Trapped In The Madhouse
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its twenty-fourth choice, Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, reviewed by Tripwire editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Dave McKean
31 years after it first came out, there is no denying the continued impact of Arkham Asylum. It was one of the biggest selling comic books of its time when it first appeared and Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s tale of Batman, who gets trapped in Gotham’s madhouse Arkham Asylum, still carries a huge amount of dramatic heft and narrative weight even all these years later.
Batman has to attempt to keep his sanity while being immersed in the infectious madness of his greatest, most dangerous adversaries like The Joker and Killer Croc. We also get to learn the history of the place and the tortured background of the man who set it up, Amadeus Arkham.
Morrison draws effective parallels between the obsessions of the place’s founder, its inmate and even Batman/ Bruce Wayne himself. The postmodern script also helps to make it an even more immersive experience too. On the artistic front, McKean pushes the envelope in the same way that Bill Sienkiewicz did a few years earlier. In terms of his approach, he moves between a more traditional painterly style when depicting the life of Arkham and a bold expressionism in the scenes that take place in modern-day Arkham. His Batman is a larger-than-life mythological figure while The Joker here is the embodiment of insanity. Other clever touches include a Mad Hatter who resembles Carry On actor Sid James and Harvey Dent/ Two Face, whose treatment has actually made him worse rather than better.
The book has dated a little in places and some of the lettering is very hard to read, particularly the Joker dialogue, but there’s no denying the power and ambition of Morrison’s prose and McKean’s disturbingly elegant visuals.
DC’s 25th anniversary hardcover, which came out back in 2015, has the script from Morrison, which makes for a fascinating read, with his thumbnails, plus some roughs from McKean, which offer a glimpse into his working methods.
It’s easy to take painted Batman stories for granted now but when Arkham Asylum came out, it was like a punch in the face to the reader. Three decades on, it is still a powerful and intelligent Batman tale, fusing the cerebral experimentation of Morrison with the artistic excellence of Dave McKean.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far