I associate Dave McKean’s artwork with chaos and motion and the surreal and the absurd which makes him a perfect choice to illustrate a book called Batman Arkham Asylum. I don’t think it is an accident that Batman is drawn as a wisp or a faint shadow in the book. It might be because he is the “Dark Knight” hiding among the shadows or because he is a “non-entity” wishing to settle on a concrete identity.
In Batman Arkham Asylum, the Joker leads the inmates in a hostile takeover of the Asylum and “invites” Batman to join them. Because of the hostages, Batman has no choice to accept. But even if he did, it’s obvious he would accept anyway because as he puts it, “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.” Grant Morrison’s Batman is acutely aware of the “sickness” of his own situation. As a result of a boyhood trauma (the loss of his parents) he has grown into an obsessive man with a vendetta, who lives a second life in a cowl and cape. This is the best instance I read of Batman questioning his own sanity and purpose. It is also the best instance of Joker’s maniacal nature. I’m hesitant to say sadistic because at times his sadism seems almost masochistic. It’s a testament to the amazing job Grant Morrison has done with portraying him in Batman Arkham Asylum.
Batman Arkham Asylum doesn’t only tell the story of Batman’s fight against the Joker. It also tells us about the founding of the asylum by Amadeus Arkham, a man whose mind is eaten away by the same disease he tries to cure. Amadeus established the asylum and dedicated his life to mental health as a result of watching his mother slowly go mad. He had earned a name for himself as an expert criminal psychologist. He is driven to pursue his ambitions. Not even the deaths of his wife and daughter are enough to stop him from opening the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum.
Batman Arkham Asylum has become my favorite Batman book. There are many great pieces of dialogue in the book like when Batman argues with the Head Counselor about her prescribed treatment for Two-Face. I’ve already mentioned how fantastic the artwork is. I encourage you to linger on the panels and take a real close look at what is going on visually on the page.