A Not That Serious Review of a Serious House

ARKHAM ASYLUM, DC Comics, 1989
Animal Man? Obscure. Doom Patrol? Fringe. Where Morrison actually made a name for himself was on the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum. And the same can be said of Dave McKean, the multi-media comics artist now better known for his Sandman covers. For a poor comics fan from boonie-town in the middle of a Tim Burton-fueled Batmania, THIS was what put both men on the radar.

The story, like the art, is a multi-layered... thing... featuring Batman and his foes as elemental forces inside the real main character - the Asylum. Morrison creates a nightmarish vision of the house as an organic maze that actually feeds on insanity, and much of the story is told through Amadeus Arkham's diary. Turns out the Asylum's founder was as loony as the inmates.

But so is Batman. And when the inmates take over the asylum and he has to deal with a hostage crisis chillingly engineered by the Joker, he finds out just how many bats he has in his own belfry. Memorably, Joker forces him to play a word association game with a resident psychologist:
Even better are Morrison's re-inventions of the Bat-villains' pathologies. The Joker is explained as having "super-sanity... a brilliant new modification of human perception. more suited to urban life at the end of the twentieth century... Unlike you and I, the Joker seems to have no control over the sensory information he's receiving from the outside world. He can only cope with that chaotic barrage of input by going with the flow. That's why some days he's a mischievous clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day." I LOVE that! Today's personality? A bit of groper, actually.
Yes, that's the Joker grabbing Batman's ass. From Bats' expression, you only get one taste, Joker. Even better is the same doctor's therapy for Two-Face. She's weaning him off the coin and its world of absolute black and white, with the many shades of gray of the tarot (next stop: the I-Ching!).
Of course, now it takes so long to make a decision that he frequently soils himself before deciding whether to go to the bathroom, but you can't make an omelet without breaking some heads.

The descent into the asylum is beautiful, though I'll be damned if I understand it all. Maxie Zeus as a Christ figure plugged into a shock therapy machine is pretty cool, and given that Killer Croc is obviously the reptile brain, I'm gonna go ahead and say that it's a Freudian side-trip.
A lot of creepy moments, especially in the diary flashbacks, but what I most love is the ambiguous ending. It includes, among other things, the following fine exchange: Batman frees the inmates to cut the house off from its food source: "You're all free." Joker: "Oh, we know that already. But what about you?" LOVE it. And still a bit creeped out by it.

5 comments:

Madeley said...

I've heard that a lot of detail is lost in the art, and that Morrison's original script is even more complex with regard to the psychologies of the characters. I haven't read it myself, but I think the full script is printed in one of the anniversary editions.

Siskoid said...

That's true, though I don't have that. Apparently, the Joker was meant to be dressed in drag, but DC wouldn't go for it.

I think the art both loses and adds something. I bet it's hard to really do justice to a Morrison script.

Sea-of-Green said...

I always thought the bit with Maxi Zeus was particularly disturbing. Blech. :-P

Anonymous said...

Killer Croc looks like a giant rabbit.

Siskoid said...

Dude's always had problems.

 

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