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"Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth": Back in the 1920s, Amadeus Arkham witnessed his mother's descent into madness and as an adult, he became the architect and first administrator of Arkham Asylum, a mental institution dedicated to help the cr

Quote1 Afraid? Batman's not afraid of anything. It's me. I'm afraid. I'm afraid that the Joker may be right about me. Sometimes I... question the rationality of my actions. And I'm afraid that when I walk through those asylum gates... when I walk into Arkham and the doors close behind me... it'll be just like coming home. Quote2

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is a one-shot with a cover date of November, 1989. It was published on September 5, 1989.

Synopsis for "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth"

Back in the 1920s, Amadeus Arkham witnessed his mother's descent into madness and as an adult, he became the architect and first administrator of Arkham Asylum, a mental institution dedicated to help the criminally insane and prevent them from being taken into the regular penal system. Arkham renovated the family manor into the asylum following his subsequent inheritance of the property after his mother committed suicide.

In the present, on April 1, Commissioner Gordon informs Batman that the patients of Arkham Asylum have taken over the building, and will murder the staff unless Batman agrees to meet with them. Among the hostages are a young woman named Pearl, who works in the kitchens; the current Administrator, Dr. Cavendish; and Dr. Ruth Adams, a therapist. The patients are led by Black Mask and Joker, who kills a guard to spur Batman to obey his wishes. Two-Face, meanwhile, has degenerated even further into madness as a result of Adams' well-intentioned therapy; she replaced his trademark coin with a 6-sided die, and then with a tarot deck of cards rendering him incapable of making simple decisions such as going to the bathroom.

Batman is forced into a game of hide and seek, and told he has one hour to make his way through the maze-like corridors and find a way out before his old foes are sent to find him. Batman fights his way through Arkham and his own subconscious, fighting some of his most dreaded enemies until he reaches a secret room high in the towers of the asylum - a room left unchanged from the days when the property served as Amadeus Arkham's childhood home.

Inside, Dr. Cavendish is dressed in a bridal gown and holding a straight razor to Dr. Adams' throat. He is revealed to have been the one to orchestrate the riot. When questioned by Batman, he prompts him to read a passage marked out in Amadeus Arkham's secret diary.

The hidden room turns out to have been Elizabeth Arkham's bedchamber. For many years she suffered delusions that she was being tormented by a supernatural creature, and would call to her son to protect her. However, Amadeus had suppressed a memory when one day, he finally saw the monster that tormented her - a great bat, a spectre of death. Subconsciously, he had chosen to block the truth of the events, but in the dairy, it is clearly explained how he used a pearl-handled straight razor from his pocket to cut his mother's throat and free her from her suffering. He then blocked out the memory and attributed her death to suicide. Years later, his wife and daughter were murdered by one of his former patients, a serial killer named Martin "Mad Dog" Hawkins. The tragedy brings back the memory of killing his mother and a traumatized Amadeus puts on his mother's wedding dress and takes out the pearl-handled razor. Kneeling in the blood of his family he vows to bind the evil spirit of "The Bat", which he believes inhabits the house, through ritual and sorcery. He continues his mission even after he is incarcerated in the Asylum himself; he scratches the words of the binding spell into the walls and floor of his cell with his fingernails until the day he dies.

Discovering Amadeus Arkham's journals, the razor and the dress, Cavendish begins to believe himself to be the one destined to continue Arkham's work. On April 1, the date Arkham's family was murdered, he lures Batman to the asylum. Believing Batman to be "The Bat" itself, Cavendish accuses him of feeding the evil of the house by bringing it more insane souls. Grappling with Batman, Cavendish drops the razor, and Adams picks it up. Reacting instinctively, she slashes it across Cavendish's throat, killing him.

Batman returns Two-Face's coin back from Dr. Adams, stating that it should be up to Two-Face to decide his fate. Two-Face then declares that if the coin lands scratched side up they kill Batman, otherwise they let him go. Two-Face flips the coin and declares Batman free. Batman leaves the Asylum and the inmates peacefully return to their cells, except for Two-Face, who looks at the moon and it is revealed that the coin landed scratched side up.


Hilary Goldstein of IGN Comics said that "Arkham Asylum is unlike any other Batman book you've ever read [and] one of the finest superhero books to ever grace a bookshelf. Goldstein ranked Arkham Asylum #4 on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, behind The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and Year One.[1]

Arkham Asylum illustrator Dave McKean later said he was "trying to make the book despite the subject, rather than because of it. At the end of the day, if you really love to do Batman comics, then that's probably the best thing to do. Not liking them, and then trying to make something out of them is just a waste of time." He also came to think that "overpainted, lavish illustrations in every panel just didn't work. It hampers the storytelling."[2]

Arkham Asylum is widely celebrated for Gaspar Saladino's distinctive lettering work, giving characters their own fonts, and lending the Joker's dialogue an ink-spattered manic intensity.[3] The practice of giving characters customized lettering treatments has since become widespread, especially in DC's Vertigo line and many Marvel comics.[3]

Appearing in "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth"

Featured Characters:

Supporting Characters:


Other Characters:





  • Arkham Asylum is writer Grant Morrison's first work on Batman, making it, technically, the earliest installment in Morrison's Batman saga (which continues with their 1990 Legends of the Dark Knight storyline "Gothic", their 1997 run on JLA, and their 2006 run Batman).
  • In 2004, a special 15th Anniversary edition was published, containing an extensively-annotated script from Morrison that explains the book's influences, symbolism, archetypes and cultural references.
    • The last of these annotations notably states that Morrison considers the story a symbolic dream inside Batman's mind, making its "actual" events of dubious canonicity.
  • Arkham Asylum's depiction of the asylum's backstory draws heavily from the profile that veteran Batman writer/editor Len Wein contributed to Who's Who #1. In turn, its (at the time) atypical depictions of Batman's enemies would influence many subsequent writers and stories.
    • The interpretation of the Joker as constantly reinventing his own personality has been influential in several other stories. Morrison would revisit the concept during their Batman run, where the Joker believes himself to have been shot by Batman (actually an overzealous impostor).[4] As a result, he transitions to a much darker persona ("New Homicidal"), making himself a response to the perceived changes in Batman.[5]
    • The depiction of Maxie Zeus with electrical powers (supposedly a side-effect of constant electroshock therapy) has not been referenced in other stories.
    • The depiction of the Mad Hatter as being uniquely obsessed with Lewis Carroll's works may have influenced his DCAU incarnation, as well as several comics depictions, particularly Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale collaborations such as the second Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween special, The Long Halloween, and Dark Victory.
    • Killer Croc's portrayal as a reptilian monster was the first use of this concept, and although stories published shortly after this book did not quickly adopt it, the idea was eventually used more consistently in the early 2000s.
    • Most of the above, as well as the general depiction of Arkham's atmosphere, were adopted by the highly-acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum videogame series.
  • This one-shot is reprinted in Batman: The Man Who Laughs & Arkham Asylum.

See Also

Recommended Reading

Links and References

  1. The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels, Hilary Goldstein, IGN, June 13, 2005
  2. Grant Morrison: From the Asylum to the Star, Nicholas Labarre, Sequart, April 29, 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kimball, Kirk. "The Treasure Keeper — Part Twelve of Twelve: Into the Asylum!", Dial B for Blog #500 (Sept.). Accessed May 20, 2011.
  4. Batman #655
  5. Batman #663