I have been reading Batman comics since I was five years old, and therefore, I know what the purpose of Arkham Asylum is: it’s to give supervillains a place to take a nice rest after the end of a starring turn, and a place to break out of at the start of the next starring turn. And that’s pretty much it.
Seriously: can you think of anyone who has ever been cured at Arkham Asylum? I mean, in theory, any insane asylum is actually a psychiatric hospital; here in Massachusetts, the local nuthatch is known as Bridgewater State Hospital, not the Southeastern Mass Whacko Storage Facility (however, that will be the name of my next punk band). And when a facility is a hospital, one would assume the application of some form of medical treatment… and yet at Arkham, no one ever gets better. Hell, no one ever tries; the only people I can think of who were released from Arkham are Harvey Dent and The Joker, and that was in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and it only happened as a way for Miller to mock liberals, and ended in the deaths of hundreds. If you believe the portrayal of psychiatry in Batman, the field only exists to clap you in a straitjacket and pump your full of antipsychotic drugs. Which is why I self-medicate with 30-packs of the Poor Man’s Valium. But I digress.
But if one stops to think about it, if there is a psychiatric hospital, there must be someone who went there under their own power looking for a little medical help, right? And what would happen if the place that that person went for healing became, over the course of years, the location where a city locked up its most dangerous and escape-prone homicidal maniacs?
It’s an interesting idea, and its the focus of Batman Annual #2, with a story by regular Batman writer Scott Snyder and new comics writer Marguerite Bennett, with the script by Bennett herself. And it is successful in giving readers a new point of view on comics’ favorite spastic hatch… even though it isn’t completely successful as a completely immersive and believable Batman story.