One thing that helps this incarnation of the Arkham Knight is that the name itself carries more significance. Issue #1003 ended with the reveal of the Arkham Knight’s identity – Jeremiah Arkham’s daughter Astrid. Issue #1004 largely devotes itself to exploring Astrid’s sad, weird origin story. What drives a young woman to don a sword and armor and declare holy war on Batman? Besides the obvious reason that no one in the Arkham clan ever seems to turn out quite right, of course.
Writer Peter Tomasi and artist Brad Walker answer that question in a satisfying way in this issue. Much of the story unfolds in the form of a flashback related by Jeremiah Arkham, one that abandons the traditional superhero art style for a softer, more sentimental and even storybook-esque approach. If nothing else, this extended sequences shows off Walker’s range as an artist. He and inker Andre Hennessy tone down their heavy lines in favor of a lighter and more organic approach. That, combined with colorist Nathan Fairbairn’s warmer palette, creates the impression of a dark story being filtered through the whimsical imagination of a child. This series always packs a pleasing punch, and that added variety only makes this issue that much more visually appealing.
The highest compliment that can be paid to this origin story is that the new Arkham Knight, unlike the video game version, doesn’t feel derivative of a previous Bat-villain. Tomasi introduces a neat wrinkle by making the Arkham Knight the harbinger of a completely new generation of evil. She shows what happens when the children Batman tries to protect instead become inspired by his enemies. This issue provides a satisfying explanation for why Astrid hates Batman so much and what caused her to dedicate her life to a holy crusade. I only wish the series spent a little more time exploring her kooky childhood and her interactions with various Arkham prisoners.
There are a few elements of this origin story that seem a bit unnecessarily convoluted. There’s also the issue of time. Given that Astrid is depicted as being born after many of Batman’s classic villains are already locked away in Arkham, exactly how old does that make Batman? The Arkham Knight almost makes more sense as a Batman Beyond villain instead. Still, that’s more a continuity burp than a true storytelling concern. All that really matters is that this issue sets up Batman and his new nemesis for an exciting showdown.