Arkham City: The Order of the World is a new exploration of the history and culture surrounding Gotham City’s most infamous health institution. The new comics series kicks off this week from writer Dan Watters, artist Dani, and color artist Dave Stewart. Set post-A-Day, Arkham has never been the same after the Joker’s attack that left the grounds in ruin, most of the inmates/patients killed or missing, and only a handful of surviving staff.
The new series takes a dark, atmospheric look at the fallout as the only living physician, Dr. Jacosta Joy, attempts to save various inmates who are running amuck in Gotham. The series features a mystery within a larger mystery, the return of the Ten-Eyed Man (complete with an incredible new design by Dani), and a story that’s as absorbing as it is disturbed.
I was lucky enough to speak with Watters about the project late last week. We dug into his relationship to Gotham storytelling, his approach to a more human point of view on the Arkham inmates, and much more.
AIPT: What is what was your entry point into Batman, Gotham, and Arkham City? At what age did you start reading and what was the entry point?
Dan Watters: And it was definitely the animated series that would have been the big one. But I think when I was actually a younger teenager, Batman was the only comic I used to read or things that were Batman adjacent. The gothic end of superheroes was just the best. And when I was about 14, I discovered the Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and that had all of Morrison’s script notes in the back. I was sorta young and I knew I wanted to write and it was the first time the idea of writing comics even sort of occurred to me, but also Morrison being very Morrison.
And then it’s filled with all of this reference to Tarot and Jungian archetypes and I looked at this script and I was like, “Well, I guess that’s the level of depth and you know, conceptual malarkey that goes into every single comic script, so I better get a better get learning.” It took me a few years to realize that not every comic script is maybe that arcane.
AIPT: So as a fan of Arkham Asylum and in that era with Batman: The Animated Series. Was there an urge to utilize characters you grew up with?
DW: Not so much to be honest. I don’t think these things should ever be an exercise in pure nostalgia on the creator’s part just because that way leads to more repetition than not. I think there’s more a thing of being able to do what we do and, particularly what Dani and I do, and plug that into some of those sorts of signifiers and some of those characters and things adjacent to.
AIPT: You and Danny are doing exceptional work with Coffin Bound which is like an emotional experience. Now you’re going to a Big Two property with this Arkham book. Was there any active thought of trying to make this look and feel different than Coffin Bound?
DW: Visually there wasn’t, I would say, in any kind of way. I think storywise Coffin Bound was so uncompromised to the point where we just made exactly what we wanted to make and as you said, it was an experience of sort of feeling. Every time someone says something like that it makes me feel like we did what we set out to do because making you feel things is always the goal. It’s drawing on these sort of slightly more strange influences and things and that’s not what you do on a Batman book. And that’s okay. It’s definitely closer to Coffin Bound than probably any of the other Batman books just because we’re making it.
I think making something that was more, I don’t want to say accessible, but I’ve just said it. I guess trying to make something that connects to as many people as possible rather than something that was just purely uncompromisingly us. And because that’s the other side. Yeah, that’s kind of always that the push and pull of making a book are between doing exactly what I wanted to do and the most uncompromised way and then also wanting to communicate with other human beings which are meant to be the point in the first place.
AIPT: Arkham City: The Order of the World reminded me of Batman: The Long Halloween for some reason. I think there’s something to the fact that Batman has traditionally had that, you know, hyper-detailed art style, which is fine but when you do something like this, it feels so different but it feels so Gotham. You’re utilizing Ten-Eyed Man and I was looking him up and I was getting this like Wonder Man vibe, like this weird, cheery-looking character in the pictures I was finding?
How did you discover the design of this character and your approach to them?
DW: The design is Dani’s, but the idea of this character who was so sort of strange and unusual and had been sort of forgotten. This is just one of those characters who’s been sort of languishing in Arkham Asylum for, like, 40 odd years, both in-universe because he’s the Ten-Eyed Man and no one ever thinks about him, and also pretty much in our universe, because he’s Ten-Eyed Man, and no one ever thinks about him. How sort of strange and what that would do to someone.
The idea they had been in this asylum for so long. Arkham Asylum is not necessarily the most healthy environment to be for anyone. And the design sort of came out through that and wanting to give him this mask, which would cover his whole face, because he doesn’t really need very much of his face to do anything.
AIPT: The character reminds me of Coffin Bound in a way with the character design and the approach just because it feels like it’s not just a guy in a mask, right? It’s this threat you’re so unable to understand. It could get you in through the page, or frightening like Freddy Krueger.
DW: You know, like, I don’t know if I should say, actually Dani messaged me the other day and she was like, like “Dan, I just had my first nightmare about Ten-Eyed Man.”
AIPT: Oh, no, drawing it too much.
DW: And I was like, “You designed him!”
AIPT: So your lead character is Dr. Joy, a psychologist who wants to help the inmates of Arkham. How do you get in the headspace of a character like this who has so many years of experience, so much knowledge of the human psyche, and treating patients?
DW: Yeah, I mean there’s the kicker right. A lot of research is the bottom line and talking to people in those camps. I was watching a lot of documentaries. Documentaries of sort of exhausted-looking psychologists and people who work in those kinds of facilities. But also reading a lot of literature and looking at a lot of these psychology books written by psychologists but they’re sort of questioning sort of how things are going about and how the treatment is done. There’s a sort of unease to that that you can read within the pages and that’s what I kind of wanted to tap into.
AIPT: The first issue also establishes these villains, not as masterminds but regular people. Is there a statement there as far as Batman’s brutality? That he sees them as people to be beaten down and you’re approaching it more like no, they watch TV and they aren’t necessarily trying to take over the world?
DW: I mean, everyone watches TV right?
AIPT: Does Joker?
DW: I mean he definitely does, he watches Leno.
AIPT: And the Kardashians.
DW: Yeah, that’s the purest form of chaos you can find and I think. It’s not really a statement about Batman it’s more about the fact that this isn’t a Batman book it’s an Arkham book. Batman’s not in it. It’s more about like what about when you take that away from that viewpoint and you just see these people. Basically, people escape from Arkham all of the time. And they only start robbing banks every now and then. So what are they doing the rest of the time? How do they exist in this city which is so hostile to everyone including them?
AIPT: You’ve noted in another interview that Arkham is an entity and since it lives within Gotham itself would that make it an appendage of Gotham or something else?
DW: That would be telling. We do get into this in the book.
AIPT: What is something you want fans to take away from not only the first issue but after reading the whole thing?
DW: I don’t know, that’s a hard question because if you make a book which makes someone feel something then that always feels like a success. The way to do that I find is to sort of explore things and yeah, I guess things, in this case, are uncomfortable and make me feel uncomfortable. And so I hope, yeah, maybe if a reader can share some of that sense then I feel like it’s done what it needs to be.
AIPT: Going back to my Long Halloween comments if you and Danny were to hook up for another Big-Two character or title be at Marvel or DC what would it be?
DW: That would be telling as well. There’s a book that we very much plan to do. But yeah, I don’t want to put it out there before it’s out there.
AIPT: Since this book isn’t about Batman, or it may not even have Batman in it. Do you have a desire to write a Batman story or a story arc?
DW: Everyone loves to write Batman right? I’ve written Batman for a few things and it’s always a blast. I just really enjoy playing in this sandpit that is Gotham. I’ve written a few Azrael things now, including Order the World and that character I really enjoy writing.
DW: One day at a time. I also I think I’ve said this a few times before as well, I sort of always try and negate the overwork stereotype because it’s, you know, it’s a really cool job to get to do and if you manage it well and you manage your time, then then it’s really cool to sit down every week and write a script. You don’t have to be doing, you know, bleeding out your eyeballs because you’ve been glued to your computer for 20 hours.
AIPT: Mad Hatter is utilized a lot in this first issue. Was there a symbolic reason for using him in the first issue or any other particular reason that he was the character you gravitated to using?
DW: There’s the stuff we sort of say about him in the book, in the first issue, which I thought was interesting to explore. But also, I think it’s also the fact that he is probably the biggest name that we’ve got in the book and the one that we didn’t try and sort of reinventing or change in any substantial way. So having him there to lead us into this wonderland of other strange characters seems quite fitting.
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