I recently finished reading Arkham Asylum: A Series House on Series Earth by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. It has a reputation for being one of the best Batman stories ever written with the websites Batman on Film, List25.com and Complex each place it fourth on their respective best story lists. Is the book as good as the hype suggestions? First we need to set some context. Arkham Asylum was written in response to the dark, gritty superhero of the comics launched by Watchmen and the Batman staring story The Dark Knight Returns. Morrison said in the 15th Anniversary Edition of the book:
The repressed, armored, uncertain and sexually frozen [Bat]man in Arkham Asylum was intended as a critique of the ’80s interpretation of Batman as violent, driven, and borderline psychopathicWith this in mind, what did I think? Find out below the break!
Grant Morrison’s ScriptI feel that Arkham Asylum is good but not great as the best of lists suggests with two big elements dragging the book down. First of all, the good stuff. Morrison‘s script is great as it creates horrific atmosphere mixed with a clever and smart story full of layers. The scariest aspect of the whole story is the Joker who seems to act as a deranged conductor of the plot and you can see the seeds of Heath Ledger‘s Joker performance from The Dark Knight. Sadly his characterisation of Batman feels off to me. Early on in the book, Batman reveals his fears to Commissioner Gordon in a very un-batman way. With no encouragement Batman just reveals how he feels in a way I’ve never read/seen him do with any character other than Alfred. Then later on in the story when a character kills another in front of Batman, he seems not to care which makes him seem like the violent, borderline psychopathic that Morrison was trying to avoid. While I agree with Morrison that Batman should be a psychopath, he needs to be closed and finds it difficult to open up to others.
Dave McKean’s Art and Gaspar Saladino’s LetteringMcKean‘s painted art, as you would expect, is beautiful and plays a big part in the horrific atmosphere I mentioned earlier. However, it can be hard to tell what is happening. The rogues that Batman meets on his journey are difficult to recognise. It is interesting that in 1991, shortly after Arkham Asylum was released, McKean felt that
very, very overpainted, lavish illustrations in every panel just didn’t work. It hampers the storytelling.A similar thing can be said about Gaspar Saladino‘s lettering. In many ways it is a thing of beauty. Each character gets their own unique style. Batman speaks in black speech bubbles with white writing, the Joker speakers in red ink splatters. You can see an example on the right. It also shows the problem with the lettering, it is difficult to read with the Joker‘s dialogue being particularly bad.