Though Grant Morrison may not entirely agree, this book is almost entirely about the visuals; what his text did was create a suitably claustrophobic world where madness was not just near the surface, but in the sky-scrapers. He created a Batman who, far from being the straight arrow of the normative version is so shadowy a figure psychologically that he is scarcely there at all and a Joker who is a kind of psychic monster, expanding into whatever mental space one had thought safe from madness and poisoning it, until there is nowhere left to retreat and one has to either join him in the Asylum or be mad on the outside. Set against this, we see Amadeus Arkham discovering for himself that the truth is that madness reigns triumphant, and there is no meaning or order. All that, together with a little help from Marat Sade, and then it is over to Dave McKean, who turned Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth from being simply provoking into something quite devastating.
The visuals are simply amazing. The two principle characters, Batman and the Joker, are scarcely rendered even as people. Much of the time Batman is no more than a hint, a shadow, his presence indicated only by the characteristic ear-spikes or, more creepily, the bat-claws on his shoulders. Occasionally we see a suggestion of teeth, of a grimace, but never a face. Batman’s existence here is so liminal that one has to wonder if he is, in fact, a creation of the imagination, the Joker’s puppet in nature as well as in what he is made to enact. The Joker, on the other hand, is beyond human. He has become an all-encompassing presence, everywhere, all-seeing and all-knowing, creating much of the claustrophobia of the book by his sheer overwhelming presence. Whereas Batman is hardly there at all, the Joker is inescapable, a malign God whose intention, it seems, is to show shadowy humanity, just how unreal their precious world of order and logic is.
The rest of the art-work is superb, clearly influenced by the early surrealists, such as Max Ernst, in its use of collage, overlaying photograph, drawing and painting to create a gestalt which only serves to ram home the supernatural nature of the two principal characters by showing how, in comparison with the maniacal baroque reality, one is so insubstantial, the other so enormous.