For this Halloween, I am completing my list of 31 comic books to read for the holiday.
As the same as the last 30 days, spoilers ahead.
The final entry of the list is Arkham Asylum.
DC Comics originally released this graphic novel in 1989.
Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean.
The story starts with Jeremiah Arkham’s mother going mad when he was a child. In the present day, Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum at the behest of Commissioner Gordon. Earlier in the day, the inmates seized control of the asylum and now they want Batman to come in with them. They exchange hostages for him and Batman agrees to enter.
Batman is led around the institution by the Joker, they come across various doctors and inmates. We find that doctors Charlie Cavendish and Ruth Adams have refused to abandon the asylum and stayed behind.
Adams details some of the treatment with Two-Face as an example. Harvey Dent has been weaned off of his coin. Moving him from his trademark two-headed coin, to a die, to a deck of tarot cards. Unfortunately, increasing Two-Face’s choices has rendered him destructively indecisive, overwhelmed with options. Batman questions the doctor’s methods.
The Joker shows Batman a Rorschach test. In what is probably a first in Batman stories, we are shown that he sees a bat in the image. This will not be the last time this occurs in a Batman comic. Pretty much every time since the Caped Crusader comes across one, he sees a bat.
Throughout the book, we see flashbacks of Jeremiah Arkham’s life. From his creation of the asylum, to his eventual decline into madness. This is concurrent with Joker’s attempt to drive Batman insane as he faces his demons throughout the “hospital.”
Batman runs a gauntlet of villains who occupy the complex. He overcomes them with varying degrees of ease. Some of these battles are the most brutal Batman has ever endured. A fight with Killer Croc is particularly gruesome as he skewers Croc with a staff, but takes the other end through his side.
Jeremiah Arkham’s madness comes to a head as he sees a gigantic shadow of a bat the he claims is the cause of his mother’s insanity. After killing his mother, he dons a dress and realizes his mission of containing insanity within his asylum.
In the present, Batman encounters Dr. Cavendish. Cavendish is wearing Arkham’s dress and is holding Adams hostage. Pointing to Arkham’s journal, he declares that Batman is the bat that Arkham saw. As Batman has captured countless villains over the years, Cavendish claims he has been feeding the madness of the house.
Batman confronts Cavendish who attacks him. Dr. Adams grabs the razor that he was holding her captive with, and slits his throat, saving Batman. After making sure Adams has a way out, Batman heads back into the asylum.
Returning to the Joker, Batman tells him that they are all free. The Clown Prince of Crime, informs him that they know that already. Joker’s view during the story is that Batman is the one who is imprisoned. While trying to decide what to do with Batman, they both agree to let Two-Face decide.
Batman tosses Harvey his coin. Harvey flips the coin and says that Batman is free to go. Joker walks Batman to the door and tells him that there’s always room for him at the asylum. Later, alone, Two-Face looks at the coin still in his hand, with the scarred side up.
If you haven’t read this one, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Probably the darkest tale I’ve looked at this month, it’s also a modern classic that’s pretty much been in print ever since it was released.
While writer Grant Morrison and artist Dave McKean have had lengthy comic book careers, this one is a high point for both of their careers. Morrison’s examination of Batman’s sanity influences so much that came after. McKean’s depictions of Batman’s rogue gallery leads to some truly menacing takes on the characters. His innovative art in general stands out still in nearly 80 years of Batman stories.
The impact of this book has been felt for years. Morrison’s run on the Batman books years later, still depicted Joker as a being that constantly reinvents himself. The successful Arkham Asylum video games took a lot from this book. Aside from just the numerous easter eggs throughout the games, there are landmarks that originated here. There is a statue similar to the one from the Killer Croc fight. Also, there are circles of text on walls like Jeremiah Arkham’s.
Next year will the 30th anniversary of this book. Probably not coincidentally, Dave McKean announced on his twitter account the other day that DC is planning a remastered version of the book and is seeking out the original art pages. Could an Absolute edition be on the way for 2019? We’ll have to see, but it seems likely.
Well, that’s it for my 31 Halloween Comics list. Maybe I’ll do it again next year. (Gloved fingers crossed.)