Eric Border is an idealist from Metropolis, so his first night working as an orderly at Arkham Asylum comes as something of a shock. While he had studied each of the inmates to the point that he felt like he knew them, he was unprepared, when he first arrived, for the sensation of looking into their eyes, and feeling like they already knew him. What most took him by surprise happened just hours after his shift began: The Batman was imprisoned at Arkham.
Batman has actually come tonight because he has agreed to help test a new wing of the asylum called the Tartarus Wing for its security by breaking out of it. As Mahreen is giving Eric his initial tour, Dr. Jeremiah Arkham takes notice of him and dismissively suggests that he be of use elsewhere with a glare. Batman is pleased to learn that the entire wing is operated by computer, such that there is no need for human contact with the orderlies. Were it otherwise, the more manipulative inmates might be able to gain influence over the orderlies.
The bars on his cell are made of a tungsten alloy, which means they cannot be bent or broken. However, a carborane acid that a chemist like Jonathan Crane might be able to create, could eat through it. Batman happens to have a biodegradable capsule of carborane acid implanted within his thenar eminence, which he removes and uses to escape his cell. As soon as he sets foot into the corridor, pressure plates under the floor panels cause the alarms to activate. He notes that any criminal who can fly or float will be able to avoid those plates, such that motion sensors will be needed throughout.
Arkham has that covered, as a blast of quick-hardening foam holds the Batman in place, fired by a motion-sensing cannon. Batman reasons that a villain like Killer Croc' could simply shed some scales to escape, and any desperate inmate would chew off a limb, metaphorically speaking, to escape it. Rather than attempt to break down a door, Batman uses a neodymium laser - as the Penguin might use - to simply cut a door in a wall. Unimpressed, Arkham asks how Batman would escape if it were his cell.
Meanwhile, Eric supposes that one of the best ways to be "of use" would be to answer the call of a particular patient. The oldest patient in the asylum is a woman called The Anchoress, and she has been there for decades, forgotten by many. As he passed by on his initial tour, she had called from her cell for him, and he had walked by. Now, Mahreen is not here to drag him away, and he cautiously approaches her cell. The sight of her horrifies him, as she is quite old and ragged. Eric is concerned that she has been hurt, but she responds that she did it to herself, explaining that the anchorites were a people of penitents, who locked themselves away of their own volition, living lives of remorse. That is why she is called the Anchoress. Still wishing to do some good, Eric begs her to tell him why she is in the asylum.
The woman explains that she was born in Gotham before the Sinking of The Maine, and as a young woman, she had been fascinated by experimental physics in relation to the human form. She had defied her parents when they attempted to arrange a marriage for her, and the argument had resulted in a scuffle that upset her lab equipment, causing an explosion that killed both her parents, and changed her body permanently. Full of guilt, she had committed herself to Arkham, where at least four generations of Doctors Arkham had claimed she was getting better. When the Batman came, though, the asylum began to fill with criminals of unrepentant evil, and Dr. Arkham had little time to take care of her. The asylum became a place of punishment, and she - a penitent - was forgotten.
Eric wonders just what happened to the woman in the explosion. She explains that it was a form of quantum tunneling. Essentially, the ability of her body's electrons to escape their molecules allows her to walk through walls. Angry and hurt that the Batman ruined her sanctuary, the Anchoress explains that she could have left long ago, but she just wanted someone to remember that she had tried to be good. Uncomfortably, Eric responds that this is only his first night at the asylum. Stepping through the bars of her door, she states that this will be her last night. She had been waiting all this time for Batman to come back to the asylum, so that she could escape her cell and make him suffer for what he did to her sanctuary. She believes that if he dies, she will be able to atone for what she did. Stepping through the adjacent wall, she warns Eric not to blame himself for what's about to happen. Tonight, she's going to open every cell in the asylum.
Desperately, Eric calls out for Mahreen, who is already en route to the Tartarus Wing after discovering that some kind of molecular disturbance has shut down the cameras. Out of breath, Eric explains the nature of the Anchoress' ability, and what she plans to do.
Batman finds himself locked in one of the Tartarus Wing's traps, and before long, the Anchoress steps through its wall, and confronts him. Sensing her ill intent, Batman rushes toward her, only to pass through her completely. Mockingly, she wonders what it must feel like to have someone trespass in something he holds sacred; to meet someone he can't beat into submission. Pressing against the wall, Batman accidentally activates a set of restraints, and finds himself at the old woman's mercy. Regarding her coldly, he admits that he remembers her.
In the year leading up to his becoming the Batman, Bruce had sought files on the Red Hood Gang at the Asylum, knowing that there were only hard-copies, requiring that he break in to get at them. In the process, he had been spotted by a woman who had got out of her room, and she caught him. Her violent response alerted the orderlies, who took no notice of Bruce, and she was placed in solitary behind bars she could not pass through, because she was now perceived as dangerous.
The Anchoress reveals that she knew the man she had caught was the Batman, when news of his exploits first reached her. She knew that the one who had seen her put into that cage was the same man who had filled her sanctuary with evil. Grimly, she warns that the cruellest weapon is a cage. It erodes one's sanity while senses numb and rot. She intends to give Batman a cage of his own guilt and memories forever. A long life of thousands of years in captivity will pass in Batman's mind within the mere moments it will take for Arkham's orderlies to break open the cell.
Reaching into his brain, she forces Bruce to remember his memories of the death of his parents over and over, knowing that while she doesn't actually know what he's experiencing, she only has to know that it is painful for him. Bruce hallucinates a scene in which he is wakened from sleep by Lincoln March, who believes he is Bruce's brother, and in his surprise, knocks the man back and impales him on a sword. March is then revealed to be the Anchoress, who warns that if he dies in his mind, he will never be free of these horrors. Bruce is forced to relive the death of his son, Damian, who demands to know whether he was worth saving, and if so, why wasn't he saved?
The Anchoress continues to mock and torture Bruce, enjoying her ability to cause him pain; to make him experience the cage that she was made to experience. Though she reduces him to tears, Batman resists, returning to reality suddenly, and breaking free of his restraints by sheer strength of will. In the meantime, Eric and Mahreen manage to break open the cell enough to point a stun-gun charged with anti-conductor diodes at the Anchoress, to circumvent her quantum tunnelling. Eric warns the Batman to get to safety, because they can't help him with the Anchoress present. Though Batman makes his escape, the Anchoress manages to get free of Mahreen's grip by phasing through her arms, and the floor. Mahreen warns that Batman was headed for the roof, and she and Eric chase after, knowing that the Anchoress will be headed there too.
On the roof, Batman encounters the Anchoress, and though she is weak from using her abilities too much on him, she still warns that he cannot simply walk out on the monster that he created in her. After what she just did to him, however, Batman can barely resist the urge to pummel the old woman. Rushing toward them, Eric shouts for Batman to relent, begging him to see that the old woman is sick. Glaring at her for a moment, Batman resigns, and takes his leave. Sadly, the Anchoress cries that her sanctuary will never go back to the way it was. Comforting her, Eric responds that nothing is lost forever. Everything can be saved.
Later, Mahreen and Eric share a coffee, and she explains that the Anchoress will be transferred to a higher-security cell - but a more humane one. She will also begin receiving treatment again. Eric insists that there is a chance for Arkham to go back to being a sanctuary rather than a prison, though it will be a hard time convincing the Batman of as much. Eric is sure that the asylum can become a force for good in Gotham.
- Eric Border (First Appearance)
- Batman (Flashback and Main Story)
- The Riddler
- Mad Hatter
- The Anchoress (First Appearance) (Flashback and Main Story)
- Jeremiah Arkham
- Amadeus Arkham (In Flashback Only)
- Thomas Wayne (Hallucination only)
- Martha Wayne (Hallucination only)
- Lincoln March (Hallucination only)
- Damian Wayne (Hallucination only)