If "Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum" was the first issue of a mini-series, I'd probably have been a bit happier with the comic. As a one-shot? It just doesn't work. The idea itself isn't bad; we see what Dr. Jeremiah Arkham has been up to both leading up to and after "Batman R.I.P." and the destruction (yet again) of Arkham Asylum. Throughout the course of this one-shot, we see not only some of the criminals imprisoned at Arkham, but also some patients who are merely mentally ill. Ultimately, that's both the high and the low point of the comic.
I have to give David Hine credit for remembering that more than just criminals are inside Arkham Asylum, and that it's a mental institution and not just a prison. So when Hine first starts introducing the three new characters locked up in solitary confinement (to protect them from the more violent ones locked up in Arkham), it actually felt a little strange when you start to realize that none of these new people were actually villains. The more I read, though, the more refreshing it felt. This felt like someone was doing something a little bit new with Arkham Asylum.
Don't get me wrong, the comic also goes over some old and slightly tired ground. I find it a little ironic that Hine has possibly forgotten that the story that initially introduced Jeremiah Arkham ("The Last Arkham") also opened with the demolition of the old Arkham Asylum and a new facility being built. So when artifacts belonging to an earlier Arkham began to surface in hidden panels within the asylum itself, well, it's hard to not raise an eyebrow. (I will give Hine a small benefit of the doubt that this will turn out to be a plot point down the road, but my hopes are not high.) And once again, there's plans on rebuilding Arkham Asylum into a new form; how many times have we seen this before?
The big problem is, though, the comic is just a one-shot. At the end of the issue we get the note that the story continues in "Battle for the Cowl," but with only one issue to go in that mini-series I can't help but doubt that it's a true statement. So for the time being (and with no word so far on a follow-up anywhere) this feels like a lot of lead-up to absolutely nothing at all. In a word, it's frustrating. Maybe next month, DC's August 2009 solicitations will reveal a new project from Hine that goes forward from here. But for now, it feels like a promising road turned the corner and hit a dead end. It's enough to drive one mad...