'Gotham': A Peek at the History (and Future) of Arkham Asylum

Before Jim Gordon's first day, learn about Gotham's spooky mental hospital
Jessica Miglio/FOX

Monday's return of Fox's Gotham sees Ben McKenzie's Jim Gordon reporting for duty at Arkham Asylum — an unexpected demotion from homicide cop to glorified security guard brought about by running afoul of the city's corrupt mayor at the end of last year's episodes. The career change doesn't just pay off weeks of foreshadowing about the importance of Arkham to the plans of the various crime families but allows the series the chance to explore one of the most important pieces of Batman mythology from the last half-century.

Above, The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive look at what to expect when Gotham relocates its leading man for the opening of the second half of the show's debut season. And below, there's a primer on the comic book history of the home-away-from-home for many of the Dark Knight's most dangerous villains, to help you get a jump on what's to come in the weeks ahead.

The asylum — officially the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Batman's comic book mythology — debuted in 1974, created by Dennis O'Neil (who also created Ra's Al Ghul, currently causing trouble on The CW's Arrow) and artist Irv Novick for Batman No. 258. For years, it was known as "Arkham Hospital" — which O'Neil's narration helpfully described as "a polite name for an asylum [that] houses the criminally insane" — and, unexpectedly, located not in Gotham but in Massachusetts.

Both the name and the first location of the hospital — it officially became an asylum (and located on the outskirts of Gotham) in 1980's Batman No. 326 — come from O'Neil's original inspiration for the institute, H.P. Lovecraft. In a number of stories by the horror writer, a sanatorium appears, located on the outskirts of the fictional town of Arkham, Mass.

The history of the establishment has been unveiled in a number of stories, including Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and Batman: The Last Arkham. Named for the mother of its founder, Amadeus Arkham, the building was bad news from the beginning — its architect was driven insane and killed those working on its construction with an ax. Following that unfortunate — to say the least — beginning, more tragedy followed: Arkham's mother, wife and child all died in the building before it was eventually transformed into its current institutional purpose.

During the hospital's lengthy service, it's been home to many well-known supervillains, including the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, Harley Quinn — who started out as a doctor there — Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Two-Face, to name just a few. It's not only bad guys who have enjoyed its hospitality, however; former Robin Dick Grayson, Justice League member Zatanna and Batman himself have enjoyed brief stays for a variety of reasons, although "enjoyed" might not be a word they would use to describe the experience.

While the version of the asylum in Gotham is a recently reopened hospital with somewhat nefarious purposes, the comic book asylum has managed to keep its doors open even when — well, there weren't any doors. In fact, the building been destroyed on numerous occasions, such as when Bane liberated all the patients in the 1990s "Knightfall" storyline, when Black Mask did the same in the 2009 "Battle for the Cowl" storyline, or even current events in the Batman: Eternal series, which has seen patients moved to Wayne Manor temporarily (as also seen in the current Arkham Manor series).

Throughout it all, it's stuck around as a more humane alternative to jail and a constant reminder that most of Batman's bad guys have mental problems. Whether viewers can expect Gotham's asylum to end up as busy — if not quite as easily destroyed — will remain a mystery for a bit longer.

Gotham returns Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

 

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