Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Addendum to the Social Satire of Batman: Arkham City

    Hey guys,

    It's been a long time since I wrote The Social Satire of Batman: Arkham City (available to read here) and it occurs to me that it I should revisit the essay in light of new information. The recent release of the DLC Harley's Revenge means now's a good enough time as any. As a warning, this article will contain SPOILERS for the game so don't proceed if you haven't completed the game.

    In The Social Satire of Batman: Arkham City, I focused exclusively on the relationship between RL life authoritarianism and the prison itself. I drew parallels with the War on Terror, Guantanamo Bay, Blackwater, and real-life prisoner abuses. I attributed the plot entirely to Hugo Strange, even though I'd already played the game and knew it was actually the result of Ra's Al Ghul's manipulations. Likewise, I acted like Mayor Quincy Sharp was a party to the atrocities when the game revealed he was nothing more than Hugo Strange's dupe.

    In retrospect, I think most of my essay still stands. The game does use the trappings of the War on Terror very effectively to lure the player in to thinking it's going to be a straight rebuttal of totalitarianism. It shows how many of the problems in Arkham City are inherent to the citizenry's willingness to abjure responsibility for its prisoners and ignore the truth in favor of what they want to believe.

    Nevertheless, there's a bit of subtext which I glossed over and is important to deal with. Specifically, that Arkham City highlights the role of terrorism and how it feeds off of oppression. While Hugo Strange is an effective villain in the story, he takes a secondary role to Ra's Al Ghul and the Joker. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies underscored the terrorist elements to both Ra's and the Joker so using them as a metaphor for the subject is hardly new. However, Batman: Arkham City takes it one step further.

    Ra's Al Ghul represents the ideological terrorist who hits a surprising number of notes for what many in the West still fear from Al-Qaeda-esque organizations. He's a man who wants worldwide revolution, is a quasi-religious leader, and is of Middle Eastern descent. Ra's Al Ghul supports the creation of Arkham City not to overthrow the West, however, but to turn it into something more akin to his liking.

    Hugo Strange in the game has created Arkham City as, essentially, one gigantic roach motel for the undesirables of Gotham City. It's never really been intended as a prison, a place where criminals are held until their sentences are up, but a place he would eventually create conditions bad enough to justify executing the entirety of the population. In short, it's a death camp only the victims are criminals as opposed to members of a particular ethnicity.

    Ra's Al Ghul supports this action because in addition to environmentalism, he is also a figure who considers the majority of the human race to be parasites. Like Batman, he considers himself to be making the world a better place. The elimination of tens of thousands of criminals from Gotham City's population is something he can only figure will benefit everyone.

     Given so many video games consist of player characters effectively doing that, it's an interesting parallel to be drawn. The players, as Batman, are thus forced to save the lives of people they'd normally gun down in games like Max Payne. In short, the game says that it's people like Ra's Al Ghul who consider prisoners to have no humanity whatsoever.

    Then there's the Joker who almost manages to justify every single atrocity against criminals by his very presence. Over the course of the game he not only kills numerous people but organizes a widespread biological terrorist attack on Gotham City, all from the safe confines of Arkham City. If there has ever been a non-supernatural character in comics thought of as irredeemably evil, the Joker will usually be first in line.

    The thing is, the Joker is a character who is largely unimpeded by Arkham City. It's no more a prison to him than Arkham Asylum and his activities actually get worse in the second game, utterly indifferent to the larger plots of Hugo Strange and Ra's Al Ghul. Indeed, the Joker is ignored by the authorities and able to carry out his plans unhindered. The attempt to focus on all criminals leaves the nastiest one alone. Of course, really, it has to be that way since it wouldn't be a Batman game without his archnemesis.

    Still, the Joker is an interesting idea about the dangers of one individual. He doesn't need a massive network of assassins like Ra's Al Ghul to wreck havoc. While he has a small gang of individuals under his control, it's really a core of followers who allow him to do all the nasty things we expect him to. Gotham City should be watching out for the monsters as opposed to the little fish since a single monster can kill literally hundreds of people. I'll leave that for you to draw your own conclusions regarding.

I just don't see motherhood in her future.

    I will say I'm pleased the game world chose not to have Harley Quinn pregnant with the Joker's child. Never mind nature vs. nurture, the simple fact is that I prefer Harley as a sexy character who menaces Batman directly rather than one who hides behind the legacy of the Joker. Besides, what is the Joker's child going to do? Drool at Batman?

    My .02.

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