Thursday, June 24, 2010

Arkham Asylum Madness

Last night I sat down and read Sam Kieth's new hardcover Arkham Asylum Madness from cover to cover. Sam's style isn't for everyone, and has evolved over the years quite a bit, but I'm a fan of both his art and his writing. Madness actually seemed a little toned down in both regards.

Anybody who read his creator-owned series The Maxx from Image back in the 90's will tell you, the drugs you would need to be on to understand some of Sam's writing simply do not exist. In fact some of the fun I have reading his stuff is seeing if my feeble mind will be able to actually comprehend what I'm reading. With a name like "Madness" I expected to be completely lost. The fact that it was easy to read, and understand came as a pleasant surprise.

Madness almost reads like two different books. It follows the events of a day in Arkham Asylum for a new nurse named Sabine, who narrates most of the first half. She's on day shift, she relies on two or three other nurses/employees to get her through her day, she's a new mommy who seems to have an almost obsessive relationship with her son Ozzy (which I found weird and I just knew Sam was going to throw a curveball at the end with this but didn't), and in a nutshell she hates her job but needs it for her family.

One thing leads to another and Sabine is forced to work a double shift because the Asylum is understaffed. All throughout the day shift, Sabine is constantly assured that things could be worse, "at least you're not on the night shift". Makes sense, as I'm sure Arkham Asylum would be a totally different beast after dark. It's here that the book changes over, and the Joker becomes the focus/narrator. I hate to say it, but I felt like the book loses a little bit of steam here. While I enjoy the Joker's lunacy, I was actually pretty wrapped up in Sabine's story and would've liked to see Kieth continue with her, especially her impressions of working the Asylum after hours.

Thankfully the book picks back up before ending on a satisfying note (for me anyway). When the Joker took over, I was afraid Madness was going to become yet another seemingly insane, yet carefully planned out attempt to escape. In reality, Joker had no intention of trying to escape, instead it's about how much he hates the doctors, guards, and other employees at Arkham. Kind of a nice contrast between he and Sabine, I thought.

There are lots of memorable scenes in the book, I particularly enjoyed Sam's somewhat different takes on Harley Quinn and Scarecrow. Others were left pretty much as-is, Two-Face is Two-Face, Ivy is Ivy, etc. Almost all the Batman's regulars make an appearance, and surprisingly not a single panel for Bats himself.

Overall, I highly recommend giving Madness a read. I don't know if it's going to change anybody's opinion of Sam Kieth, be it his writing or his art, but if you're going to read Sam Kieth Batman this is as close to normal as you're going to get.

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