So Variety is reporting (without official confirmation) that Rocksteady's follow-up to Batman: Arkham City will not at all be what you were expecting or hoping for. It is reporting that rather than a sequel following AC's multiple, massive, game-changing dramatic revelations, it will be a prequel set in the Silver Age of comics (mid-'50s to the '70s in real-world time), detailing with Batman's first meeting with The Joker and possibly the setting up of the Justice League of America.
Not only would that mean aborting the densely-layered narrative Rocksteady has built up over the last couple of games (with some massive plotlines still to be addressed), it would also potentially mean a massive change of tone and the inclusion of Superman et al.Which as far as I'm concerned (and Henry seems to agree) would dilute the purity of the series in a most undesirable way.
Excuse me while I take a moment to sob quietly.
But don't panic yet. None of this is yet confirmed, and it could frankly be a mammoth pile of balls. There are two scenarios I see here, and although both are equally plausible (with one of them being rather horrible), that does a least give us a 50/50 chance of the Batman sequel we wanted, right?
1. The good option
Variety has just got way too excited while trying to make a larger point about Warner Bros. long-term strategy with its DC Comics properties. If you read the original report, it's not really a story about the next Batman game. It's actually about WB's cross-media plan to make the JLA and its individual characters repeat the success of Marvel's Avengers strategy. It lists the various different ways that individual key DC characters are being used now and in the near future, and it references the planned JLA movie quite heavily.
The references to the next game are vague in detail, even being as uncertain as to say that WB is "expected" to include a wider DC universe the next time around. That implies more than a little guesswork, and in the context of the article certainly reads like Variety maybe trying to shoe-horn unrelated facts together to make a wider case. There's every chance that if a Silver Age Batman/JLA game exists, it's actually a separate title from Rocksteady's Arkham series. It might not even be a Rocksteady product. This is all hearsay at the moment, and there's a great potential for crossed wires.
Above: They don't always mix well
2. The bad option
Warner Bros. new strategy, as of 2009, is absolutely to expose its DC properties far more than before. This is arguably a reaction to Marvel's string of successes since taking a more direct hand in the film adaptations of its properties. Batman aside, Marvel has been kicking DC's arse in terms of film for years, and Warner Bros. will obviously want to reverse that. There are a raft of new DC and JLA-related TV shows, cartoons and films on the way, inevitably leading to a big tentpole JLA film in the same way that most of Marvel's activities over the last few years were to the end of getting The Avengers off the ground.
Thus, it's disturbingly plausible that a suit somewhere in WB has hit upon the idea of using the next Batman game as part of that strategy. After all, with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy wrapping up soon, Batman is bound to be rebooted in film in a couple of years, probably in a lighter, more comic-bookish form after next year's Superman film, The Man of Steel. That'll be the basis of the version of Batman who appears in the Justice League film. And there's no reason at all that a suit operating under suit logic wouldn't see the next game as a perfectly-timed opportunity to start the JLA ball rolling.
Suits don't think in terms of the strength of individually-authored properties when there's a wider trans-media branding strategy to execute. They don't consider the emotional and dramatic heft of particular plot-points. They won't see that ending as a massive, exciting, brave, smart narrative masterstroke. They'll complain that The Joker is a popular villain and that they want The Joker back so that they can merchandise him, and they'll come up with an idea that justifies bringing him back. And Warner Bros. now owns Rocksteady, so if a Silver Age JLA-tinged Batman game is what a suit wants, then it can make Rocksteady make exactly that.
Personally? I think that anyone who allowed Rocksteady's Arkham games to be derailed narratively and tonally with such an immense third part on the card (check out my mammoth Arkham 3 plot prediction feature, based on all the easter eggs in Arkham City, if you want to see just how epic that story is probably going to be) would be insane. And narrative aside, the games in their current form have picked up a huge amount of fan loyalty and hype momentum. Cutting them short in favour of a radical new direction would be a disastrous move.
But it's not like such a move would be the craziest or most misguided thing a marketing man has ever done in the name of a more mainstream branding strategy. And considering that Batman: Arkham City was announced just four months after Arkham Asylum was released, the relatively extended period of silence since Arkham City (with a plotline for part 3 presumably already worked out) might imply that some background machinations have slowed things down.
But we will see. Cross all the things you can.