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Batman: Arkham Asylum 25th Anniversary Paperback – November 11, 2014
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"Morrison's first big commercial hit—and his first shot writing Batman, a character he would spend a great deal of time with over the course of his career—was this ground-breaking graphic novel featuring the grim, twisted artwork of painter Dave McKean. In this darkly poetic, psychologically rich tale, Batman faces off against the Joker, Two-Face, the Scarecrow and other villains inside Gotham City's house for the criminally insane."—ROLLING STONE
"Grant Morrison and Dave McKean explore that connection in Arkham Asylum, one of the finest superhero books to ever grace a bookshelf."—IGN
"Between Morrison's esoteric writing and Dave McKean's gorgeous painting, this may very well be my nominee for the definitive Batman story. Yes, even more so than The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, or The Killing Joke. Exploring both Batman and his rogues equally through significantly different characterizations than typically seen in the main DCU, Morrison boils these characters down to their essence while providing a chilling mystery story set within the confines of Gotham's home for the criminally insane."—CRAVE ONLINE
About the Author
Grant Morrison has been working with DC Comics for more than twenty years, beginning with his legendary runs on the revolutionary titles ANIMAL MAN and DOOM PATROL. Since then he has written numerous best-sellers — including JLA, BATMAN and New X-Men — as well as the critically acclaimed creator-owned series THE INVISIBLES, SEAGUY, THE FILTH, WE3 and JOE THE BARBARIAN. Morrison has also expanded the borders of the DC Universe in the award-winning pages of SEVEN SOLDIERS, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, FINAL CRISIS and BATMAN, INC., and he is reinvented the Man of Steel in the all-new ACTION COMICS.
In his secret identity, Morrison is a “counterculture” spokesperson, a musician, an award-winning playwright and a chaos magician. He is also the author of the New York Times best-seller Supergods, a groundbreaking psycho-historic mapping of the superhero as a cultural organism. He divides his time between his homes in Los Angeles and Scotland.
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If you're a Batman fan who hasn't got this one yet, buy it if you're in the mood for stepping way way outside the box as a reader, if you're into Morrison's most dense and oblique writing or if you're collecting the most iconic Batman stories, because this is an iconic story, but it isn't much fun to read.
"Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" is a nightmare vision featuring The Batman and some of his most deadly foes as you've never seen them before. Not a typical comic book by any means; this is art, plain and simple. A psychological exploration overflowing with oblique symbolism, jaw-dropping and stylish artwork, imagery meant to terrify, and prose meant to provoke. Some readers may be turned off by the out-of-character situations and reactions of some of their favorite characters or the mind-twirling nature of the story progression and art, but this is the creepiest and most avant-garde comic I've ever read and that alone makes it a must. This is not a superhero story; this is pure unadulterated psychological horror of the highest caliber.
The story is actually two concurrent tales. One is an illustrated reading of the journal of Amadeus Arkham exploring his life, his death, his ambitions, and his succumbing to the very thing he dedicated his life to curing. The other follows the exploits of The Batman, called to the most storied sanitarium in all of fiction to face some of his greatest foes -and greatest fears- alone. The two overlap at times with Arkham's words adding symbolism to the events during Batman's journey into the heart of darkness.
The look of this book is jarring. Outstanding. Amazing. It's like real life bleed into a classic painting to create this surreal abstract art style. I figured Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight would be the one to haunt my nightmares. I was wrong. From his very first frame here he looks positively demonic; not a man at all but a grinning atrocity with frightening eyes and a horrific countenance. The very embodiment of Satan himself: a fitting representation in this context. Clayface is not the shapeshifter we know here, but has become a living symbol of disease and corruption, a pathetic being like many of the other villains residing within Arkham's walls. After successful therapy, Two-Face has been weaned from his coin-flipping habit and now makes decisions based on tarot cards, offering him shelter from the black/white absolutes of his criminal past. The problem: he can no longer even go to the bathroom without relying on his cards to tell him what to do. The end result is messy. Scarecrow makes a brief, but frightening appearance, and The Caped Crusader does battle with Killer Croc as well. The Mad Hatter shows up in true Lewis Carroll form (but with more pedophilic undertones) and offers up the solution to the mystery of this bizarre version of Batman's existence; confirming what I had suspected.
If there is any chink in this book's armor, it's that the symbolism overpowers the story much of the time. Fans of David Lynch,David Cronenburg, and H. P. Lovecraft will eat this up, but anybody looking for a traditional linear good vs. evil story may want to think twice. This is an exploration of the psychology of Batman; his fear that he is the reason Arkham is overflowing with madmen, or worse: that he is no different from those he puts behind it's walls. There are several recurring themes that are shared in the past experiences of both Amadeus Arkham and Bruce Wayne that are pretty fascinating. All of this insanity is held together by the outstanding art. "Arkham Asylum" is a complete package that requires multiple readings and a patient mind to unravel, but it is well worth the effort for those who want to get down to the elemental core of the Batman and gain insight into his thoughts and feelings. At first read, there is a lot that will be very off-putting the the Batman faithful, but once you understand the true nature of the book, it is an amazing work.
This 15th anniversary edition features a real treat. The back pages are full of commentary by the creator of this beautiful mess who shares a ton of insight in entertaining fashion. But the real gem is the original script for the comic, which reads a lot like a screenplay for a film. Anyone still in the dark about writer Grant Morrison's intentions with this story would do well to give it a hard read. It really lays out the symbolism and references that would otherwise fly over most anybody's head and answers any remaining questions the reader may have about any given scene. A brilliant addition. Here's one little factoid for you: The Joker's mouth was originally to be drawn as a reference to the fabled vagina dentata. The concept never made it onto the page, but you're welcome for that mental image. Thanks, Mr. Morrison!
So there it is. If you've ever questioned Batman's (or your own) sanity then this is the book for you. It's a nightmare of ink on paper and a deep, thoughtful look at the mind of one of the most iconic heroes of all time. It's dark, brutal, chilling, and downright gorgeous in the most disturbing possible way. It will change the way you look at the denizens of Gotham City, I can tell you that.
4 1/2 stars, rounded up for treating comics as an adult medium.