In several posts, I’ve mentioned being a Star Trek fan from a very young age. Even before I discovered Star Trek, I was a fan of the Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Part of Batman’s appeal in whatever format is the rogue’s gallery of colorful criminals who try to get away with some dastardly deed only to be foiled by the caped crusader and the boy wonder. My favorite villains at the time were the Penguin played by Burgess Meredith and Egghead played by Vincent Price. Nowadays, I’ve come to appreciate Caesar Romero as the Joker and all the talented actresses who played Catwoman.
Over the years, I’ve remained a fan of the Penguin as a character. Some of that, no doubt, is because I still hear Burgess Meredith’s performance whenever I see the character in the comics. I have to admit, I liked the Penguin’s tuxedo. Some of the appeal came from the Penguin’s use of gadgets hidden in umbrellas. As a kid, umbrellas were fairly easy to come by, so it was easy to play the part without many other accessories. I have to admit, the fact that the Penguin was portrayed a bullied, bookish kid in the comics played on my sympathies. In fact one of my favorite Penguin origin stories was “The Killing Peck” written by Alan Grant with art by Sam Kieth. As it turns out, I wrote about the artist just over a year ago, when I reflected on the comic and animated series, The Maxx.
I recently learned that in 2018, Sam Kieth returned to both the worlds of The Maxx and Batman in a comic book miniseries called Arkham Dreams. Three issues of the mini-series were released in 2018, then there was a hiatus, and the series was finished at the end of 2020. The Maxx himself is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero. In Arkham Dreams, we find him in Gotham City going back and forth between the real world and the Outback, which is the world of the subconscious, and, as it happens, fertile ground for exploring both the psyche of Batman and many of his nemeses. The story opens with the Maxx among Gotham’s homeless. Batman catches up with him and takes him to Arkham Asylum for treatment. Of course, Arkham is where many of Batman’s rogues gallery are housed when they’re not committing crimes. At Arkham, Batman encounters a new doctor named Disparu who is trying a new treatment on the Penguin. With the Maxx at Arkham, the worlds of Gotham City and the Outback begin to merge and the two heroes must figure out why this happening and whose Outback they’re going into before the world devolves into chaos.
I love it when characters from different universes meet. Part of what made The Maxx great was its quirky sense of humor even as it delved into serious issues against a psychedelic backdrop. These days, Batman is known for its grim and gritty storytelling, but the best stories often include a certain sense of fun. When that sense of fun is taken to an extreme, Batman becomes like the Adam West and Burt Ward TV series. Pull it back just a little and you find a middle ground where the Maxx and Batman work well together. My favorite part of Arkham Dreams is that even though it’s a crossover, it doesn’t forget to continue some of the narrative from the original Maxx series of the 90s and we get a nice continuation of the story of Maxx and his friend Julie Winters even as Batman confronts the psyches of his rogues gallery.
The real joy of a Sam Kieth book is the art, which is in fine form here. There is a fascinating sequence where the Maxx and Batman are going back and forth between the two worlds. In the Outback, they’re on an air whale battling a strange infection that’s hurting the creature. In the real world, they’re trying to release bombs placed by the Joker on an airship. Arkham Dreams is available in a handsome hardcover edition, which includes all five issues of the comic plus a cover gallery.
If you’re in the mood for crossover stories and want to see the time the Clockwork Legion met the Scarlet Order vampires, read the story “Fountains of Blood” in the collection Straight Outta Tombstone available in ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop-ebook/dp/B071JGTN3H/