Send Shivers Down Your Spine.
Nope, only joking, it’s still bloody me.
After pondering over dem good ol’ Batman games the other day, my attention, as you will obviously remember, was drawn to this particular graphic novel so, seeing that I’m not seeing a new film ’til Sunday, I thought I’d tie ya over with a review of this lil’ beauty.
Heralded as one of the gamechangers for Batman, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum is the first Batman comic written by Grant Morrison, a hell of a good writer, indeed. Unlike your stereotypical “superhero” fare, Arkham Asylum boasts a deeper meaning to the hero hijinx (which there are aplenty of), with an abundance of surreal symbolism hidden throughout the artwork, which we all, of course, be getting onto in a too-long-for-it’s-own-good-paragraph. This artwork, along with the deeply disturbing dialogue, makes for the psycholgical horror tone found throughout the book.
The story is, on the face of it (oh! Haven’t said that in a long time!), quite straightfoward. Batman is called by Comissioner Gordon to go sort aaat some mugs at Arkham who think they can run the place. However, and this is where the genius of Grant Morrison sets in, the further we travel into the backstory of the place itself, the more we become engrossed with other interweaving stories and begin to question our, the reader’s, sanity. This isn’t at all helped by the occasional seemingly fourth-wall breaks or how strangely charming The Joker turns out to be, which is a surprise seeing that he looks like Simon Bisley drew a heroin addict that got a bad case of pink eye from sleeping on an eczema-ridden Hugh Hefner’s pillow for a couple of nights, or me when I have bad hayfever.
*laughter and applause from studio audience*
The aforementioned Joker is brilliantly written with a disturbing and almost perverse obsession with The Caped Crusader, as some people have percieved it. What really kept me, personally, on the edge of my beanbag was how The Joker’s personality switched on a dime, being a foolish schoolboy one minute, and a raving psychopath the next. It may just be the straight up most dangerously deranged I’ve seen the character. However, while he may be on the cover, the real star of the show is the asylum itself. Entwined with the action, we also get a truly unnerving origin story of Amadeus Arkham, the asylum’s original proprietor. This extra context of the effect the building has on the people in it gives the story a supernatural edge which, though subtle, is very present throughout the story. Joining The Clown Prince Of Crime is a number of other supervillains from Juicy Brucey’s extensive gallery of rogues, including Clayface, who is deteriorating due to some leprosy-like condition, Two-Face, who is currently undergoing treatment, Mad Hatter, who has a slightly pedophillic obsession with Alice In Wonderland and Killer Croc, who is treated as an outsider. The reinventions of these characters ensure that this is a book “suggested for mature readers”.
The artwork (yea boi) of Dave McKean is unlike anything else I’ve seen in the graphic novel medium. The merging of styles he showcases here is one of the main reasons I revisit the book as often as I do, leaving little easter eggs in the panels. The styles in question involve Bisley-esque illustration, surrealistic sketches and, what looks like, chalk work, photo-realistic painting, mixed media collages, printing and photography. Artistically, it’s a feat in and of itself. However, the dense colouring, also presumably by McKean, gives the book a certain tone of more modern horror, leading me to relate it to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails because I was reminded in some of the panels of the music video for Closer, with some of the imagery also being strangely remeniscent. I’d also like to briefly mention the odd panelling in the book, putting the reader in a kind of warped state, not unlike the inhabitants of the asylum. Finally, the lettering, by Gaspar Saladino, is also a thing of beauty, as it varies with some characters, with Batman’s being white lettering on black background and Joker’s being vastly different, being without a bubble and being red and scribble-like, with blood-like splatters adorned on it. While this practice is commonplace nowadays, it’s still a spectacle to see it firsthand.
Overall, Arkham Asylum is acknowledged as one of the greatest Batman comics and for good reason. Almost everything about it is revolutionary, right down to the lettering. Historically, it’s an extremely important book that should be in every self-respecting comic fan’s collection.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations