Hello and welcome to the eleventh installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.
Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).
Last time, I mentioned how I’ll try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Year One, The Long Halloween, Dark Knight Returns etc. and so this time I’ll be covering Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth, which is supposedly the best-selling Batman book ever, which is perpetually featured in lists of best Batman books ever, and which helped inspire the Batman Arkham Asylum videogame which I think is one of the finest and most interesting videogames ever made. I remember really loving finding Amadeus Arkham’s crazed spiral writings in there, and it was a cool to see them in this book.
I’ve read a few other books that focus on the Asylum before this. Arkham Reborn and Arkham Asylum Living Hell to be specific. They’ll get their own articles too. I’ve saw other asylum based comics (ie. Jokers Asylum) and been unsure whether or not to read them, and I’ve never been able to allow myself to read the comics based on the games despite only really reading comics in part due to those game. Sometimes I feel torn between admitting being brought into comics by the videogames and find myself trying to skim-over that fact. Its like liking Dragonforce… you sometimes feel the need to defend against hypothetical Guitar Hero comments, but sometimes you feel the need to just say “yes, well, that’s a way to have gotten into it…so what?”
Anyway, I’m not going to look to deeply into the psychology of that (pop psychology’s Morrison’s job, not mine) so instead I’ll just kill time with an amusing little anecdote; I was on the train this week, reading a Batman book, and a stranger with a mysterious accent- a thirty-five year old, smart-casual dressed, male adult approached me. Excitedly, he asked me if adults were allowed to read comics now. He liked the recent comic book movies a hell of a lot and was excited to find another adult (me) who had an interest in this area to ask… could he read comics? – In some ways I figure he may have been really asking if comics could be enjoyable to adults or whether they’d feel too childish – but the way it came out, it was more as if he asked could he please be given permission to read comics …as if without my say-so he might get arrested if he tried them. He also told me he loved the fact that the joker put someone’s eye out with a pencil in The Dark Knight movie (much to the shock and distaste of an elderly woman sat between us).
After having read this today, I’m almost sorry I didn’t recommend him this book. I think he’dve gotten a kick out of the pencil bit…
Batman – Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth:
– Writers: Grant Morrison
– Art: Dave McKean
– Colours: N/A
– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Mid-Career
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Villains: Joker, Two Face, Killer Croc, Maxie Zeuss, Mad Hatter, Clayface, Dr. Destiny
– Allies: James Gordon (Police)
-Bystanders: Cavendish (Asylum Staff), Adams (Asylum Staff), Pearl (Asylum Cook)
– Mentioned: Jason Todd as Robin, Professor Milo
– Historical Characthers: Amadeus Arkham, Constance Arkham, Harriet Arkham, Mad Dogg Martin Hawkins,
– Cameos: Black Mask, Scarecrow, Tweedledum and Tweedledee
– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] On April Fools Day, Batman is called to respond to a riot in Arkham Asylum, where the inmates have escaped and are requesting him personally to come inside. He agrees after Joker blinds a staff member with a pencil. Upon arrival, Batman is met by the Joker (who’s blinding scenario had been a bluff, an April Fools Joke, and he lets the victim go), as well as a psychiatric worker called Adams, who has been treating Two Face in an attempt to stop his obsession with duality. Adams has trained Two Face to make decisions using a pack of tarot cards rather than his famous coin, but this has reduced him to a dysfunctional wreck. Batman slowly travels through the asylum seeing different villains in succession, (fighting Killer Croc along the way and becoming injured) and gaining insights into his own psychology with each meeting. After meeting a disturbed Arkham Employee called Cavendish, Batman learns the tragic past of the Asylum’s founder who himself went insane after his difficult childhood looking after an ill mother, and the murder of his family on April Fools Day. Cavendish is revealed to have been behind the riot and believes Batman is a demonic death-bat “feeding” the “evil” Asylum more insane victims. After a fight, Adams saves Batman by slitting Cavendish’s throat. Batman regains his composure takes an axe and takes Two Face’s coin. He breaks down the asylum’s door declaring everyone free, then Joker asks if Batman should be put out of his misery. Batman says it should be Two Face’s decision and gives him back his famous coin, Two Face flips the coin and lets Batman go, although it is revealed to be opposite to what the coin decided indicating the therapy was helping him. Joker gives Batman some parting words suggesting the outside world is the real Asylum. Two Face then knocks down a house of cards he’d constructed out of the tarot cards.
– Tone: Its pretty horrific and dream like in tone. Its like the bit in a film when a character is drugged up or insane. Its jam-packed with distorted scales, odd perspectives and all sorts of different and possibly contradictory symbolism. I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to have understood it all without reading Grant’s annotations, but it definitely made for an interesting read. As far as tones go, its fairly unique. Dream sequence and horror have both been done, but never like this. Its like Faith No More’s music. Similar things exist, but Faith No More are still massively unique. The two words I’d use to describe it are inventive and impressive. [Why not take this as a reason to listen to “The Mourning After”]
– Art: The art here is very stylized, very visually interesting. I said last time that The Chalice was very stylized, but this is on a whole other level. It’s more like a Metal band’s CD booklet at times. It kind of reminds me of Slipknot’s debut and all the “Come Play Dying” scratched text and Ouiji Board imagery and that sort of stuff. It doesn’t look like a normal comic book at all most of the time, its more like a weird artistic multi-media project. I saw in the linear notes of my 15th Anniversary Edition that it was made with a mixture of Drawing, Painting, Photography and Sculpture, all in the pre-computer age. It looks difficult enough to do in Photoshop. Must’ve been a nightmare to make back then. I liked it, I thought I wouldn’t but I did. When I first saw images from it online, I thought it might be a bit poncy and up-itself, but when you actually read it all in context, it isn’t like that at all.
– My Thoughts: You know, I think this might be one of the only Batman stories I own that doesn’t have Alfred in it. Maybe Arkham Reborn and the Judge Dredd crossover book didn’t have Alfred either, but I’m not even certain about that, I’d have to go back and check.
Its also interesting that the artist refused to draw Robin, and so Robin was removed from the story. If that hadn’t have happened, it would’ve meant that the best-selling Batman book of all time featured Jason Todd as Robin. Would’ve been interesting. Shame.
Its also interesting how many ideas from this come up again in the later Morrsion run. Death-Bat, Joker’s personality reinventions, Shamanistic Rituals and Black Magic, Death and Rebirth etc. All of those feature in the later work.
Its also interesting that this book was supposedly designed as a reaction to the serious movement in comics at the time, and his later run was a reaction to the legacy of that movement. He’s definitely got a distinct personality as an author, ey? [I’m tempted to go read Batman Gothic again and see if Morrison forshadowed any more of his run in that (apart from the Soul-Sold-To-The-Devil and Un-aging things I remembered just as I typed that)]
Also, as much as this book could feel like just a vehicle for symbolism and an inventive art style, it actually flows pretty well as an entertaining story. I know it is essentially just Batman walking past several villains and getting in two fights, but it was engaging and the Amadeus Arkham backstory was fairly riveting. I could see why or how someone might make a case against it (style-over-substance, “nothing much happens” and pretentious) but as a first-time reader, it really captivated me and I sat and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and felt as though I’d gotten my money’s worth.