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Batman: Arkham Asylum

A dark and disturbing Batman graphic novel written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean.

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In the mouth of madness

  • Jul 19, 2008
For any beginning comic reader, and even more so for anyone else, "Arkham Asylum" is essential. Claimed by DC to be the best-selling graphic novel of all time, "Arkham Asylum" is deep, psychological, terrifying, and as dark as any comic I've ever read. Grant Morrison writes with an explorative and bleak psychology reminescent of Alan Moore -- but Moore's own darkly contemplative and psychological Batman work, 1988's "Batman: The Killing Joke," was never this ghastly. Thanks to Dave McKean's beautiful and utterly horrific artwork, which is really the embodiment of the word "nightmarish," "Arkham Asylum" is like venturing into the depths of madness itself. The book personifies "Arkham Asylum," comparing it to a living creature. When Arkham is taken over by its inmates, Batman must enter the mouth of the beast. What are the chances it won't swallow him whole?

That's the central point of the comic: how is Batman any different from these freaks he's captured? Just as the Joker dresses himself up like a clown and terrorizes those he thinks should laugh a little more, Batman dresses up like a bat and terrorizes those he sees as evildoers. It seems like he should be locked up in Arkham too. Batman is forced to confront this fact as he crawls deeper and deeper into the black heart of the asylum, in the process revealing a vulnerable humanity that we don't often see in Batman comics.

It feels like we've seen little of this before -- and what little we have seen has never looked like this. McKean's artwork is just stupendous. It is absolutely the reason for the ghastliness of the book. With another artist, Morrison's script could have produced an excellent book that would probably wind up frightening, but McKean's art makes that excellent book truly horrifying. The sudden introduction of the Joker almost made me shout. This is not the wisecracking and sadistic clown of other comics. This man is a monster, a "special case" even by Arkham's standards, and he looks every bit as shocking and chilling as he should. As do the rest of the Rogues Gallery. They're all here, and they're all every bit as freaky as they were meant to be.

But if McKean's artwork steals the book, it's built upon Morrison's script -- a sturdy foundation indeed. Morrison's writing is laden with symbolism which is quite likely to slip past the reader on the first few reads. That makes "Arkham Asylum" one of the most interesting comics to re-visit, because one notices something new with each read. Additionally, Morrison's script poses a number of fascinating questions, chiefly about Batman himself. Does Batman truly save the world from these monsters, or has Bruce Wayne created the worst monster himself? Does Batman's existence create these freaks? They're fascinating questions, and as with most fascinating questions, the answers are not easy, may not even exist, and if one does happen across them, they will shock you to the core.

There's far more to "Arkham Asylum" than pure shock value, though. Ripe with symbolism, full of challenging and deep questions for which there may be no answers, expertly crafted, this is an essential comic for any reader new or old. Add in some of the finest artwork in the history of the medium and you have a masterwork, one that will chill you long after you've set it down and whipped out some of the old Golden Age comics in the vain hope that they'll rid you of the ghastly images in your head. They won't. There's no escaping the Asylum.

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More Batman: Arkham Asylum (graphic... reviews
review by . June 01, 2012
A riveting, disturbing tale of the Dark Knight's darkest night
         To the dragon, Saint George was a monster.      Keeping hold of that old observation about perspective might help one navigate the hallucinatory maze that is the heart of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Grant Morrison's harrowing work that is one of the most powerful Batman stories in the character's more than 70 years. The narrative plunges us into a nightmarish asylum for the criminally insane that has literally been taken over by the inmates. …
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
review by . March 26, 2009
First, there are two things anyone interested in purchasing or reading this title should know about it beforehand. One, that it is probably not for everyone's taste as it isn't your traditional Batman vs. the villain-of-the-week sort of story, but rather a darker, more disturbing kind of tale that focuses on a deep, complex exploration of madness, told alternately from three different points of view: that of Amadeus Arkham, founder of the asylum, that of Batman and his other persona, Bruce Wayne, …
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Tom Benton ()
Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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About this book


In this groundbreaking painted graphic novel, the inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over Gotham's detention center for the criminally insane on April Fool's Day and demand Batman in exchange for their prisoners. Accepting their demented challenge, Batman is forced to live and endure the personal hells of the Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Two-Face and many other of his sworn enemies in order to save the innocents and retake the prison. During his run through this absurd gauntlet, the Dark Knight Detective's own sanity is in jeopardy. This special anniversary edition hardcover also reproduces the original script with annotations by Morrison and editor Karen Berger.
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ISBN-10: 1401204244
ISBN-13: 978-1401204242
Editor: Karen Berger
Author: Grant Morrison, Dave McKean
Genre: Superheroes, Dark Fantasy, Comics & Graphic Novels
Publisher: DC Comics
Date Published: October 1989
Format: Graphic Novel
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