Overview: In Arkham City: The Order of the World, Arkham has been destroyed, with a number of villains on the loose, and it is up to a doctor to round them up.
Editor’s Note: This collected edition includes all six issues of the miniseries Arkham City: The Order of the World, which had its first issue released in October 2021 and the final issue released in March 2022. This review focuses on the story as a whole rather than the individual issues that made up the limited series.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): As Arkham City: The Order of the World begins, Dr. Jocasta Joy tries to intervene in a situation where Ratcatcher is under the bed of a child, presumably with the intent of eating the child. While she is engaged with Ratcatcher, the GCPD tasers him and take him away. She is escorted to her office at Arkham, which is now empty and abandoned after a Joker attack (as seen in Infinite Frontier #0) by a GCPD detective. Elsewhere, the Ten-Eyed Man has a hostage and claims he needs to take something from him to perform a ritual.
As they leave, the detective says there’s one more scene for them to visit. The crime scene is in the sewers where Mad Hatter has fled and left behind his henchman who are now dead via some kill switch. Only one has survived and mutters about hood and fire. Dr. Joy returns home, where it turns out she has been letting Ten-Eyed Man stay on the condition he doesn’t leave the apartment. He reveals to her he has taken the entire jawbone from someone to perform a ritual.
A man comes to a house looking to buy drugs. His dealer says he’s out of the drug business and reveals he has Double X chained in his basement. The dealer instructs the man to give him a high five to get high. Elsewhere, Detective Stone calls Dr. Joy to give her an update on the injured Mad Hatter victim. Ten-Eyed Man listens in on their conversation and leaves, saying the ghost of Arkham is coming.
In a church in Gotham, Azrael believes he is visited by an angel and declares a crusade against the escaped Arkhamites. Dr. Joy finds Ten-Eyed Man and is able to deduce he might know where Double X is. She calls in a tip to Detective Stone. Detective Stone goes to investigate and finds Double X just as Azrael appears. Stone is injured in the altercation, and Azrael subdues Double X.
Dr. Joy visits Detective Stone in the hospital. She lies and doesn’t admit to using Ten-Eyed Man’s map to figure out where Double X was. She later follows Ten-Eyed Man in a search for Solomon Grundy. Ten-Eyed Man gives a history lesson about Gotham’s origin according to what Grundy allegedly told him and instructs Dr. Joy that the artifact they need is buried under a tree in the park. Dr. Joy digs and finds a skull. Azrael appears and beheads Grundy. Ten-Eyed Man attacks Azrael and bids Dr. Joy to look at the roof of the adjacent building, where she sees what is supposedly the ghost of Amadeus Arkham.
Azrael and Ten-Eyed Man continue to fight, and Ten-Eyed Man asks Dr. Joy to take the skull away. Azrael wounds Ten-Eyed Man as Dr. Joy flees. In the hospital, Detective Stone’s wife and son come to visit. Dr. Joy runs deeper into Gotham until she arrives at the apartment of Dr. Phosphorus and Nocturna. She wants to ask them about the skull, but Nocturna says it is less than a decade old, and Dr. Phosphorus tells her she cannot believe everything Ten-Eyed Man says. They also reveal that they have poisoned their neighbors with radiation poisoning. At the hospital, Detective Stone is present when they bring in Ten-Eyed Man. He tries talking to him and finds out Dr. Joy has been keeping him at her apartment. Dr. Joy is about to call for help but decides not to in exchange for more information about the ghost of Arkham. Dr. Phosphorus says it is someone pretending to be the ghost, and elsewhere we see that this someone is partnered with Professor Pyg and has been giving orders to Azrael.
Dr. Joy realizes Pyg’s associate is Dr. No Face, a former patient who liked to pretend to be an Arkham doctor. No Face can change her appearance at will. At the hospital, No Face, in the guise of Arkham’s ghost, is going around to all the Arkhamites and convincing them to leave with her. At Dr. Phosphorus and Nocturna’s apartment, Dr. Joy is continuing to question her grip on reality. Azrael crashes into the apartment and attacks. Dr. Joy tries to explain that it is No Face who was manipulating Azrael, and then Nocturna is able to take out Azrael by biting into his neck from behind. Dr. Joy is able to convince them to take him to the hospital. At the hospital, Detective Stone discovers the escape. Ten-Eyed Man takes the eyes of one of the nurses and jumps out the hospital window but drops the eyes in the process. He appears about to take the eyes of Detective Stone’s son when Dr. Joy arrives and distracts him away with the skull. Dr. Joy leads her small group of patients away from the hospital, where they encounter No Face and the rest of the Arkhamites. No Face leads them all to Professor Pyg.
Fast forward one week, and Dr. Joy has been working as a doctor at Pyg’s version of Arkham Asylum. Apparently, Pyg became focused on “perfecting” the human mind after the destruction of the actual Arkham Asylum. Pyg wants to release Azrael into the “Asylum,” and Dr. Joy is against this because she believes everything is functioning as it should. Azrael is released and promptly attacks his captors. As the “Asylum” devolves into chaos, Dr. Joy calls the cops for help. Dr. Joy wants to help Ten-Eyed Man and follows him back to his room. Azrael chains up all the Arkhamites, with the exception of Ten-Eyed Man (who he doesn’t find), and leaves them for the police. Detective Stone searches for Ten-Eyed Man and shoots at him, but Dr. Joy jumps in front of the bullet. Ten-Eyed Man knocks out Detective Stone and tells Dr. Joy he foresaw being protected. He runs out into the city and leaves her to bleed out.
Analysis: Arkham City: The Order of the World opens with the promise of the potential of using the colorful cast of characters in Gotham City to examine the tension between the need for mental health rehabilitation and the need for public safety with regard to criminality. This tension is embodied by Dr. Joy and Detective Stone. Dr. Jocasta Joy, at first, appears to the reader as a brave and competent doctor who really values helping her patients through rehabilitation. This is in contrast to how the GCPD and Batman are typically portrayed as being more punitive in comics. Batman himself is absent from this narrative; instead, that role in the story is filled by a combination of Azrael and the very stressed-out Detective Stone.
While this book does have some interesting things to say about the relationship between rehabilitation, mental health, and punitive measures for the purpose of maintaining public safety, I personally didn’t think the narrative fulfilled its potential on this front. In many ways, the open-ended nature of the story, which is perhaps a conscious choice by the creative team, leaves the actions of the characters and the conclusion of the story open to interpretation in a way that is at odds with the exploration of its central themes.
While Dr. Joy is initially portrayed as competent, her character quickly devolves into showing very little competency and perhaps being just as in need of mental health help as her patients. To this point, Watters makes explicit reference to the “wounded healer” archetype (although he attributes it to Freud when it was invented by Jung). The focus on Dr. Joy’s descent into madness wasn’t as compelling as it would have been otherwise simply because we have seen this arc so many times in Gotham with Dr. Quinn and, in a different way, Dr. Crane (Scarecrow). While the character of Dr. Joy is more realistic in the sense that she doesn’t become a full-blown supervillain, she is definitely no hero, and the narrative’s attempt to make the reader empathize with her choices ultimately didn’t land for me. Even being conscious of the trap of evaluating a story for what I expect or want from it versus evaluating it on its own merit, I still think the story would have been better served with a more nuanced take on rehabilitation and mental health.
That being said, there are still a number of good ideas in this story. The cast of Arkhamites are all very compelling. Dr. Phosphorus and Nocturna were especially good. The scene in their apartment with Dr. Joy is perhaps the best moment in Arkham City: The Order of the World simply because the creative team does such a great job inverting the dynamic between patient and doctor.
The writing for the dialogue of all the Arkhamites was also quite strong. Using Azrael as an antagonist was an interesting choice and one that worked well, given his own history of mental health challenges. I do wish his portrayal here was a bit less two-dimensional, though. However, the open ending conclusion of the story almost vindicates Azrael even while leaving the reader to question how much his tactics may contribute to the eternal cycle of crime and punishment in Gotham City.
Detective Stone was introduced as a character that potentially was a great contrast to Dr. Joy, but unfortunately, he is largely sidelined in the second half of the story. It would have been interesting to explore what a cop feels his role is in protecting society, upholding the law, and helping to hold people accountable for criminal acts. We do get some of this in the first half of the story, and there’s some great push and pull between him and Dr. Joy. He is not written as a corrupt or evil cop, there are layers to his character, so it would have been nice to see him a bit more.
The art style is very different from the typical DC house art style that you find in many of the ongoing series. It is very moody and grimy (in a good way) and is a call back to the pulp era of the medium in the 80s and 90s. It sets a tone reminiscent of a noir, psychological thriller with plenty of shadows interspersed with splashes of color. The lettering is also well done; I liked the choice of making Dr. Joy’s inner monologue resemble her notebook. There are some panels where I would have maybe wished for a more defined style, but overall my impression is a positive one. With that said, it might not be for everyone, so tastes will likely differ on this.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with copies of the original issues of this series as they were released, but not of this new edition. You can find this collected edition and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this edition digitally either for Comixology through Amazon or as a physical copy in a paperback form at Amazon or from Things from Another World.