Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Now, I know what makes Batman cool. What makes Batman cool is that he’s just a guy. Not supernatural, no superpowers…he’s just the man.

Thing is, I was playing Arkham Asylum the other day- and I realized something. It’s one of my favorite themes in Batman comics, although only a couple of authors ever use it. There’s something….’wrong’ with Gotham city. Like…REALLY wrong. And not just because the politicians are overpaid and corrupt and criminals run through the street. It’s like the city itself is…sick.

It draws people to it. And corrupts them. As the founder of Arkham Asylum says in the game ‘the city has taken everything from us…’ Kind of makes you think about Batman differently, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s incredible how much Batman does- Bruce Wayne is literally the savior of Gotham City. He supports charities that strengthen the community, helps root out corruption and injustice and even fights crime, by hand, at night.

But what did the city ever do for him? Kill his parents? Cost him a partner (Jason Todd)? Destroy his friends' lives and sanity (i.e. Harvey Dent)? Why stay? Why fight to protect Gotham? The simple answer is- you don’t give up. As Batman says on film to Ra’s al Ghul: "There are still good people here."

But what if that’s not it? What if Batman is trapped? Trapped to serve this demonic city, one that’ll never pay him back or reward him for his effort? Maybe Batman is crazy- not the way his villains portray, but because he is drawn, irresistibly, to this hopeless struggle. What if the ultimate fate of Batman, eventually, inexorably, is madness? As it is for all of his opponents?

Little hints of this kind of fatal view of Gotham have been a part of the comic for a long time. After all, it isn’t just incidental that the local asylum is called Arkham. Arkham is the name of a fictional location frequently written about by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft often wrote about alien, incomprehensible entities that made the human race appear insignificant in comparison; to even gaze upon them would be to drive one to madness.

And, inevitably, madness is the final destination of almost every Lovecraft protagonist. It’s sort of like sanity is the cheap illusion that people believe because they have to, to survive, but sooner or later, the truth, that our lives are fragile, meaningless, and chaotic or that we are controlled by forces beyond our scope to understand, bubbles to the surface. Insanity, it would seem, is inescapable to Lovecraft.

And of, course, it certainly IS somewhat inescapable to Bruce Wayne. Look at his death- running around with a bat, beating people senseless, talking to Batmite (whether this story proves Batmite’s existence or confirms his role as a fictional delusion of Batman is anyone’s guess). Batman really DID go bat-&*$#, at least for a time.

Shadowpact was an underrated comic. A really BIZAREE conglomerate of underused, magic-wielding character’s in the DCU, the line-up consisted of Blue Devil (a special effects wizard turned into an actual devil by demonic influence), Enchantress (a freelance artist possessed by a malevolent magical entity, with serious personality problems), Ragman (one of my FAVORITE unknown characters- a used goods trader whose ‘rag suit’ contains mystical properties- including trapping the souls of his enemies)…and even Detective Chimp (a chimp who has drank from the literal Fountain of Youth and has gained heightened intelligence and consciousness).

Like I said, WEIRD. Very weird but a cool comic nonetheless. You have to dig deep, real deep, into the DC Universe to appreciate it though. I mean these guys run with (and against) some really obscure DC figures, like the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger.

Well, the roundabout point I’m getting at here is this- some Shadowpact history lessons tucked into the book strongly suggests that Gotham has been a site of mystical importance (hence the Oblivion Bar, a literal interdimensional hole-in-the-wall drinking tavern, having an entrance in the city) and may even be the resting ground of dormant, supernatural entities.

Unfortunately, the book got canned (like so many new books following Infinite Crisis and 52) after only 25 issues or so. Kind of underrated, if you ask me. But still, kind of creepy spin on the Dark Knight, isn’t it?


  1. That's a good analysis, I think Batman does suffer for some sort of obsession over the city. Is it his presence that draws the crazies?

  2. I agree with you about Gotham being an entity all its own that draws the characters in. I think in literature and in cinema, stories that use the city/surroundings as a character have the biggest impact.

  3. I think that's what's great about the Batman mythos. Each member of the "Rogues Gallery" could represent a different psychological condition and Gotham City is sort of a culmination of their collective diagnoses.


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