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A convoluted telling of a weird, uneven tale.

  • Mar 26, 2009
  • by
Arkham Asylum is the psychiatric hospital of Batman's Gotham City, and this is a story about what being involved with it and living inside it entails to the doctors, to the orderlies, to the madmen, to Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, and even to Batman himself. The story is told mostly through the eyes of a sleazy lawyer, Warren White a.k.a. "The Great White Shark," who pleads insanity on charges of fraud to avoid going to prison, and thus gets sent to the asylum for a period of observation, being unlucky enough to arrive just before the inmates take over and the unavoidable chaos ensues.
But the interesting premise of this story soon dwindles into a disjointed parade of characters whose fleeting appearances amount to nothing more than a twisted, violent, incoherent and very disappointing tale that only allows glimpses of what could have been a wonderful collage of fascinating and correlated stories.
The best ideas, introduced right at the beginning of the book, are entirely underplayed: the development of some newly created characters and the provocative re-envisioning of some old ones, the exploration of the villains' psychoses and motivations, and White's perceptions of Batman's most dangerous enemies from the point of view of someone unfamiliar to their level of insanity. Instead, the story dawdles on scrutinizing what it takes to survive at Arkham as a patient, and on some other equally uninteresting subjects that add nothing to the story and are mostly left inconclusive by the end of the book: the schemes and intrigues of the inmates, the alliances between cellmates, the trade of smuggled goods, the privileges granted to some patients by the guards. Sadly, it also substitutes good storytelling with vast quantities of violence, bloodshed and gore as a way to grip the reader's attention.
But, without a doubt, this tale's weakest point is its conclusion. Not only it bewilderingly and repeatedly shifts focus without the slightest hint of a smooth transition, it also incorporates a supernatural element involving exorcisms, the undead, and even Jason Blood a.k.a. the demon Etrigan, which is so off-the-wall it seems to belong to an entirely different story altogether.
On the other hand, the artwork on this volume is so amazing; it deserves a 5-star rating on its own. With a masterful use of color schemes and rich, detailed compositions it perfectly conveys the mood of the ambiance and the attitude of each character even where the writing fails.
Still, this is a story that never develops to its full potential, and that is difficult to enjoy even for a die-hard Batman fan like myself. If you are interested in taking a look inside the world of Arkham Asylum, I recommend you read instead the far superior "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" by Grant Morrison.
--Reviewed by M. E. Volmar

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About the reviewer
M. E. Volmar ()
I've been a freelance artist, graphic designer, editor, and translator for over 15 years, and I love and greatly enjoy my job. Although my biggest passion is art and languages, I am interested in … more
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About this book


From one of the comics business' brightest new creative teams comes a Batman tale with a twist - a giant, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing twist! Arkham Asylum: Batman's dustbin where he dumps the worst of the garbage. A melting pot brimming with the curdled milk of human madness, where the warders are as ensnared by the insanity as the inmates. And where a killer has tapped into all that maniacal energy and is channelling it to his own demonic ends! With cameos from Batman, Batgirl and a dark host of famous - and notorious - super villains, including the Joker and Two-Face, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is living proof of the old adage - you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps! --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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ISBN-10: 1401201938
ISBN-13: 978-1401201937
Author: Dan Slott
Publisher: DC Comics (March 1, 2004)

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