Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Dave McKean
Perhaps the most divisive book on this list, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum is one of the few mainstream comics to incorporate the pacing and prose of 19th century gothic literature into it. After the Joker leads a revolt at Gotham’s infamous nuthouse, Batman is forced into the heart of the asylum to quell the riot. Along the way he travels through a sickening gauntlet of villains that sheds light on his own psychosis.
Deeply disturbing and psychological, Arkham Asylum characterizes Batman’s rouges gallery not as pure villains, but as maladjusted members of society suffering from real psychological afflictions. But none of them can compete with the story of Amadeus Arkham—the founder of the asylum—that is told throughout. The deeper you get into this book, the deeper into madness you travel. And we promise that you’ll never look at Batman or his world in the same way after you’re done.
The book’s selling point is really the fully-painted art by Dave McKean. Most famous for his Sandman covers, McKean brings elements of expressionism and photography to his work here to create a look that no other comic at DC has ever replicated. Part Heart of Darkness and part Jungian lecture, Arkham Asylum is a distinctly unique read that doesn’t have the immediate satisfaction of most superhero books, but is impossible to forget once you put it down.