Arkham Asylum: Living Hell Review

Writer: Dan Slott

Illustrators: Ryan Shook, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Jim Royal

Published: 2004

I typically try to avoid reviewing stories with Batman in them. Not because I hate the character – it’s actually the opposite. I skip over critiquing his books, because I know that I’ll constantly digress onto other Batman stories.

Aaaaand I’m probably going to be doing that a lot in this review. 

You’ve been warned.

At the start of the book, Warren White is established as a despicable, unrepentant criminal. Most stories would have his character-arch be that he learns the error of his ways or remains stagnant and eventually meets his end.

Not in this story!

At the end of the story, he evolves from a petty thief to a petty thief that knows how to better network in the criminal underworld. He finally earns his name: “The Great White Shark”. It’s kind of sad because the only other great thing that the Shark does is get back at Two-Face in another story. After that, he’s pretty much underutilized as a character.

About half way through, I realized that the title was more than a hypothetical description of the characters way of living; Warren literally makes deals with demons and everyone else is possessed or spooked by ghosts. It’s a weird turn for what I thought was going to be a grounded narrative.

But it’s not so random, after a second glance, because there are thematic comparisons being made between the supernatural and the psychological, while aiding in Warren’s character progression in the plot.

The book makes a  comparison of exorcism and the treatment of people with mental disorders, through some exposition given by Jason Blood. He states that in both cases, people afflicted with some ghost or mental illness are disregarded in Gotham.

It was nice commentary to show how dismissive a hospital’s staff can be when rationalizing occurrences amongst the patients.

Etrigon said that people used to jump to conclusions and blame things they didn’t understand on the supernatural. Now, the Arkham staff members are blaming things they don’t understand on the hyper-logical. 

It’s a bit out of character for Batman to just jump to conclusions and blame it all on Scarecrow. It really is too much of a blind leap, considering there couldn’t have been any trace of fear toxin and it would be unlikely that all the patients would have the same specific fear of zombies calling a demon to help them go back to Hell.

One thing that I appreciated is this showed both sides of mental facilities: that of the patients and its staff.

The patients, people like Harvey Dent and Humpty Dumpty are clearly individuals with great potential to function and even benefit society (Harvey Dent especially because Batman would entrust the entirety of Gotham City’s safety upon Mr. Dent, shortly after this story). They are also under-treated in a system that doesn’t even regard them as human beings.

Ironically, Warren pleaded insanity in order to avoid going to Black Gate penitentiary, only to be sent to one of the most hostile asylums in the DC universe. Warren White, among others, is treated like a prisoner, rather than a patient receiving the treatment he needs. This prison mentality is enforced when one of Warren’s doctors says that he’s going to need unofficial “protection” from the other patients. Another instance is when the Joker encounters Warren in the shower and says, “You dropped the soap.”

This paints a tragic picture that the staff has ultimately given up on rehabilitating their patients and is primarily concerned with containing them.

That being said, you can also see how hard the staff had it too. Aaron Cash (Mostly known from the Arkham video games), a security guard, has his hand bitten off by one of the patients of Arkham. 

An even more gruesome example than that is the case between Jane Doe and Dr. Anne Carver. Anne was Jane’s therapist at the time. It was later revealed that Jane had murdered Anne and completely assimilated herself into her doctor’s life. This lets you understand how doctors at Arkham Asylum are a bit reluctant to truly connect with their patients.

Speaking of Jane Doe, I’ve got to say, she is just like this story: Completely underrated!

At first glance, one would assume that she’s just a discount Clayface… and she kind of is.

However! I really do think that she has the makings of a great Batman villain. Her skill set can easily tap into the reader’s fear of losing one’s identity to someone else. There’s also something so creepy in how methodical she has to be, in order to replace someone. Jane mutilates the poor doctor’s body and keeps parts of her hidden all over the Asylum.

She at least has a funny cameo in Streets of Gotham, which I recommend.

Overall, it was an interesting story that tackled a tough topic and had some chilling characters.

Advertisements