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Arkham Asylum: Living Hell #1 By Matt Martin
DC Comics – Don Slott (w); Ryan Sook (a)
This is about the exact opposite of what I was expecting from this book. Your typical Batman-related mini-series is generally entertaining (if you’re, like me, a big fan of the Dark Knight), but not terribly groundbreaking. So, despite the fact that I like both of the creators attached to this book (Slott is better known for his work on DC’s animated titles and Sook is the Mike Mignola-influenced artist who handled the now-defunct Spectre relaunch for much of its run), I wasn’t looking for anything overly spectacular.
And apparently I was wrong to have such low expectations.
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Rather than the typical “villain Batman hasn’t fought in the main titles in a while” storyline, Arkham Asylum is an atmospheric piece of character-driven psychological horror.
After the opening scene (which centers on archaic, brutal methods of “rehabilitation”) passes, the mini-series’ “protagonist” is introduced. Warren “The Great White Shark” White, much to the dismay of the judge presiding over the case, is found innocent by reason of insanity in one of the country’s largest stock market fraud cases. White’s requested change of venue to Gotham City is offered as the reason for such a radical turn in the case. However, while the jury of Gothamites allows White to avoid a lengthy prison sentence for his misdeeds, the judge seizes the moment and, in light of the white-collar criminal’s “mental disorder,” orders him to undergo psychiatric treatment within the city…at Arkham Asylum. Outraged at the lack of respect he receives from the madhouse’s guards and terrified by the jeers of the inmates, White (now called “Fish” by his fellow Arkham residents) latches on to the only sane person he can find: his state-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Anne Carver.
The scene with Carver, literally the halfway point of the book, marks a shift in perspective. Now, we view the conditions in Arkham from the viewpoint of one who is not a prison in the literal sense, but all the same feels trapped by her association with the legendary repository for Gotham City’s criminally insane. Briefly, we are shown the impact that working with Batman’s archnemeses for a living has on a normal person’s social life and personality, but the focus quickly returns to Dr. Carver’s work. Feeling increasingly strained by the daily barrage of conversations with dangerously unstable individuals she faces, the doctor makes a risky proposal to White, her only seemingly sane patient. And while the ending, upon a re-reading, was apparently foreshadowed earlier in a passing phrase, I found it nonetheless surprising the first time around.
Slott has a real grasp for the mannerisms of the members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery depicted within and Sook is just as capable in terms of visually rendering them. All in all, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is an exceedingly solid effort, taking what is usually nothing more than set piece for a larger Batman story and using it as a focal point for what appears to be a very thoughtfully-crafted mini-series.
Final Score: 4.5/5
Click here for our Arkham Asylum: Living Hell special coverage, including interviews with both creators and exclusive art!