City of Terror – How Rocksteady Can Deliver in the Eventual Sequel to Batman: Arkham City
Looking Ahead to Arkham City’s Sequel
Last year’s Batman: Arkham City further demonstrated that video games based on comic book characters do not have to be movie tie-ins and they do not have to suck. Arkham City – and its predecessor – embodies everything that is great about the Batman mythos: the cape, cowl, car, gadgets, plane, city, asylum, and so much more. It continued a great narrative of storytelling established by writer, Paul Dini, in the first game, but did not conclude the overarching story with any sense of totality; it left possibilities for a sequel. There was a plethora of Easter eggs and hints – some of which have not been discovered to this day – that further pointed to a continuation of this particular story in the near future. The following is what I believe Rocksteady should do in order to give Batman a fitting conclusion (or continuation).
Villains & Storyline
Jason Todd was the second Robin, the successor to Dick Grayson, whom had moved on to become Nightwing. His tenure as the boy wonder was defined by his fate in A Death in the Family, a fate chosen by the fans. In an abandoned warehouse, at the hands of the Joker, Todd was savagely beaten with a crowbar about his face and entire body before he was blown up. Batman buried Todd’s corpse and it was undisturbed for many years until Ra’s Al Ghul got his hands on it. Ra’s originally intended to resurrect Todd and train him as one of his assassins, but the pit had effects on Todd that Mordin Solus himself would refer to as problematic. Following his resurrection, Todd immediately began a crusade against Batman and the Joker. Batman, whom he blamed for being complacent with his death, and the Joker, for revenge.
What makes Jason Todd an ideal addition to the Arkham universe is the personal connection that he shares with both Batman and Bruce Wayne. He believes that his training under Batman, coupled with his more…lethal methods, makes him a superior Batman to Bruce Wayne himself. Being an enemy of both Bruce Wayne and Batman can be a very deadly combination, and it would add a whole new level of storytelling to the next Arkham game. In my opinion, Hugo Strange was representative of this potential in Arkham City; however, his role as primary antagonist was virtually non-existent throughout most of the game, he was hands-off and never attacked Bruce Wayne the way he attacked Batman.
Jason Todd’s death was one of the few moments in which Batman felt that he truly failed at his job as both the dark knight and surrogate father. In one his most vulnerable moments – during Infinite Crisis – Batman dropped to his knees and whispered that he wished he could start all over, with images of Jason Todd’s death flashing through his head.
In a recent arc – Batman R.I.P. – we were again introduced to a villain that knew both Batman and Bruce Wayne inside and out: Doctor Hurt and the Club of Villains. While the conclusion to the arc was akin to having acid (as well as alcohol) thrown into one’s eyes, everything that lead up to it was gripping. Alfred was chained up to a chair and had a champagne bottle cracked over his head, Nightwing was drugged up in Arkham Asylum, the Batcave was all but destroyed (It is kind of like the Star Trek redshirt of Batman canon, every time sh*t gets real,’ it is blown up). Bruce himself was injected with high amounts of weapons grade crystal meth and forced to roam the streets of Gotham as a vagrant.
It would be fantastic and a nice change of pace to see this type of storyline added to the game – we have already endured two games headlined by what others and I refer to as, “the bat-dick.” It’s time for Batman to bleed. The Arkham storyline needs to somehow incorporate an element in which the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman are compromised.
There were two villains in Arkham City that I would like to see given bigger roles in the sequel: Hush and The Riddler. Hush was first introduced by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee in a storyline of the same name back in 2003. Hush is the alter-ego of Tommy Elliot, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne. Both men had similar upbringings, big mansions and even bigger money. Bruce Wayne loved his parents and had a great relationship with them up until their murder, while Elliot despised his own. His hatred soon turned to action, as he eventually murdered both of his parents in order to obtain their fortune and attend medical school. Elliot’s abhorrence for Wayne was fueled by his jealousy of Wayne’s apparent comfortable lifestyle.
In his adult life, Elliot adopted the persona of Hush – a reference to the amount of secrecy associated with his identity – and teamed up with the Riddler whose intellect had been augmented by a lazurus pit he had used to cure himself of terminal cancer. Enlisting the help of some of Gotham’s other prominent villains – Clayface, Poison Ivy, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, and Scarecrow – Hush and the Riddler conducted one of the most effective crusades against Batman in recent history. They were even able to persuade Superman, Catwoman, and Huntress to aide them.
The Riddler is a character that has been interpreted a million different ways, not one writer can ever decide what they want to do with him. The 60’s television show, 90’s animated series, and Arkham City provided some of the more popular interpretations of the character. Riddler’s Jigsaw-esque traps were a fun direction for the character and I do not see how it could hurt to incorporate this version of the character into the primary narrative. While retaining his trophy system, Rocksteady can have their cake and eat it too.
The entire Hush storyline could fit nicely in a new Arkham game. We have learned that with the presence of lazarus pits, death in the DC universe has become a revolving door, making the return of The Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul, and Talia Al Ghul not all that impractical. The Joker’s involvement in Hush was that of a distraction, a way in which Batman could be further withered down so that Hush and the Riddler could strike. Batman beat The Joker to within an inch of his life, and it made for one the greatest Jim Gordon/Batman scenes I have ever read. The involvement of Superman could lay the groundwork for a Rocksteady-developed Superman game somewhere down the line.
Also, poor little overlooked Kirk Langstrom; we could fit an army of Man-Bats in there somewhere…right?
The Car, The Plane, & The City
One of the strong points of the Arkham series is the attention to all the details and nuances of the Batman universe. One of those details is the inclusion of fan-favorite vehicles that Batman uses.
The Batmobile and Batwing made brief appearances in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City respectively. It would be great to see these vehicles – and perhaps others – be given a more active role in the progression of the story. However, I would not advocate for the player to be granted full control of these vehicles. They are always at their best when they are being utilized in the midst of action sequences and other strenuous areas of Batman’s career. It would be silly to see a player controlled Batmobile plowing through the streets of Gotham, running over women with baby strollers and knocking down streetlights. I also would hate to see someone 9/11’ing Wayne Tower with the Batwing. So, perhaps some elaborate action sequences – controlled by quick-time events a la Heavy Rain or God of War – could be designed to incorporate these vehicles.
With the first game taking place solely in the Asylum, and the second in a cordoned off area of Gotham City, it is time to move the game to all of Gotham. Both Arkham City and Asylum – to a point – demonstrated that a full open world sandbox game is possible with Batman. Moving the game to Gotham City seems like the next logical step.
With all the threats that Batman could face in the next game, it is time that the supporting characters were placed at the forefront. We were given a small dose of this in the most recent piece of downloadable content, Harley Quinn’s Revenge. There is only so much of the brooding; lonely Batman that one person can take. It has been established in the comics that there can be no Batman without Robin; he keeps him from going off the deep-end, and is the addendum to Batman’s conscience and moral compass. I would love to see Timmy given more of an opportunity to shine.
Nightwing also needs to be present as well; it goes without saying that he is one of my favorite characters in the Batman mythos. I believe I speak for a lot of loyal Batman fans when I say this: We. Want. Dick. We do not want a Dick that is relegated to challenge map DLC, we want a Dick that walks and talks. It is one thing to clear a room with Batman alone, but imagine an entire story fleshed out with Batman, Robin, and Nightwing kicking ass simultaneously. Maybe some co-op gameplay could be incorporated as well?
The Silver Age, Possible Writers, and Other Qualms
A recent rumor circulated that the Rocksteady would be developing a Justice League of America game set in the Silver Age as a quasi-prequel to the Arkham series. This is something that I have had mixed feelings about ever since the rumor was announced. While a silver age game with the entire Justice League and Bats would be welcome, I would not recommend it in place of a third game in the Arkham series. After two games, Rocksteady has established a very strong narrative, and Arkham City left a few unanswered questions as well as many hints indicating that a third game was eventual, one that would leave gamers shaken. There is no need to abandon one of the greatest Batman universes established outside of the realms of film and the comic books.
Another rumor that I found to be very troubling was the prospect of Paul Dini – the writer of both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City – not returning for the third game. The announcement of Dini writing the first game filled me with an abundance of hope and confidence due to his track record working with Mark Hammil and Kevin Conroy as the Joker and Batman respectively, on the animated series. While I would love for Dini to write the third game and any that may come afterwards, I must come to the realization that as of right now, he is not going to be at the helm.
A few writers come to mind as replacements. Assuming the third game is set in the Arkham universe, two of the more recent writers on the Batman comic book would suit the universe well. Those would be Kyle Higgins, Brian Azzarello and Scott Snyder. Higgins and Snyder have both been very consistent in writing dark and compelling stories on both Nightwing and Batman, respectively. Azzarello also wrote a very haunting and emotional story in the form of Knight of Vengeance, a mini-series that took place during the Flashpoint event. He has also been very stellar on Wonder Woman.
Should they produce a silver age title, I would suggest either Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison, due to their unhealthy infatuation with the era. Morrison wrote some pretty dark, albeit off-the-wall storylines during his initial run on the title. However, I would defer to Scott Snyder, the most recent writer on the book – whose stories have been dark and compelling without going too far or getting too crazy (a mistake that Morrison became infamous for in the aftermath of the Batman R.I.P.) storyline. Johns had a phenomenal run on Green Lantern, and if he could translate any of his success from that series to a JLA game – or a Green Lantern game? – I would optimistic, to say the least.
No matter what the developers at Rocksteady decide to do with the Batman franchise, the one thing that I hope they realize is the universe that they have created has vast amounts of manueverability for different storylines and character arcs. Batman has been interpreted a million different ways, and the death of the Joker should not serve as a roadblack to a third game or even as a hinderence; it’s a stepping stone. Should it take place this generation or the not, there is a lot of potential residing in the next Batman epic.