Ricky Church reviews Batman: Arkham Asylum Deluxe Edition…
One of the biggest questions writers have often posed for Batman fans is whether or not the Dark Knight is as crazy as the enemies he faces. Grant Morrison tackled this question head on in his 90s graphic novel Batman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth. Now DC has re-published the graphic novel as Batman: Arkham Asylum Deluxe Edition, giving readers a better chance to pour over Dave McKean’s surreal and disturbing artwork as Batman must survive a night in the asylum after Joker and the other inmates have taken control.
Anyone familiar with Morrison’s writing knows how out of the box his style is and the high concepts he uses in his stories whether they’re superhero based or something else of his creation. Arkham Asylum is a much more grounded take on Batman and his world than Morrison’s Batman work would be years later. In fact, Arkham Asylum is less of a superhero action adventure which the video game inspired by this story would be and more of a gothic psychological horror as Batman has to confront the question of his sanity and the dark history of Arkham Asylum itself.
The story is split into two narratives: the main one follows Batman being called to Arkham as Joker and the other villains hold hostages and the other is in the past, detailing the life of Dr. Amadeus Arkham and how he converted his family home into a facility meant to cure the criminally insane. The two stories compliment each other and eventually meet in their narratives as Batman descends further and further into the Asylum to ward off the villains’ hunt for him while Amadeus’ journey takes a very tragic turn.
Morrison does a good job characterizing Batman and examining his mental state throughout the ordeal. A great moment sees Batman in a word association exercise that brings forth plenty of trauma for Batman. As stoic as Morrison’s Batman is, he is quite vulnerable as he tries to beat back the madness brewing on the edges of his mind, going so far as to self-harm to keep himself grounded to reality. Even the villains get a more realistic and often disturbing treatment as The Joker is both a sociopathic murderer as well as a trickster making crude jokes and pranks while Clayface is reimagined as someone with a very rare skin disease and fragile bones as opposed to the shapeshifter he usually is. One of the few exceptions is Killer Croc, who is every bit as huge and monstrous as he is often depicted.
The new narrative behind Arkham Asylum’s history is just as, if not more, disturbing than Batman’s dark journey. Amadeus is a kind-hearted man, husband and father who legitimately seems to believe people can be rehabilitated and wants to help them. His story is tragic and reinforces Batman’s, adding a supernatural like quality to the asylum as it seems to have a mind of its own that either corrupts many of its occupants or makes them lose even more of their sanity than they had coming in. The gothic horror elements of Arkham Asylum are quite prevalent with Batman and Amadeus almost like two sides of the same coin with the question being if the house is really affecting them or if they’ve been mad all along.
Dave McKean’s artwork adds to the story’s gothic horror with his vivid, dream-like and disturbing imagery. It’s no coincidence Batman almost looks like an inhuman monster himself with only his mouth ever the actual part of his body shown while the rest is covered in either his black costume or silhouette. McKean’s designs on the other characters are greatly detailed by comparison with Joker’s appearance looking like melted wax and Two-Face’s very scarred body. Gaspar Saladino’s letters make each character sound unique, from Amadeus’ fine cursive, the dreamy font of Mad Hatter and The Joker’s scrawled red speech. The artwork is simply one of the book’s biggest factors in drawing readers into the twisted story and the Deluxe format only makes the horror of it all more engrossing.
The Deluxe Edition contains quite a wealth of bonus material, including Morrison’s full script for Arkham Asylum with his annotated notes on cut scenes, the story’s themes and other ideas. It’s really interesting to see Morrison’s thoughts on the concepts and themes he examines. Along with that are various sketches and alternate covers from McKean and even storyboards and sketches from Morrison himself. Readers who want a peek at the development process will find the script and sketches very interesting.
Batman: Arkham Asylum Deluxe Edition is a psychological horror that interestingly examines Batman’s mentality and creates a new backstory into Gotham’s infamous institution. Morrison’s grounded characterizations are intriguing and McKean’s artwork is darkly atmospheric while the bonus material adds plenty of context and insight into the concepts the pair play with. Batman and gothic horror have always gone hand in hand, but Morrison and McKean take it to an all new and horrific level with this graphic novel.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.