A Trip Through Madness
Batman The Last Arkham is a book that I fell in love with the first time I read it. Often with visits to the Asylum, the Dark Knight is forced to take an introspective look at his own means and methods. Questioning whether he is as insane as the people that he puts there. If you’ve been following my read through then you know I love when a story takes a look at the inner turmoil that the character faces.
The Cult has been the highest scoring book thus far and I know that it shares many similarities with this book so I am anxious to dive in.
So let’s jump in and explore Batman The Last Arkham.
Bringing down the house
The book opens with the reconstruction of Arkham Asylum. Torn down are the old Victorian towers and their revolving door policy, replaced with an inescapable Labyrinth. At the helm is Jeremiah Arkham, the new head of the Asylum. He sinisterly walks the corridors of the mad house, introducing us to patients before we finally set eyes upon the Dark Knight.
Batman is in a vulnerable state. Chained to the wall he is at the mercy of Arkham. It’s a very introspective look at the conditions that people in insane asylums face. Does the treatment cure them or simply worsen their madness?
In these conditions it’s clear.
Man In The Mask
I love the way that Arkham refuses to take Batman’s mask off. It could have been a problematic issue but when he proclaims that Batman himself will reveal his identity….on the day he is cured. We know that the Asylum Head is a good man at heart, even if his methods seem like mistreatment.
It’s through flashback that we are shown how the Caped Crusader came to this fate. After returning an abused girl to her parents to have a talk with them…personally. Batman discovers that they have been brutally murdered, following Zsasz’ M.O.
Suspecting that the killer may be at large again he returns to the Asylum to take a tour through the latest security measures and to make sure that the killer is caged. Zsasz of course is still in his cell but we and the dark detective know something is amiss.
“There Is No God”
The psychological look at Zsasz and the Asylum that this chapter presents is phenomenal. Zsasz believes that there is no God, for why would he let him operate and kill people in the fashion that he does. He makes the mark after every murder to remind himself that he is still human, humanity that perhaps Batman may have lost.
It never really occurred to me till reading this but perhaps the Asylum is a metaphor of the dark knight himself. Strong and sturdy on the outside but inside, filled with demonic drives and urges that can only be kept at bay by the concrete exterior.
Of Mice and Madmen
Batman frames himself for a policeman’s murder so that he can get locked up in Arkham and have first-hand experience of exactly what is going on with Zsasz and the new warden.
Unbeknownst to Nightwing is this plan and he breaks into the Asylum to find out what’s really going on. It’s at this point he bumps into Batman who has effortlessly escaped from his cell and is now looking for evidence on Zsasz and Arkham. It’s a thrilling segment of the book that has flashes of a Mission Impossible movie, full of avoiding cameras and picking locks.
Whilst all of this is happening Zsasz is once again out the prison, committing murder far from the eyes of Arkham Security. He wanders back and forth between being free and being caged. Twisting characters to his nefarious needs both times. During his entrapment, he convinces Jeremiah Arkham that if he was to take down Batman, then all of the inmates in the Asylum would bow down to him.
This sets up one of the books standout action pieces in which Batman, locked in a padded cell, must go toe to toe with his Rogues gallery. There are moments that would later go on to inspire the Arkham Asylum video games and you truly get the feeling that Batman is incorruptible and truly above his foes. He will not be broken physically or mentally under any conditions. The test didn’t humiliate him, it only made him appear stronger to the inmates and it’s this chapter that really sees the tables turn against Arkham. The warden can no longer control his inmates, Zsasz influences and he is made to look like a fool by our hero. I love the way that Arkham’s stance is kept in shades of grey till the conclusion.
You can easily side with him in his thoughts on Batman’s sanity and understand why he would whittle out harsh punishments to some of Gotham’s worst killers. I’ve never been too keen on the character but I understand his role in books like this. He has seen the repetition of the Asylum failing the citizens of the city time and time again and no longer wishes to view anyone succumb to the madness that tragedy brings forth.
Arkham is much like Batman, in stopping monsters he grows closer to becoming one. The fact that this book can make you consider elements such as this across a relatively short arc (4 issues) speaks volumes to it’s depth.
I absolutely love the writing throughout the book and the art grounds it in a gritty setting that adds subtext to the environment.
The Final Confrontation
The final chapter is a brilliant summation for the story. Zsasz escapes for the final time, Nightwing solves the case of the murders on the outside and Batman is finally free to join the fray. Batman’s escape, crawling through a giant microwave wrapped in his the linen from his cape has flashes of Metal Gear Solid 4 and it’s as dramatic as those final moments in the classic video game. The two foes face off in an escape tunnel and the scene is tense and thrilling. Topping off a brilliant book.
Batman The Last Arkham is a brilliant book. It premiered the ‘Shadow Of The Bat‘ series back in 1992 and really started things off with a bang. The book is very concise and delivers a tense, psychological story that dives into the depths of the dark knights mind. This book is definitely worth picking up and belongs up there with the best batman stories.
As I read through the Batman Graphic Novels in Chronological Order each week, I will be ranking them from Best to Worst. Click the link below to be taken to the full list. Updated every new review.Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.