Hey Bats, why so serious?
We’ve been told that Arkham City is going to be darker than Arkham Asylum. And Arkham Asylum itself most certainly did not f*ck about when it came to the serious tone and themes. Apparently we’re going to get a lot more of the tortured bat-psychology this time around, and I’ve already seen a hint of it. At the end of the demo, when Batman discovered Harley tearfully tending to The Joker’s body, his reaction kind of surprised me.
This is a man who’s been screwed around by The Joker for years, has just been kicked in the face and had to fight off ten guys, and then found his old enemy conveniently dead before he can get to him. He’s going to be pissed off. He’s going to be suspicious. I get that. But there was a harshness in his reaction that seemed a little unnecessary. Dax made a vague reference to it too. Given that Ginn is possibly the most ebullient man in games (seriously, I want to hire him to sit on my spare sofa and excitedly commentate on all my gaming, as he did throughout my Arkham City demo) this could simply have been discussion for the sake of discussion, but I’m not so sure. He asked “Why does Batman hate love?” I replied, “A whole load of reasons”. Because Bats, you see, has a lot of issues in the inter-personal relationship department.
It was his harsh, semi-violent treatment of Harley that did it. Yes, she’s The Joker’s other half, yes, she’s a tad on the psychotic side. But she’s also a bit of an idiot, rather confused, and no great threat when on her own. And Batman himself knows the pain of a lost loved-one. He’s not inhuman.
It felt to me that the reaction was more about Batman himself than it was about Harley. And given that The Joker had tried to kill Catwoman just the scenes just previous t this demo (as had Two-Face just before that), things started to become more clear. It’s the old Batman/Joker dichotomy. Bats is the good guy, but has to hide in the shadows, stoic and cut off from the things that make normal people happy. The Joker is an unapologetic, mass-murdering sicko, yet he’s free to parade around having a great old time. And he has a relationship with Harley.
Above: This kind of shit will not be acceptable
Any meaningful relationship Bats has usually gets wrecked by the fact that he’s Batman, or else The Joker or someone else just kills the other party. Laughing boy has just tried it again with Selina. Bruce has lost countless love interests over the years as a result of the job. He’s temporarily lost Alfred in the past. He’s had plenty of friction with the various Robins. Basically, being Batman has destroyed a lot for him, whereas The Joker gets all of the bonuses without any of the responsibility. There’s resentment and pain here. A lot of it. And I think we’re going to see a great deal of it as Bats’ psychology spills over into Arkham City’s storyline.
Two attempts on the life of Batman’s long-term love interest in quick succession? The much greater presence of Alfred? The appearance of three Robins? We’re set up for a hell of a lot of exploration of Batman’s personal relationships, their failures and their aftermaths here. Broken friendships, lost loves and fallen comrades (each of whom he is partly responsible for) are all around him this time. And with 40 hours of plot to go, things are going to get messy.
Sorry, I mentioned three Robins rather off-handedly there, didn’t I? Allow me to explain. Because there’s one big plot element I’m expecting to see that I haven’t touched on yet, and it’s the most serious and important of the lot.
This is pure educated speculation on my part. I haven’t seen any evidence that he’s in the game. I haven’t heard any rumours that he’s in the game. But I’ve got a really, really strong feeling that he might be. And if he is, well then holy shit…
Above: Also not Robin any more. Also, briefly not alive any more
In case you don’t know, Jason Todd was the second Robin, in between Dick and Tim. His career did not end well. It ended in his murder at the hands of The Joker, after Batman failed to arrive in time to save him. That did not help Batman’s guilt-ridden sense of responsibility one little bit. Worse, Jason was later resurrected in part by - yes - a Lazarus Pit, the regeneration process amplifying the boy’s already-present mental instability.
After a period of amnesia, he returned to full force, angry, bitter and vengeful, and obsessed with exacting vengeance on both The Joker and Batman himself. Most notably he played the two off against each other in order to force Batman to take responsibility for the vast numbers of people he has inadvertently killed by allowing The Joker to live, while also forcing him to admit to his secret desires to finish off the clown once and for all. He’s shifted between villain, hero and anti-hero since then, but the nature of his continued existence will always be a big deal.
Above: A career not ending well
With the theme of The Joker’s death and resurrection coming so early in the game, something bigger must be afoot. The appearance of Jason Todd would not only be a very big thing, but would dovetail with everything else I’ve already discussed, and do so beautifully. He'd fit the time period sketched out by the rest of Rocksteady's in-game detail for a start. And we'd have a parallel theme of death and resurrection, inexorably tied to The Joker’s, and juxtaposing Batman’s personal loss and regret with that of Harley and The Joker’s gang. We'd have heavy themes of personal responsibility made even more resonant by the reappearance of the original Robin. We'd have guilty reminders of Batman’s shattered personal life and relationships, compounded by the attempts on Catwoman’s life and Barbara’s paralysis. We'd have Lazarus Pits. We'd have an explanation of why Talia Al Ghul is in the game in the first place.
And don’t forget that The Riddler is going to take much greater prevalence this time around, taking on a role similar to Jigsaw of the Saw films by tasking Batman with solving his conundrums in time to save innocent people caught in his death traps. Batman racing against time to the rescue, with the responsibility for someone’s life weighing heavily on his shoulders? Hang on, didn’t that happen with a certain Robin a few years back? Yeah. And it did not end well.
Jason Todd. Seriously. I reckon it’s happening. And if it does, it's going to be amazing.
October 04, 2011