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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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An inside look at a madman's nightmare.

  • Mar 26, 2009
  • by
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, and of course, that of all the madmen locked up at the asylum, including the super villains.
Two, that it is "Suggested for Mature Readers" on the back cover as it's probably one of the most unnecessarily violent and ghastly graphic novels ever published under the Batman title, although, I definitely think - regardless of it being at times a bit too disgusting for my taste - that it's also one of the most original and beautifully illustrated narratives ever created for the genre. The superb artwork is perfect for the story with its surreal, dreamy, and suggestive look, even if, on occasion, it gets a little difficult to follow, especially with certain clashing combinations of colors and typographies. Still, the lavish intricacy of the compositions and the broad range of techniques used by the artist are a spectacular visual feast worth the price of the book alone.
The dual story, told in a nicely interwoven parallel, on one hand, explores Arkham's past and how his reasons for founding the asylum derived from decisions he made during the most crucial points of his life, and on the other, focuses on Batman's present day mission to go inside the asylum and, while confronting the insecurities about his own sanity, regain control of the facility after it's been taken over by the Joker.
Arkham's story is from beginning to end an emotional journey through the situations and escalating tragedies that can slowly drive a man insane. It's marvelously shrouded in a veil of mystery and superstition, and brilliantly placed in time during the beginning of the 1900's both by the overall mood of the art and the historical details sprinkled here and there, including, among others, having Arkham meet and learn from both Carl Jung and Aleister Crowley.
Batman's story, told from both his point of view and that of the inmates' is, on the other hand, a lot darker, more twisted and sadly less consistent. Our hero's mischaracterization, present throughout the whole story, is obvious from his first line of dialogue, with which he's not only portrayed as a constantly daunted man, but also as one who reacts with shock and disbelief to the inmates' atrocities and maniacal behavior that he's so used to fighting. Contrastingly, the clever analysis of the Joker's psychosis is brilliant right to very last page of the book, even in spite of the endless sexually perverted innuendos from him - who even hints at a homosexual relationship between Batman and Robin - that somewhat lessen the impact of the story's emotional momentum.
The story concludes with the most satisfactory ending I've so far encountered in any graphic novel - worthy of a 5-star rating on its own -, an excellent comparison of the contrasts and similarities between Arkham and Batman's sense of duty, the ghosts of their pasts, and the skeletons in each one's closet.
As you'd expect from the title, along with the Joker, a fair amount of villains make an appearance, enriching Arkham Asylum's decadent milieu, among them Two-Face, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Clayface, Prof. Milo, Dr. Destiny, Maxie Zeus, Black Mask, etc. The constant references to April Fools' Day and Alice in Wonderland, the changes introduced to Two-Face's alter ego, Harvey Dent, and the re-imagining of some of the other super villains, are truly delightful as well. But where the most pleasant surprises of the story lie for me are on Batman's iterated questioning of the "cures" administered to the inmates by the asylum's doctors, and the contemplation of the possibility that madness might not only be a physical illness but that it could also be a contagious disease.
Despite the fact that this book could use some degree of fine-tuning in a few places and a little less unwarranted violence in others, overall it holds its own and delivers a fantastic story about how different people perceive the world around them when they see it through their own biases.
This 15th Anniversary Edition includes a section with the original sketches and story conceptualizations done for this title that presents an amazing view of the artists' creative process.
Definitely a must-have addition to any serious Batman collection.
--Reviewed by M. E. Volmar

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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 . July 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 …
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


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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