This article will contain spoilers for Batman: Arkham Knight's storyline.
There is a temptation in comic books to attempt to do the definitive story for a character. This is why so many stories are either the origins of superheroes or some life-defining moment like facing the most dangerous opponent of their lives. The later, especially, can lead to a glut of supervillains who are the best at everything or have some personal connection to the heroes.
Arkham Asylum was a notable aversion to the above as it was just an attempt to tell a Batman story rather than the Batman story. It's just another night in the Caped Crusader's life, albeit a stressful one. Arkham City, by contrast, told a story which ended with the deaths of both Joker as
well as Talia.
Arkham Origins retold the first meeting between Batman and Joker as well as the rise of "freaks in Gotham." Arkham Knight tells what is meant to be the last Batman story, at least for this universe, with the "death" of the Batman. It is one of the hardest stories to pull off as it is required to be a grand finale for a seventy-five-year-old franchise. Even as a finale to the quadrilogy of games, it has its work cut out for it.
Did it pull it off?
Yes and no.
|Batman unmasked! For now, at least.|
To me, one of the few stories to ever succeed in "ending" the Batman saga was Batman Beyond's "Rebirth part 1" where Alan Burnett and Paul Dini chose to go small rather than big. What is the event which drives Batman to retire from the game? It is the simple act of growing old and battered to the point he uses a gun during one of his battles. After that, he realizes there's only a continued degeneration into what he hates awaiting him so he retires and buys a dog.
Here, the story chooses to go big rather than small. Scarecrow forces an evacuation of Gotham City and then invades with a Private Military Corporation run by the Arkham Knight. What follows is Batman dismantling an army and saving the Eastern Coast of the United States from Scarecrow's fear toxin before being unmasked on live television. In the 100% ending, Batman is implied to fake his death with Alfred and possibly return as something even more terrifying.
There's a running theme throughout the game of Batman's failures and inability to trust having driven him from both succeeding at his quest as well as living a quote-unquote "normal" life. He wants to protect Dick, Barbara, and Tim from the consequences of his Batman life but they're adults who can make their own decisions. He also keeps everyone at arms length, which doesn't protect his loved ones from being targeted like Jason and Catwoman. This is a game about Batman's failures as a mortal human being and how they eventually catch up with him, destroying him.
|The Killing Joke homage needed Babs to talk to Bruce about it.|
In short, Batman's greatest flaw is that he doesn't trust his partners enough but we have his partners getting crippled and kidnapped as a direct result of his actions. Barbara gets kidnapped, Catwoman gets kidnapped, Poison Ivy gets herself killed, Jason is brainwashed, Tim Drake lets his emotions get the better of him, and even Jim Gordon betrays him. If there's a message about what Batman can or should be feeling about the dangerous life he's leading his followers into, then it's muddled as keeping them close or pushing them away doesn't do anything to make them safer or Gotham City safer. If there's an aesop in the game, then it's learn to do it alone since all of his allies are damn-near useless. Life just sucks for Batman and his family, no matter what he does.
Honestly, when I first heard this game was going to focus on the Scarecrow and lesser rogues from the Bat-Gallery without the Joker, I was ver excited. I felt the Joker was overexposed from previous entries in the series and was hoping to see more insight into the colorful rogues who are every bit as interesting. Sadly, the Scarecrow loses the majority of his interesting qualities in the game and becomes something of a generic one-note doomsday villain. He's going to shower the world in fear-gas because he's a bad guy, basically, and not even John Noble's performance can raise him above this empty expression of cruelty.
The Arkham Knight, by contrast, is also just confusing when you discover he's Jason Todd. He acts like he's uninterested in humiliating or torturing Batman and just wants to kill him. However, since he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, there's literally no reason he can't just send his 1000+ tanks up to Wayne Manor and blow it up while our hero is sleeping. Hell, he has access to NUCLEAR WEAPONS that can kill everyone in a ten-mile radius. If Jason Todd wanted Batman dead, then he could just kill him. There's no real reason for him to participate in the Scarecrow's mission unless he wants to see Batman humiliated before his death yet Jason insists this isn't the case.
|Jason really could kill Batman at any time.|
It seems like they wanted to The Dark Knight Rises but forgot Bane and Talia were BOTH psychopaths who wanted to destroy all of Batman's legacy. Jason's capacity as a villain is also undermined that 90% of the dialogue we get from him is insulting his men and insisting he'll get the Batman next time like Doctor Claw in Inspector Gadget.
In short, by the time I blew up Ace Chemicals, I was already disappointed in these two rather one-note villains and grateful for the return of the Joker. While I wanted the Joker gone, Arkham Knight was in bad need of the character's peculiar brand of color and energy. If they had gone with their original plan to use all of Batman's rogues working together, I don't think it would have been a problem but there's no hint of the larger alliance we saw in the trailers. Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Riddler, and the Penguin are all working separate from the Scarecrow with the exception of having given him money to purchase the Arkham Knight's army.
I was also disappointed in the handling of the game's female characters. Oracle, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman are all kidnapped by the end of the story. Given Catwoman was a playable character in Batman: Arkham City and is nothing more than a hostage here, I felt this was a serious downgrade. Say what you will about her outfit but Catwoman was an extremely fun character to play. I don't mind a kidnapping plot but maybe you should restrict the number of kidnappings to one rather than three out of four major female characters.
|I will say I love Harley's redesign.|
One area I won't complain about, though is the Joker's portrayal and Batman's relationship to him. Mark Hamill gives the best performance of his career as the Clown Prince of Crime and the addition of the Joker having unfettered access to Batman's neuroses works wonderfully. I can't be too hard on a game which includes the Joker singing a musical lounge number about Batman's dead parents while surrounded by explosives.
|"Thank you! I'll be here all night!"|
There's some other areas I'm a little iffy on. I'm not sure Jason Todd's redemption was earned and it would have been nice to see an explanation for why he decided to go with the Scarecrow's Doomsday plan only to switch sides at the last minute. Also, I don't really believe Lucius Fox can know of the Batman's true identity but Jim Gordon not know his daughter is Batgirl. Still, good acting makes up for a lot of the bad and the scene where Gordon feels betrayed by Batman was great.
In short, I think they could have done with a lot more story-tightening for this game. Some more colorful villains, subplots, and the like would have improved this game quite a bit. The best bits after the Joker were, for me, the side-quests dealing with Professor Pyg, Man-Bat, and the Penguin. The Arkham Knight and Scarecrow weren't terrible but this game feels strongly like it had its plot rewritten three or four times. Even so, I liked it enough I wouldn't mind another game set in the timeline whether a prequel or a sequel dealing with the Court of Owls or other large-scale Batman villain group.