Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison, art by Dave McKean

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Reviewed by Yvonne Rathbone

Arkham Asylum is a graphic novel written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean. For those of you more familiar with Tarot, Grant Morrison wrote for ĎDoom Patrolí before Rachel Pollack took over. Dave McKean created the Vertigo Tarot. Both men have a knack for expressing the surreal, the bizarre and the disturbing in compelling, sometimes beautiful, ways. This is a great read if you like comics, horror or Silence of the Lambs-type stories, but this review is mainly about the way Tarot is used.

The story is about Batman and his sanity, or possible lack of such. For the most part, it takes place in Gotham Cityís Arkham Asylum, where all the really crazy arch-villains are kept. The criminally insane have taken over the asylum and The Joker is demanding that Batman come inside with them where he belongs. Most of the story deals with this confrontation, interwoven with the gruesome history of the place. At the time of the story some of the inhabitants include The Joker, The Scarecrow, Mr. Destiny, and Two-Face.

Two-Face was an old friend of Bruce Wayne's who was horribly disfigured on one side of his face. Now he makes all his decisions by flipping a two headed coin that has a scar on one side. If the scarred side comes up, Two-Face does the evil thing, if not, he does the good thing. Turns out the doctors have been using the Tarot to help Two-Face work through his decision-making problems.

The doctors decide to try to introduce more options into Two-Face's dualism. First, they give him a die so he'd have six choices. By the time of the story, he's working with the 72 choices of a Tarot deck. Of course, the doctors don't have any idea how Tarot actually works, so Two-Face is often at quite a loss as to what decision is indicated by the card. He's in pretty bad shape when Batman finds him. Which just goes to show you've got to work with the Tarot, not let it control your actions, eh?

Thereís some interesting card usage in the story, all done with the Thoth deck. And while much of the story does not deal with Tarot, where it is used, it is used accurately. If you know how to read the cards, the meaning of the story is deepened.

For instance, when we first see Two-Face having trouble making decisions, the card shown is The Lovers, denoting the need to discern and make choices. At another point, the therapist explains why Two-Faceís apparent inability to make choices is actually a step in the right direction. She says, "Sometimes we have to pull down in order to rebuild..." and as she speaks, we see the card that Two-Face is looking at is The Tower.

While the images of the Tarot are minimal compared to the rest of the book, they are used to great effect and rendered beautifully by artist, Dave McKean. If you havenít had a look at The Vertigo Tarot or any of the Sandman covers, you are missing out on one of the finest artists working today. Grant Morrison, the writer, is a master in his own right. Together, the two canít miss. Look for a deep, complexly woven meaning among the familiar comic book characters.

Please also note that this comic is written for mature readers. Itís not the Batman from the Ď60ís t.v. show by any means.

ISBN: 0930289560

If you'd like to purchase this book, click here.

About the Author: Yvonne Rathbone has been studying the Tarot since 1993. She's taught classes in reading, divination, and archetype exploration. A series of articles based on her "Tarot For Everyday" course has been published in Tapestry Magazine. She strives to empower people to develop their own relationships to the Tarot while respecting its traditions. She lives with her svengali, Junia, a picture of whom may be seen at her website.

Review copyright 2000 Yvonne Rathbone

Page copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes