Comic Review: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth

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I am a Batman fan. I’m not the biggest one on Earth, nor the most knowledgeable, but I’ve always had a soft spot for him. The argument I always use is that he doesn’t actually have superpowers like Superman does — he’s just got his wits… and an absurd amount of money and technology at his disposal. Yeah, I know, it’s not a really good argument, but I have to admit being annoyed at some of the more “magical” elements of other superheroes (save those who are really space aliens; I know it’s an arbitrary distinction, but it’s MY arbitrary distinction).

Grant Morrison, however, has done a similar changing of the characters in Arkham Asylum; Killer Croc is more of a deformed person like The Elephant Man, Clayface is closer to a leper than the goo-beast he’s usually depicted as and Doctor Destiny is a frail, yet creepy man in a wheelchair. These depictions I tend to find as much more interesting. And even the more standard villains like Two-Face and the Joker have an interesting twist — the former is reduced to a gibbering wreck as a result of weaning him away from a dualistic way of thinking and the latter is considered not so much insane as meta-sane.

Dave McKean‘s art is, as always, astounding. His brushwork (and perhaps use of mixed media; there are places where I can’t even tell if he built collages on the top of his art or just painted it that way) is gorgeous. Any page or panel could stand on its own in any museum of the world. The combination of two of the best people in comics makes for a jaw-dropping book.

The edition I read, the 15th Anniversary Edition, also included the original, annotated script by Grant Morrison (which includes some added scenes as well as goes into the cosmology and symbolism in some of the choices) as well as other bonus artwork and sketches. It’s an outstanding package for an outstanding story about sanity and Batman’s own tenuous grip on same.

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