorite part of this book is that it is interspersed with news reports and articles that help fill in and move the scope of the plot forward in a satisfying and easy to read way.
And having some of the most well known names in reporting from the Bat-verse adds just that perfect extra layer of in universe detail to make it feel like a lived in universe.
Particularly, Vicki Vale getting sucked in to Riddler’s game helps sell the danger to the citizens of Gotham.
The bottom line is this, gang, this novel does set up Arkham Knight pretty damn well.
Getting inside of Batman’s head, post Arkham City, sets up his spiraling mental state in that game in small but impactful ways that startle and unsettle The Dark Knight.
Seeing him have, process, and battle certain inherited tendencies and impulses (if you know the game, you know what that means) is interesting and puts his mastery of his own mind on full display.
All of his relationships are detailed and explained well enough for even the most casual of fans to understand and feel the weight of, his worries and fears get explored deeply enough to make you realize the burden this character carries through every decision and move he makes.
If you love this character no matter what iteration it is, you’re sure to dig this.
But if you are a mega fan of the Arkham games, but you weren’t sure about this tie-in, you definitely should dive in.
It’s a great bridge story that makes for a nice revisit to this particularly demented and grimy continuity.
Let us what you think of this review in the comments below or share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.
Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her continued editorial assistance.