Saturday, 9 October 2010

Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth

Written by: Grant Morrison, illustrated by Dave McKean
Year of Publication: 1989
Number of Pages: 216 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, superhero, horror, fantasy

Story: On the outskirts of Gotham City, Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, founded in the 1920s by Dr. Amadeus Arkham, has housed some of Gotham City's most dangerous criminals and now the lunatics have take over the asylum as, lead by the Joker, the inmates riot taking over the asylum and taking the staff hostage. Their main demand is for Batman to join them in the asylum. In the dark, twisting corridors of Arkham, Batman has to encounter his deadliest adversaries as well as coming face to face with his own heart of darkness.

Opinions: The book moves between the present day narrative of Batman in Arkham Asylum and the tragic story of the founding of the asylum by Amadeus Arkham in the 1920s, told through journal entries. The narrative weaves together multiple references from the Tarot to religion, from Lewis Carroll to Philip Larkin, and from Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho (1961) to Lindsay Anderson's film O Lucky Man! (1971). It moves away from the gritty realistic approach to superhero comics that were popular in the late 1980s with the likes of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen (published in 1987) and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (published in 1986) to present a surreal, nightmarish vision. Destroying any lingering ideas of Batman as the colourful baddie-bopper from the 1960s TV series, this presents the Dark Knight as more or less borderline psychotic. There are frequent references to the fact that Batman is not really much different from his villains, who are presented here as more pathetic, grotesque and horrific than ever before.
The surreal artwork by Dave McKean incorporates his usual multimedia style which mixes painting, sculpture, text and photography emphasises the fact that the book is a psychological horror story. More of a nightmare than waking reality.
While this won't be to everyone's tastes, this is one of the darkest and most disturbing of all the Batman stories and is strongly recommended.
The popular video game Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) is loosely based on the graphic novel.

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