Arkham Asylum is no more, blown to smithereens. The authorities need to store the inmates somewhere while rebuilding goes on, but the citizenry aren't thrilled by the immediate solution, a sports stadium in the heart of the city.
The mayor looks at the options, out-of-the-way buildings that can be made secure enough for the worst Gotham has to offer. He settles on Wayne Manor, recently vacated by its owner and ripe for new residents. A compulsory purchase order gets the building into civic hands and it's soon filled to the brim with the criminally insane.
The Batman isn't delighted, and almost blows up the house to keep it unsullied by the people he spends his life fighting. In the end, though, he'd rather give the building a chance to do some good than see it meet the same fate as Arkham.
He thinks: 'The inmates are secure. Gotham is quiet.'
For about a minute and a half, anyway. News of a death soon has Batman zooming back to the manor, where he finds the GCPD's Lt Harvey Bullock and a slew of investigators.
So, another week, another new Batman title. We've just had Gotham Academy and a revamped Batgirl, today also sees a new beginning for Catwoman, there's Gotham by Midnight to come ... so can Arkham Manor makes its mark?
On the basis of this first issue, it's a definite, mmm, dunno. Gerry Duggan's script is precise, wasting few words as it sets up the bare basics and a mystery. He gets major points for adding a little humour, via Batman's 'workout'. He remembers that Batman is a detective, includes a nod to TV's Criminal Minds and paces the book nicely. Alfred is the way I like him, more thoughtful manservant than action man. It's apparent that Duggan has the chops to be a good Bat-writer.
And Shawn Crystal's art, as subtly coloured by Dave McCaig, is a pleasure on every page, with nicely composed panels that breathe or get claustrophobic as needed. He doesn't skimp on the detail that makes the manor seem real - have you ever seen a comic book artist take the time to give us a skirting board? I don't like his super-unshaven Batman, but that may be a first-issue thing as it does come in useful at the end of the book.
And while I like the Kelley Jones style splodginess of Batman's cape, I'd rather he didn't foreground the ugliness of DC's current Batman costume (those boots!). Niggles aside, Crystal does well to give this series its own visual identity.
Duggan and Crystal work well together, with full-page scenes of Batman arriving by the front door, then remembering what the manor has meant to him, making for sharp, stylish visuals. And the cover by Crystal, McCaig and an excellent logo designer, is striking.
My problem with this as the debut issue of a new series is that it doesn't feel like anything other than an above average Batman book. I bought this comic wanting an Arkham Manor story. I don't actually know what that would mean, and that's what Duggan fails to show me. Events are viewed through the narration of Batman, with only one named player attached to Arkham on panel. To give Duggan his due, he gives us a snapshot of Eric Border in just a few lines, but who else is here? Gotham Academy and Batgirl filled their pages with new characters, and gave a sense of what the series might be, in terms of feel and stories. Here, we don't get that. It could be the opening issue of an arc in pretty much any Batman book of the past 20 years, given the regularity with which Arkham Asylum is crippled.
The craft and style on display mean I'll give this book a couple of issues to show why it needs to exist in a world of a dozen Batman titles. But if it doesn't, Arkham Manor risks getting lost among the pack.