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…