Arkham Knight's reveal is the weak link in a great Batman story

WARNING: There are massive spoilers for Arkham Knight ahead, so do NOT read if you haven't finished the game.

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Jason Todd is the Arkham Knight. The villain in Rocksteady's final Batman game is the second Robin, the one who notably died in the comic books. He was always the most likely candidate to be behind the robosuited mask, and name came up a lot as Arkham fans tried to figure it out. In some ways, I agree with Rocksteady’s choice of Jason as the Arkham Knight, but the blatant signposting of his identity to the player gives too much away. A much larger problem, though, is that Jason’s non-existence in previous Arkham games means it’s difficult to emotionally invest in the reveal – I think you need more history with the character in the games for that huge moment to have real pay-off, and I don’t think Arkham Knight itself provides that.

Last year, when everyone was hazarding guesses about who the Arkham Knight was, I considered Jason Todd as being both too obvious and a weird match for Rocksteady's self-contained Bat trilogy. Too obvious, because the whole Jason Todd-returns-as-a-bad-guy narrative is pretty well-known to anyone with a passing knowledge of Batman's comic book lore. Jason Todd, the Robin that came after Dick Grayson (Nightwing in the Arkham games), was killed in the 1988/9 comic book story A Death In The Family, after readers were invited to call in and vote (!) on whether the character would live or die. They narrowly elected to kill him off.

In the comics, Jason returned from the dead much later in the 2005/6 story 'Under The Hood' where a mysterious figure called the Red Hood (one of Joker's old aliases) clashes with Batman until, at the halfway point of the arc, it's revealed to be a newly villainous Jason Todd under the mask. It's a brilliant modern Batman story, and it was later adapted into the popular DC animated movie Under The Red Hood. That's why Jason being the Arkham Knight seemed far too obvious to me - it's essentially the same idea as Under The Hood, with some of the same narrative beats, just with the Red Hood identity swapped out for the Arkham Knight one.

I expected Rocksteady to pick someone I couldn't possibly guess, rather than the most obvious candidate. In a way, I guess being faithful to the comics has its own merits, and it shows how much passion the studio clearly has for every part of the Dark Knight's source material. But Rocksteady's games don't have the same history with Jason Todd that DC's comics did when they brought him back almost two decades later - and that's the main reason I think the Arkham Knight's reveal, and the moments that lead to it, aren't very effective for either an audience familiar with Batman’s history or those only familiar with the Arkham games.

Rocksteady does the entirety of the Jason Todd arc within Arkham Knight. We see these impressively framed part flashback/part hallucination scenes of the Joker torturing Robin in captivity, letting us know that what happened to Jason is part of Arkham's continuity, having not featured in any real notable capacity in previous Arkham games. Honestly, in the torture scenes, I'm certain that everyone who predicted Jason Todd before the game came out went, "Yeah, it's definitely him," in that moment. The pre-order DLC featuring Todd’s Red Hood persona was arguably a clue, too (or, looking at it from another side, a brave bluff).

But then the game also gives non-Batman comics fans a very easy way to figure it out. If you'd never heard of Jason, but had played the previous Arkham games, it would surely be clear as to why these torture scenes with the Joker and Jason would pop up in the story now. If they weren’t vital to the main story, they’d have ended up in a side-quest. These scenes give the Knight’s identity away to the player, regardless of their knowledge of the character. Perhaps this was deliberate foreshadowing on the part of Rocksteady, but it doesn’t line up with how heavily the marketing campaign played on the Knight’s ambiguous identity.

The other problem is the lack of Jason’s history in the games. He’s a new element of the story, and it means the Arkham Knight reveal doesn't have the impact it could've had if, say, Todd was the subject of a Scarecrow hallucination in Asylum, or one of the villain-based side-quests in City. Imagine how much bigger that moment would've been if players brought with them a history of the character they'd seen in a game they played four or six years ago, like they do with most of Knight’s villains, instead of having that story told to them entirely in one ten-hour stretch?

That history with the reader is why Jason Todd returning was such a big moment in comics - it was the Robin that Batman failed to save, back from the dead after 17 years, not just four or five hours. It's why the Hush side-quest in Knight is so effective: almost four years ago, I saw Tommy Elliott escape Arkham City wearing Bruce Wayne's face, and confronting him now as a player, years later felt fantastic. History builds emotional investment in characters - and I didn’t feel I had that with Jason. Not that I blame Rocksteady, or anything - planning that far in advance is too much to ask, but the choice to have the Arkham Knight be the main thread of the story means a lot rests on that reveal.

Looking at it from Rocksteady’s point of view, though, I think the Arkham Knight always had to be Jason. Logically, if you cycle through all the characters who have appeared in the Arkham series to date, who else could it have been? I think they could've barely gotten away with Hush, but it would still feel out of character - with him stealing Bruce Wayne's identity in City, him reappearing in a costume that parallels Batman's would've had some narrative logic. It would've been 100% out of character for the Joker, and reduced the impact of his death in City. It also made zero sense for it to be Azrael, Tim Drake's Robin or Catwoman - and Arkham Knight services those characters excellently elsewhere.

I think that the Arkham Knight was a flawed concept from the start - by hinging so much of the main story on this one character, and by placing so much emphasis on the reveal of his true identity, Rocksteady sets up a lot of expectation without enough pay off. I believe there's a major piece missing in making players buy into that dead Robin narrative, and the need to tell that entire story in this one game meant they ended up giving too many clues away.

Along with the Batmobile fights and stealth sequences, it's one of the few issues with a game that's so generously packed with amazing Batman moments.