Friday, March 11, 2011

Arkham Asylum: On paper and screen (quick overview)


Page from Who's Who in DC Universe #1 

Arkham Asylum was created by Dennis O'Neil, the person responsible for the Modern Age version of Batman, also credited for creating the modern Joker. The Asylum first appeared in 1974's Batman #258 and by then it was called an Arkham Hospital. The name was inspired by the name of a fictional Massachusetts city in one of the H.P. Lovecraft stories. 
While Dennis O'Neil was the creator of the institute, it was Len Wein who gave it a backstory in 1985 

Arkham's debut in Batman #258 

Arkham, since it's very beginning, has been located outside of Gotham in a wooded area, however in the late 70's it was described as being located deep in the suburbs of Gotham, albeit that has been forgotten later since it's been always shown to be in a secluded, inhabited area surrounded by wildlife.

Arkham has been very consistent and continuity has been good to it, outside of handful of one-off stories who occasionally depicted it looking differently, but THE Arkham was a fairly regular looking building/institute, often first introduced in the story by a panel showing its entrance plaque. It has been expanded in The Last Arkham, where the security level has also been significantly upgraded and modernized.

Arkham has been most commonly shown to have small padded cells since it's an institute for the insane, but has also been shown as having the regular cells.

The look of the Asylum naturally drastically changed in later years, since the original Arkham has been destroyed by Bane in Knightfall. The asylum was relocated to a large mansion which was inspired by the look of Arkham in the Animated Series and looked more like a castle.


Since Tim Burton's movies were predominantly based on the original year of Batman in which no special prison or Asylum existed, it doesn't appear in this version


The Arkham Asylum in Schumacher's movies is heavily based not on the comic book version, but on the Animated Series look instead. The Asylum is a large, Gothic castle-like structure situated well outside Gotham on a big hill

Batman & Robin shows a different angle of the Asylum and also reveals the river at the bottom of the hill.

It also has the signature entrance plaque

As in the comics, the movie Asylum has small, padded cells and the inmates are immobilized by straitjackets. 

As a nod to Tim Burton, the director of Arkham doesn't resemble or bear Jeremiah Arkham's name, but instead looks like and is named after Tim Burton


The Arkham Asylum in Christopher Nolan's movies, or rather in Batman begins as it doesn't appear in The Dark Knight, visually resembles the comic book Arkham as it's a regular looking, older building that could be easily seen as a realistic institute or even a prison.

However what differs significantly is the location. The Arkham Asylum is actually located in Gotham, in the downtown, slums part of the city referred to as Narrows.

The interior and cells resemble more of a conventional high security prison look

In Nolan's Batman world, there is no mention of Jeremiah Arkham as well and as it's usually done with the cinematic Batman stories, characters are merged together to make the story more cohesive and connected together, and the head psychiatrist and the head of Arkham in Batman Begins appears to be Jonathan Crane AKA Scarecrow

This is the third of Falcone's thugs
you've had declared insane and moved into your asylum.

The exterior location of the Arkham Asylum is the severe 40s-style National Institute for Medical Research, the Ridgeway at Burtonhole Lane, Mill Hill, NW7, north London.
The interior stairwell, where the SWAT team encounters a flock of bats, though, is the elaborate Gothic stairwell of St Pancras Chambers, attached to St Pancras Station, Euston Road, London NW1, originally Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Midland Grand Hotel, a lavish palace of luxury for Victorian travellers.The last word in comfort when it opened in 1873, the hotel was soon overtaken by changing demands. Ironically, the building’s solid construction proved its downfall. Unable to accommodate such modern improvements as en-suite bathrooms and central heating, the hotel inevitably closed down.Its ceilings were boarded over, its lavish rooms divided up into offices, and in the sixties the wildly unfashionable extravaganza came close to being demolished. Grade I listing finally ensured its survival and radical restoration means that it will soon function as a luxury hotel again.St Pancras Chambers was an asylum, too, in Richard Attenborough's 1992 biopic Chaplin, in which Charlie’s mother (Geraldine Chaplin) is confined after her mental breakdown, and was also seen in the 1976 WWII melodrama Voyage of the Damned, and in Robert Bierman’s 1997 film of George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, with Richard E Grant.


  1. One thing that Schumacher did better than everybody else was Arkham

  2. Arkham in Forever rules

  3. It's ashame we didn't get to see Arkham in Burton's universe. That would've been something for sure. I think Forver's Arkham looks a little too ridiculous though. Overdesigned, it actually gives it less menace.

  4. Forever's Arkham is actually one of the few things I like in Schumacher-verse, i like that its a castle and like the gates and ominous clouds. And it reminds me of the Animated Series Arkham. The angle shown in B&R and the river behind it was an overkill tho

  5. No arkham alysum from the arkham series? I know you dont know much about it, but come on.