Another Pilot Down: The Artwork of George Gonzalez

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Serious House on a Serious Earth

So I finished reading the Batman graphic novel, “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth” and now understand why lists the book as the 4th best Batman book of all time. It was jaw-dropping, terrifying, and on a personal level, emotionally exhausting.

While my favorite Bat-book is “The Long Halloween”, “Arkham Asylum” (written by Grant Morrison) isn’t like anything you’ve ever read from a Batman comic book. Infact, the book seems to feel more like a cross between a muddy painting, a Nine Inch Nails b-side from “The Downward Spiral”, and a Joel-Peter Witkin photo. The artwork (by Dave McKean) is raw, grimy, and very unbalanced which is unique for a comic book. This is element works perfectly with Morrison’s story, which shows our hero trapped in the asylum he’s put all his enemies in.

Without giving to much away, the monsters and bad guys of the Batman world have taken over the asylum, taking doctors and nurses hostages. In return, all the way is Batman to join them inside. Dressing up as a bat every night and fighting crime involves some level of insanity, just like the very animals Batman has placed inside that house. While these events take place, the story switches back and forth to the haunting and disturbing journal entries of Amadeus Arkham (who created the asylum). The villains interpreted here are far more scarier and sadistic than any previous incarnation that has ever been displayed before. The Mad Hatter struck out to me the most by how much more deranged and sick he was interpreted. Obsessed with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” the Grant Morrison’s Mad Hatter was the very definition of a twisted pedophile that I don’t think was ever really touched on in any other Batman book prior to this one. Harvey Two-Face, after months and months of psyho-therapy has become completely incapable of handling simple decisions.

As I mentioned previously, there are moments in this book were I felt emotionally exhausted from how Batman was becoming mentally unhinged. I love Batman and it was pretty heartbreaking to read and see just how badly he was falling to his own demons.. and in front of all his enemies. The Joker laughs hysterically in one scene were Batman reveals in a simple word association test with one of the asylum’s doctors, just how alone and disturbed he really is. The other scenes that follow are intense and graphic, while the journal entries of Amadeus Arkham are tragic and tear-jerking.

So, unlike the “Knightfall” saga, were Batman is sick and physically weaken, this story shows you a more mentally defeated, scared, and suicidal hero. There are moments in “Serious House on a Serious Earth” were Batman looks like a small ten year old boy, still waiting for his mother to come and help him. You take a look inside Batman’s mental make-up, and while it’s dark, depressing, and disheartening to see just how fragile and insane he is, you just can’t put the book down.

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