A Serious House On Serious Earth
Publisher: DC Comics
Written By: Grant Morrison
Art By: Dave Mckean
First Published: October 1989
In 1989 while the movie world was going batty over a certain Dark Knight, the die-hard fans who had shown great respect for the Tim Burton franchise starter were laughing to themselves. Yes Batman the movie was great stuff, but there was another Bat story around at the same time which was superior than anything Keaton and co had to offer, criminally ignored by its much bigger brother, and a concept that proved to be even more popular twenty years on!
Many dismiss the graphic book business has just “grown men reading comics!”, and while in recent years the quality has dipped dramatically thanks to some horrendous decisions that have rocked the industry (just ask Buffy and Spider-Man fans), there are many out there that are considered masterpieces. Anyone who has read the quite wonderful The Killing Joke will tell you that its one of the greatest stories ever told, and one that should be read either if you are or not a Batman fan. Another novel that is well cherished is The Dark Knight returns that was written by Frank Miller and there is endless debate of which book is actually the best. There is no argument though that if those two should be judged as one the best two, then Arkham Asylum is no question the third best story ever told in the Gotham universe.
Dark, creepy and very adult, AA is everything Bat fans want and need. you somehow wish that Christopher Nolan would somehow develop this for any of the films in his worldwide smash franchise because the subject matter fits perfectly in the world he has created. This while certainly not intended for little children was and still is a very influential book that rocked the long standing franchise even though it became overshadowed by Burton’s film!
The concept was so simple that it was a shock that no one ever thought of it before. Arkham Asylum, the place where all the criminally insane are kept and hidden away have broken from their cells and have taken over the place. Led by the demented Joker who is nothing but a crazed psychopath, one of the demands is that the man responsible for locking them away should come into the Asylum all by himself and have a final conformation. The Bat arrives and finds himself in a huge labyrinth maze and a dangerous game of hide and seek. He has an hour to find his way out before his old foes come looking for him, in which one of those include a fully fledged manic in the shape of Two Face whose traditional coin has been replaced with a six-sided dice and a pack of cards. This treatment given to him by the doctors was supposed to make him realise that he does not need a coin to make a choice, but during the stage break-out and unable to make the usual reliable head and tails choice, Two Face becomes even more unstable and shows a very disturbed side that tips this novel into an original direction.
If you think though that the whole concept is for Batman to go from A to B then you are sadly mistaken, the hidden text throughout is all about the power of the mind and what its basically telling you is that if these demented crooks should rightly be there for eternity, then should a grown man who dresses up as a Bat also be with them? The Psychological break down of the Dark Knight is there for all to see, its the only story ever told that really puts him through hell, and by the end you will be wondering if there is not much difference between the good guy and those who want to see him dead.
Its a hook that grasps you and does not let go! The madness that comes from the story is echoed by the art from Mckean that should be applauded for creating such a drug like daze. The words do not come out like a typical speech bubble but that of a surreal mad man which perfectly fits the chaos that is going on. Each of his foes you (and there are many of them) you will instantly recognise but they are somehow drawn differently to what you expect and its a rare achievement in Comic books that it manages to create such a demented vibe that by the time the Bat fights the Croc you will somehow be struggling for breath.
There was a sub plot involving Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the Asylum. His story is told in flashbacks of when he was a child and how his mother’s condition of mental ill heath made him embark on a job to help those who are need of help!. At first this plot distracts you from what is in your mind the main event, but I promise you that it ties in beautifully to the main story arc. If you think Batman is only good when it has dark material to go with, then this is has black as it possibly can get. How you can not be shocked when the story suggests paedophile undertones involving a certain bad character!
Such was the impact that fans of this universe knew that it would one day appear in another form, and in 2009 a computer game called Arkham Asylum exploded onto the market that while having a few minor tweaks from the original story, made the gamer experience this world. Rightly like the comic book itself, its now described as one of the greatest console games ever created and the world awaits its breath for the impending sequel due in the coming months! What that game has done is made interest in this story come alive once more. For those who missed it first time are now now running out and getting their copy and they are now beginning to realise that they were wrong with their assumption of the Batman world. It did not become dark and gritty when Christopher Nolan took over, its always been there, hiding in the shadows, waiting to strike at the perfect opportunity, much like the great Bat itself.
You can debate as much as you want about which Batman book is the best, not even the flip of Two Face’s coin could make you decide. Rightly The Killing Joke is still the pinnacle in which all should be judged, but that does not mean AA does not deserve its place in the masterpieces of the comic Industry. Its original and I dare say genius at best. If you have never read a graphic novel or never wish to, then this would be a fantastic starting point, but if you call yourself a Bat fan but never clapped eyes on this, then shame on you.
Its one of the greatest stories ever told, one that even Nolan himself would have been proud of telling….