Arkham Asylum is, for lack of a better word, a pretty crazy place. This April, David Hine brings that special kind of crazy to DC Comics' longest running series, "Detective Comics," taking readers back into the halls of the legendary institution for the criminally insane in order to conclude his saga of Jeremiah Arkham and the inmates of Arkham Asylum in "Under the Mask." "As the title suggests, we're ripping off the masks to show the naked faces that lie beneath," said Hine. "The theme of masks, both literal and metaphorical, has been running through all the work I've done for DC. I'm fascinated by the nature of identity, what makes us what we are. Super hero comics are all about the characters we invent for ourselves, the faces we choose to present to the world. Jeremiah Arkham has been probing that aspect of insanity with the Three Beauties who all have distorted, ruined faces that reflect their psychosis. That's also true of Batman of course, and Two Face in the Joker's Asylum one-shot. And it goes all the way back to my graphic novel Strange Embrace where masks are a central motif."
Hine's Arkham Asylum follows in the tradition of Grant Morrison's "Arkham Asylum," and the writer explained how he drew from Morrison's original work. "I name-checked Grant in the 'Battle for the Cowl' one-shot because his 'Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth' is the archetypal Arkham story," Hine said. "Grant really got to the core of the asylum, the nature of the building as Gotham's Heart of Darkness. The building is permeated with the madness of the Arkham family. The madness of Jeremiah's Uncle Amadeus and the madness of Amadeus' own mother for whom the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane was named. No matter how many times the building is torn down and reconstructed, the bricks and mortar will always be tainted with all the insanity that has taken place there. And the Arkham bloodline is similarly tainted. It's pretty obvious by now that Jeremiah Arkham is as batty as the inmates."
According to Hine, as Dick Grayson takes his journey into the halls of Arkham Asylum under the mantle of Batman, he'll have to survive one wild ride in order to live up to the mantle of "World's Greatest Detective." "Appropriately enough, he has to get into Jeremiah Arkham's head and deconstruct his madness," Hine said of Grayson. "Like I said, it's a detective story, and all the clues are there in Jerry's sadly confused mind. And I guess I'll have to get him to punch a few people so the other Jerry (artist Jeremy Haun) will have some action scenes to draw. Actually I've opened with a nice fight scene that features Batman, Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin. Or does it…?"
The two-issue storyarc will wrap up the trilogy begun with Hine's "Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum" and continued in "Arkham Reborn," but it isn't completely necessary for readers to be familiar with either series to enjoy what Hine has in store for Batman in "Under the Mask." "I've crafted it to stand alone in the same way that 'Arkham Reborn' could stand alone from the 'Battle for the Cowl' one-shot. I didn't plan a trilogy," Hine told CBR News. "I pitched 'Arkham Reborn' with a firm conclusion but I was asked to hold off on a couple of plot elements. So 'Arkham Reborn' ended, not exactly on a cliffhanger, but with several plot threads dangling in the wind."
Hine continued, saying that fans who had read "Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum" and "Arkham Reborn" would get some resolution to those plot threads. "For those who have been following the story, they should definitely pick up these two issues of 'Detective.' I hope that message has come across," he said. "If you've never read the previous issues, don't worry; you can buy these and not be confused. If you've read 'Arkham: Reborn,' you absolutely must buy these. Actually, it occurs to me that 'Detective' is the appropriate place for this story to end, because it really is a mystery story with a number of twists still to come. By the end of Part 2, all will be revealed in the best detective story tradition."
While the plot threads in "Arkham Reborn" will wind their way to their conclusion, Hine's introduction to "Detective Comics" heralds the end of Batwoman as the central character of the book. For Hine, the pressure is on to finish his story with a bang. "Greg's Batwoman is a hard act to follow," he said. "I've got two issues of 'Detective Comics' to wind up the Arkham Asylum story that began with the 'Battle for the Cowl' one-shot and continued through the 'Arkham Reborn' mini-series. I didn't know that the story would finish in the pages of 'Detective.' I was pitching for a double-size Arkham one-shot, but the decision was made to place it in 'Detective,' and I'm now crapping myself at the idea of writing DC's longest running comic. I know Jeremy Haun is pretty excited about it too. Of course there will be readers who will be pissed that Greg's Batwoman is gone. It was terrific that DC gave their first major openly gay character such a high profile. I'd be a lot happier to be following some lousy hack writer on a boring clichéd character, but there you go…"
Hine's two-issue run on "Detective" is not without its challenges, foremost of them being the humanizing of Jeremiah Arkham. "The most challenging [aspect] was to take this character of Jeremiah Arkham and give him some charisma," he said. "I mean, who designed this character? He has to have the most unappealing look in comics. He is the personification of nerd-dom. I've made him interesting by surrounding him with what I hope are fascinating characters: Alyce Sinner, the Raggedy Man and the Three Beauties – No Face, Mirror Man and the Hamburger Lady. None of them have exceptional abilities or powers, but they are all exceptional people. That's exciting to me, creating quirky characters and having them get into really messed-up situations. And the Asylum itself is such a fertile setting - a Pantheon for Batman's greatest enemies. I could play in there forever."
In addition to bringing a little charisma to Arkham, Hine also had the challenge of getting into the heads of the inmates – but according to the writer, that's not really an issue. "I've never have a problem getting into characters," he said. "I do literally inhabit the heads of all my characters and let their voices tell me what they want to do. I assume all writers do it. The crazy characters are actually easier to get into, because they invariably have obsessions that define what they are. The challenge is to dig deeper than those obsessions, to uncover the aspects of the character that may be obscured by the psychosis. You do that by inserting something of yourself into each character. Or at least, I know I do. So every character I write is a gross distortion of myself. That's probably quite egotistical, but writing is a very egotistical process."
For Hine, this conclusion has been planned since the very beginning and surprisingly, it all fit into continuity like the last piece of the puzzle. "Just like Damon Lindelof knew from episode one how 'Lost' was going to end, [I knew how the Arkham Asylum story would end]," Hine recalled. "I was very lucky actually. When I did the 'Battle for the Cowl' one-shot, I had lots of ideas on how I wanted to end it, but they were all shot down by those mysterious guys that all comic companies employ to shoot holes in writer's pitches. What do they call them? Editors? Once a week they meet up like a mystic cabal and plot evil at Editorial Meetings, then they go back to their offices and fire off e-mails that start with '(Writer's name), loved the plot. Terrific! Really excited about it. Just one or two teensy little problems.' In this case, something to do with Bruce Wayne dying or disappearing or being replaced by a doppelganger or whatever, and all the continuity relating to that. So in the end I decided to leave the story with all kinds of openings. I didn't shut down any possibilities, but I really didn't know where the hell these plot lines were going. I was feeling a little smug that some poor schmuck would have to make sense of it all somewhere down the line. Then it turned out the schmuck was going to be me. Weirdly, when I started putting it together, it all started to make perfect sense. The Three Beauties, the Joker make-up on No Face in the last panel of the one-shot, the messages scrawled on the mirror, the fragments of Amadeus Arkham's journal. On some subconscious level, I already knew the story. And magically, it fit in with all the other things that were going on in the other Bat books. It almost makes me believe these editor guys know what they're doing."
When asked if he would be returning to Arkham anytime in the future, Hine had only one thing to say:
"Yeah, they'll probably lock me up and throw away the key."