December 19, 2009

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Arkham Asylum: Living Hell

Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Ryan Sook and Wade Von Grawbadger
DC

Dan Slott writes light, airy comic books that make you laugh, right? This is the guy who brings you She-Hulk and The Thing. So I have to admit, seeing his name on this one surprised me. Could Dan Slott really handle the dark nature of a non-code book? The answer is yes he can.

This mini takes us into Arkham through the eyes of a new inmate--a sleezy investment banker who swindled millions of dollars who thinks pleading insanity will help him, until he's sentenced to the Asylum with Joker, Two-Face, and the rest. Now he has to survive with the worst Gotham has to offer in the worst spot of real estate in town (which if you think about it, is really saying something.) And oh yeah, it's about to get even worse than usual. Lucky him!

What's best about the story, though, is that the usual suspects are kept in the background. We only get a little Bats, Harvey, and the Joker, but those moments are priceless. Slott does a great job with the Joker, effortlessly alternating between the killer and the clown, a trick not many writers can pull off. I especially liked the Joker's disdain for the main character and his later insane plan for who to kill next.

By keeping away from the big names, we get to focus more on the story itself, a dark tale of survival in the hell hole that is Arkham. That's a statement that becomes far more literal as the story goes on.

It seems that way back when, Arkham had some additional secrets to hide, known of course to Jason Blood. They come to light in the wake of yet another breakout in the Asylum, and if the Demon can't stop them, all of Gotham may be at risk. (That's another fine move by Slott--with all those heroes in Gotham, why is Bats the only one who has to kep fixing Arkham? Did he sign a contract with the owners?)

Slott's story works around a great plot that only gets muddled when we hit the hard magic--it's clearly not his forte, but he tries his best. However, a slightly off ending isn't a problem for me when the rest of the story is so good. Slott weaves his large cast of characters in and out of the narrative at just the right moment without any part of the story feeling forced.

Living Hell shows how good Slott is at writing comics of any kind and I would recommend it no matter who was drawing the book. But Sook's art is, as usual, spectacular and perfect for this moody piece. I absolutely *love* his Joker. Heck, even the covers get into the act. They're drawn by personal favorite, the Goon's Eric Powell. (I wouldn't mind seeing him take a crack at Gotham sometime, incidentally.)

This was a great standalone Batman's world story, possibly the best I've read. If you are a Batman fan or a Slott fan and haven't read this one yet, maybe you deserve to be locked up in Arkham!