Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Arkham Manor #4

Hey Dateline's Keith Morrison! You take this one!

Have you ever heard the phrase "Too many cooks spoil the broth"? Well...Gotham was a city full of cooks and the broth was as bad as any that had ever been made. It was a recipe for disaster. Yes, Gotham. A city on the brink of darkness...and despair. Some might even say it teetered over the tipping point so many, many years ago. A city left desperately clawing for purchase to retard its ever quickening descent into pure madness. But one man...some might call him a "hero"...struggles, night after darkening night, to drag his city back into the light of day...the light of hope. But how might one man alone beat back the forces of darkness when the only weapons at his disposal are overwhelming grief for parents killed long ago, and Wayne Enterprises Research and Development Division?

Batman's solution? To remove, one at a time, each cook from the kitchen, and to place them in an asylum...some might call it a "prison," some might call it the dark soul of a city gone mad...all too familiar to those world-weary residents of Gotham City: Arkham. But what happens when Arkham itself becomes the scene of grisly and unspeakable murders? Where, then, does Justice go to roost? At what soil will Justice now claw and scratch looking for seeds and bugs to snatch with its righteous beak of punishment? Where does Justice go to clutch its chicks when the fox has found its way into the hen-house?

Tonight, we'll take a dramatic look into the hunt for a killer as we follow the steps of The Batman as he tries to save the city. This is just a small glimpse through a glass darkly of this man's entire world.

It all started on a night like any other. A night where two orderlies on break in the basement of Arkham Manor were sharing in a secret drink. Oh, to be sure, drinking on duty was not allowed. But who could blame them? Their job was stressful enough on normal nights, here in the mad heart of Gotham. But tonight...oh, tonight would be so much worse. So who could fault them if they happened to be caught unawares while taking a moment to relieve a little of their stress with a harmless sip of the devil's drink? Especially when it would wind up being their last.

An inhuman monster stalked the halls that night. But...where was The Batman? Ah. He was hunting an all-too-human monster. He hunted an unknown murderer who had nearly killed the man known as Victor Zsasz, serial murderer...some might call him "the boogerman." Ha ha! Whoops. Can we try that again?

An inhuman monster stalked the halls that night. But...where was The Batman? Ah, now, that's a tale in itself. He was hunting an all-too-human monster: an unknown murderer who had nearly killed the man simply known as Victor Zsasz, serial murderer and, as some might call him, and rightly so, "the bogeyman."

On the night in question, amidst the chaos and confusion caused by the monster known as Clownface as he, laughing his soul-shriveling laugh, rampaged throughout Gotham's home for the most fragile of its residents, a woman named Sybil Silverlock escaped the..."prison". Her story, though, is far too long to interrupt tonight's tale of depravity and sensationalism, so we'll leave her trudging through the snow, her mind consumed with thoughts of her daughter.

Inside Arkham, The Batman could not have known that he would be fighting for his very life that night. He was ill prepared to deal with a monstrosity as twisted as Clownface. He knew, if he were to have even the slimmest hopes for surviving, he would be forced to call on help. You might be thinking, safe in your well-lit room, shoving too salty popcorn ungracefully into your drooling maws, "What, Keith, could be so hard about calling for help?" Well, then, there's the rub. The Batman was used to working alone. Some might even go as far as to say he had issues with trust. But then, seeing your parents shot down in cold blood before your innocent eyes can have that affect on a person. But The Batman's struggle to save his city was based on those events, so if he needed to call for help, for help he would. And to a most unlikely of sources.

Mister Freeze. The Cold Miser. The Man With The Heart of Ice. The Cocksicle. Not the sort of man most people would turn to in their time of need, to be sure. But The Batman's mind was as keen as any there ever was...keener even than Jean-Luc Picard, that master of controlled reason tempered by unbound love. Oh, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Has a better show ever graced our national airwaves? I'd argue, "No."

So, The Batman had made a fateful decision. Would Mister Freeze be willing to help him stop the insane spree of Clownface so that The Batman could get back to the real heart of tonight's mystery and find The Man Who Stalked The Halls of Madness? That was the name of tonight's show which probably should have been said much more dramatically earlier on. Pretty catchy, right? Anyway, if you're interested in that mystery, it'll probably be shoved off into a second part since I've written a lot of dramatic lines concerning this Clownface character which will take up most of the rest of the program. Which will return after this short message.

It was a night like any other night. A Child worked diligently at her homework. A Husband sat trying to watch sports while passive-aggressively calling his wife stupid. A Wife plotted small deceits against the man she could not believe now she thought she had loved then, so many years ago when she still had a future full of vibrant possibilities. Why had she never pursued that man in the park with the perfect abs and striking biceps, the one she could always find on a breezy day flying a kite with Xena's face plastered across it? The man with the joyful grin and...truth be told...large and intriguing bulge in his probably two sizes too small plaid cotton shorts. Sure, at the time, she thought she was in love with her current husband, the human train wreck that, every day, managed to drink a full six pack of cheap beer that smelled of stale passed gas, so pursuing the stranger that made her wetter than she's ever been...and this from only watching a grown man fly a kite...well, that was entirely out of the question, wasn't it? She had allowed society to ingrain in her a trait it called "sensibility" but which she now realized was actually "cowardice," and it had not been taught her to help her become a better person, but to keep her in control. Stories like these were happening all over Gotham on this night. But in Arkham...oh, in Arkham, it was anything but any other night.

The Batman and Mister Freeze had only one chance to stop Clownface's spree of utter horror and hilarity. Everybody's fate rested on one small can of liquid nitrogen and Mister Freeze's aim. I wish I could say things had turned out differently. I wish I could say it didn't end the way that it did, so quickly and without harm to anybody. But it did. No gruesome deaths for me to exploit in the name of journalism. No revelations of marital infidelity that would allow me to characterize another human being as a monster or a home-wrecker. No crazed fits of jealousy that would allow me to ponder the possibility of the existence of true and tangible evil. No, tonight the good guys won in a very undramatic fashion. Ratings might suffer but, I suppose, we should take solace in the knowledge that sometimes we are allowed to believe in the possible existence of a loving and merciful God.

Now that the inhuman threat had been taken care of, frozen like so many small children at the bottom of the lake covered in cracked and broken ice, The Batman had other business at hand: The Man Who Stalked The Halls of Madness. When we get that graphic, can we make sure it drips a little blood? Maybe insert a child's scream under the voice over as the title is read?

At last, The Batman could return to the case that brought him to Arkham in the first place. And he knew who he hunted, having faced him down in the arteries of the heart of Gotham. It was a crazed madman known as The Spelunker. And it would take every weapon at The Batman's disposal to bring him down. Or, probably, just one well-placed Batarang. Would The Batman be successful? Would more grisly murders be found? People with holes drilled into their brains? Cut-off limbs scattered about rooms where the walls dripped with melted fat and rent intestines? The answers will have to wait and be revealed next week on part two of The Man Who Stalked The Halls of Madness!

Arkham Manor Rating: +1 Ranking. I wish Keith Morrison were my father!

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