Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is a Batman graphic novel written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean. It was originally published in the United States in both hardcover and softcover editions by DC Comics in 1989. The subtitle is taken from line 55 of the poem "Church Going", by Philip Larkin.
The inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over and seized control of the staff. They're willing to release the hostages, but only if their one demand is met: Batman must be turned over to them, and become one of their own.
Commissioner Gordon informs Batman that the patients of Arkham Asylum have taken over the building, and will murder the staff unless Batman agrees to meet with them. Among the hostages is a young woman named Pearl, who works in the kitchens; the current Administrator, Dr. Charles Cavendish; and Dr. Ruth Adams, a therapist. The patients are led by The Joker, who kills a guard to spur Batman to obey his wishes. Two-Face, meanwhile, has degenerated even further into madness as a result of Adams' therapy;(sort of like shermans vandalism) she replaced his trademark coin with a six-sided die, and then with a tarot deck of cards, rendering him incapable of making simple decisions such as going to the bathroom.
Batman is forced into a game of hide and seek, and told he has one hour to make his way through the maze-like corridors and find a way out before his old foes are sent to find him.
The story is interspersed with flashbacks to Arkham founder Amadeus Arkham's life and childhood. These flashbacks reveal that he was inspired to become a psychiatrist because of his mother's mental illness.
On his journey through Arkham, Batman encounters Clayface, who is wasting away from an unspecified skin disease and who tries to infect Batman by touching him. Batman tears past, breaking Clayface's leg in the process, and flees, encountering a wheelchair-bound Doctor Destiny. Batman incapacitates Destiny by pushing him down a flight of stairs. As he ventures through Arkham, he also meets The Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter and Maxie Zeus, all of whom he flees from. Finally Batman comes face to face with Killer Croc, who grapples with the Dark Knight before throwing him out of a window. Batman lands on a roof, where he grabs onto the statue of an angel clasping a bronze spear, which he tears loose. Clutching the spear, Batman climbs back through the window and impales Croc before casting him out of the window.
Subsequently he reaches a secret room high in the towers of the asylum - a room left unchanged from the days when the property served as Amadeus Arkham's childhood home.
Inside, Dr. Cavendish is dressed in a bridal gown and holding a straight razor to Dr. Adams' throat. He is revealed to have been the one to orchestrate the riots. When questioned by Batman, he prompts him to read a passage marked out in Amadeus Arkham's secret diary.
The hidden room turns out to have been Elizabeth Arkham's bedchamber. For many years she suffered delusions that she was being tormented by a supernatural creature, and would call to her son to protect her. One day, however, he finally sees what his mother saw - a great bat, a spectre of death. Taking a pearl-handled straight razor from his pocket, he cuts his mother's throat to end her suffering. He then blocks out the memory, and attributes her death to suicide. Years later, his wife and daughter are murdered by one of his former patients, a serial killer named Martin "Mad Dog" Hawkins. The tragedy brings back the memory of killing his mother.
Traumatized, Amadeus puts on his mother's wedding dress and takes out the pearl-handled razor. Kneeling in the blood of his family, he vows to bind the evil spirit of "The Bat", which he believes inhabits the house, through ritual and sorcery. He continues his mission even after he is incarcerated in the Asylum himself; he scratches the words of the binding spell into the walls and floor of his cell with his fingernails until the day he dies.
Discovering Amadeus Arkham's journals, the razor and the dress, Cavendish begins to believe himself to be destined to continue Arkham's work. On April 1, the date Arkham's family was murdered, he lures Batman to the asylum. Believing Batman to be "The Bat" itself, Cavendish accuses him of feeding the evil of the house by bringing it more insane souls. Grappling with Batman, Cavendish drops the razor, and Adams picks it up. Reacting instinctively, she slashes it across Cavendish's throat, killing him.
Seizing an axe, Batman runs to the foyer, where the inmates are congregated, and hacks down the front door. He then returns Two-Face's coin back from Dr. Adams, stating that it should be up to Two-Face to decide Batman's fate. Two-Face then declares that they will kill Batman if the coin lands scratched side up, but let him go if the unscarred side appears. Two-Face flips the coin and declares Batman free. The Joker bids Batman good-bye, taunting him by saying that should life ever become too much for him in "the asylum" (the outside world) then he always has a place in Arkham. As Batman disappears into the night, Two-Face looks at the moon and it is revealed that the coin landed scratched side up - he chose to let Batman go. He then turns to the stack of tarot cards and recites a passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards."
Critical reaction and legacy
Hilary Goldstein of IGN Comics said, "Arkham Asylum is unlike any other Batman book you've ever read [and] one of the finest superhero books to ever grace a bookshelf." Goldstein ranked Arkham Asylum fourth on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels, behind The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and Year One.
The video game Batman: Arkham Asylum has elements originating from Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, such as the inmates escaping and taking over the asylum, the current warden believing himself to be destined to continue Amadeus Arkham's work, and referencing much of the history described in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.