Pulp [#592]

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Pulp [#592]

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves – it’s a new era of all things PULP. Cameron has moved on to greener pastures, so you’ll have to put up with a double dose of my ramblings from now on! Suckers. This week I’m delving into the dark and outright scary world of Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, written by the excellent Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-Man, She-Hulk) and drawn by Ryan Sook (Seven Soldiers: Zatanna). Strap yourselves in; it’s gonna get spooky.
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is, as the name suggests, a fairly dark book. Arkham Asylum is by no means a nice place in any Batman story, but in Living Hell we’re treated to a look at just how nasty a place Gotham’s house of madness really is. Living Hell is told from the perspective of Warren White, known to the Gotham populace as “The Great White Shark”. White is a notorious white-collar criminal who aims to cheat the justice system and avoid a lengthy jail term for ripping off countless people.
Unfortunately for White, his trick backfires spectacularly – after all, there’s a reason no one pleads insanity in Gotham City. Thrown into Arkham Asylum by a vengeful judge, White struggles to cope with his new home. Surrounded by psychosis and with an occult evil stalking Arkham’s halls, White’s grip on reality slowly loosens as he starts on the slippery slope towards being a fully-fledged Arkham inmate.
Slott’s story has a distinct advantage in that at some stage 99 per cent of Batman’s rogues gallery has spent time in good ol’ Arkham Asylum. As a result, readers are treated to appearances from everyone from high-profile villains like The Joker and Two-Face, to lesser-known characters like Killer Croc and The Ventriloquist. Slott also introduces a number of villains for the first time. Some of Slott’s more interesting creations are Jane Doe, the serial killer that likes to literally take on the identity of her victims, and Humphry Dumpler, aka Humpty Dumpty, a seemingly benign man that likes to take things apart and put them back together again – even people.
Part of the appeal of Living Hell is watching White struggle to deal with his incarceration. It might sound harsh, but it’s made very clear that White is a complete asshole – even The Joker calls him “the worst person I’ve ever met”, quipping that “I might kill people, but at least I don’t steal their kids’ college funds!”
Slott does an excellent job of capturing the sheer madness that encapsulates Arkham, and Ryan Sook’s art perfectly complements the story’s dark tone. Sook’s artwork is reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s – in places, I was half expecting Hellboy to bust in and start fighting the occult horrors. White’s transformation – both in terms of psyche and physical appearance – is captured beautifully, and Sook portrays the villains as even more twisted and deranged than they usually appear.
While Living Hell is technically a Batman book, it’s more of a horror story set in the Batman universe – the man himself only makes fleeting appearances towards the start and end of the book and the action focuses more on White and his ongoing trauma. It’s an excellently-crafted look at the comic universe’s most famous madhouse, and if you like your comics dark and deranged, Living Hell is definitely worth a look.
Written by Alastair McGibbon