Batman: Arkham City - Secret storylines and probable plot predictions

So you've read Mikel's latest Batman: Arkham City hands-on. You've possibly been enraged by what you perceived to be a spoiler. But you know what? It wasn't. I played the same demo, the same week that Mikel did, and trust me, that character death is not going to be the big deal you think it is.

Over 40 hours, Arkham City's plotline is going to be a lot bigger, a lot more twisting, a lot more surprising and a hell of a lot darker than you think it is. How do I know this? Because I fine-toothed all of the plot detail in that demo, filtered it through my shameless bat-geek brain, and have extrapolated a whole lot of probable and very exciting directions I reckon the game is going to go in. So click on, and read my justifications via in-depth nerdery.

The Joker’s death

He’s not going to die. Let’s face it, he’s just not going to die. Rocksteady are Batman fans. They know the importance of The Joker. They know about the f*cked-up co-dependent relationship that he and Bats have. They know that each is now so obsessed with the other that if one of them was lost, the other would barely have reason to be. Tim Burton made the mistake of killing The Joker in his first Batman film. Christopher Nolan made a point of not doing it in his second. There’s a reason for that.

So whatever Joker voice-actor Mark Hamill has said about this potentially being the last time he’ll play good old Insane-And-Fricken-Loving-It, The Joker will not die. At least, not in the way implied by the most recent demo.

There are plenty of ways this could pan out. First up, he could be faking it. This is the most obvious possibility, and therefore I think the least probable. But it’s still possible. The Joker doesn’t just carry his moniker because he wears a bright purple suit and clown make-up. His name also refers to the fact that his M.O. is screwing with people’s heads for his own amusement and Machiavellian purposes. He’s the classical 'Trickster Villain' archetype, and faking his own death as part of some greater plan would be meat-and-potatoes stuff for him. It would also be totally achievable. 

As The Joker’s death was revealed in the demo myself and Mikel played, we got a first-person cut-scene showing a Detective Vision read-out of the body. It confirmed the identity and it confirmed the deceased status. But The Joker is no stranger to chemical engineering. Joker venom, Titan serum, and all kinds of other crap. He’s messed around with it all. And having taken over Arkham City’s medical centre earlier in the game, there’s no reason at all that he couldn’t be simulating death with some kind of medically-induced coma.

Other options? The body isn’t The Joker at all. Yes, the detective visor identified him, but we don’t know exactly how the visor works. It could operate off DNA fingerprinting, it could operate off visual recognition. And The Joker would be capable of faking either, using hard science or extreme plastic surgery. He's even used - in a film cited by Batman voice-actor Kevin Conroy as a good indication of the new game's darker tone - a twisted combination of the two in order to resurrect himself, coming back from the dead a generation later by manifesting in the body of ex-Robin Tim Drake in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. That ties in with some things I'm going to explore a little later, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Above: He's pulled this shit before

There’s yet another option for The Joker's resurrection in the possible availability of Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pit. The immortality-bestowing chemical bath has already been confirmed as existing in Rocksteady’s version of Gotham, via a reference to Al Ghul’s regeneration in Batman: Arkham Asylum. His daughter, Talia, is confirmed as appearing in Arkham City, so it’s entirely possible that this is how The Joker comes back.

But if so, I can currently only guess as to whether this would be part of some pre-arranged plan or as a reaction to a genuine Joker death. Hell, it wouldn’t be the first time. In Legends of the Dark Knight #145, Batman actually resurrects The Joker using a Lazarus Pit after Talia herself kills him, temporarily turning him sane in the process. With Rocksteady already proving a predilection for remixing the classic Batman elements into a best-of interpretation in Arkham Asylum, don’t be surprised to see a variation of these themes turn up in Arkham City.

Also, that’s not the only time Batman has saved a dead or near-dead Joker. Which brings me on to my next point…


Nightwing is going to be in there somewhere. No question about it. There have been many heroes who’ve taken the Nightwing mantle over the years, but the one we’re really interested in here is Dick Grayson, the original Robin. Now I’d suspected he’d turn up since I started thinking about Arkham City’s use of a later Robin. We know that a Robin will be playable in the challenge maps, and that the Robin in question will be Tim Drake, the third to take on the mask. And that really got me pondering. Why go with a later Robin? Why not use the most famous iteration? And does using Tim mean that Rocksteady are tying Arkham City to a specific period in Batman history?

Above: That guy on the right is not Robin. Not any more

They’ve already hinted that this is later Batman, by confirming that Barbara Gordon is in her post-Killing-Joke-paralysis role of Oracle in Arkham Asylum, rather than portraying her as Batgirl. And if we’re now on the third iteration of Robin, surely Dick must be flitting around somewhere in a different mask. I asked Rocksteady’s Marketing Manager, Dax Ginn, about this when he demoed the game to me. The response I got was an evasive laugh and a statement that there’s a lot going on in Arkham City. .

And now we know that Nightwing is indeed in the game as a DLC character with his own challenge rooms and campaign maps. But I don’t think that’s as far as he’s going to go. He may well only be playable in the DLC, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t appear in non-playable form in the main campaign. There’s just way to much history between Dick and Bruce, and way too many potential storyline themes to justify resigning him to the status of a bonus character. And without wanting too much to labour on one plot point, if we’re taking Joker-death as a general theme, Dick is relevant. Because Dick has killed The Joker too. Sort of. And he did it in a storyline that fits in with Arkham City’s probable wider themes very nicely.

In the Joker: Last Laugh story arc, The Joker is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Believing that he doesn’t have much time left to live, he embarks on a mission to infect the whole world with Joker toxin. Come the climax, Nightwing – wrongly believing Robin to have been killed – finds The Joker and beats him nearly to death. Batman manages to revive him, but Nightwing spirals into a depression over his own lack of restraint.

Above: Lack of restraint

The presence of Nightwing? The Joker dying of a long, degenerative illness? Sounds like some more fuel has made it into the Arkham City remix machine here, and although The Joker’s sickness might come from a very different source in Arkham City – this time being the result of his exposure to the Titan virus in Arkham Asylum - I can’t help but draw an abstract link between the elements at play here.

Also, if you factor in that Arkham City is obviously loosely inspired by the No Man's Land story arc - which saw Gotham cut of from the rest of the world and left to rot - in the same way that Arkham Asylum was loosely inspired by Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth , and that Nightwing took part in that storyline by securing Blackgate Penetentiary (the same prison that the Joker busted his crew out of in Arkham City, ultimately leading to the Gotham-as-open-prison set-up of Arkham City), and you’ve got yet another parallel that makes me believe Dick is going to turn up in a more prevalent role than currently stated.

And if there are going to be multiple past and present Robins in the mix, we’re probably going to be looking at one hell of darkly tormented Batman this time around. Allow me to explain…

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  • Stpetter - October 12, 2011 1:54 a.m.

    No no no mr. Xerxes, of course Bats sleeps during the day in his "Arkham City Batcave(TM)" so he can roam and dominate the night=)
  • Xerxes667 - October 11, 2011 8:20 p.m.

    i just realized, the one thing that might kill this game for me, if they're going for the same angle as Arkham Asylum. As in, Bats solves everything within the span of a single night. It worked in Arkham Asylum, because it was a much more confined space, and a much more believable scenario for that small time frame, and the fact that there was actually a sense of time passing (achieved mainly by the clock tower and the havoc Ivy wrought when she got some Titan.). I don't think, with the size that Arkham City seems to be, that Bats would be able to solve everything that's going on in Arkham City in a single night! I mean, foil The Joker, Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, Strange, Deadshot, Two Face, Ivy and The Riddler (There might be more for chrissaskes!) and get around a huge chunk of the city (which looks fantastically fun!) all in the 12 hours (MAX) of one night. I haven't seen any daytime gameplay in any of the trailers or screenshots, and YES Bat's MO leans to the Nocturnal, but there is precedent for him being out and fighting crime during the day! I've read many a comic where he does just that! I remember an issue when Tim Drake's school is attacked and held hostage, and Bats comes to the rescue. In the end he comes out the front door w/ Tim and the dead daughter of one of Gotham's mob bosses (i think it was Marroni's) in his arms... in Broad Daylight in front of the cops and the media.... so like i said there's precedent. One possible solution could be that somehow he gets in and out of the city via cutscene, goes back to the Batcave talks w/ tim and alfred, maybe even dick if he shows up. Im sure Hugo Strange would make that extremely difficult, as he already has in the Prequel Comic Arc (btw if you haven't read them.... do it, its really necessary to get the full background of how a third of the city became a giant prison), but that doesn't seem likely. Looks to me like they're gonna go the route the First Assassin's Creed did and stop the rotation of The Earth, so its always day or night. This worries me, it will just take away from the the overall experience, for me at least, since it takes away the (relative) realism of the game... but I'm probably going to have to grit my teeth and accept it as the single flaw that makes a masterpiece real. Even Michelangelo's David has a Crack... (rimshot!)
  • Xerxes667 - October 11, 2011 8:26 p.m.

    just to be clear when i said "Stoping the Rotations of the Earth", in the last paragraph, the "they" I'm referring to the game designers, not to some huge plot point in either of the games. I could imagine going across that statement, and being like "I know the plot of Assassin's Creed is ridiculous and convoluted, but i think i would have remembered if they mentioned something about the rotation of the earth in a game set back in The Crusades!"
  • Stpetter - October 10, 2011 2:35 a.m.

    Finally, some reasonable speculation. Todd being in the game would be sweeeet. We're talking about the most effed up Robin so far, who has almost the amount of issues to tackle the Bats himself. Besides, the dynamics between the Dark Knight and the one he let down could prove pretty interesting. *Keeping fingers crossed: (pleasebeinthegamepleasebeinthegamepleasebeinthegame...)*
  • Zeb364 - October 6, 2011 4:45 p.m.

    I love this article! I was thinking exactly the same thing, that Jason Todd was almost certainly going to appear (and of course that the Joker's death would not prove permanent). If Todd does show, I hope he's voiced by Jensen Ackles because he did a fabulous job in Under the Red Hood. The rest of this article all makes perfect sense too. Especially since Hugo Strange is taking up the role of main antagonist in Arkham City. He's obssessed with Bruce's psyche and everything that makes him tick. He would definately want every possible strain present, just to see how Batman handles it and how much he can take before he breaks. That being the case, it's no wonder so many personal relationships of both Bruce and Batman are present in this game (from love interests like Salina Kyle and Talia Al Ghul to allies like Alfred and the many Robins).
  • Mezolitik - October 5, 2011 2:53 a.m.

    (SPOILER----------->) Joker had his face removed in the most recent Detective Comics. That's one way to evade Batman, I guess. Maybe something similar in Arkham City? Might be a bit too spicy for a video game though. Dick Grayson is the best Robin, IMHO. The new one, Damien Wayne, is a spoilt brat. And I don't know much about Tim Drake or Jason Todd. I gotta say, the more I read modern Batman comics, the more I dislike the direction he's heading in. Unlike Superman, Flash, Aquaman, etc. the comic Batman has no humility; he's just a tank.
  • slimjim441 - October 6, 2011 9:51 a.m.

    It's no wonder you don't like modern Batman comics. With your mention of Damien, I can tell you obviously read Grant Morrison comics. Grant Morrison is the worst thing to happen to Batman comics since the Silver Age (which is very much excusable, if still a very silly and 'watered down' era). Arkham Asylum was a good comic, but I would rather have it not exist if GM would've never written a comic in his life. He has tainted Batman forever with his Damien, Prometheus, and retarded sh*t for far too long. I looooaaaathe Grant Morrison.
  • Mezolitik - October 7, 2011 2:16 a.m.

    Grant Morrison, the man who put Superman in boots and jeans. Yeah, I remember him! Arkham Asylum was alright, but I couldn't make sense of it until I read the full script in the deluxe edition - which is pretty bad for a comic book. And there was no way around it; some of the symbolism was just too vague. He really tried too hard with that one.
  • jennyleezy - October 5, 2011 2:06 a.m.

    Jason Todd as the Red Hood, please and thank youuu! :D Under the Red Hood was a great film, adapting it will be fantastic (: e
  • md1292 - October 4, 2011 6:25 p.m.

    I've actually been thinking more about Jason Todd than Dick Grayson ever since Red Robin was announced.
  • Xerxes667 - October 4, 2011 3:10 p.m.

    why is it when i read anything written by you Mr. Houghton that i feel like we were separated at birth? (creepy, i know.) its just strange that having already made a decision on an aspect of a game or having an assumption about an upcoming game, i then go to read a game review or article on GR, and it always tends to be written by you and i always tend to agree with whatever you've written... weird... anyway, keep up the good work, this article was a triumph! And now I have another card to play when my friends think my predictions about Arkham City point to a serious Bats obsession and a mild psychosis, I can pull up this article and in a proud and happy voice proclaim "SEE?! HAHA! SEE?!! THIS GUY AGREES WITH ME!!"
  • slimjim441 - October 4, 2011 1:39 p.m.

    Wow, you really put a lot of thought into this one Dave. And I gotta say, a lot of these ideas are the same stuff that me and my bat-friends have been discussing. The return of Jason as Red Hood is quite possible, and would fit pretty well (in the comic, he wasn't resurrected by a lazurus pit though). The story is DEFINITELY going to get much closer to B-man's personal issues. Between the presence of Selina and the probable in-game NPC appearance of Dick, I would stake my entire comic collection on that claim. One thing still makes me a bit anxious though. There's going to be a third game. That's practically guaranteed. I just hope they don't overdo this one by make it so f***ing epic that they won't be able to top it. Minor worries, but with appearances by Catwoman, Nightwing, Tim Drake, Talia, Mr. Freeze (my fave), Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler, Solomon Grundy, Joker & Harley, Bane, and I think I remember something about Scarface, it makes you think: who's going to be left? Ra's and Black Mask would be awesome, but who else? Firefly? Man-Bat? Clock King? I hope not. (reCAPTCHA called for 'lambda')
  • Sjoeki - October 4, 2011 11:23 a.m.

    I've not yet read anything from the article, but bookmarked this page so that I can read it after I finish the game. Can't wait!!
  • codystovall - October 4, 2011 12:13 p.m.

    Yeah can someone tell me if this is readable, I want no spoilers but looked like a good article.
  • slimjim441 - October 4, 2011 1:41 p.m.

    It's all speculations and ideas. If you haven't read much comics, a lot of it would go over your head anyway.
  • Boonehams - October 4, 2011 10:08 a.m.

    Wait, you mentioned that Batman reacted "semi-violently" towards Harley when seeing Joker dead. What was his reaction, exactly and how was it "semi-violent"?
  • codystovall - October 4, 2011 12:21 p.m.

    He raped her.
  • jackthemenace - October 4, 2011 12:44 p.m.

    SPOILERS! D: In response to your other comment, I'd probably steer clear. It's not definite, more guesswork, but if they do end up being right you'll probably be pretty sore. Leave it till after you've finished the game, then come back and see how many he got right. Like BINGO!
  • sgloomy - October 4, 2011 9:46 a.m.

    Great article and I'd love to see all of it, but to be honest, I am not sure if it will happen. The main reason is it is all just too much. if they take the time that is required to do jason Todd justice in the game, they will have to focus a lot less on all the other characters. sure, deadshot, Zsasz, calendar man or even Ivy and Freeze are going to be in a more minor role, but two-face, Joker and Penguin won't be. and there is no real mention of how big a role Strange will play in the whole plot but I'm betting it will be big. If they were to treat Jason the way they did Bruce's childhood in AA, that would a lot more acceptable, but if they want to do the whole plot, it would mean that Jason Todd becomes a minor character and that is just disappointing. I trust Rocksteady 110% and am sure they will do the game justice, but there is a small part of me that hopes they don't do too much. Some people think they are doing too much and are going to out of stuff for a third game, i don't agree, batman has a very large history and collection of major story lines. what worries me is important characters becoming minor just to be in the game
  • Hawkman21 - October 4, 2011 9:20 a.m.

    Hell of an article, here's to hoping it all plays out like you you think Tim Drake would come back as Red Hood??