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Arkham Asylum

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Arkham Asylum
General Information
Official name: The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane
Created by: Denny O'Neil
First Appearance: Batman #258
Galaxy: Milky Way
Star System: Sol
Planet: Earth
Country: United States
State: New Jersey
Locale: Gotham City

The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane is a fictional setting, a psychiatric hospital in the DC Universe. Jeremiah Arkham is the current head of the Asylum.

Fictional History

It is located on the outskirts of Gotham City, and is where those of Batman's foes considered to be legally insane are incarcerated (other foes are incarcerated at Blackgate Penitentiary). Although it has had numerous administrators, its current head is Jeremiah Arkham. Inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, the asylum was created by Dennis O'Neil and first appeared in Batman #258 (October 1974); much of its back-story was created by Len Wein during the 1980s. In the foreword to the book The Dark Ages: Grim, Great, and Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics, Jack C. Harris claims that it was he who conceptualized the idea of Arkham Asylum, and that any other such claims are false.

Arkham Asylum does not have a good record, at least with regard to the high profile cases; escapes are frequent (on at least one occasion, an obsessive-compulsive multiple murderer was signed out of Arkham into the care of an incontinent, alcoholic vagrant, on the grounds that he "looked like a responsible citizen"), and those who are 'cured' and released tend to re-offend. Furthermore, several staff members, including at least one director, have ended up as residents, notably Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, Dr. Harleen Quinzel and Lyle Bolton and, in some incarnations, Drs. Jonathan Crane and Hugo Strange.

In addition, prisoners with unusual medical conditions that prevent them from staying in a regular prison are housed there. For example, Mr. Freeze is not technically insane, but he requires a strongly refrigerated environment to stay alive, which only Arkham can provide.

Gotham criminals deemed "not guilty by reason of insanity" or "mentally unfit to stand trial" by a court of law generally are treated at Williams Medical Center before being deemed dangerous enough to be sent to Arkham Asylum.

Arkham Asylum first appeared in 1974, in Batman #258 by Dennis O'Neil. In this story, it is named as "Arkham Hospital" (although it is clear what kind of hospital it is); "Arkham Asylum" first appeared in another O'Neil story the following year, but it was not until 1979 that "Arkham Asylum" completely replaced "Arkham Hospital" as the institution's name. By 1979, too, the move to have the asylum closer to Gotham had begun; that was completed in 1980, when Batman #326 by Len Wein described the Asylum's location "deep in the suburbs of Gotham City". (Perhaps for this reason Batman #326 is listed in some histories as the first appearance of Arkham Asylum.) It was also Wein who, in 1985's Who's Who #1, created its current backstory.

Arkham Asylum has been demolished or destroyed several times in its history, notably during the events of Batman: The Last Arkham (see below). It is also seriously damaged at the beginning of the Knightfall storyline, when Bane uses stolen munitions to blow up the facility and release all the inmates. After these events, the asylum is relocated to a large mansion known as "Mercey Mansion". At the beginning of the No Man's Land storyline, the asylum is closed down and all its inmates set free (a timer is used to open the doors two minutes before the city is sealed). This is orchestrated by the administrator himself, who had the choice of releasing the inmates or watching them all starve or kill each other. In the middle of the story, it is revealed that Batman has established a hidden base within the subbasement of the asylum during the Prodigal storyline known as "Northwest Batcave."

During the No Man's Land storyline, the Joker and Harley Quinn take over Arkham. With the sole exception of the Riddler, the inmates elect to remain in the cut-off Gotham City. After the events of the Sinestro Corps War when Amon Sur is murdered, the Sinestro Corps ring seeks a replacement sentient from Sector 2814 and travels to the Asylum where it chooses the Scarecrow. They nearly induct him into the Sinestro Corps before they are foiled by Hal Jordan and John Stewart.

After Batman's disappearance due to the events of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, a new Black Mask frees the inmates from Arkham as they are being transferred at the start of Battle for the Cowl. He declares himself their new leader, proving his power by blowing up the Asylum.

In the Battle for the Cowl one-shot, Dr. Arkham wanders among the remains of the Asylum as he muses on his life. He reveals that he has discovered blueprints created by his ancestor, the first Dr. Arkham, for a new Arkham Asylum. He also contemplates the fates of his own nonviolent, "special" patients: an artist with almost no facial features who must paint facial expressions onto his almost blank face to express himself; a man obsessed with his own reflection in a series of mirrors in his room; and a woman supposedly so ugly, one glance at her face would drive anyone insane. Upon discovering his "special" patients (unharmed from the destruction thanks to their secluded cells), Arkham resolves to rebuild the facility according to his ancestor's vision, but to serve as a literal asylum for mentally ill patients in order to shelter them from the outside world. However, when told to be happy with the new development, the artist secretly paints his face white with a hideous grin, reminiscent of the Joker; it is implied that the "special" inmates, as well as Arkham himself, have given in to madness.

In Arkham Reborn mini-series, the Arkham Asylum is rebuilt by financed Dr. Arkham.

As of Batman Eternal #29, Arkham Asylum has collapsed in an explosion caused by The Spectre. Subsequently, In Arkham Manor #1, Wayne Manor is reconstructed as "Arkham Manor" which acts as the new house to Gotham's criminally insane and former arkham inmates.

Recurring Staff

  • Dr. Amadeus Arkham: Founder of the asylum, Amadeus named the institution after his deceased mother Elizabeth.
  • Dr. Harleen Quinzel: A former psychiatric intern, Quinzel was seduced by the Joker and adopted the supervillain name "Harley Quinn".
  • Dr. Jeremiah Arkham: Nephew of Amadeus Arkham, Jeremiah is the former head of the asylum in modern continuity. He is now committed into Arkham as being Black Mask II.
  • Dr. Alyce Sinner: Black Mask II's lover and the present head of Arkham Asylum, and also running deals for both Black Mask II and for the Church of Crime
  • Dr. Charles Cavendish: Former administrator of the facility, first seen in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
  • Security Officer Aaron Cash: One of Arkham's most respected security guards. His hand was bitten off by Killer Croc, and he sports a prosthetic hook in its place. Unlike many of his colleagues, Cash is neither insane nor corrupt, and is a trusted ally of Batman.
  • Dr. Jonathan Crane: Former psychiatrist, now supervillain also known as "Scarecrow", one of Batman's most dangerous foes.


The one-shot graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth establishes that the Asylum is named after Elizabeth Arkham, founder Amadeus Arkham's mother. The original name of the asylum is Arkham Hospital. Its dark history began in the early 1900s when Arkham's mother, having suffered from mental illness most of her life, committed suicide. (It is later revealed that she was actually euthanized by her son, which his mind repressed.) Amadeus Arkham decided, then, as the sole heir to the Arkham estate, to remodel his family home (known as Mercey Mansion) in order to properly treat the mentally ill, so others might not go untreated and suffer as his mother had. Prior to the period of the hospital's remodeling, Arkham treated patients at the State Psychiatric Hospital in Metropolis, where he and his wife, Constance, and daughter, Harriet, had been living for quite some time.

Upon telling his family of his plans, they moved back to his family home to oversee the remodeling. While there, Arkham received a call from the police notifying him Martin "Mad Dog" Hawkins — a serial killer referred to Arkham by Metropolis Penitentiary while at State Psychiatric Hospital — had escaped from prison, and sought his considered opinion on his state of mind.

On April 1, 1921, Arkham returned to his home to find his front door wide open. Inside, he discovered the raped and mutilated bodies of his wife and daughter in an upstairs room, Hawkins having carved his nickname on Harriet's body.

Despite this family tragedy, the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane officially opened that November. One of its first patients was Martin Hawkins, whom Arkham insisted on personally treating. On April 1, 1922, after treating Hawkins for six months, Arkham strapped him to the electroshock couch and purposely electrocuted him. The death was treated as an accident but contributed to Arkham's gradual descent into madness, which he began to believe was his birthright. Eventually, Arkham was institutionalized in his own hospital, where he died.


Originally, Arkham Asylum was used only to house genuinely insane characters - the Joker and Two-Face were patients from its very first appearance - but over the course of the 1980s a trend was established of having the majority of Batman's supervillain opponents end up at Arkham, whether or not they were actually insane. This is likely because of some of the facility's high-tech features that make it more efficient to hold a villain such as Clayface there than in a prison. Nearly all of Batman's enemies have spent some time in Arkham.

Other DC Universe publications that feature Arkham Asylum and its patients include Alan Moore's Swamp Thing (wherein Jason Woodrue—The Floronic Man—is detained) and The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, wherein John Dee (Doctor Destiny) escapes to wreak havoc on both the 'real' and 'dream' worlds.

Arkham has also been featured in varying capacities in a number of high profile DC miniseries events, such as Identity Crisis, Day of Vengeance, Countdown, and Crisis on Infinite Earths among others.

Notable Patients

Batman's enemies


In other media

Arkham has appeared beyond the pages of the comics in numerous guises and designs. Its appearances include:

Live-action films

Batman Forever

Arkham was seen at the end of the film, and designed as a tall, spiraling castle-like structure, with narrow hallways lined with brightly-lit glass bricks. The Riddler was incarcerated in a large padded cell. The psychologist seen was named Dr. Burton, a reference to Tim Burton, who directed 1989's Batman film and Batman Returns. There was a more in-depth sequence involving Two-Face escaping from Arkham at the beginning of the film, but it was cut.

Batman Forever (video game): The video game adaptation of the film features Arkham as its first stage. While the film shows Arkham as being in a remote forested area, the backgrounds in the game seem to place it on the waterfront, directly across the bay from Gotham.

Batman & Robin

Arkham appeared a number of times in this film. It first appeared when Mr. Freeze was taken there midway through the film, after getting defeated by Batman. Poison Ivy helps him escape by kissing his guards, killing them, and Bane helped by bringing Freeze's suit so he could live outside of the cold wing. They escape Arkham when Mr Freeze put some ice in a sink that leads to a water pipe on the wall, it created so much pressure the wall exploded, and to escape from the guards cutting into the steel doors, Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane jump off into the ravine below, landing in a river. It also appears at the end of the movie when both Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy were shown as cellmates.

Batman Begins

Arkham played a much larger role than a simple jail in this film, with Jonathan Crane (also known as the Scarecrow) being either the administrator or at least a high ranking doctor at the Asylum, and using it to conduct cruel experiments with his fear gas, using his own patients as guinea pigs. He also used the pipes under the Asylum to empty his toxin into the Gotham water supply. One notable change in this version of Arkham from the comics was the location; while still on an island separate from the rest of the city (by 9 large drawbridges), in Batman Begins, it is located in the slum region known as The Narrows, as opposed to the remote forests that surround it in the comics. By the end of the film, it is implied that the Narrows has been rendered uninhabitable.

DC animated universe

Batman: The Animated Series

Arkham Asylum

The Animated Series Arkham Asylum.

Arkham has appeared frequently in the series. It is depicted as generally dark and gloomy, and the cells are similar to those in the comics, being primarily closed via glass doors. Much of the rest of the asylum resembles a prison more than a mental hospital, however; in one episode, it is explained that all criminals apprehended by the Batman are sent to Arkham rather than jail (although it is shown that The Penguin goes to Stonegate, a regular jail). In the series, neither Jeremiah or Amadeus Arkham are shown or mentioned, but the episode "Dreams In Darkness" features a character who is obviously modeled on Jeremiah, but toned down to have a more compassionate persona.

Justice League

Justice League featured Arkham in a brief cameo during A Better World: Part 2 in an alternate dimension where a Fascist League has taken over the world and dispatches villains via execution or lobotomy. The asylum is run by a lobotomized version of The Joker and is protected by robotic copies of Superman. The entire patient population is lobotomized by the alternate Superman's heat vision. (If you watch closely, you can see that the Ventriloquist has not been lobotomized by Superman's heat vision, but his doll Scarface has.) It is noted that Joker, Two-Face and Poison Ivy are used in both Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League as the key patients of the Asylum.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

This direct-to-video animated film had the final battle between the original Batman and The Joker taking place at an abandoned Arkham. It is also the same spot where Robin (as a brainwashed, junior version of The Joker) killed Joker. A deleted scene (featured on both versions of the DVD as a special feature) has Bruce Wayne touring the abandoned Arkham, where Terry McGinnis, Wayne's successor as The Dark Knight, follows and sees Joker's corpse hanging (it was implied that the new Joker placed it up there fairly recently to intimidate Bruce Wayne, or anyone investigating it, since it was bound by ropes, which the Joker's recent corpse wasn't, and more importantly, his corpse now bears the words "I know" on it.).

The Batman

See: Arkham Asylum (The Batman) Like the original Arkham, several major villains end up in this institution, such as The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Ventriloquist, Hugo Strange and Clayface. Firefly goes to a regular prison. The staff is far more heavily armored than in its previous incarnation, wearing heavy trenchcoats and gloves, which is, in spite of itself, no deterrent for the patients to easily escape. Much like in the Batman Forever tie-in game and Batman Begins, it's presented as being inside Gotham, though here it's presented as occupying a small island on a river, with a bridge connecting it to the city.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold

In the episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister" Arkham Asylum is featured. The prisoners are Joker, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Top, Psyco Pirate, Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Crazy Quilt, Doctor Polaris, Calendar Man, and King Tut. Batman also mentions in later episodes that other villains such as Black Mask and Hellgrammite are also prisoners there. In the episode "Joker the Vile and the Villainess" Joker is seen being transported to Arkham.

Batman: Gotham Knight

Expanding on Jim Gordon's line "The Narrows is lost" from Batman Begins, the Crossfire segment of Batman: Gotham Knight reveals that the inhabitants of The Narrows were repurposed, and the entire island (renamed Arkham Island) became asylum grounds. The asylum itself was transformed into a high-security fortress, with checkpoints and sniper towers augmenting the natural barrier of the island. This depiction was later utilized for Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Video Games

Batman Forever

Arkham Asylum appears as the first level in the game after Two-Face's escape.

Lego Batman: The Videogame

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Lego Batman: Arkham Asylum

There was an Arkham Asylum Lego set featuring the Scarecrow, Nightwing, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler available at Toys "R" Us during late summer 2006.

The videogame features Arkham Asylum as the villains' hub. It includes an experiment room, and docking bay for vehicles owned by The Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face .

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Main article: Arkham Asylum (Batman: Arkham Asylum)

Arkham Asylum is the primary focus of the 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, which takes place during a riot orchestrated by the Joker. The facility is depicted a sprawling, multi-faceted campus with both new and old structures, including the iconic Victorian mansion of the comics, a factory re-purposed as an intensive care unit, and a vast subterranean network. This version of Arkham has also made cameo appearances in Batman: Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Injustice: Gods Among Us.

See also

Notable Appearances

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