Saturday, March 29, 2008

Arkham Asylum

Yesterday I revisited Batman The Killing Joke and I got to thinking about the other great Joker story, Batman Arkham Asylum, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. So this morning I re-read Arkham Asylum and was a little sad to discover that it isn't as great as I'd remembered it being.

I like Grant Morrison as a writer, actually I mostly like him as an idea person, as he is just overflowing with great ideas. The problem to me with Morrison is that often he has too many great ideas and instead of slowing down his story and exploring his mad ideas and concepts, he just moves on to the next one, examples of this being his long runs on JLA and X-Men (the latter of which was additionally hampered by very late artists so for most of Morrison's run on X-Men artists had to be brought in at the twelve o'clock hour to get the book out). Morrison has said before that he scripts like DC silver age comic book writers and while I can appreciate the "fun and what crazy thing is he going to come up with next" aspect of this kind of rapid ideas kind of writing, at the same time I think a lot of Morrison's stories would have been richer if he'd reign himself in a bit and focus more on characterizations and how the concepts he introduces play out. Just so that I don't appear to be a Grant Morrison hater, here's some of the titles I've liked by him: The Filth, St. Swithin's Day, Doom Patrol, Invisibles, and Animal Man. It could also be said that just because I'm looking for something different out of most of Morrison's superhero comics, doesn't mean that what he does doesn't have a big audience because actually it does (although I think those stories might be held to an even higher regard if they were more in line with what I'd like to see Morrison do in his superhero comics writings).

Batman Arkham Asylum is a good Batman / Joker story, but ultimately I don't think it's great because Morrison doesn't really explore the nature of Batman and Joker's relationship in any way that brings anything different to the already established mythos. To me the best part of Arkham Asylum on the writing front is Morrison's exploration of the origin of the asylum (which are nicely interwoven throughout this graphic novel), but I wish even that part of the story had had more weight. Morrison's Joker also has some nice maniacal, twisted aspects.

The true star of Batman Arkham Asylum is artist Dave McKean and his frenetic, painted illustrations perfectly capture the over the tilt realms of madness. Arkham Asylum was released in 1989 (and as Karen Berger mentions in the liner notes, has sold more than 500,000 copies since then!) and is a worthy addition to the superhero graphic novels pantheon that brought more adult sensiblities to that genre. And even though I wish it had more weight I still think Batman Arkham Asylum is worth reading and maybe I'm being too harsh on it having just read it after reading the excellent defining Joker story that is Batman The Killing Joke. I also love the subtitle of Batman Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, but maybe that very clever subtitle caused me to want more out of the book than I got.

1 comment:

David Shook said...

Arkam Asylum has been on my list of things to get around to reading one day forever. I think the fact that the creative team is so impressive, and yet no one ever really seems to talk about the book just sort of enforced the idea that there was no rush to track this one down.
I tend to agree with you about Morrison. He's easily my favorite writer in comics, but he's not without flaws. I do think that one place where his tendency to barrel through stories without slowing down actually worked was in Seven Soldiers. That last issue especially could have been a mess, but I think instead he (and J.H. Williams, of course) turned it into something extraordinary.