ARKHAM ASYLUM: A SERIOUS HOUSE ON A SERIOUS EARTH
Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrator: Dave McKean
Publisher: DC Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A 30 year old classic Batman story that leans more on the horror side, showcasing the Dark Knight's myriad of villains, while expanding the tragic backstory of Arkham Asylum and its troubled creator.
Feels like an adult version of Alice in Wonderland, while mixing in a history lesson of the fabled asylum and looking at the villains’ differing illnesses.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Per usual, a patient outbreak transpires inside Arkham Asylum, following a list of demands is one final one from The Joker; Batman's presence at the asylum, or they'll go on a killing spree. Once at the Asylum Joker forces Batman into a deadly game of hide-and-seek with an hours limit. But due to sheer boredom, and peer pressure, Joker shortens the time to ten minutes.
Making his way through the maze-like asylum, Batman faces some of his famous rogues. A great deal of the story revolves around Batman making his way through the hellish asylum, but Morrison sprinkles in some of Arkham Asylum's backstory. These tidbits of the asylum's past are told through the founder, Dr Amadeus Arkham. During the tale of Amadeus Morrison and McKean paint the slow descent of the doctor, how the asylum came to be, and the themes and ideas of how/why the asylum holds madness inside its walls.
The plot, pacing, and overall atmosphere of the story feel unlike any other early Batman story.
Focusing on a location for the plot instead of the usual "big, bad villain" that needs to be stopped opened up a multitude of possibilities for the story, letting Morrison tell the unique story he wanted to.
Morrison's interpretations of the characters were different than what had previously been done. One that really stood out is having Two-Face use a stack of cards instead of his coin as a means to fix his "problem."
It's a different type of superhero comic. Instead, it's a deeper look at a hero, his villains, and the asylum that holds them.
Batman's portrayal is his most badass, yet human-feeling.
McKean's art is hauntingly beautiful while matching the tone and story perfectly. The way McKean portrays each moment makes you fear for Batman while making sure you never want to visit the asylum.
The differing mix of media McKean applies to his art returns here, making each panel and page unique.
Letters by Gaspar Saladino are unlike any lettering done in a comic, with each character receiving a different font style.
With the differing font styles, you feel like you can actually hear that character when reading a piece of dialogue.
The story had such a huge impact, its themes have been injected in other stories. Plus, it was the inspiration of 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Memorable Quote: “Afraid? Batman's not afraid of anything. It's me. I'm afraid. I'm afraid that The Joker may be right about me. Sometimes…I question the rationality of my actions. And I’m afraid that when I walk through those asylum gates... when I walk into Arkham and the doors close behind me... it’ll be just like coming home.” – Batman
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Adult Content: Although it may revolve around Batman, beware, it includes a lot of adult themes! As amazing as it is, it's not for kids!
Trigger Warning: Even for adults, there are some sexual themes/moments that some may want to steer well clear of.
Made in the ‘80s: Some dialogue and more "edgy" moments haven't aged well or feel stiff.
Heavy church/religious themes throughout.
It's very unlike other "Superhero" comics. More like a deconstruction of the genre. Meaning, don't go into it expecting a beat-'em-up, good-guy-wins story.
As great as the lettering is for each character, it does become a hindrance as it's hard to read. Even though it's known for its fantastic lettering, it's also known for how hard it is to read at some moments.
Dave McKean’s art is insanely trippy and perfect throughout. But at times it can be hard to follow, which for newcomers doesn’t bode well.
The characteristics of some of the inmates are different than their incarnations during 1989. That isn’t a big deal, but back then it was a huge problem to some.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
There are many defining Batman books that revolve around famous characters. But, not many about a location. Add on the fantastic atmosphere, uneasy lettering/art, and the start of one of the best Batman writer's careers, and there isn't much not to love.
Surprisingly it's not mentioned much when talking about the defining Batman stories, when it very well should be. Plus, it's celebrating its 30th anniversary, and is perfect for Halloween time!
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Batman Omnibus Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert & Tony Daniel
WE3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
The Unsound by Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole
If you like the art:
Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly
New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Grant Morrison – Writer
Multitalented: Morrison drew some thumbnails for how he wanted scenes to play out, which is included in the 15th Anniversary Edition
Name Recognition: Later went on to have an epic 7-year run on Batman, that is highly praised and is very popular for his work on X-Men, Superman and Batman
Outlander: Born in Scotland and lives there sometimes, too
Dave McKean – Illustrator
Name Recognition: He is widely known for his conceptual, mixed media art, much of which he’s done for Neil Gaiman projects
Multitalented: Also a talented jazz pianist
Directed MirrorMask, a story he and Neil Gaiman created
Gaspar Saladino – Letterer
Between 1966 and 1990 he lettered many of the logos, titles, captions and balloons on DC Comic covers
Test of Time: Was in the comics industry for over 60 years
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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