When Comics and Music Collide: Devin Townsend Meets ‘Arkham Asylum’


Several months ago I was re-reading the classic Batman tale Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, and I noticed some bits of dialogue which seemed very familiar to me.

I imagine that most comic fans are familiar with this classic work. It was written by Grant Morrison, and features fully painted artwork by Dave McKean. The book is a brilliant psychological take on Batman and his rogues gallery, and McKean’s artwork makes it devilishly horrific.

Now, if you take a look at my Last.fm profile, you may notice that I am a massive fan of the Vancouver based musician Devin Townsend, and his band Strapping Young Lad. With his solo work Devin produces some brilliant progressive rock/metal, with beautifully designed soundscape symphonies. His (now defunct) band Strapping Young Lad is a very different beast though, and is very intense industrial/death metal with progressive elements.

Strapping Young Lad started as a bit of a joke project many years back, but after the first album found success, Devin decided to start taking the project seriously, and in 1997 began working on their second album City. City was written while Devin was sleeping on a friend’s couch in L.A. He wired his guitar up to their TV and wrote the entire album through the T.V.’s speaker system. It was, of course, professionally recorded at a later date. City is industrial-inspired metal at its absolute finest, and completely unlike anything the band ever recorded again.

Recently, when I was re-reading Arkham Asylum I noticed that there were similarities in both the feeling and attitudes of these two classic works; however, the similarities turned out to be more than just on the surface, and I realised that the two works contained several almost identical lines. For Example:

First off, in Arkham Asylum the Joker says the line, “Is this what it all comes down to - all our hopes and aspirations? Nothing but vomit? Oh God, I’m afraid.”

This is very similar to the lyric in the song Detox, from City: “…So here’s all my hopes and aspirations nothing but puke, God, I’m So Lonely…”

Later in Arkham Asylum, one of the Doctors says the line: “It’s quite possible we may be looking at some sort of super-sanity here. A brilliant modification of Human perception. More suited to urban life at the end of the twentieth Century.

This is similar to the lyric in the song Oh My Fucking God!, again from City: “There is no insanity, rather a super sanity more suited for life at the end of the 20th Century”

I contacted Devin’s wife Tracy, who acts as his manager, and asked her if Devin had read Grant’s book. Her response was ”Yes, he was reading it at the time and did use it for lyrical ideas. (He says) “It is a great comic”.

So, there you have it folks. One of my favourite comics of all time, and one of my favourite albums of all time are connected, and the latter was influenced by the former. Now when I listen to City, I always have Arkham Asylum in my head, and I love it!

Extra tidbit: this isn’t Dave McKean’s only connection to music I love. He did the cover artwork for the album Hard Wired by Front Line Assembly. As a remarkable coincidence Front Line Assembly are also from Vancouver, and guess who played guitar on this album? … DEVIN TOWNSEND! What a remarkable coincidence!

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5 Responses to “When Comics and Music Collide: Devin Townsend Meets ‘Arkham Asylum’”
  1. atomicker says:

    Wow. You should pump this post up a bit and pitch it to a music magazine — very interesting stuff!

  2. grindbastard says:

    I noticed too a few years ago when I first read Arkham Asylum. I was really excited about it and realized that there weren’t any other metal-nerds that would share my enthusiasm. I chalked it up as a small victory and moved along. I just found your blog entry by googling the “there is no insanity rather a supersanity” quote to see if there was another origin to it that both Devin and Morrison were referencing. I was flipping through the Killing Joke graphic novel when I thought of it.

  3. grindbastard says:

    Ha! Found my blog entry about it. From atomicker’s comment it looks like you beat me to it! Good write-up by the way.


  4. Edward Kaye says:

    Thanks! This brings back memories. Could this really have been two years ago!?

    Have you heard that Devin is planning on doing a graphic novel about Ziltoid?

  5. grindbastard says:

    I didn’t know that. I’ll definitely get it when it’s available.

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