Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #158: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

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First, let’s discuss the pros of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum. Besides his own graphic novel, Cages, and his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on the movie MirrorMask, Dave McKean’s illustration style has never been more perfectly suited for a project. Arkham Asylum is a madhouse, and McKean’s seemingly haphazard art reflects that. Likewise, the story, though maddeningly brief, is just as dream/nightmare-like. Readers could extract any number of deeper meanings from what takes place during Batman’s tour through the facilities he himself has populated.

In another sense, however, these are also its failings. For as fitting a choice as he was, McKean still could’ve used some reigning in, as the dialogue left me, a 23 year old for whom eyesight has never been an issue, in want of a pair of reading glasses. An argument could be made that this was a conscious choice on his part, him making the text even more dense and impenetrable in a rather peculiar way. No matter his intent, I don’t much care for it. Have the characters speak incomprehensible Freudian nonsense (then again, a lot of what he said was nonsense, so that’s a tad redundant) for all I care; all I ask is that you write it in such a way that I can read it, even if I’m unable to comprehend what it’s attempting to get across.

But McKean wasn’t the only one to get out of hand, as the original script (rife with notes from its author) in the back of the edition I read makes abundantly clear. What it is, in reality, is Morrison lecturing you on the deeper meanings of his story, and a whole host of other items I didn’t care to know about, with pieces of the script there as examples of whatever the hell he’s rambling on about at any given moment. The script itself has numerous digressions that go on for paragraphs, and there are also plenty of footnotes in which he can blather on even more about the script he, in my opinion, put far too much thought into. Art is usually best left up to the consumer‘s interpretation, as even the worst piece of dreck can mean something, anything… everything to a person, and then to have the author say “no, I wanted you to read it this way” feels like a personal affront. “How dare you accuse me of reading your book the wrong way,” I want to shriek at them.

While it’s always intriguing to hear what their thought processes were, it’s what we, the consumers, think that is key. At Pitt, I had people read stories of mine and extract a deep, almost philosophical meaning from it which they then proceeded to credit me for. I could’ve stopped them, Kanye-style, to say that, no, I had no intention of giving my story of an undercurrent of pedophilia, and that I wanted none of this “you should read Lolita, if that’s the route you want to go” stupidity I was getting from my side-burned, bespectacled, and sweater-vested professor. He probably would’ve fangirled over it if I went all out with the sunglasses and microphone, given he’s likely Kanye’s biggest fan. But, no, I just let them attach whatever they wanted to my story as long as it helped it hold up their scrutiny. If I had ended up submitting that story for publication, as my professor suggested, and they accepted it on the basis of it supposedly having shadows of Lolita, I would’ve only cared that it had reached them, even if it wasn’t in the way I had hoped.

Morrison, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to want to give readers that sort of leeway to make a story their own, so to speak. With that original script, he removes all sense of mystery. Everything is explained, ad nauseam, and the explanations we’re given aren’t what I’d call satisfactory. They aren’t profound, as appears to be believe they are; they’re closer to, to use an earlier phrase of mine, “incomprehensible Freudian nonsense” than anything I could see lit. professors having wet dreams about. Cool your tool, Morrison, this is still Batman we’re talking about, a character McKean was, according to you, risking his artistic credibility by illustrating. He’s a man who dresses up as a human-sized bat and fights crime against villains who are probably no more fucked up mentally than he is, and Arkham Asylum does a good job of teasing that fact. However, that is as far as I’ll go, and I wish you and McKean would’ve just exercised the same level of restraint.

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