Pounded in the butt by dialectical materialism.

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Douglas Muir
    August 14, 2021 @ 2:54 pm

    So I was one of the 199,000. I bought this as an eager young person at the comic book shop in 1989, and… meh. I’d spent a fair amount of money (it was the hardback) on something that just /wasn’t that great/.

    Here’s a metric: I’ve re-read Morrison’s Doom Patrol several times over the years. Animal Man too — I just re-read it again a couple of months ago, to follow along with your posts here. All-Star Superman and Morrison’s Justice League Stories are on the list of comfort reads for when I want a really good, unironic superhero story. I’ll re-read We3 every few years just to marvel at the craft.

    But I don’t think I’ve re-read Arkham Asylum in 30 years now. It’s just… not that great.

    Okay, what’s wrong with it? Besides the issues you’ve already pointed out, of course.

    1) It’s a disjointed story that’s trying to do at least three different thing at once — a Batman adventure, a symbolic exploration of his psyche, a more general meditation on psychiatry and superheroes, and a backstory for Arkham Asylum. These don’t necessarily work well together.

    1) (a) And layering the whole thing with symbolism drawn from Tarot doesn’t actually join the disparate threads together; it just just adds another layer of confusion. I mean… why Tarot? “Batman + insane asylum + Tarot” isn’t a natural or obvious combination. Perhaps it could be made to work, but… I don’t think it works here. Symbolism has to be in service to something; otherwise it’s just the author being clever at us. (Moore will show signs of this in From Hell and Promethea, though not as badly as Morrison does here.)

    2) The story’s Big Idea — Batman facing the madmen of Arkham as externalized versions of his own inner demons and trauma — is, in the light of day, kind of melodramatic and silly. Of course, superhero comics are built around stuff that is melodramatic and silly! But it requires a deft hand to pull it off without being either pompous or ridiculous, and a deft hand is not at work here. Morrison — brilliant as he was and is — was still a journeyman, and sometimes he fell flat.

    3) At the end of the day, it’s just another Batman story. The sun comes up and the status quo is restored. Moore at least gave us an origin story for the Joker and — not deliberately, but it stuck — a long-term change to Barbara Gordon. Morrison might try to argue after the fact that this was a “ritual” transforming 1980s Batman into omnicompetent 21st century Batman, but… well, it’s been 30 years, but I don’t recall that jumping out from the text. It takes place beside or outside of DC continuity, and that’s not actually a good thing.

    Thinking back, the one positive thing I remember from the book was the attempt to shift Two-Face to using a die, and then to cards. That was a really clever idea, and deserved more than a few panels.

    Finally, Moore’s commentary is kinda true — it’s just not that great a story, and wrapping it in Dave McKean’s art makes thing worse, not better. At the same time, there’s a nastiness to it that is kinda depressing. By the time Moore said that, he was surely very familiar with how an artist’s vision could vary from the writer’s! He could have chosen to be charitable, and didn’t. Ah well, Morrison was being publicly snotty to him, so we can hardly blame him for hitting back. Still.

    Doug M.


  2. Matt
    July 6, 2023 @ 8:15 pm

    This BBC Radio prog calls Oedipus “the world’s greatest detective”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001mlm4

    Which is a potential Batman connection that Morrison would doubtless enjoy.


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