Marvel’s Version of Arkham Asylum is a Mistake

For a long time, fans have compared Ravencroft with Arkham Asylum, but Marvel’s counterpart might be a mistake for how it portrays mental health.

For a long time, Spider-Man fans have compared the mental institution of Ravencroft with DC Comics’ Arkham Asylum, but Marvel’s counterpart might be a mistake for how it portrays such sensitive issues. The iconic setting has essentially served as a prison for Spider-Man’s villains and has arguably stigmatized the notion of treatment for mental illness.

In Amazing Spider-Man #56, Kingpin joins forces with Norman Osborn, as the two infamous foes of the web-slinger are attempting to trap Kindred. For a large portion of the story, Ravencroft Institute serves as a backdrop to their partnership and showcases the wide array of villains who have been locked up in the facility. In a way, Ravencroft is the third member of the sinister duo as they take advantage of the criminals there. The issue is written by Nick Spencer with pencils by Mark Bagley inks by Andrew Hennessy and John Dell.

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While Arkham Asylum is intrinsic to Gotham City’s personality, relating to the theme of psychology in the Batman mythos, the same can’t be said for Ravencroft in relation to Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. Instead, Marvel’s take on a mental hospital in 2021 comes across as a caricature with potentially stigmatizing portrayals of mental health treatment. In particular, Ruins of Ravencroft involved top-secret experiments and went so far as to incorporate zombies in the basement. Although these are obvious tropes and cliches, they feel outdated and don’t come across as respectful to matters of mental health. Up until recently, Ravencroft had simply been implemented in Marvel Comics as a supervillain jail, but now there seems to be intentionality for it to be an actual mental ward. For the playful tone of Spider-Man, Ravencroft’s dark evolution feels inappropriate at times like this.

It hasn’t always been the case that Ravencroft Institute was the counterpart to Batman’s Arkham Asylum. Over the years, it has housed several notable supervillains, such as Juggernaut, Electro, and Morlun as seen in this issue of Amazing Spider-Man. However, the trend of morphing other iconic superheroes into a version of Batman has possibly been a factor in how Ravencroft has come to resemble Arkham. If the villains who were kept at the institute had clear mental issues, it might feel more necessary for it to be called “an institute.” Instead, it is frequently only a plot device with psychological language tacked on, seemingly meant to add weight to stories set in the Marvel Universe.

Especially in the case of Amazing Spider-Man, Ravencroft is presented as nothing more than a cartoonish asylum “for the criminally insane” that doesn’t care to show the rehabilitation which characterizes such hospitals in the real world. It could easily be replaced with a regular prison or another supervillain holding facility. Kingpin and Norman Osborn’s weaponization of its patients should be troubling in the context of comics published today. Amazing Spider-Man #56 is currently available for purchase.

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Updated: January 8, 2021 — 12:45 pm

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