Friday Flashback: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum Videogame Coming

Fans are having fun right now cheering on, tearing into, and generally debating the writing of Grant Morrison for DC Comics. Final Crisis and Batman are doing some crazy things, at times appearing off-the-wall or even a little bit disturbing. However, one of the first two projects Morrison ever pitched to DC Comics set the “disturbing” bar quite high. The book known to most as simply Arkham Asylum (as opposed to the full title Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth cause well, that’s just long winded) turns twenty years old next year, and now we’ll flashback to it for a frightening look at the past.

Many new readers’ first exposure to Grant Morrison’s Batman is the current titular book he writes monthly. His first foray with the character was a journey through the minds of Bruce Wayne, Amadeus Arkham, and many of Batman’s greatest foes. The focus is on the story of how Arkham Asylum came to be, and the story of its founder.

Basically, this story is NOT for the faint of heart. It features some frightening imagery, and even more frightening words. A lot of characters are brought to new heights of insanity and are taken in different directions. The Joker, for example, is played a bit…differently than in most other stories. He’s depicted as somewhat flirting with Batman- the way he does it seems a natural extension of the character, just joking around, but the way it affects Batman makes it disturbing. Likewise, and even moreso, The Mad Hatter’s depiction is brought to a new level. He’s only featured in the book for a couple pages, but the character very overtly reveals that his love for the Alice in Wonderland mythos lies mostly in his love for Alice, and his desire to find other little girls that look like her. Morrison takes these campy villains and transforms them into true psychotics- people with devastating mental illness and truly frightening overtones.

The parallels of Amadeus Arkham’s descent into darkness alongside Batman’s and his Rogues’ own fall is interesting. It shows how just the tiniest divergence could have made Bruce Wayne a psychopathic criminal instead of the only slightly crazy crime fighter he is. His being at least a little crazy is never the question posed here. Instead, it’s if he’s crazy enough that he belongs alongside his villains, not on the outside looking in.

Batman does what Batman does while trapped in the harrowed walls of Gotham- he takes down his villains one by one, mehodically. His true captor is eventually revealed, and once again, Batman allows someone to die without actually killing them himself, letting him keep his moral high ground, while simultaneously saying “he got what he deserved.” Morrison’s Batman is disturbing in away similar and different from his villains; he knows hes a bit crazy, he knows what needs to be done, but he tricks himself into thinking he’s better. This self-actualization is the only thing that truly separates him from the inmates of Arkham; Batman believes himself better, and so he is.

The art of this story is striking, beautiful, and yes, today’s secret word: disturbing. First, if you haven’t read the story already, I can’t recommend enough the newer printing in the 15th Anniversary Edition. Dave McKean’s mixed-media artwork featuring painting, photography, penciled art, and more looks beautiful on the glossy page. An interesting technique used barely ever shows Batman himself. We see him in the shadows, we see the outline of his cape and cowl, but only a couple times in nearly 130 pages do we catch even the slightest glimpse of his face. The highlight of the artwork is its trip through insanity. There’s almost a sanity-gauge built into it, where you can visibly see just how crazy each of the villains is. As Arkham himself falls deeper into crazy-land, the artwork surrounding his half of the tale gets more and more jarring and disarrayed. McKean at the time was simply a young, mostly unknown artist, not the visual genius he’s known as today, so it’s especially interesting to see how far ahead of the curve he was, even in the late 80s.

The biggest point I can make about this story is how well every single element of it holds up today. There is not a single line or panel in this entire book that doesn’t fit as part of the overall mythos of Batman and his world. So flip a coin, roll a die, pick a card, or however you make a decision, and check into Arkham Asylum. I know I’m crazy over it. Heh.


Batman: Arkham Asylum Videogame Coming

Blog@: A Peek at the Arham Asylum Game  

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