The secret history of DC's Arkham Asylum (and the Arkham family) revealed in Batman's new Detective Comics run opener
Ram V and Rafael Albuquerque’s run on Detective Comics begins with shocking revelations about Gotham City’s most infamous family, the Arkhams
OOf all the families in Gotham City, one that has a particularly notorious reputation are the Arkhams, who opened and ran the city’s biggest asylum from the criminally insane.The history of the Arkhams in Gotham is being revisited in the pages of Detective Comics as the acclaimed creative team of Ram V and Rafael Albuquerque launch their run on the title and unearth the hidden history of the city.
As Batman faces off against a new threat lurking in the darkest shadows of Gotham, he begins to experience terrifying visions of the demonic bat entity Barbatos, who has haunted the land Gotham was built upon for centuries. This disturbing development surfaces as the Arkham family is revealed to have secretly held a major stake in the city’s foundation stretching as far back as the 17th century.
Having acquired the land to develop Gotham, the Arkhams have quietly steered the course of the city’s evolution with more control and influence than the Waynes. This, coupled with the Arkham family’s own connection to the monstrous bat, hints at dark dealings and supernatural interference that could have informed the Arkhams’ rise to power and decline into madness. And with a previously unknown member of the Arkham family returning to Gotham, the ancient history behind the city and its ownership rears its head for what’s sure to be an ugly fight.
Here is the comprehensive look at the Arkham family history in Gotham, how it has been redefined across the evolution of the DCU, and how Ram and Albuquerque are shining a light on the Arkhams’ sordid connection to the city at the start of their Detective Comics run.Spoilers ahead for August 23's Detective Comics #1063.
The Arkhams’ secret history in Gotham City
As Batman contends with a shadowy cabal targeting Gotham and the supervillain Two-Face, a mysterious woman named Shavhod reveals how far back the Arkham family has put down its roots into Gotham. Shavhod explains that the land Gotham City was eventually built upon was purchased and leased to a man named Anatol Orgham in 1692. The land was passed down to Anatol’s descendants after Anatol passed away in 1701 as a mayorship grew on the territory. By 1853, the Orgham family patriarch Loricius changed his last name to protect his business interests, selecting the phonetically similar and more anglo-friendly surname Arkham.
In the wake of Arkham Asylum’s destruction, following a horrific terrorist attack on the facility framed on the Joker, Shavhod led her young charge Arzen to reclaim their stake in Gotham after the city lost its last major reminder of the Arkham family’s influence in its history. While Arzen boasts powerful paranormal abilities of his own, Two-Face is targeted to become a potential pawn in the Arkham scheme to reassert their prominence in Gotham.
A serious house on serious Earth
Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s 1989 original graphic novel Batman: Arkham Asylum expanded upon the entry from Wein’s description of Arkham Asylum and its founder Amadeus Arkham. Amadeus worked as a psychiatrist in Metropolis, living with his wife Constance and their young daughter Harriet while Amadeus’ mother Elizabeth lived alone at her large mansion on the outskirts of Gotham. Elizabeth’s mental health would steadily decline, with Elizabeth claiming to be plagued by visions of a large, monstrous bat before apparently committing suicide.
As Amadeus works to remodel his family home into the psychiatric hospital that would eventually become Arkham Asylum, one of his patients, Mad Dog Hawkins, is released from custody after being declared sane. Returning home, Amadeus is shocked to discover his family butchered by Mad Dog, causing Amadeus to recall the repressed memory that he actually murdered his mother Elizabeth to put her out of her misery.
Amadeus formally opened Arkham Asylum in 1921, naming it after his mother, with Hawkins as one of the facility’s first patients. After treating Hawkins for six months, Amadeus gruesomely kills him through a lethal dose of electroshock therapy which is officially ruled by the authorities as an accident. Occasionally wearing his mother’s old clothes, Amadeus is ruled completely insane when he attempts to murder his stockbroker in 1929, resulting in his confinement in his own asylum. Years later, Amadeus dies in his cell wearing one of his mother’s dresses while singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' having carved binding spells into every inch of his cell’s floor and walls.
The Arkhams’ Shifting Fortunes
Amadeus was revealed to have a nephew named Jeremiah Arkham who continued the family by personally running Arkham Asylum. While Jeremiah had repeated trouble in keeping the asylum’s most dangerous inmates in custody, things took a turn for the worse during the 1999 crossover event 'No Man’s Land,' that saw most of Gotham destroyed by a massive earthquake. Returning to the ruins of Arkham Asylum, Jeremiah discovered Amadeus’ journal and vowed to rebuild the facility and run in it in the spirit of his uncle’s legacy.
Jeremiah’s own grasp on sanity was fragile, with the asylum director blaming Batman on the mental health of his patients. Jeremiah would clandestinely release the more unstable patients under his care on occasion to attack Batman directly in an effort to prevent any further perceived psychological damage linked to the Dark Knight. Like his uncle, Jeremiah would occasionally be confined in his own asylum as a patient.
Jeremiah was revealed to have had a daughter with one of the asylum’s doctors, Ingrid Karlsson, with their baby, Astrid Arkham, born in the midst of a violent riot within the facility. In the chaos, Ingrid is killed by an inmate with a batarang, while Jeremiah raises the girl in the asylum himself. Learning of her origins, Astrid believes Batman to be the one who killed her mother, taking on the mantle of the Arkham Knight to pursue a vendetta against him.
A history of colonialism
Ram and Albuquerque’s expanded history of the Arkhams reveals that the family has much deeper roots in the foundation and early trajectory of Gotham City than previously realized. Having acquired the land in the late 17th century, this suggests the Arkham family, under the Orgham moniker, may have been active in the land that would become Gotham as contemporaries of Nathaniel Wayne, an ancestor of Bruce Wayne who lived in the Thirteen Colonies as a witch-finder general in the 1600s. This history and the Orgham’s land grab also creates undercurrents of colonialism to the family, something that highlights their questionable reputation in the treatment of their patients and a prominent theme in Ram’s acclaimed Vault Comics series These Savage Shores, with artist Sumit Kumar.
The Arkhams and their asylum have one of the most disturbing histories in Gotham, plagued by mental illness, institutionalized cruelty, and murder. With a history stretching back for centuries, the Arkhams may have made their own deal with the bat demon Barbatos – who was active in the territory during the colonial era – to secretly provide the means for their financial success, albeit at a dark cost. And as a new set of Arkhams prepare to stake their own claim in Gotham, Batman’s recent visions of a resurgent Barbatos may signal that the Waynes are more connected to the Arkhams than he thought. Elizabeth Arkham suffered visions of a monstrous bat, she just didn’t know her ancestors may have contended with the demon first; a demon that is back and baying for fresh blood.
Written by Ram V, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, colored by Dave Stewart, and lettered by Ariana Maher, Detective Comics #1063 is on sale now from DC Comics. Detective Comics #1064 goes on sale Sept. 27.