I love superheroes, but trying to aim DC or Marvel superhero stories at adults almost never works for me. That recent All-Star Superman was great, and Grant Morrison gets it, but most of the time the characters in these comics are operating on the same emotional level as they did when they were written for kids, but there’s grisly crimes thrown in and the writers try to make these impossible worlds make sense. The world of Batman is an amazing one and open to individual interpretation by the creative teams who work on it, but most of the the stuff made after the sixties seems wrong to me.
The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, and even Bruce Timm’s Batman projects are all examples of adult Batman stories that aren’t dull or completely ridiculous to me. On the other end of the spectrum of ridiculosity there’s the idea of Arkham Asylum. When Batman is written for kids you don’t really have to explain where the bad guys go after Batman beats them. Adults want to know, so in 1974 Dennis O’Neil wrote it into Batman continuity. When the supervillains get beat up, instead of going to regular jail they go to a supervillain mental hospital.
The problem is that once you start questioning things like, “Where do the mass-murdering supervillains go?” it’s hard to stop asking other questions like, “Why are the greatest murderers of all time being stored together in one place where they can conspire to escape, which they keep doing again and again? Why not store them in separate buildings? Or hire a staff that’s capable of handling them? Or why not just execute them since they’re basically all super-terrorists?” You bring a little bit of reality into the world of Batman and it just draws attention to how stupid the whole premise is.
Sam Kieth’s new Arkham Asylum book is probably a follow-up to the Dave McKean/Grant Morrison Arkham Asylum comic which I did not read. The book has the unimaginative subtitle, “Madness”, and the cover art is a blow-up of one of the interior panels. It all feels kind of lazy from the beginning.
The story begins with some images of an abandoned metal bathtub and narration by an unidentified character. Then we’re introduced to Sabine, an annoying and generic character, along with her non-person of a son and equally bland husband. Her husband drops her off at Arkham Asylum where she unhappily works and we’re treated to a beautiful splash-page of the full Arkham Asylum building looking faded and ghostly. We see her walk to her job as her dress is fluttering in a way that seems like it was fun to draw for Kieth but doesn’t really make sense or need to be there.
We’re introduced to some of the other staff at Arkham Asylum and quickly realize that they all are fucking incapable and annoying idiots. It was when I saw this page (below) that I thought, “Man, I hate these fucking characters. I can’t wait for the Joker to murder these annoying bitches, lumpy security guards and maybe eat Sabine’s family.” Unfortunately that never happens.
There are some cool shots of Killer Croc in his prison aquarium tank and a lot of boring conversations between characters who I want to see get chopped up, and some visual metaphors like a bleeding clock. I really don’t care though. I don’t think Sam Kieth gave a fuck about this comic. Sam Kieth is one of my favorite artists in comics and it’s really bizarre to me that he managed to come through Marvel without having to adopt the house style. His drawing style jumps around from hyper-rendered paintings and drawings of faces, muscles, cars, and beautiful architecture, to crude scrawls that he could have been doing with his other hand. It’s an interesting drawing style that feels free and gives everything a diaristic feel. And mostly Kieth focuses on what interests him. In this book it seems like the thing’s he dug most were drawing the building and doing large portraits of the Joker. Everything else is kind of a waste and the story is a big nothing.
Also, Harley Quinn is transformed from a cute psycho into a dreadlocked Juggalette, which makes sense. She reminds me of the girls I knew in Special Ed. Now that I bring it up, the few scenes of the supervillains interacting reminded me of the way the junior criminals I had classes with interacted. Kieth tried to make a human story where Arkham Asylum is a metaphor for a normal lady’s problems, but the problem is that the bitch sucks and the villains are way more interesting and relatable.