On Batman

The Madness of Arkham Asylum

By Paul Lytle

“You’re in the real world now and the lunatics have taken over the asylum. ‘April sweet is coming in . . . let the feast of fools begin!’”

–THE JOKER

Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane opened in the early 1920s in Gotham City. It often lingers about the fringes of Batman comics, making cameo appearances in certain stories. There have been a few times when it has taken center stage, but most of the time you have to be paying attention to notice.

The end of Batman Forever featured the building briefly, but if you missed the signs that appeared for that moment, you probably didn’t realize what you were looking at. At the time, I didn’t. It was an important setting in the first collection of The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman, but again, the sign only appeared in a couple of frames, and one image didn’t even feature the whole name. You were expected to know the rest. Often it is mentioned briefly in a Batman comic, usually with a confused Commissioner Gordon saying, “How did he get out of Arkham?” or something of that nature. We saw it a great deal more in recent works such as Batman Begins, but I doubt that most people, at least those who didn’t already know what it was, noticed.

Yet Arkham’s subtle influence can be recognized in the very nature of Gotham and its inhabitants. The city’s mental health, in a way, rests in Arkham’s hands. And when  …

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