Review by From the Booth‘s own Ken
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is the first 6 issue arc of Arkham Asylum. Although I haven’t read the rest of the series, I had to pick up the first trade, which was written by Dan Slott who has been writing Amazing Spider-Man successfully. He recently pulled off two major and critically acclaimed events in that universe: “Spider-Island” and “The Ends of the Earth”. Anyone who could make Spider-Man a great book again has got to be worth reading when he gets his paws on Batman.
Ironically, Batman plays a minor role in this arc, but it didn’t bother me in the least. The book instead focuses on Batman’s rogue gallery and how they pass the time between their inevitable escapes. Dr. Arkham and Aaron Cash, familiar to anyone who has played the video game Arkham Asylum, round out the institution as the only people dedicated to keeping order in this madhouse.
Warren “The Great White Shark” White is a Bernie Madoff-like character who has cooked the books of his corporation and walked off with the money of all his investors. Thinking that he is clever, he pleads insanity but ends up sentenced to indefinite detention in Arkham Asylum along with Two-Face, the Joker and many other lesser known Batman villains. Intimidated by the psychos he is incarcerated with; his life soon becomes…wait for it… a living hell. Meanwhile outside the institution, Jason Blood, AKA The Demon, is on the trail of a seemingly occult-inspired case that went cold when some unknown assailant was arrested and sent to Arkham.
The art in the book is excellent, maintaining detail while still making liberal use of shadows and lighting, as one would expect in a Bat-book. It only seems off-kilter when showing the Joker, whose long face and thin frame seem exaggerated beyond belief here. The cover gallery is also a work of art, using oil painting-inspired illustrations.
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell shows that Slott can write a darker story while still maintaining everything that is still great about Spider-Man. Slott succeeds in making you care, however much you may not like him, about White and his plight as he navigates the internal politics of Arkham in an attempt to keep himself alive. Aaron Cash’s subplot adds dimension to the arc and gives you a character you can truly root for with no reservations. Although the resolution wanders too far into the mystical for someone expecting a Bat-book, it may not bother readers who are bigger fans of The Demon than Batman.