What would life be like for a sane man sentenced to spend time in Arkham Asylum? That’s the question Arkham Asylum: Living Hell poses. It tells the story of Warren White, known as the “Great White Shark”, a billionaire who embezzled millions of dollars. He had his case transferred to Gotham City, where he was able to “win” with an insanity plea. Unfortunately for him, the judge then sentenced him to a stay in Arkham.
Not a pleasant experience for anyone, especially not a man who’s unaccustomed to the more…colorful characters Arkham houses.
White adjusts to Arkham as best he can, but without any allies he’s an easy target for the psychopaths within the asylum’s walls. Allying himself with Two-Face, White hopes this inside friendship will be enough to protect him from the worst. Of course, it only goes so far, and working for Two-Face certainly provides its own set of challenges.
White’s luck seems to change when he is befriended by Humpty Dumpty, a new character with a kind streak and a penchant for rhyming.
Humpty was my favorite character from this story. I found his misplaced desire to make things work oddly fascinating, and while he is clearly mentally unstable, there’s something innocent and almost comforting about him. His actions result in terrible consequences, but he’s not malicious by any means. Somehow, a friendly psychopath feels less threatening than a purposely murderous one. It’s a strange dichotomy, but it works very well.
White and Humpty form an unlikely friendship, but the peace White has found does not last. Someone has awoken a series of demons deep below Arkham, and White gets caught in the crossfires as the demons capture and kill anyone they meet, inmate and guard alike. At this point Jason Blood enters the picture, and his knowledge of demon lore is indispensable in helping put a stop to the demons’ reign.
Of course, being an opportunistic man, White uses this opportunity to strike a deal with the demons himself, ensuring that when he finally ventures to hell, he won’t have such a rough time of it.
White’s actions are double-crossed and dirty, and yet it fits him all too well. As the comic closes, White is shown waiting at the gates of Arkham, ready to greet the newest inmates and welcome them to a world that he now clearly intends to dominate.
The sub-textual story in this comic is far more intriguing than were it taken at face value. I never really cared if White survived or not, simply because he was so reprehensible and unlikable. I did, however, enjoy watching this man who was seemingly at the top of the world fall incredibly hard, remaining firmly at the bottom of Arkham’s totem pole until someone else comes along and helps him out.
The small asides and introductions of minor characters made the story far more compelling than if they had been left out. Humpty Dumpty’s innocence added an unlikely yet enjoyable angle to the dark world of Arkham. Magpie’s fascination with all things shiny made me wonder how she would operate in the outside world. Even Jane Doe, a character who isn’t a character, and who instead seeks to steal other people’s personalities, was a fascinating study, and someone whom I hope appears in future trades.
Reading a comic that stops to consider the impact Arkham would have on a sane mind is intriguing, to say the least. I certainly think such a story has the potential to be a thoroughly immersive experience, shedding light on an entirely new aspect of the Batman world, especially on the psyches of those who inhabit it. As it stands, this comic doesn’t quite live up to that expectation. It’s a fun little read, but it never quite reaches the peak of its potential. Still, the characters are interesting enough to propel the story along, making this a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the inner working of Arkham Asylum.