I thought Arkham Origins was good, even if it fell short of its predecessors. Tough acts to follow. In true internet form, of course, the narrative quickly became that Origins was hugely disappointing. Things are either a huge success or a monstrous failure these days, I suppose.
Of course, many – myself included – point at the decision to take Rocksteady off the series and instead develop Origins in-house at Warner Bros. Games Montreal. This seemed like the usual corporate tomfoolery that, at a certain point, we’ve all come to expect when a big publisher has a killer franchise on their hands, abandoning the studio that had forged a path and counting on name recognition to continue to move copies. This – coupled with the fact that Origins was a prequel – felt particularly egregious, considering the conclusion of Arkham City.
Rocksteady was mum for a while on what they were doing instead of a third Arkham game. It turns out that what they were doing was the fourth Arkham game.
It goes somewhat without saying that I’m pretty psyched for Arkham Knight, the third (and presumably final) chapter in Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy. (Arkham Origins doesn’t appear to count, since it is more of a side story, and I suspect it will not be the last Arkham game to fill such a role.) The story revolves around the return of the Scarecrow, who appeared to have died in Arkham Asylum but resurfaced (if you knew where to look) in Arkham City, and a collaboration between some of Batman’s greatest foes to bring down their foe once and for all. In the midst of this is a brand-new villain, Arkham Knight, whose identity and connection to the Arkham City debacle remain a mystery.
The big mechanical addition we know about, right now, is the Batmobile. Arkham Knight‘s Gotham will be around five times the size of Arkham City‘s superprison, and built to accommodate vehicles. Rocksteady says transitioning between the Batmobile and gliding will be seamless. Other new features, like “Fear Takedowns”, will augment the existing combat system for which the series is known. Meanwhile, as it is releasing only on next-gen consoles and PC, some of the technical details Rocksteady has discussed sound almost like they might actually justify the existence of a new console generation. Reportedly, a single character model in Arkham Knight has as many polygons as the entirety of Arkham Asylum‘s environment.
Though perennial Bat-scribe Paul Dini is not involved – though Rocksteady’s own writers, who worked with him on the previous games, are handling things – other talent that was left out of Arkham Origins is making a return. Kevin Conroy will rejoin the excellent voice cast as Batman, as is only right. Kevin Conroy will always be my Batman.
But how do you end Batman? Rocksteady wants this to be the explosive finale to the Arkham trilogy – the “late part” of it, at least. Whether that means they want to give Batman some kind of ending, or just this story, is unclear. Surely, with the Joker dead, Batman can’t be long for the world. It wouldn’t be right.
Ending Batman is a tricky proposition. I never liked the talk that The Dark Knight Rises would conclude Batman’s story in the Nolan universe – liked it even less when that’s what the movie did. Not because I wanted more sequels – I don’t – but because I think that the idea reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the character. Of course, so does Batman taking eight years off. I guess what I’m saying is that Nolan (and/or David Goyer) didn’t get Batman. Goyer certainly doesn’t understand Superman, if Man of Steel is any indication.
Comics have tried occasionally to end these major characters, here and there, usually as more of a novelty or what-if storyline, usually around continuity upheavals. Neil Gaiman wrote “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” back in 2009, in which dozens of Bat-characters, friend and foe alike, came to Batman’s funeral. It offered several possible interpretations of Batman’s life, in true Gaiman style. As a fairly continuity-agnostic “last” Batman story, I thought it worked pretty well.
Better known, perhaps, is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is in its way the end of Batman (its eventual sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, notwithstanding). An aged Batman takes up the cowl again to put Gotham City back in order at any cost. He doesn’t die at the end, but starts to establish his successors. In the late 1990s, the DC animated universe got another interpretation of Bruce Wayne’s latter days in Batman Beyond, when he had to retire because of his failing health but continues to fight crime by supporting a new Batman, Terry McGinnis. Heck, some people – Grant Morrison, notably – argue that Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke was a “last” Batman story.
My point is, Batman doesn’t stop. If he isn’t dead, he fights. If he can’t fight as Batman, he finds another way to do it. Batman is not just determined to fight injustice; he’s got a pathological need to do so. But the demise of the Joker portends dark days for Batman, ironically. They are two sides of the coin; the Joker is the unstoppable force to Batman’s immovable object. One is defined very much by the other. So the question becomes, how do you end Batman?
Granted, they haven’t exactly said they want to do a “last” Batman story, so much as just end their trilogy. That doesn’t mean Batman has to stop being Batman.
I think of the Arkham series as the most spot-on Batman adaptation since Batman: The Animated Series, and the one clearly somewhat inspires the other. I think Rocksteady’s people have enough of a handle on Batman and his world that they’re about as likely as anyone to bring a grand Batman story to a reasonable conclusion. I mean, they sold me on the death of the Joker, which I didn’t think would happen basically ever.
It can’t be easy.
Then again, with the way most gamers drive, the smart money would be on a Batmobile accident.
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