The Strange Origins of Batman’s Arkham Asylum, explained

In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, you can discover the somewhat secret origins of the famous piece of Batman myth, Arkham Asylum.

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and twenty-third episode where we examine three comic book legends and decide if they are true or false. As usual, there will be three postings, one for each of the three legends.

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Denny O’Neil came up with the idea for Arkham Asylum



Reader James T. wrote in to ask: “Was Denny O’Neil inspired by the movie Asylum (1972) when he created” Arkham Hospital (Asylum) “in” The Threat of the Two Headed Coin “in Batman # 258 (1974) )? “

It’s an interesting question as the timing certainly matches, but I was pretty sure I knew the origins of Arkham Asylum, so I would do this as a legend who said no to James while explaining how O ‘ Neil found on Arkham. Asylum, and that was when I remembered that it’s all a bit of a trick question when Denny O’Neil actually did not find Arkham Asylum!

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Arkham Asylum, then known as Arkham Hospital, debuted in Batman # 258 (by Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano), as a general originating Two-Face from Arkham …

The general’s name is John Harris …

Arkham Asylum is almost certainly a reference to HP Lovecraft, which had a series of stories told in the fictional city of Arkham, where the story, “The Thing on the Doorstop” in the January 1937 edition of Weird Tales was specifically played out at a sanatorium in Arkham. ..

So I think it’s clear that the Lovecraft inspiration would be the central influence on the introduction of Arkham Asylum, as O’Neil was a big fan of Lovecraft himself (when asked about his early Batman stories in 1970, and how it was so different from previous versions of Batman, he explained: “I’m sure we did not think about it for a second. I just wanted to make it gothic and creepy. I was influenced by writers like Lovecraft and Poe, and I did not think of Gotham City. “

While O’Neil was certainly a Lovecraft fan and certainly let it affect his darker version of Batman in the 1970s, we know in Arkham Asylum’s case that the Lovecraft influence was more direct, especially since the creator was not actually Denny O’Neil .

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In a great interview by Bryan D. Stroud, longtime DC writer and editor Jack C. Harris explained how it all went …

I created Arkham Asylum. The story goes like this: Arkham Asylum was obviously not created by anyone at DC, it was created by HP Lovecraft. Arkham Asylum is where all the nuts that were driven mad by Lovecraft’s older gods go. They were committed to Arkham Asylum, which is in Massachusetts in the Lovecraft stories. It’s not something anyone in DC came up with. But during one of the times Denny O’Neil came to visit and speak at my college course, I remember we were for dinner. We always took our guests to dinner. So I talked to Denny and I said, “Denny, you know criminals like Two-Face and the Joker should not just be imprisoned. They’re crazy. They should be in a mental hospital. And what’s better than Arkham Asylum from Lovecraft- the stories? ” He thought it was a good idea. So he used it. And if you look, it was in Batman # 258 from September 1974. It’s the first mention of Arkham Asylum in DC comic book history. It has been reported elsewhere, but it is incorrect. If you check it out, this is the first time it has ever been mentioned in this story. If you look at it, if you read it, the story involves Two-Face being brought in from Arkham Asylum. The guy who breaks him out is a military man named John Harris. And that’s Denny O’Neil’s tip of the hat for me for the Arkham idea. Now I think it was Len Wein who took up the idea and later expanded the whole story of Arkham. But Denny did it first in that issue of Batman, and it was me who gave him the idea for it. Every time I see Arkham Asylum I get insane.

Denny O’Neil himself has been very open with Harris’ role in the creation of Arkham Asylum, so it is not the case that Harris claims honor that is controversial.

This is a standard problem that we have in comics, where all we really have to go on with is who wrote the actual story, as comics rarely have an “Inspired by writer X” tag in them, even if they of course, is not entirely absent in the cartoon. book history. Still, it would be nice if Harris could get more credit for the idea from references to Arkham Asylum in the future.

Thanks to James T. for the suggestion and thanks so much to Bryan D. Stroud and Jack C. Harris for the excellent information on Arkham Asylum’s origins, while also confirming the Lovecraft influence of it all. Incidentally, Harris later specifically remembered that the idea came after a summer in which he had read a LOT of Lovecraft, and remarked in the preface to The Dark Age: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics, “One summer I immersed myself in the dark works of HP Lovecraft … It was during a conversation with author Denny O’Neil before I even graduated from college that I suggested Batman villains like Two-Face and Joker should never be placed. in an ordinary prison; they should be locked up in a mental hospital. “


Check out some entertainment legends from Legends Revealed:

1. Was OJ Simpson originally cast as Terminator?

2. Should Family Guy originally just be a segment on MadTV?

3. Did Back to the Future always end with “Continued …”?

4. Did Patti LaBelle really not know what “Lady Marmalade” was all about?


Come back soon for part 2 of this episode’s legends!

Feel free to send me suggestions for future comic book legends at either [email protected] or [email protected]

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