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The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane,[1] commonly called Arkham Asylum or simply Arkham, is a fictional psychiatric hospital in the DC Universe, usually appearing in stories featuring Batman. Many criminals who experience psychosis from across the DC Universe, mostly from Batman's own rogues gallery (such as The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, Bane, Killer Croc and Harley Quinn) have been patients within the Asylum and also escaped from it.

The Arkham Asylum is named after[2][3] the Sanatorium in the fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts, found in many of H.P. Lovecraft's short horror and science fiction stories, the first being "The Unnamable" (1923).[4]


Arkham Asylum is located on the outskirts of Gotham City and is where those of Batman's foes considered to be mentally ill are patients (other foes are incarcerated at Blackgate Penitentiary). Although it has had numerous administrators, recent comic books have featured Jeremiah Arkham. Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, and in particular his fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts,[2][3] the asylum was created by Dennis O'Neil and Irv Novick and first appeared in Batman #258 (October 1974); much of its back-story was created by Len Wein during the 1980s.

Arkham Asylum does not have a good record, at least with regard to the high-profile cases—patients, such as the Joker, are frequently shown escaping at will—and those who are considered to no longer be mentally unwell and discharged tend to re-offend. Furthermore, several staff members, including its founder, Dr. Amadeus Arkham, and director Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, as well as staff members Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Lyle Bolton and, in some incarnations, Drs. Jonathan Crane and Hugo Strange, have become mentally unwell, too.

In addition, prisoners with unusual medical conditions that prevent them from staying in a regular prison are housed in Arkham. For example, Mr. Freeze is not always depicted as mentally ill, but he requires a strongly refrigerated environment to stay alive; Arkham, with special conditions required for certain patients or inmates being a regularity rather than exception, is seen by authorities to be an ideal location under certain circumstances.

Gotham criminals deemed "criminally insane" or "mentally unfit" by the court of law generally are treated at Williams Medical Center before being deemed dangerous enough to be sent to Arkham Asylum.[5]


Just outside Gotham City, Arkham Asylum has a long and brutal history, beginning when its own architect became mentally unwell and hacked his workers to death with an axe. He was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the same asylum he had been building.[5] The one-shot graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth establishes that the asylum was named after Elizabeth Arkham, the mother of founder Amadeus Arkham. The original name of the asylum was "Arkham Hospital". Its dark history began in the early 1900s when Arkham's mother, having suffered from mental illness most of her life, committed suicide. However, it was later revealed that her son had actually euthanized her, and repressed the memory. Amadeus then decided, as the sole heir to the Arkham estate, to remodel his family home in order to properly treat the mentally ill, so others might not suffer the fate as his mother. Prior to the period of the hospital's remodeling, Amadeus Arkham treated patients at the State Psychiatric Hospital in Metropolis, where he, his wife Constance, and his daughter Harriet, had been living for quite some time. Upon telling his family of his plans, they moved back to his family home to oversee the remodeling. While there, Amadeus Arkham received a call from the police notifying him that Martin "Mad Dog" Hawkins, a serial killer, referred to Amadeus Arkham by Metropolis Penitentiary while at State Psychiatric Hospital, had escaped from prison, and sought his considered opinion on the murderer's state of mind. Shortly afterward, Amadeus Arkham returned to his home to find his front door wide open. Inside, he discovered the corpses of his wife and daughter in an upstairs room, with Mad Dog's alias carved on Harriet's body. Despite this family tragedy, the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane officially opened that November. With his sanity in tatters, Dr. Arkham designed a floor plan that evoked occult runes, he believed that the pattern would drive away the mysterious bat that haunted his dreams.[6] One of its first patients was Mad Dog, whom Amadeus Arkham insisted on treating personally. After treating Mad Dog for six months, Amadeus Arkham strapped him to an electroshock couch then deliberately and purposefully electrocuted him. The staff treated the death as an accident, but it contributed to Amadeus Arkham's gradual descent into mental illness, which he began to believe was his birthright. Eventually, Amadeus Arkham was a patient in his own asylum, where he died.[1]

Publication history

Arkham Asylum first appeared in October 1974 in Batman #258, written by Dennis O'Neil and drawn by Irv Novick. In this story, it is named as "Arkham Hospital", although it is not clear what kind of hospital it is. "Arkham Asylum" first appeared in another O'Neil story the following year, but it was not until 1979 that "Arkham Asylum" completely replaced "Arkham Hospital", and the occasional "Arkham Sanitarium", as the institution's name. Also in 1979, the move to have the asylum closer to Gotham had begun; that was completed in 1980, when Batman #326 by Len Wein described the asylum's location "deep in the suburbs of Gotham City". It is perhaps for this reason that Batman #326 is listed in some histories as the first appearance of Arkham Asylum. It was also Wein who, in 1985's Who's Who #1, created its current backstory.

Arkham Asylum has been demolished or destroyed several times in its history, notably during the events of Batman: The Last Arkham (see below). It is also seriously damaged at the beginning of the Knightfall storyline, when Bane uses stolen munitions to blow up the facility and release all the patients. After these events, the asylum is relocated to a large mansion known as "Mercey Mansion". It was also blown up by Black Mask during the Battle for the Cowl story arc.[7] At the beginning of the No Man's Land storyline, the asylum is closed down and all its patients discharged. In this instance, a timer was used to open the doors two minutes before the city is sealed. This is orchestrated by the administrator himself, who had the choice of discharging the patients or watching them all starve or kill each other. In the middle of the story, it is revealed that Batman has established a hidden base within the sub-basement of the asylum during the Prodigal storyline known as "Northwest Batcave."[8]

In the Battle for the Cowl one-shot, Dr. Arkham wanders among the remains of the asylum as he muses on his life. He reveals that he has discovered blueprints created by his ancestor, the first Dr. Arkham, for a new Arkham Asylum. He also contemplates the fates of his own nonviolent, "special" patients: an artist with almost no facial features who must paint facial expressions onto his almost blank face to express himself; a man obsessed with his own reflection in a series of mirrors in his room; and a woman supposedly so ugly, one glance at her face would cause anyone to become mentally ill. Upon discovering his "special" patients (unharmed from the destruction thanks to their secluded cells), Arkham resolves to rebuild the facility according to his ancestor's vision, but to serve as a literal asylum for mentally ill patients in order to shelter them from the outside world. However, when told to be happy with the new development, the artist secretly paints his face white with a hideous grin, reminiscent of the Joker; it is implied that the "special" inmates, as well as Arkham himself, have given in to mental illness.

In the Arkham Reborn mini-series, Arkham Asylum is rebuilt and financed by Dr. Arkham.[9] But in Batman #697, Dr. Arkham is revealed to be the new Black Mask and is a patient in his own asylum. It was also revealed during Arkham Reborn, that as both Dr. Arkham and Black Mask, he had begun to manipulate patients, a plotline that culminated in Detective Comics with Alyce Sinner becoming the new head of the facility, but secretly working with Arkham/Black Mask. It was also revealed that the "special" patients were figments of Arkham's imagination.



Staff in Batman: Arkham Asylum

The following are staff members of Arkham Asylum in the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum:


Some of Arkham's inmates. Cover to Batman: Shadow of the Bat #82 (1999). Art by Glen Orbik.

Originally, Arkham Asylum is used only to house genuinely mentally unwell patients having no connection to Batman, but over the course of the 1980s, a trend was established of having the majority of Batman's supervillain opponents end up at Arkham. Nearly all of Batman's enemies have spent some time in Arkham.

Arkham Asylum also features in other DC Universe publications. In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, The Floronic Man is detained there, and in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Doctor Destiny escapes the asylum to wreak havoc on both the real and dream worlds. It has also been featured in varying capacities in a number of high-profile DC miniseries events, such as Identity Crisis, Day of Vengeance, Countdown, and Crisis on Infinite Earths among others.

List of notable patients




Graphic novels featuring Arkham Asylum

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth

Main article: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is a graphic novel written by Grant Morrison and painted by Dave McKean. It was published by DC in 1989. It made reference to the treatment of several of the patients, such as the attempt to wean Two-Face away from dependence on his coin for decision making, first with a die, and then a deck of cards. It once again portrays the asylum as having been taken over by its patients.

A Serious House on Serious Earth has been critically acclaimed, having been called "one of the finest superhero books to ever grace a bookshelf."[41] IGN ranked it as number four in a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, behind The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and Year One,[42] whilst Forbidden Planet named it number eight in their "50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels" list.[43]

Batman: The Last Arkham

Main article: Batman: The Last Arkham

Batman: The Last Arkham was written by Alan Grant; pencils by Norm Breyfogle, originally a four-issue storyline that kicked off the Shadow of the Bat series. In it, the old Arkham Asylum is destroyed, to be replaced by a new and more modern facility. The story introduces Jeremiah Arkham, the asylum's director, and nephew of Amadeus Arkham. In an attempt to discover how criminals, specifically Zsasz, keep escaping, Batman has himself committed to the asylum. Jeremiah uses various methods, such as unleashing many patients on Batman at once, in an attempt to gain psychological insight on the vigilante.

This story makes a few passing references to the events of A Serious House on Serious Earth, such as Amadeus Arkham taping over the mirror, and his journal is shown early in the story. Jeremiah also mentions his relative's descent into mental illness.

An episode of Batman: The Animated Series titled "Dreams in Darkness", also about Batman in Arkham, portrays a similar theme, with the Scarecrow as the chief villain, also replacing Jeremiah Arkham with a more nondescript administrator, who is portrayed as naïve rather than sinister.

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell

Living Hell was written by Dan Slott, penciled by Ryan Sook with inks by Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jim Royal. The series was edited by Valerie D'Orazio. Eric Powell created the painted cover art which appeared on both the original series and graphic novel compilation.

This six-issue miniseries and the subsequent trade paperback provided an intricate and multi-layered look at Arkham Asylum from several points of view: director Dr. Jeremiah Arkham; psychiatrist Dr. Anne Carver; the guards, chiefly one Aaron Cash; and the patients. There is a particular focus on previously unknown residents: Jane Doe, a cypher who assumes the identities of those she kills; Junkyard Dog, a man obsessed with trash; Doodlebug, an artist who uses blood in his paintings; the hulking bruiser Lunkhead; Death Rattle, a cult leader who speaks to the dead; and Humpty Dumpty, an obese idiot savant obsessed with taking apart and repairing various objects. The driving force is the recent admission of a ruthless investor, Warren "The Great White Shark" White, as well as the demonic element suggested by the title. White, facing charges of massive fraud, pleads insanity and has himself admitted to Arkham. He soon realizes the horrors of the place and tries to survive. Ultimately, he is locked in Mr. Freeze's cell and suffers facial wounds, coming to resemble his nickname. The demonic threat is nullified after the sacrifice of several patients.

Black Orchid

Black Orchid, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, also featured Arkham Asylum. The award-winning graphic novel introduced an updated version of the crimefighter Black Orchid, who dies, is reborn and starts a quest to find her identity. During this she encounters Batman, who directs her to Arkham Asylum, where she meets The Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Two-Face and the Joker. Arkham is viewed as a desperate place where patients dwell in terror, much in the same fashion as in A Serious House on Serious Earth, which was also illustrated by McKean.

Arkham Reborn

Arkham Reborn is a three-part mini-series written by David Hine and illustrated by Jeremy Haun. It tells the story of the rebuilding of the Asylum after having been destroyed by Black Mask during the events of "Battle for the Cowl".

In Batman #697, it is revealed that Dr. Jeremiah Arkham is the new Black Mask. More is revealed about Dr. Jeremiah Arkham in Detective Comics #864 and #865.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Main article: Batman: The Man Who Laughs

The Man Who Laughs is a one-shot prestige format comic book written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Doug Mahnke and Patrick Zircher, released in February 2005. The comic reveals some of the asylum's dark history. As a reporter reports on the asylum's renovation, the Joker poisons her and the crew, stealing the news van to broadcast whenever he wants. He later releases criminally insane patients at Williams Medical Center, who, in a short number of weeks, would have been transferred to Arkham Asylum. In the end, Joker is defeated and he himself locked behind bars, in a straitjacket at Arkham.

The graphic novel was reprinted with Detective Comics #784-786–a storyline entitled "Made of Wood," also written by Brubaker with art by Zircher. In the storyline, Batman and Green Lantern track the "Made of Wood" serial killer, whose killing spree was cut short when he was admitted to Arkham Asylum. Ex-Commissioner James Gordon is also pursuing the killer, and he narrows the search down to the two men admitted to Arkham in December 1948, the only living one hardly able to walk and ignorant of the killings. Gordon reaches the grandson of the other, who has taken up the "Made of Wood" killer's mantle.

Other versions

The Dark Knight Returns

Main article: The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller, takes place about 10 years after Batman "retires." It depicts an "Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled", presumably a renaming of the asylum which occurs as a result of changing attitudes towards mental ill health. The Joker is housed there, catatonic since Batman's disappearance, but awakens when the vigilante resumes action. Under the employ of the home is Bartholemew Wolper, a condescending psychologist who treats the Joker humanely, even going so far to arrange for him to appear on a late night talk show, while arguing that Batman himself is responsible for the crimes his enemies commit by encouraging their existence; Wolper is killed when the Joker uses his lethal gas on the talk show audience.

In the sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it is revealed that the patients have taken over and have resorted to cannibalism. Plastic Man is one of the more notable patients in this version of Arkham Asylum.

JLA: The Nail

In JLA: The Nail, the Joker- using Kryptonian gauntlets provided by a genetically augmented Jimmy Olsen- breaks into the Asylum, erecting a forcefield around it that prevents anyone but Batman, Batgirl and Robin from entering, while forcing the rest of the patients to fight each other for a chance to live as his slave when only one is left standing. Catwoman wins the resulting conflict shortly before Batman breaks into the asylum, but the Joker's gauntlets allow him to capture Batman, forcing him to watch as the Joker brutally tears Batgirl and Robin apart in front of him. Although Catwoman manages to distract the Joker long enough for Batman to escape and damage his gauntlets, the grief-maddened Batman subsequently beats the Joker to death on the asylum roof before the entire building collapses, apparently killing most of the current patients (Although he and Catwoman manage to escape).

Batman: Crimson Mist

In Batman: Crimson Mist, the third part of the trilogy that began with Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, the now-vampiric Batman, corrupted by his thirst for blood, breaks into the asylum and murders all the homicidal patients- including Amygdala, Victor Zsasz and the Mad Hatter- drinking their blood and chopping off their heads to prevent them coming back as vampires (It is unclear if he did this while reveling in his new power or to try and provoke his old allies into destroying what he had become).

In other media

As an integral part of the Batman franchise, Arkham Asylum has been featured in other media besides the print comics, including the following:

The alternate Arkham Asylum as it appeared on the Justice League episode A Better World, Part 2.
File:Arkham Asylum TB.jpg
Arkham Asylum as it appeared on The Batman TV series.



Video games

See also


  1. ^ Moench and Breyfogle were the writer and artist, respectively, of Batman #492, which started the Knightfall storyline; they can be seen on a list of escaped Arkham inmates on the Batcave computer.[27]


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  2. ^ a b O'Neil, Dennis (2008). Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City. BenBella Books. p. 111. ISBN 1-933771-30-5.
  3. ^ a b Voger; Voglesong, Kathy (2006). The Dark Age: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics first1=Mark. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 1-893905-53-5. ((cite book)): Missing pipe in: |title= (help)
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78. Detective Comics #864