Jim Gordon is officially in the madhouse. Recent events in FOX’s Gotham have the city’s most honest cop trading his officer’s badge for a security one at Arkham Asylum: Home to the criminally insane. As Jim enters the most treacherous place in the DC Universe, the Asylum will undoubtedly push him to his psychological and emotional limits. Which is to say, it’s a dark place.
Fortunately, for fans of Batman, it’s also the place for some of the Dark Knight’s best stories. Arkham Asylum is the physical manifestation of Batman’s presence in Gotham City; a gallery of those warped by their encounters with the Dark, and a dark mirror reflecting what Batman could become if he ever steps over the line of justice. Below, we run through the most influential Arkham Asylum stories through Batman’s history. They may not make Jim Gordon’s stay any more comfortable, but they should make you feel a little more at home
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell
When a Gotham felon pleads insanity to dodge a stay at Blackgate prison, he soon discovers that he’s made a horrible, horrible mistake. It’s off to Arkham Asylum for this genius, who quickly discovers that Blackgate is a trip to Sandals Resorts when compared to the most insane place on Earth.
Written by Amazing Spider-Man’s Dan Slott, Living Hell has the Asylum live up to the title’s namesake. Scott presents a dark, twisted construct of horror that oozes darkness out of every panel. By viewing the Asylum through the eyes of a commoner, readers get an honest sense of what it would really feel like if they found themselves in the madhouse. Rogues gallery stars like The Joker, Two-Face, and more aren’t framed as twisted equals to Batman, but horrifying monoliths that truly frighten. If you ever had sympathy for Batman’s villains, this series will do a solid job of erasing those feelings. By firing on all cylinder despite only a few cameos by the Dark Knight, Living Hell does an excellent job establishing just how important The Asylum is to mythos. Much like Gotham City, Arkham Asylum is a character in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Asylum Video Game
The first entry in Rocksteady Studio's massively successful Arkham video game series, Arkham Asylum is the entrant that really embraces its title. When The Joker wrangles of control of Arkham Asylum, Batman must endure the toughest night of his life as wrestles against his enemies to restore order.
The sequel, Arkham City, may have delivered superior gaming experience, but Arkham Asylum inarguably gave the superior Arkham Asylum story. For one, it’s in the actual Asylum. The enclosed sense of claustrophobia that players get while navigating through Arkham’s constricted corridors brings Arkham’s horrors to life, while the extremely creepy soundtrack will almost guarantee that you play this game with all the lights on.
It’s not Silent Hill, mind you, but Arkham Asylum delivers the most haunting Batman gaming experience yet. It also delves into the Asylum’s twisted backstory. Audio recordings of the Asylum founder Jeremiah Arkham’s slow descent into madness are scattered across the game like hidden easter eggs, showing that this place was pretty messed up even before Batman and his adversaries arrived in Gotham.
DC’s new Batman series offers the freshest take on Arkham Asylum yet, taking the madhouse from it old residence and placing it in a comfy new home: Wayne Manor. That’s right, Bruce Wayne’s home, his family legacy, now hosts the nightmares he’s sworn to fight against.
But when an inmate’s mysterious murder rocks the new Asylum, Batman proves-much to his disappointment-that you always can go home, and embeds himself in the Asylum as an inmate. It’s a fantastic premise, giving Batman a first-hand view of a twisted world he’s helped create. As Bruce unravels the mystery under cover, he has to battle his own guilt for contributing to the Asylum’s woes, while also confronting old childhood memories that are conjured through the worst filter every. Issue #3 alone is worth the price of admission, featuring the most original Batman V. Joker confrontation this side of Grant Morrison’s The Clown at Midnight.Writer Gerry Duggan delivers a sharp script that isn’t afraid to crack a smile every once in a while, while artist Shawn Crystal brings it to life with playfully haunting visuals. Cartoonish, but dense with dark shadows and jagged lines, Crystal's pages are like an episode of Looney Tunes on abad acid trip.
The series is already slated for cancellation unfortunately, but that shouldn’t stop readers from checking out the six issues that will be published before its end.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place On Serious Earth
Not only is A Serious Place on Serious Earth the strongest entry on this list, but it’s likely one of the top candidates on any “Best Of” Batman lists. When the Joker once again takes control of Arkham Asylum (surprise) and holds its staff hostage, Batman must enter the Asylum for a long night of skull busting and soul searching.
As Batman squares off against his rogues gallery, each patient he battles leaves him with the same question: Does Batman belonging the Asylum as well. It’s a good question, and one that really crawls under Batman’s skin. Grant Morrison, who launched himself to comics stardom with this original graphic novel, delves into the deepest reaches of Batman’s fractured mind. If you didn’t know how screwed up Batman can truly get, you’ll find out here.
Like the Arkham Asylum video game (which surely took a few pages from this book), Batman’s story parallels with Jeremiah Arkham’s. As readers see Batman struggle with insanity in the present, they also witness Arkham’s descent into it in the past. And it would be insane (clearly) to discuss this work without mentioning Dave McKean’s groundbreaking work. His painted pages, coupled with various other forms of media, re-defined how sequential stories can be told. Every scene looks as disjointed as it truly is, giving readers their own brief flirtation with mental instability. That’s saying something.