Warning - major spoilers for Batman: Arkham Knight, including the Knightfall ending ahead
Three games, two batsuits and one stonking great cityscape later Rocksteady's winning stint behind the Bat-signal is finally at an end. With Gotham city now safe, Scarecrow in shackles and the Batman unmasked, Bruce Wayne elects to sail off into the sunset as a mass of rapidly-char grilled chunks. Alright fine, so maybe the 'Knightfall Protocol' didn't actually involve an explosive suicide pact with Alfred. Still, the thought of blasting the entire bat-base to kingdom come does seems like an awfully permanent end to the storied career of the cowl. Is Bruce Wayne still alive? Most likely - but as for the Bat? That's anyone's guess.
Perhaps this really is it for the Arkham-universe? Then again, maybe the Batman brand is just damn too big to receive any hard-earned R&R. If that is the case, and the imminent arrival of 'Batman V Superman' certainly suggests that it is - then my money's on WB. Montreal taking up the cape and cowl. The question is: after 4 expansive adventures - including WB's own Arkham Origins - just what elements of the Batman mythos have yet to be explored? More than you might think, actually. Here are just some of the exciting places the Arkham Bat has yet to tread.
A Darker Knight?
The third and final finale of Batman: Arkham Knight - following on from the tearful 'farewell to Frodo' scene - involves two Gothamite goons robbing a posh young couple at gunpoint. Their nefarious scheme soon draws the attentions of a mysterious bat-like vigilante, who after transforming into a flame-wreathed hell beast quickly proceeds to dye everyone's pants a brand new shade of brown. Yeaaah Batman's back! Sort of Of course, there are number of theories that might help to explain this sequence, and in so doing offer us new clues as to the future of the franchise.
It could be that the Batman has simply appropriated Scarecrow's fear gas in order to reclaim his street cred. With the city's hooligans no longer cowing to the Bat, this kind of tactic does make an awful lot of sense, though it also demonstrates an increasingly callous disregard for the wellbeing of his enemies. Perhaps we're about to see a newly hard-edged Bruce Wayne ala the Dark Knight Returns Batman? It's certainly possible, though there are several other, equally viable explanations
Ask yourself. Why would a recently unmasked Bruce Wayne go to all of the trouble of faking his own death, blowing up his home and potentially compromising his inner circle of friends - simply to return to his old routine a number of months later? The implication seems to be that the 'Batmonster' glimpsed at the end of Arkham Knight isn't Bruce Wayne at all, but rather a sort of successor figure or maybe even an imposter. Various Batman stories have all dealt with this issue of the non-Bruce Bat, including Knightfall - in which Azrael takes up the cape, Black Mirror - set during Dick Grayson's tenure as the Bat, and Battle for the Cowl - in which a small army of pretenders all vie for the title.
Perhaps most intriguing - if highly unlikely - is the possibility that Terry McGinnis might be the man behind the mask. McGinnis, specifically created for the Batman Beyond series - also known as 'Batman of the Future' - takes up the mantle after inadvertently happening upon an elderly Bruce Wayne. As the secondary title implies, this continuation of the Batman saga takes place some years into the future - a quasi-cyberpunk Gotham now overrun by crime. McGinnis or no, that sort of setting would allow WB Montreal an interesting degree of freedom in how to reinterpret and invigorate Rocksteady's expansive city.
Bats from the past
Having cut their teeth on a literal Origin story, it may be the case that WB Games opts to return to an earlier point in the Batman mythos. After all, the B-man does boast a whopping 76 years of material - surely enough for a few more contemporary adventures? How about the recent Court of Owls storyline, in which a deeply rooted secret society takes aim at the Bat? Or Venom, wherein Bruce Wayne struggles with the twin demons of failure and addiction? Arkham's combat system may be about as deep as it's ever going to get, but the same can't always be said for it's workmanlike approach to narrative, or character. It doesn't have to be The Last of Us mind you, but fans could certainly stand to see a more nuanced side to the Bat.
Why not take inspiration from 'Dark Moon Rising', two tales of Batman's battles against the Supernatural, or the Cult, in which the recently glimpsed Deacon Blackfire preys upon the city's homeless population, ceding chaos and psychologically breaking the bat. As for those city-wide cataclysms the Arkham developers seems so fond of shoehorning into every title, perhaps WB might try expanding the concept - setting the game during an ongoing No Man's Land or Zero Year type environment. Players have already explored a riot-rocked Gotham three times over, perhaps its time the city became even more treacherous - say an overgrown wasteland or a full-on warzone?
For all of its faults - slow-frame rate, lacking ambition and a whole gaggle's worth of glitches - Arkham Origins did at least do right by its expansive cast of cutthroats. Deathstroke was menacing, Bane reclaimed his intelligence and the female Copperhead proved to be an interesting, if unexpected twist. With the majority of Batman's major players now fully introduced, it seems only fitting to expect that the next potential title should seek to shuffle the deck. The growing risk of overexposure will likely lead WB to bench any number of its biggest hitters, with the Joker, Scarecrow and the Penguin unlikely to take on major roles.
Of course, the main villain spot could feasibly be filled by just about any character hailing from the mid-to-top tiers of the Batman pantheon. Sub-villains, meanwhile may be drawn from just about anywhere. Clayface appeared as little more than a plot device in Arkham City, but with 8 different incarnations to choose from and the ability to mimic just about anyone in Gotham, the character could provide a stern examination of the World's Greatest Detective. Then there's Killer Moth, an oddly named enemy who'd likely prove an interesting foil for the Bat, operating as a 'guardian angel' to the criminal fraternity as the Batman does for the law abiding. The likes of Lincoln March could add a whole new personal element to Batman's struggle, while other one-shot villains including Holiday, The Phantasm and James Gordon Jnr might also warrant a return berth.
Go go gadgets
Given the impressive level of effort poured into AK's Gotham City, it seems only reasonable to expect that any subsequent title(s) would also make full use of the setting. After all, that's exactly what happened with Arkham Origins, and that game turned out alright for the most part. More Gotham City will likely mean more Batmobile-shaped shenanigans, though WB Montreal might also be wise to introduce a little more variety into its vehicle game. The likes of the Batcopter, Batboat and Batskiff may all be a bit of a stretch but there's no reason to discount the two-wheeled Batpod or previously unplayable Batplane. The latter would certainly take some of the edge off of those lengthy cross-map traversals.
As for gadgets, it might be nice to see more specialist Batsuits in action - ala the imposing XE variant from Origin's Cold, Cold Heart. Then there's the wonderfully titled Bat-goo gun, able to adhere enemies to certain surfaces in a similar fashion to Spider-Man's web shots. Just think of the anarchic applications of that one - firing grunts into dustbins, playing a Riddler-made dartboard, arranging unconscious foes into the shape of a bat - and all in the service of the city.
Regardless of which timeline - present, past or future - the team heading up the next potential Batman opts to follow, now would seem like an excellent time to begin introducing some additional DC alumni. Next year's Batman V Superman represents just the opening salvo in a cinematic onslaught set to feature many of the Justice League's major players. There's no doubt that Warner Bros. will want to increase name recognition before then, and perhaps even set up a number of successful spin-off games in the process. As I've previously argued the Arkham franchise provides an excellent foundation upon which to build up other superpowered titles - and what better way to announce them all than with a brief outing in Arkham?
Dual play proved to be an interesting addition to the Rocksteady trilogy, though the concept still has plenty of room to grow. Two-man teams are fun, but what about upping that number to three or maybe even four heroes, all battling it out against out a crowd numbering into the 50s or 60s? Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman certainly had their moments but just imagine the madcap action with the likes of Wonder Woman, Superman and the Green Lantern all buddying up with the Bat. Think Marvel Ultimate Alliance, only way, way better.
Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy established quite the precedent for trippy, reality-smashing set pieces. Asylum had its scrap with the Scarecrow, set within the confines of a crumbling underworld, while City sent us barrelling down the rabbit hole courtesy of the Mad Hatter. Then there were the demon trials, as ordered by Ra's Al Ghul, followed up by City's numerous dips into the riotous mind of the Bat. Suffice to say that the whole 'Batman on drugs' angle has been well and truly tapped. And yet, many of these moments remain indelibly etched in the minds of fans. It seems Arkham titles need a wild card, but where else can they possible turn?
If it's bizarre new worlds you're after then look no further than the DC multiverse, an infinite array of parallel existences very much like our own - only different Like the one in which Batman prowls the streets of 19th century Gotham (Gotham by Gaslight), fights off vampires (Red Rain) or battles the Soviet secret police (Superman: Red Son). Simply insert one 'reality tearing' enemy in the mix and allow Batman to experience life outside of the Arkham-verse. Weve had the alternate costumes, now let us play within the alternate worlds.