Newest Review: ... as being every bit as bizarre as the colourful and deranged characters he is constantly catching and sending to Arkham. The ... more
Batman: Arkham Asylum - Grant Morrison
Member Name: Jake Speed
Batman: Arkham Asylum - Grant Morrison
Advantages: Striking comic
Disadvantages: Bit pretentious, not for everyone
The story also includes a parallel origin of Arkham and the history of the asylum's founder - Amadeus Arkham. Amadeus Arkham ended up as a very mad and dangerous patient in his own asylum and we will learn all about his dark history. Batman: Arkham Asylum is unavoidably pretentious at the best of times but an interesting attempt to do something slightly different with the famous hero and present both him and some of the more famous characters in the Batman universe in a different light. We are used to seeing Batman as a very driven and focused character, a dominant one. Here he is stripped of those qualities and rather confused and frozen. Trapped in Arkham and forced to question the nature of himself and his enemies. He dresses up as a giant freakish bat and haunts the night, clambering over rooftops and roaming through alleyways. He's not exactly the picture of sanity himself is he? The book is very surreal and seems to take a lot of inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. It's very allegorical and symbolic and Batman is like a fuzzy never quite distinct shadow who floats through the aslyum as nightmarish depictions of some of the villains flit in and out of the story. The book is designed to look as if we are witnessing a strange bizarre dream and the art is very trippy and off kilter in a fashion that tends to divide readers. You'll either admire it or find it off-putting. The bonkers pastel style of McKean takes some getting used to but once you do settle in the atmosphere and weird aura of the story you do start to appreciate it more and more as you progress through the comic. One thing that the artist does well here I think is to give us a very startling and scary depiction The Joker. He draws him in a very manic and horror funfair way and the Joker art here was a big inspiration to Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger when they made the film The Dark Knight. The Joker's smudged makeup and altogether ghoulish appearance.
There is a fair amount of Jungian psychology, metaphor and symbolism in the story and I did like the way the symbol of the bat was used in the backstory in particular. There is a bit of Norman Bates in here too I think. It doesn't feel terribly and completely out of the ordinary to delve into the relationship between Batman and his crazed enemies - see how alike they are and what qualities they (but might have to hold in check in the case of Batman) - but Arkham Asylum is always interesting and sometimes captivating with the strange but glossy art that is like a nightmare or dream that always remains slightly ephemeral. What the style does do is give one the impression that we are witness the wispy frazzled fragments of a story and don't quite have everything at our recall, just in the way that dreams are remembered as fleeting fragments of things that you can never quite seem to piece together or fully remember. This is an effective approach and the artistic style makes perfect sense for this. The story is tightly woven and it is impressive the way that Arkham becomes like a character in the story. It is depicted as being like a huge cathedral or abbey inside. Almost anachronistic and a place steeped in madness where almost anyone would struggle to retain their sanity even if they had any in the first place. Batman's fear - encouraged by the wily Joker - is that Arkham might be his true home. Perhaps he belongs in there with all the other lost souls. I feel like I've seen this type of thing done many times with Batman (I remember a DC Batman Annual that was almost identical) but one would presume that it was slightly more fresh back in 1989 when the comic made its first appearance.
You get encounters with a few of the other rogues in the roster of Batman villains here although none are of the traditional swinging from alleyways, gas bombs, and punch outs. The depiction of Two-Face is excellent. He has been given a tarot deck and dice by one of the therapists in order to show him that he doesn't need his coin (which when flipped decides if he is going to be nice or nasty). Two-Face though is now more insane and troubled than ever and can't even make the most basic decision for himself. If he had to choose the cereal in the supermarket he would honestly be there for weeks just staring at the Weetabix and Coco Pops. There are encounters with Clayface and Killer Croc (which is one of the more violent ones) and Batman also meets a very disturbed incarnation of the Mad Hatter. Morrison gives the Hatter's obsession with Alice in Wonderland a dark and modern twist. While you are sometimes in danger of submerging into the stylistic gloom and and sinking and sometimes yearn for Batman to snap out of it and just karate kick or punch someone in the face or something I did like the backstory they provide for the founder of the asylum and Dr Charles Cavendish (Arkham's administrator and one of the hostages) is used in a pivotal and interesting way in the story. All of the major characters (including Two Face) are given memorable lines and panels at key moments. There is some grisly imagery in the book and its more surreal and dense approach makes it unsuitable for younger readers but if you are a fan of Batman and looking for something slightly different then this is certainly worth a look. It isn't an insubstantial read in terms of pages but I did find myself wishing it had been a little longer though and a bit more fleshed out in parts. These quibbles aside this is a striking and interesting comic. At the time of writing you can buy Batman: Arkham Asylum for about ten pounds.
Summary: Very good
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