Arkham Asylum-A Serious House on Serious Earth-15th Anniversary Edition

The original edition of this book was printed in 1989 and was groundbreaking at the time as it was the first comic to feature painted artwork, and at the time of publishing the 15th anniversary edition it was still the best selling comic of all time.  I must have been busy because I didn’t get around to reading it until just recently.  But even in 2012 Dave McKean’s artwork still stands out as being incredible.  I think that is one of the four aims of the book, and the one where the book doesn’t fail. 

Each page is perfectly drawn and pristinely coloured.  My favourite part of the book is parts where The Joker is laughing, the colourist did an excellent job of creating the tone of the HA HA HA  that is the character’s signature.  I just wish I could have replicated the same tone while trying to make the laughter in my head while reading.

Grant Morrison’s  second aim of the book is to explore Batman’s pysche by making him face his own demons when entering the asylum.  After reading the synopsis of the book I came to expect a lot of the story.  The basic premise is that the residents of Arkham lead by The Joker take over the asylum and take hostages and will release them on the condition that Batman enter the Asylum to face his own demons and his enemies on their own turf.  But in the end his enemies only make brief appearances and there are really no battles or demons faced.  After reading, I really have no greater understanding of Batman.

But the biggest failure of the book is the it’s third aim, and that is creating a dark symbolism to surround Batman.  Before reading the included original script and footnotes I would have never made connections to the symbolism, and after reading  I kind of find the intention to be pretentious and unaccessible to the common reader. 

The book’s fourth aim is to connect the history of Arkham Asylum to the present day, but where it fails is that the when the story flashes back it doesn’t transition well back into the story.  I look to the book’s contemporary groundbreaking book in its own right, The Killing Joke, for the manual on how it should be done.  Allan Moore and Brian Bollard seamlessly weave The Joker’s backstory into the main story by using the story and artwork together.  Look no further then page 8 when the future Clown Prince of Crime is reaching for his wife’s hand to understand what I mean. 

At any rate, I did like the book, but felt I needed to share what I think are valid criticisms of it.  Like I said, the artwork is stunning, and there are parts of the book that genuinely creeped me out.  For any fans of Batman books it is worth a read to those who haven’t, but as I get further into exploring Batman comics, I am finding that there are better reads out there.

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