Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is a six-issue limited comics series, published in 2003 and set in the Batman universe. It was written by Dan Slott and features art by Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jim Royal. Like many mini-series, it has since been collected into a TPB. The series presents us with an inside look on day-to-day life in Gotham's infamous madhouse. The result is basically Oz with supervillains.
Batman does show up a few times in the story, but his role in it is tangential at best. The series actually focuses on two entirely new characters.
The first is Warren White, an embezzler who pleaded insanity and got sentenced to Arkham. Initially, he smugly believes that he got the better end of the deal by avoiding a prison sentence. As he gets to know his fellow "patients", however, he realizes that this is very much not the case.
While all this is going on, security guard Aaron Cash is trying to cope with a near death experience and a devastating loss. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to do that and keep Batman's Rogue's Gallery in order at the same time. Batman might catch them, but Aaron has to live with 'em.
What neither man realizes is that the entire asylum is about to become a part of something very, very horrifying; and that they'll both have to work together in order to come out of it alive.
Definitely not to be confused with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, although both books were used as source material for a certain critically acclaimed video game.
- Action Survivor: Aaron initially is like this until the end where he reveals that he's a genuine badass.
- Arc Words: "You're the worst person I've ever met."
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Warren and Humpty are the ones who made sure the demons leave the place.
- Bedlam House: Amazingly, it's not Arkham this time.
- Bewildering Punishment: At the end, Batman suggests to Dr. Arkham that the entire thing was another experience with Scarecrow's fear gas. Finding this rather more logical and easy to stomach than that demons from Hell unleashed chaos in the Asylum, Arkham accepts the suggestion and has Scarecrow tossed in solitary.
- Big Damn Heroes: Both of the times that Batman thwarts Jane Doe.
- Aaron Cash. The moment the demons see him, they identify him as a 'champion' and send monsters made from possessed supervillains to fight him.
- Big Fun: Humpty Dumpty is a hefty fellow and probably the number one most kind and well-meaning inmate in Arkham Asylum.
- Body Horror:
- All the people who get possessed turn into terrifying monsters.
- Warren after he gets locked in the Freezer
- What Bullock finds in the cabinet of Jason Blood.
- Bookends: The first comic has new inmate Warren White mocking the Riddler's question mark spandex. The last one has White helping Riddler acquire a question mark-shaped helicopter before noticing the arrival of a new inmate.
- Cardboard Prison: It's Arkham! Lampshaded by having Commissioner Gordon early on express outrage at Doodlebug's release (who added insult to injury by scrawling "Gone to Arkham. Back after lunch.") to Dr. Carver, who issued Doodlebug's release. The fact that the "Dr. Carver" in question is really Jane Doe supports Gordon's point, as does the reveal of Doodlebug being a serial killer who uses his victim's blood in his paint.
- Chekhov's Gun: Aaron left Arkham after Killer Croc bit off his hand, only coming back when Jeremiah points out that A: he's still gutsy enough to work there, and B: as long as he keeps it vaguely under control, he can abuse the more violent inmates to his heart's content. The problem with that is though everyone thought Croc had swallowed it, Junkyard Dog kept the severed hand. Since he came back, inmates were able to use it as a key!
- Chekhov's Gag: Joker's plan to kill everyone whose name is a palindrome shows up when Dr. Arkham calls National Guard Captain Allen Evenella for assistance.
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: The Riddler is clearly modelled after Frank Gorshin, who played him in the '60s TV show.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Warren ruined the life of billions with his frauds and actually enjoyed seeing his accountant's despair when he realized he would take the fall.
- Covers Always Lie: Batman is barely in the series, but that doesn't stop him from being featured on the cover of issue 1 or the cover of the TPB.
- Cute Ghost Girl: The girl Death Rattle killed shows up trying to convince him to sacrifice himself for the salvation he promised. It's just her lying and getting revenge on her murderer.
- Demonic Possession: The demons can turn people into monsters.
- Devil's Job Offer: The story's Villain Protagonist Warren White goes from handsome Butt-Monkey New Meat in the prison to a hideous but competent and powerful supervillain and in addition to his worldly "success", he manages to outwit some demons seeking to deal with him and so impresses Etrigan that he's offered a cushy job when he inevitably ends up in Hell after death.
- Didn't Think This Through: White's entire plan. He had his trial moved to Gotham as he'd read that almost no one pleaded insanity there and thus could help him pull it off. Too bad he never bothered to check and find out WHY no one in their right mind would enter that plea.
- Dissonant Serenity: Warren White becomes disturbingly calm and cheerful after he finally cracks. To the point that he's not bothered by the ghost of Humpty's grandmother, and casually strangles the ghost of Rich Milton.
- Earn Your Happy Ending:
- Dr. Carver is dead, but Aaron is clearly on the mend and things are finally looking up for him.
- On a darker note, so do both Warren and Humpty, since Warren ends up being in a position of great power once again at the end and Humpty finds a best friend in Warren.
- Eldritch Abomination: Cthugha the demon lord, a sort of squid head who speaks in rhyme.
- Enemy Mine: Aaron hates Warren's guts (and rightly so), but he still has to work with him in order to save everybody.
- Even Evil Has Standards:
Warren: B-but you're the Joker! You kill people!
- The Joker, of all people. Of course, since it's the Joker, he might have said that just to mess with Warren. But at the same time, alternatively, considering that basically everyone HATES Warren, this might be a rare example of Joker having a genuine standard.
The Joker: Yes, but I don't take their kids' college funds! *whispers* You know, I could use your head as a commode and sell it on eBay...
- Pretty much everyone hates Warren. Possibly because while they are evil, he's just an asshole.
- For the Evulz: What Joker wants to do the next time he escapes Arkham namely, kill everyone in the phone book whose name is a palindrome.
- From Bad to Worse: Warren start from having to share room with a serial killer and it get worse, Cash goes from recovering his lost limb to fight demons.
- Funny Background Event: In one of the panels while Humpty is telling his backstory, there's a man and what appears to be a giant chicken.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Junkyard Dog. Oddly, he seems restricted to using garbage and refuse to make his gadgets, either by his mental condition or how his "power" works.
- Gentle Giant: Humpty. He's a large, polite, well-meaning guy and the only person who never tries to escape or cause problems in Arkham, and takes in Warren because he legitimately wants to help him. His crimes, including the murder and reassembling of his grandmother's corpse, were all because he saw something as broken and wanted to fix them.
- Go Among Mad People: The entire plot. Warren White goes into Arkham as just another White Collar Crook. A few weeks in Arkham leave him without a nose, hair, lips, ears, or trace of sanity thus making him eligible to join Batman's Rogues Gallery as The Great White Shark.
- Good Is Not Nice: Jeremiah Arkham. Granted, he never was nice to begin with, but it's implied his behavior towards Warren stems from the fact that he and the asylum were among the victims of Warren's scam. There's also the judge of Warren's trial, who was so disgusted with the jury actually buying Warren's insanity plea that he put Warren in Arkham indefinitely.
- Gruesome Grandparent: Humpty Dumpty was also raised by a physically abusive grandmother, until he "fixed" her with an axe and put her back together again with bootlace. It's ambiguous whether Humpty consciously understood what he was doing the whole time, or if he's genuinely mentally-arrested enough to not realize.
- Halfway Plot Switch: First it's about life in Arkham, then Doodlebug's painting takes a more sinister turn.
- Handicapped Badass: Aaron Cash is missing a hand after Killer Croc bit it off, but that doesn't stop him from kicking ass and taking names.
- Hate Sink: Warren deserves everything that happens to him and the story won't hesitate to remind you. Every time he gets an edge, he goes back into being a smug prick. When a psychologist asks why he is there, he says it's because he got caught; later, he chides at Dumpty it's not his fault no one read the fine print, and when confronted by the man who took his life after Warren scapegoated him, Warren calls him weak and strangles the ghost. His file even says he actually took pleasure in seeing people's life being ruined.
- Heartbroken Badass: Aaron; Killer Croc tearing his hand was one thing, but finding out what happened to Dr.Carver destroyed him.
- Insanity Defense: If White had been more familiar with Gotham City, he might have realized that pleading insanity in that town was a terrible idea.
- It's Quiet
Too Quiet: Dr. Arkham goes through this early in issue 4 when he realizes that he hasn't gotten any calls from Arkham.Dr. Arkham: I haven't had a full night's sleep in years... Always some idiot on the phone with some new problem... "Dr. Arkham, the Scarecrow's trying to hang himself!" "Junkyard Dog flushed something, now all the toilets are broken!" "The Joker got hold of the cleaning supplies. He's going to kill us all!" It's always something. But tonight? Nothing. Quiet as the grave. This can't be good. Damn. Better get down there... (CHU-CHUKK) ... Before all hell breaks loose.note
- Karma Houdini: Warren White, AKA The Great White Shark. The culmination of his Start of Darkness. As he's negotiated a deal for a cushy job in Hell when he dies, he can do whatever the hell he wants while he's still alive, as he'll never be punished for any of it.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: and loads and loads of subplots to go along with them.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not clear whether Death Rattle was really seeing and talking to ghosts the whole time. Cash is left wondering; he definitely used mundane means to learn about Warren's red file but he also clearly knew Cash was 'flipping him off' with his missing hand.
- Meaningful Name: Warren White (who becomes the Great White Shark); also Doodlebug's real name - Daedelus Boch - is a reference to Hieronymus Bosch.
- Mukokuseki: A rare and deliberate Western use of this trope for Jane Doe, which sort of makes sense for her. She's got a slightly dark-ish skin tone that indicates non-caucasian heritage... or maybe she's just a bit tanned?... and her eyes are vaguely Asian-ish... but not really. She even lacks large breasts (which is surprising for this universe), which allows her to pass herself off as a dude with relative ease.
- Near-Villain Victory: Jane Doe almost succeeds in escaping the Asylum with her Borrowed Biometric Bypass tools and a recorder. Then she slams the door open to see Batman standing on the other side. Since her disguise was ruined at the moment, he instantly realizes her real identity, punching her lights out.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Letting Doodlebug keeping his paintings wasn't such a good idea.
- Non-Malicious Monster: Humpty. In all the years that Batman's been around, he is possibly the first and ONLY Rogue's Gallery member that actually fits the legal definition of insanity. He had no idea he was harming anyone. He's simply too dangerous to be allowed to roam free. He is still scary though.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Doodlebug he looks like a low key villain added to the story but he was sent to Arkham for a good reason. And he is also a main antagonist.
- Oh, Crap!: The reaction of the demons when they see Aaron Cash charging them.
- Pet the Dog: Warren saving Humpty from his Grandmother's ghost.
- Phrase Catcher: Whether you're a prison guard, The Joker, or the hellspawn in charge of torturing the biggest sinners in hell, Warren White is "the worst person you've ever met".
- Prequel: It was published at the time Michael Akins was police commissioner and Harvey Bullock was off the force, but according to a footnote in issue one, it takes place before Batman: No Man's Land and features Jim Gordon as commissioner and Harvey Bullock as a cop.
- Prison Rape:
- Warren finds The Joker in the same shower area as him. The panicked Warren drops the soap... only for The Joker to politely hand it back to him and chew him out verbally for using stock frauds to take other people's kids' college funds.
- After he's injured several times within his first couple of days, a prison guard advises Warren that if he wants to survive, he should become a high ranking criminal's prison bitch (the guard uses a Hurricane of Euphemisms including "super villain team-up"). Warren ends up as Two-Face's coin flipper, but it isn't clear whether or not that's the only thing he does for him.
- Averted with Magpie, who willingly has sex with other inmates in exchange for "shinies" (like a large, sharp mirror shard).
- Punny Name: Doodlebug's real name? Daedelus Boch, which sort of sounds like "Doodlebug" if you put your hand over your mouth.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Jeremiah Arkham. "Pragmatic" might be a better word, but he is quite accommodating with inmates who keep the violence to a minimum; He regularly lets Humpty Dumpty re-assemble broken objects, Two-Face gets to keep his coin, Doodlebug his paints, etc.
- Redemption Equals Death: At the climax, the ghosts of Arkham's inmates' victims flood the Asylum, and most are dragged to Hell since they immediately lash out against the monsters who killed them. However, Dr. Carver stops herself from going after Jane Doe in order to help Aaron Cash, and succeeds in giving him a fighting chance and ultimately saving him, allowing her true repose at the end.
- Remember the New Guy?: All the new Arkham inmates introduced in this story (Doodlebug, Jane Doe, Death Rattle, etc.) are treated like they've always been there.
- Rhymes on a Dime: Humpty has a fixation with nursery rhymes and tells Warren his life story via whimsical storybook rhyming. Believe it or not this is significant to the climax: Warren needs his "rhyme-to-English" comprehension to broker a deal with Cthugha and get the demons out of the asylum.
- The Scapegoat: Doctor Arkham can't admit to himself that the asylum was overrun by demons, so at the end, Batman suggests Scarecrow must have released fear gas into the vents. He has Crane put in isolation for three months. Which makes even less sense, given Batman's experiences with the Justice League, but he could've suggested that as a cover story. A bit later, Jason Blood outright tells Harvey Bullock they're pinning the blame on Scarecrow.Scarecrow: WHAT?!
- See You in Hell: A rare non-vengeful use. The demon Etrigan, impressed at how cleverly Warren has wheeled and dealed for himself in both Arkham and his future afterlife down below, smiles and says, "Guile and style. You'll do well. Keep in touch, I'll see you in hell."
- Serial Killer: A few are introduced here, most notably Jane Doe, Doodlebug and Death Rattle.
- Start of Darkness:
- Since Warren goes onto become a regular member of the Rogue's gallery, this series is technically this trope for him. Not that he wasn't already evil, he just wasn't supervillain material (or crazy) at first.
- Also, Humpty goes from being a well-meaning, model inmate at the beginning to Warren's right hand man by the end. He, like Warren, makes future appearances in DC comics.
- Stealth Pun:
- A particularly plot-relevant one. Riddler hints that he was probably the first one to notice that Jane Doe had replaced Dr. Carver when he refers to her as "deer girl" note instead of "dear girl". Or, to put it another way a female deer.
- Another horrifying one appears in a flashback with Aaron Cash. Cash is about to drag off Riddler for vandalizing a tiled floor that he was supposed to be soaping. Before the flashback ends, we see what Riddler was scribbling in the soap suds: "Who got out by getting ahead[?]"
- Stripperiffic: Poison Ivy and Miss Magpie. Justified for Magpie, as she offers certain favors to male prisoners and guards in exchange for shiny things.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In this story, Magpie plays the role of Poison Ivy's somewhat immature companion much like Harley Quinn (Especially the Animated Series version of her).
- Token Good Teammate: Humpty is a legitimately kind and well-meaning person (despite the horrifying behavior his good intentions lead him to), which makes him really stand out from the other Arkham inmates, and even some of the staff.
- Too Dumb to Live: Warren, initially. You'd be safer making a guilty plea in Gotham than an insanity plea, despite Blackgate not being a much better alternative. Justified as he is not from Gotham and only changed venue there because he heard it was the only place where the system is broken enough to believe his story.
- Villain Protagonist: Warren White is an immoral white collar criminal who deserves part what he gets.
- What Might Have Been: Aaron is angry with himself for not asking Dr. Carver out when he had the chance.