The battle between the Batman and his closest enemies intensifies when the inmates, led by the psychopathic Joker, take over the asylum. This graphic novel takes a controversial look into the dark recesses of the Batman's psyche.
At the series' best, Batman's writers and artists have portrayed the struggle between the man and the mission--the scarred child who donned a cowl to overcome his fears, and the realities that come with his (let's face it) completely implausible existence. As with any fantastic fiction, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief comes with the territory--and in the case of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum, that's a necessary thing. Morrison, the creator of off-key series The Invisibles and probably best known for his work on The Justice League of America, here spins a tale of the titular institution, the home-away-from-home for the members of Batman's Rogue's Gallery. Psychologically intense, the story is split between Batman's ordeal in an Arkham overthrown by the inmates and run by the Joker (easily the most unstable nemesis for our hero) and the heretofore untold tale of Amadeus Arkham, founder of the Asylum.
McKean's painted artwork is both detailed and impressionistic (a nice duality in itself) and even more disturbing than the facts of the story; this is a story that, as told, could not creditably exist in another medium. It's a triumph of both art and craft--but, like P.J. Harvey's Is This Desire?, it may be a triumph of art over enjoyability: reading this book can be unsettling, if not disturbing. Further, Morrison's treatment of the regulars is clearly subject to the conceit of the story--neither Batman nor Two-Face are really "in character" here (for that matter, neither is the Joker, though his mental instability makes it tough to argue against any behavioural pattern). Ultimately, Arkham Asylum is a creation unto itself, best remembered as a singular work of art that is only by necessity a part of the Batman universe. --Randy Silver