Among settings in the DC universe, few can send a shiver up the spine of a comic book fan like Arkham Asylum, where the vilest villains and craziest crackpots are detained behind dark, dreary walls.
And among comic writers who specialize in exploring the dark depths of the human mind, David Hine is high on the list. From his psychologically twisted debut comic Strange Embrace, to his stories of strange mutants and Inhumans while writing Marvel comics like District X and Son of M, to his more recent efforts at DC on comics like The Joker's Asylum: Two-Face, Hine seems particularly skilled at writing about the strange and disturbing side of human nature.
Now DC Comics has announced that Hine will get to explore the darker side of Arkham Asylum in Arkham Reborn, a three-issue mini-series that begins in October. The story will not only pick up the pieces from his one-shot, Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum, but will reunite the creative team from that story as Hine will again work with artist Jeremy Haun.
Newsarama talked to Hine about Arkham Reborn, finding out more about his take on one of the creepiest places in the DCU and why its personality is so ideal for the Batman universe.
Newsarama: How did this story come about? Was it something you pitched as a natural continuation of seeds planted in Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum? Or an idea that came to you from DC?
David Hine: This series literally came out of a panel at the Bristol Comics Convention earlier this year. I was on the DC panel with Dan Didio, Bob Wayne and a bunch of freelancers. The last comment of the panel came from the audience. Someone asked if I would be following up on the Arkham one-shot and it seemed like a good idea, so I asked Dan. Dan was having a good day and clearly in an affable mood, so he offered me the mini-series right there on stage in front of witnesses.
The thing is that when I wrote that Battle for the Cowl one-shot, I wasn’t able to pin down much detail. Most of the story elements were nixed because they gave away too much about future storylines or they went into territory that hadn’t been mapped out yet. So I decided the only solution was to be enigmatic and open up lots of possibilities, which readers obviously found intriguing. The challenge of this series is to answer some of those questions without losing the sense of mystery. And to be honest, I really didn’t know, when I started out, exactly what the answers to all those questions were. I had planted seeds with no idea what kind of misbegotten fruit would grow from them.
NRAMA: What is the basic premise of the story?
DH: In the one-shot, Jeremiah was led to discover a previously unseen blueprint for a new Arkham Asylum, drawn up by his mad uncle Amadeus. Arkham Reborn opens with the new asylum nearing completion and the first inmates being transferred into this new, enlightened regime where Jeremiah’s motto is “Rehabilitation, not incarceration.” The inmates are housed in modern apartments with therapy sessions and all modern conveniences, much to the disgust of Commissioner Gordon and Batman. Things do not go as planned, though. There is a Ghost in the Machine, a mysterious presence that sets out to make sure that the inmates receive their due punishment for their crimes.
NRAMA: Let's talk about the main character here. What's your take on Dr. Jeremiah Arkham?
DH: I think he may have a screw loose. [laughs] Truthfully, Jeremiah Arkham is not the person who springs to mind when you’re asked, “What character would you most like to write?” He looks utterly unappealing with his glasses and his pudding-bowl haircut. He’s nerdy, morose, and he fails at everything he turns his hand to. But I have found that he is a great blank slate to work out neuroses. A great anti-hero and despite his geeky appearance and ineffectual nature he does have a sinister side. Ladronn captured that superbly with his cover for the Battle for the Cowl one-shot. He drew a cover featuring Jeremiah Arkham, with his hands in his pockets, scowling at camera, and very little else, but somehow, through lighting and shadows, he suggested something very dark and threatening that actually made you want to pick the book up and read it.
NRAMA: What other characters will we see show up in the story? Will we see some of the characters again from the Battle for the Cowl one-shot?
DH: The Three Beauties are returning. That’s Hamburger Lady, No-Face and Mirror-Man, who featured in the one-shot. They are Jeremiah’s inspiration for the new Asylum, the only patients he has ever successfully treated. There’s a brand new character called the Raggedy Man who wears a suit made up of trophies from his crimes. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the costume is mostly children’s clothes, pacifiers, limbs torn off dolls. He is not a pleasant guy and a real test for Jeremiah’s theories of rehabilitation.
NRAMA: Will we see the new Batman in the comic? Or any other familiar Batman characters or villains?
DH: Batman is there, Commissioner Gordon, and a line-up of some of the more familiar villains, like Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, Clayface, Doctor Phosphorous.
NRAMA: It seems like Arkham Asylum itself is a DC character. Would you agree? And if so, who is that character, and what does the personality of this building say about the Batman universe?
DH: The Asylum certainly does have a personality. That was established in Grant Morrison’s “A Serious House on Serious Earth,” where Amadeus Arkham’s madness seeps into every brick of the building. The asylum has subsequently been destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times, but the insanity rises up again every time. Just as the spirit of Amadeus Arkham possessed the building, so the building casts its spell on his nephew, Jeremiah. The madness of all the prisoners incarcerated there over the years has also become part of the atmosphere.
The Asylum has become a focal point for all the evil in Gotham. It is the poisonous soul of a corrupt and abnormal city. It’s no accident that the name of the asylum is take from the fictional city of Arkham, where H. P. Lovecraft set his tales of madness and demonic possession. The Batman universe has always been about psychosis and mental instability. The villains are the craziest in comics and it always seems like Batman and Gordon are in an endless and hopeless battle to keep the city stable when it’s always going to be a maelstrom of mental disorder. They just keep cramming the loonies into the asylum because there’s nothing else they can do, except maybe execute the lot of them and that just wouldn’t be legal. Everyone knows that the asylum has a revolving door and the villains are going to keep escaping. There’s an inevitability about the place. Just as everyone knows that Jeremiah’s dream of building a refuge where the inmates can recover, their sanity is doomed from the start.
NRAMA: As you mentioned, Arkham Asylum has experienced more than one "rebuild" over the years. Why does this place keep getting torn down, and what are you hoping will make this new one different?
DH: I’m not sure why writers have destroyed the asylum in the past. It’s appropriate this time because we’re in an all-change situation with the Batman universe. This time round, the building plays a much more active part in the story. It literally mutates and evolves through the series. It starts out as Utopia and ends up Hell on Earth. It’s something I wanted to do with the Inhumans series at Marvel, where Maximus would rebuild Attilan to his own insane design. I didn’t get to do it with Attilan but something of the same order is happening here.
NRAMA: Why do you think Arkham Asylum has been such an object of fascination over the years for fans of DC Comics and cartoons and even movies?
DH: And a Playstation game apparently. I think people have always been fascinated with the concept of the madhouse. Look at how popular Bedlam was with the tourists in 18th Century London. It’s an undeniable fact that many of us are fascinated by madness and the asylum is a place where we can peek into the darker corners of the human mind. The villains are scary when they’re out on the streets but even scarier when they’re locked up in their cells. It focuses the insanity.
NRAMA: Many of your stories seem to be horror-influenced or at least tend to explore those darker corners of the human mind you mentioned. Do you agree? And if so, why do you think you prefer telling those types of stories?
DH: Yes, that’s true. Whatever I start out writing, it always ends up with elements of horror. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found horror fascinating. Ray Bradbury was always my favorite science fiction writer because he was writing horror under the guise of science fiction. My all-time favorite movies are Eraserhead from David Lynch and Repulsion from Roman Polanski, both incredibly powerful psychological horror films. The best film of last year was The Orphanage, the best of this year was Let the Right One In. There’s a pattern there. Horror is really about finding the truth about ourselves in the things we fear the most. There’s a theme of corruption, of innocence in a lot of my work too. A sense that we are all betrayed and led astray by the people we trust.
NRAMA: This series reunites you with artist Jeremy Haun. How has it been working with Jeremy, and what do you think he brings to the visual tone of this comic?
DH: Jeremy has been great. I met him in New York when he was just starting in on the one-shot and I was very impressed by his enthusiasm and his determination to enter the spirit of the book, which he achieved brilliantly. He really comes at the work from the inside. We discussed in particular how characters like the Hamburger Lady should look. It was good to have that personal contact. Often I only communicate with an artist by e-mail. It’s always better to talk. At time of writing this, Jeremy hasn’t yet started on the art. I’m hoping he’ll be at the San Diego Con so we can talk about the scripts for this series.
NRAMA: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell readers about Arkham Reborn?
DH: If you liked the one-shot, you should like this series. I can promise quite a few twists in the story and some moments that will make you very thankful you aren’t Jeremiah Arkham.