Batman Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth Review By Deffinition
The Longest Title Ever
So this book pretty much always gets referred to as Arkham Asylum, mainly because saying “A Serious House On Serious Earth” out loud makes you sound stupid.
Anyway, I’ve just played through the Arkham Asylum remaster on Playstation 4 and was eager to jump into this to see the similarities and if there had been any aspects in the game that had been taken from the book that I’d previously missed.
I know people will argue this isn’t canon and if it is it doesn’t take place in this part of the run. However, Morisson clearly states on Kevin Smith’s podcast that this book is what Batman dreams about when he goes to sleep. All the terrors of the day (or should I say night) manifest in his own mental image of Arkham Asylum. So I’m slotting it here, on the eve of The Killing Joke, just before Batman realised how terrifying Joker truly was and his darkest fears became a reality.
Artham (meant to be Arkham….but with Art…..doesn’t really work)
As soon as you open the book you are instantly hit with how unorthodox the entire piece is. This is not a comic book to me, no, it is a work of art and should be viewed as such. Every page will make you emote in some way and deserves to be studied in it’s minutia. The book evokes madness. The panels are all over the place and the way that colour is used is still revolutionary even to this day. If you’ve read my review on Gothic then you know I absolutely love Morrisson’s zany way of crafting stories. Whilst that book was brilliant, Arkham Asylum feels like the first time that an artist has accurately captured exactly what goes on in The Scotsman’s head. McKean has brought his text to life in the way that he would want. The art truly is this book’s stand out feature that has made it a must have for all Batman Comic Book Fans.
When I first read this book years ago, I was annoyed at how difficult it was to make out The Joker’s speech bubbles. From an analytical standpoint though it is brilliant. The Joker is not meant to be understood fully. It speaks to how unhinged he is and whether intentional or not, the way of formatting his text is a brilliant idea.
This is definitely the most Gothic of all the books thus far. The entire setting of the Insane Asylum is expansive and haunting. Filled with dark corners and glimpses of corridors that even as readers we wouldn’t want to venture down. The character’s flail about the pages like liquid with Batman seeming to be the only one who stands straight, the sanest of them all. The people move in ways you rarely see composition wise and it seems other worldly. It reminded me a lot of the covers of Sandman, which is fitting as that book centre’s around dreamscapes.
We follow a young Amadeus Arkham, the founder of Arkham Asylum, going up to feed his mentally ill mother. When bugs begin falling out of her mouth we know something is wrong.
We then go through our standard fair of Batman meeting Gordon and getting the low down. Turns out there’s been a riot at Arkham Asylum (yes, another one) and Batman has been requested to go there….alone.
Even from the outset of the book we can see the strain that this is going to have mentally on Batman. He knows Joker wants him in the madhouse, perhaps where he belongs. It really speaks volumes to Batman’s Psyche. Though we have had numerous red flags on the caped crusaders sanity at this point in the run, the fact that even he is questioning himself shows his doubts. Why would he keep going this long if he was of sane mind. He rid Gotham of the mob and though he left something worse in their place he could quit at any time, go back to a normal life and Gotham may return to sanity too. Batman’s biggest fear is that when he enters the Asylum, it will be like going home.
The book switches between the Amadeus and Batman narrative throughout and we see repetitive echoes that really add colour and depth to the book. As they both slowly lose their grip on reality we see the difference between the characters.
I absolutely love the takes that Morisson has on the characters. He even treats Joker almost like a guide, a shining light through the madness that is both in the text and the book itself.
Two Face is another shining aspect of the story. Whilst I commented that I disliked how in the Long Halloween and Dark Victory that The Riddler was a bumbling idiot, when the same take is done on Harvey, it serves purpose. In his treatment they have replaced his coin with cards, expanding his choices. However, now he can’t even decide to go to the bathroom on his own. This, to me at least, highlights Morrison’s view on the overly opinionated psychiatrists that we have today. In trying to heal they have hurt. Normally it would be comical but the darkness that surrounds the pages leaves it stark and depressing.
The book delves into how people could theorise that The Joker, in his madness, is actually super sane and reflective of the mentality that people have at the turn of the twentieth century. Are we not all even more depraved now? Society as a whole lacks compassion and our obsession with materialistic means over life is something that I think Morisson was trying to reflect here. The Joker is us all, in our most twisted way. This section also reminded me of a video about how Joker was actually aware that he was in a comic book. If you have the time I highly suggest that you watch this. It’s brilliant.
Ofcourse Batman is the Yin to Joker’s Yang, so perhaps too he shares insanity in his own way. A brilliant moment is when Two Face demands that Batman’s mask is removed so everyone can see his true face and Joker just replies “That is his face!” I love the clown’s disregard for his true identity, he knows that Batman is Batman and that’s all he needs. Any other AKA is irrelevant. It’s also a nice way of once again stating that Batman might perhaps be as mad as the people he’s against. You’d have to be to become that persona.
The psychological break down comes to a close with a word association section in which Batman demonstrates how his parent’s death is the obsession that drives him. This of course is at the heart of every Batman story but it’s great how it’s brought up by Batman unintentionally with someone else triggering the repressed memories.
The Rat Race
We then dive into the meat of the plot, Joker gives Batman an hour to escape the Asylum and return to sanity. The book flashes between past and present and whilst normally this would be detremental to the book it infact enchances it. You aren’t meant to fully get to grips with the plot. You’re meant to feel the insanity.
Dave McKean beautifully handles the villains as Batman travels throughout the long corridors. Clayface is like something out of a nightmare, he slithers across the page, it’s like a horror movie and as Batman barely escapes we get a full run of the rogues gallery.
They’re all painted as demons, sadistic creatures from the darkness.
Throughout we get flashes of Amadeus Arkham and it’s revealed that he is treating the man who killed his wife and daughter, sadistically he murders him and it’s revealed that Amadeus murdered his mother and just believed that he was helping her. Insanity is his inheritance.
I have a theory that Amadeus might even be The Joker, the characters exist in different centuries but Amadeus hears laughter throughout the Asylum Halls, finds a card Joker Card, builds the mad house, constantly talks about April fools day (one of Joker’s main jokes throughout) and gets déjà vu when viewing a clown fish. He also envisions a giant bat that haunts his mother. Maybe Amadeus is a hallucination of The Joker, what is going on in the clowns mind whilst Batman traverses the twisted environment.
The big twist in the book is that it was the Doctor all along who let the inmates out, it of course begs the question whether it is the inmates that make the madhouse or the madhouse that makes them. Batman takes out the insane doc but rather than escaping he goes back to put his life on the line one more time. It’s insane that he would return and let Two Face flip for his life but then the entire situation is crazy.
Batman lives but Joker says he is welcome back whenever he wants. This mad house might even be his home.
This book is absolutely outstanding and definitely one of the best in Batman’s pantheon. It’s very other worldly and a demonstration of how well Morisson is able to craft stories in other worlds and craft a dream around everything. The book is absolutely outstanding an essential for all fans of the mythos.
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.