Arkham City Part 21: The Punchline

By Shamus
on Jun 15, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

At the start of the story it was established that Batman was willing to let Joker die, even if he died too. He was only motivated to pursue the toxin cure when he learned that the people of Gotham had also been poisoned.

Then later it was revealed that he wanted to abandon his efforts to save people in order to save Talia. Alfred even had to tell him, “You have to decide if one life is worth more than a thousand.” Alfred followed that up with, “Batman must save Gotham.” In the end of that conversation, it’s not even clear that Batman agreed with this idea. He didn’t go through some kind of moment of clarity. He didn’t admit Alfred was right. He left Talia and went after Protocol 10 because Alfred didn’t leave him any other choice.

So Talia is worth more to him than Gotham, and Gotham is worth more to him than Joker. That’s a bit of a compromise for him, but I’m okay with this so far. “Love” does all kinds of things to sexually repressed dudes.

Why are all of these goons standing around outside the theater? Didn`t I knock these guys out?

Why are all of these goons standing around outside the theater? Didn`t I knock these guys out?

But here at the end of the story, Batman scoops up the dead Joker and somberly carries him out of Arkham City, leaving his possibly dead girlfriend on the floor of the theater without even bothering to check to see if she somehow pulled through.

So now he cares more about Joker than about Talia, and more about Talia than about Gotham. At this point the Bat-Morality Compass is exactly backwards.

We get a shot of Batman carrying the Joker in his arms. This creates a callback to the opening shot of the game, a painting of Cain & Abel:

Cain and Abel

This setup scene is actually part of Catwoman`s heist storyline. Presumably, at this point in the evening Bruce Wayne is giving his speech and waiting to get arrested.

This setup scene is actually part of Catwoman`s heist storyline. Presumably, at this point in the evening Bruce Wayne is giving his speech and waiting to get arrested.

In terms of symbolism, this is about as wrong and backwards as you can get. This is the writer trying very hard to say something profound and instead spewing out absurd gibberish. I know they probably felt the need to imbue the death of Joker with some capital-M Meaning, but this just doesn’t work. Batman’s never really been big on Biblical symbolism and I’m not sure it fits with the tone of his world. (Greek Mythology seems a better fit.) But there’s nothing inherently wrong with going with an unusual source if you’ve got a really good image. The problem is that this contrast makes absolutely no sense.

For the record: The Biblical story of Cain and Abel is that Cain killed his brother Abel and became the first murderer. This painting shows evil Cain carrying righteous Abel’s body.

In what way can this possibly be a meaningful reference? Joker is a mass-murdering psychopath, so he can’t work as a mirror of righteous Abel. Batman’s defining rule is that he won’t kill people, so he can’t work as a mirror for Cain.

“But Shamus, maybe it’s reversed? Maybe Batman is supposed to be Righteous Abel carrying the murderer Cain. Like, an inversion of the story?”

The metaphor still falls apart because Batman didn’t kill Joker. Joker effectively killed himself in his attempt to torment Batman and gain immortality for himself. I don’t care how you flip the original story, this doesn’t connect to it in any way. The only thing connecting these two images is that they both show someone carrying a dead body.

If this was just some gag, hidden reference, or nod to the fans then that would be one thing. But this is the death of the Joker. You don’t need to draw from ancient works to give the moment heft and Meaning, but if you do you can’t half-ass it. Anything you say here needs to click into place. Otherwise it’s best to just let the events speak for themselves.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if everything else in the story was right. But after a night of Batman being clueless, incompetent, and out of character, this feels like one more wrong note in a symphony of wrongness. It’s one more thing the writer doesn’t seem to get.

The Death of Joker

Batman, you dense bastard.

Batman, you dense bastard.

Batman exits Arkham City and gingerly lays Joker on the hood of a police car.

Commissioner Gordon is there, along with numerous police. When they see Joker dead they don’t cheer. Or smile. Or even express some slight bit of relief. Instead they look shocked and saddened. Countless non-supervillains are dead in the rubble inside Arkham City, along with many wrongfully incarcerated political prisoners, several dead police officers, and a handful of kidnapped medical professionals. But the police are going to pause for a moment of quiet over Joker’s dead body?

Gordon asks Batman what happened, but Batman walks away without saying a word. Is he going to go cry? He doesn’t seem interested in guiding any rescue efforts for the prisoners who were just literally bombed. He doesn’t think to ask about how things turned out for all those poor poisoned people in Gotham’s hospitals. He doesn’t even seem motivated to go and check on Talia, and he’s the only one who knows where she is right now.

“But Shamus, she could use the Lazarus pit…”

You mean the Lazarus pit Batman just blew up?

“Well, in the comics that actually isn’t the only Laz-“

No, we can’t rely on extra-textual plot elements to justify such visually absurd behavior. Particularly not at the finale when everything should be coming together. Particularly not after his feelings for her were part of his supposed turning point.

Besides, if he’s unconcerned for her because of the Lazarus pit, then why was he concerned before? He really did seem to think that having her get shot would be A Bad Thing. At the bare minimum, he ought to still think that. Even if he assumes she’ll be alive later, does it really make sense to leave the theater without at least looking at her?

Here is the electrical infrastructure falling into the Lazarus pit. A split second after this, it blew up in Batman`s face. I`m thinking this pit is out of order.

Here is the electrical infrastructure falling into the Lazarus pit. A split second after this, it blew up in Batman`s face. I`m thinking this pit is out of order.

Heck, Joker’s floor-demolishing explosion went off just a few feet from where she fell. Can we at least get a shot to show she wasn’t turned into oatmeal?

The Joker story forgot all about the people of Gotham. It forgot about Robin. And after lavishing so much screen time on Talia, it managed to forget about her too. Instead it finishes off the story with this completely incongruous respect for the guy who caused all of the trouble in the first place.

This Joker toxin plot did not work. Batman’s motivations and moral compass are a complete mess. The original Joker / Clayface scheme had no endgame, and even their second scheme involving Talia lacked a clear punchline. The whole plot revolved around a McGuffin that didn’t make sense, changed hands off-screen in baffling ways, and then wasn’t properly depicted at the finale. The events were often unclear and confusing. It was driven by contrivance and excuses and fell apart right at the most important moment.

During the Joker plot, Batman behaved like any other regular videogame protagonist. He was single-minded and reactionary. His emotions and values were driven by the plot rather than the other way around. He was often reduced to Commander Shepard levels of cutscene incompetence. He never showed any of the skills or made any observations befitting the world’s greatest detective. Sure, he does those things in the side-missions, but the point I’m making here is that the person who wrote the Joker plot managed to whiff on most of the key aspects of this character.

Batman simply isn’t Batman in this game. Sure, they nailed the look of the character. And with Kevin Conroy behind the microphone he certainly sounds like Batman. But he didn’t act like Batman, which is why so many scenes in this game don’t work.

So What Happened?

Questions, questions.

Questions, questions.

I think the Joker plot was both created because of and subsequently ruined by the intrusion of the real world into Batman’s.

The first problem stems from the fact that Mark Hamill was retiring from the Joker role. Instead of recasting the role or just taking a break from Joker stories, they decided to kill off the character.

Since you can’t kill off Batman’s main adversary in the B-story, they were obliged to make it the focus. However the entire premise of Arkham City as an open-world prison city depends on Hugo Strange, so they couldn’t just cut the Strange plot entirely. Instead they were forced to do both plots at the same time, and the result is a disjointed mess.

The other problem is that too much of the audience’s viewpoint bled into Batman’s behavior. To the audience, the Joker is the beloved main villain of the series and Talia is a minor side-character. Batman was reacting to these characters the way the audience would, not the way Batman himself would. It’s like Batman was sad about Mark Hamill retiring. Maybe that works for some players in the moment, but it does so by reducing pivotal scenes to cheap fanservice.

This is a videogame, which means it isn’t some alternate world or “What If” exploration of the character. This is a world on which they plan to build more sequels, and this world is now one where the supposedly idealistic Batman literally forgot about two thousand dying civilians in order to save his own life, and then left his possibly-dead girlfriend on the pavement and walked past many more dead and injured people so he could give the body of a mass-murdering psychopath a gentle and respectful escort to safety while the police looked on in sadness. You can’t walk that back. You can’t just go around saying “this part doesn’t count” or “this isn’t supposed to be literal”. Especially when that part is the emotional payload of the entire story.

Changing Writers

After Batman walks away from the impromptu Joker funeral we have the end credits, and then cut back to Catwoman to finish off her storyline.

After Batman walks away from the impromptu Joker funeral we have the end credits, and then cut back to Catwoman to finish off her storyline.

Since Arkham Origins was developed as a one-off prequel by a different studio, let’s set it aside for the moment and focus on the other three games. Let’s call it the “Arkham Trilogy”.

The Arkham Trilogy has something important in common with the Mass Effect trilogy, which is that it gradually migrated to a new staff of writers to the detriment of its story, while at the same time improving on its core gameplay. At the start we have stiff gameplay but solid writing, and at the end we have inconsistent writing and solid gameplayAlthough Arkham Knight also has the Batmobile, which is a huge minus in terms of gameplay for me. But let’s not have that debate again..

Arkham Asylum was written by legendary Batman writer Paul Dini. Then Arkham City was a transition between new and old, with Dini teaming up with Sefton Hill and Paul Crocker. Arkham Knight left Dini behind and was instead written by Sefton Hill, Ian Ball and Martin Lancaster.

I was reluctant to point fingers and assign blame to individuals during my Mass Effect series. Games are big, they take hundreds of people to produce, and it’s usually unfair to pin blame for large creative mistakes on just one person. But I am willing to stick my neck out just a little and speculate that all of this non-Batman behavior (and the thematic trainwreck of an ending in particular) was probably not the work of Paul Dini. Given the decades he’s spent with the character – and the fact that his writing has helped shape what we think of as the “true” Batman – I’m betting the Strange plot was his, and this Joker toxin business was the work of other people on the team.

(I’m comfortable pointing fingers this time because we’re not dealing with a huge fan backlash. Nobody’s really outraged over the story of Arkham City.)

The Joker toxin plot created a lot of situations where Batman’s morality was skewed or distorted in ways that (I assume) were unintentional. A lot of those mistakes are repeated in Arkham Knight. Someone (not Paul Dini) is writing individual scenes without thinking about how they impact the whole. They’re losing track of the idea that our character is defined by their actions. You can’t tell us Batman is a good guy and have him forget about thousands of civilians. You can’t tell us Batman counts human life as precious and have him blowing the shit out of fleeing suspects and then ramming their vehicle into a concrete wall, Burnout-style.

But before we throw the other writers under the Bat-tank I should point out that no matter how muddled the Arkham City story got or how nonsensical Batman’s motivation became, the Joker dialog never dipped below “phenomenal”. Even in the scenes where his actions didn’t fit with his goals and events were driven by contrivances, the dialog still crackledThe Batman dialog was good too, but Batman is basically a soundboard with three buttons: 1) I’ll stop you! 2) You won’t get away with this! 3) Don’t worry, I’ll save them!.

Wrapping Up

Despite all my gripes, this is still the best game about going places and punching faces.

Despite all my gripes, this is still the best game about going places and punching faces.

I know I’ve spent the last several entries being really negative, but that’s because all the worst parts of the game were packed at the end. I still think this is one of my favorite games. Nothing else hits this wonderful mix of perfectible brawling, fast-moving stealth, light puzzling, and rewarding exploration.

It’s easy to take Batman’s gameplay for granted once you play the game. It seems obvious and easy. But note how other teams have trouble capturing this particular magic. Shadow of Mordor nails the empowerment but whiffs on the depth. The Spider-Man games don’t seem to work for reasons I can’t nail down based on reviewsI should probably get around to playing one of them for myself at some point.. People are trying to copy this formula and failing. Designing Batman gameplay is a lot like writing a Batman story; it’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s easy to nail the superficial stuff but miss out on the fine details that makes the work so satisfying.

It’s a shame Batman: Arkham City stumbled on its themes and characterization, particularly right at the end when it should have been delivering a huge payoff. But ultimately it worked well enough. Sure, Batman’s reaction to the Joker was out-of-character, but it was at least in step with how the audience was probably feeling, which means they’re likely to go along with it. This is in contrast to Mass Effect 3, where Shepard was both out of character AND frustrating the player’s expectations and desires.

Also, as an obviously gameplay-first product, these kinds of missteps don’t hurt the experience they way they might hurt (say) a BioWare or Obsidian title. Mass Effect is the story of Commander Shepard vs. The Reapers as told in the context of a third-person shooter. Arkham City is a brawling game with a serviceable but flawed story stringing the action bits together. It would have been great if the story had stuck the landing. It should have. But it didn’t need to.

So that’s a novella on Arkham City. If you enjoy this kind of long-form analysis, please consider supporting my Patreon. Thanks for reading.

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Footnotes:

[1] Although Arkham Knight also has the Batmobile, which is a huge minus in terms of gameplay for me. But let’s not have that debate again.

[2] The Batman dialog was good too, but Batman is basically a soundboard with three buttons: 1) I’ll stop you! 2) You won’t get away with this! 3) Don’t worry, I’ll save them!

[3] I should probably get around to playing one of them for myself at some point.


20206Feeling chatty? There are 46 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Daimbert says:

    But before we throw the other writers under the Bat-tank I should point out that no matter how muddled the Arkham City story got or how nonsensical Batman’s motivation became, the Joker dialog never dipped below “phenomenal”. Even in the scenes where his actions didn’t fit with his goals and events were driven by contrivances, the dialog still crackled.

    I’m not sure how much that saves the writers, though, because Hamill and Conroy had been doing those roles for ages and certainly had the clout to ask for changes or even to outright change the dialogue if they didn’t think it fit. So how much of the dialogue is due to the writers or to the actors is an open question here.

    • Crimson Dragoon says:

      My guess would be little to none in that regard. I’ve seen a fair bit of voice actors panels at conventions and one of the questions that inevitably gets asked is “how much control do you have over your character?” The answer is always “very little.” Whether cartoons or video games, the actors typically show up, read their lines to the best of their ability, and go home. Its very rare that they have any input on the writing, and improv doesn’t happen much in voice acting (Rick and Morty being a rare exception in both cases). Its doubtful that even Conroy or Hamill had anything to do with the script other than how they chose to interpret and read the lines.

      • Thomas says:

        There’s a case I read about recently of that happening though and it _might_ have been Mark Hamil’s joker. I can’t remember where or who, but it was someone with that kind of relationship to the character.

        It supposedly happened with Ashley Burch in Life is Strange, which is probably why she got hired on as a writer for the new one (since she isn’t/can’t voice act in it)

  2. Joshua says:

    For the inevitable TV Tropes reference, all of these issues with Batman acting out of character sounds like they made the mistake of thinking that Batman was a hero when his actions don’t justify it.

  3. Darren says:

    You really nailed all of my complaints about the game’s ending.

    Having said that, I’m not convinced that it was a shift in writers that was the sole problem. Paul Dini’s work has often been great, but he’s far from perfect and Arkham Asylum has plenty of weak writing. The super-soldier plot is cliched and the end is muddled (a long detour with Poison Ivy that has little to do with anything else followed by a mechanically underwhelming and narratively disastrous final boss fight with Joker), and there are tons of clunky and/or ill-considered lines throughout (“I eat punks like that for breakfast,” Riddler’s baby-with-broken-legs joke, etc.).

    Meanwhile, Knight does some great work with the Joker, Catwoman, and Nightwing even as Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight end up feeling like great big nothings. I don’t know what the exact setup was for writing these games, but I think the flaws of these titles go a little farther than just changing out one person.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Arkham Asylum has plenty of weak writing. The super-soldier plot is cliched and the end is muddled (a long detour with Poison Ivy that has little to do with anything else followed by a mechanically underwhelming and narratively disastrous final boss fight with Joker), and there are tons of clunky and/or ill-considered lines throughout (“I eat punks like that for breakfast,” Riddler’s baby-with-broken-legs joke

      It’s unfair to blame Dini for those issues. Like it or not, we’re dealing with a game here, so the story has to make accommodations for gameplay. The super soldier plot might be a cliche, but we needed a quick way to introduce powerful enemies for Batman to fight. Ivy’s stuff was also needed to add some variety and while the final fight with Joker was something few liked we understand the reason why it’s there.

      Also, Riddler’s joke is a question about the character’s personality. Whether you like it or not doesn’t mean it’s badly written.

  4. Thomas says:

    The Joker thing was intensifying the theme of the first game about how they both need each other. I think the Cain and Abel thing is actually referencing Death of Superman (or Death in the Family?) and it’s various reflections in comics. They might have decided to go back to the original source of that image.

    It’s dumb and I hate it. I tolerate the idea on Asylum. I don’t like it but it has merit. Using it to the abandonment of every thing else in City is going too far.

    And it pops up again in Knight, right?

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Tell me about it. The “Batman and Joker need each other” is what hack writers try to pull all the time when they try to be deep but have no idea how (or, you know, the same way they make you feel for Batman by showing his parents death over and over again, and in the process making Bruce feel like someone who just can’t grow up).

      Now, it’s true that the Joker obviously believes that to be the case, but clearly Batman doesn’t. If he refuses to kill the Joker is because of his unwavering respect for human life, and not because of some silly notion that he might need him.

      Also, yeah, that ending was surely meant to simply show a reference to a classic image in DC comics, that of a hero carrying a dead body in their arms, seen in Death of the Family or Crisis on Infinite Earths. I think the Cain and Abel painting was put there as foreshadowing but not really as a metaphor. Poorly chosen, yes, but I honestly hope it wasn’t as bad as Shamus says. Then again, it might have been that they simply liked the painting and didn’t know what Cain & Abel were about, which frankly is quite possible.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    his possibly dead girlfriend on the floor of the theater without even bothering to check to see if she somehow pulled through.

    You keep mentioning how she might be alive,but the impression I got was that while batman was holding her she was completely 100% dead.Not mostly dead,but actual factual literally literally dead dead.And the jokers joke about “not having a girl to rescue any more” confirms this even more.

    As for why he would take the jokers body out instead of talia,this is the joker.He has “died” numerous times before.Of course batman would make sure that he remains dead this time.

    As for why everyone is saddened by joker being dead….yeah,that bit is just stupid.Batman shouldve carried him out like a sack,and the police shouldve cheered.Maybe even have a line like “make sure he stays dead this time” in there as well.

    • Cinebeast says:

      As for why he would take the jokers body out instead of talia,this is the joker.He has “died” numerous times before.Of course batman would make sure that he remains dead this time.

      I think it’s safe to say that wasn’t the scene’s intention. The framing, the music, all of it is meant to evoke a sense of reverence and loss. Everyone is clearly sad to see the Joker die. Like you acknowledged in your third paragraph, even the police look like they’re going to miss him.

      Batman shouldve carried him out like a sack,and the police shouldve cheered.Maybe even have a line like “make sure he stays dead this time” in there as well.

      With all that said, I don’t think this would’ve worked either.

      While it may or may not be in-character for the police to cheer an infamous criminal’s death, it would have made no tonal sense in the game’s context. We just spent several minutes building up the Joker’s passing, and then we roll into a scene where Batman’s just tossing him around like a sack of potatoes? That would be even more jarring than what we got.

      • Syal says:

        One thing that might have worked is if Joker drank all of the cure beforehand. Then Batman could carry the body out reverentially in order to preserve their chance at recovering it and saving Gotham’s residents, and all the cops can stand around in silence from conflicting emotions.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        There is a way for them to have their cake and eating it:Have harley come in at the end,bawl her eyes,strike at the bats impotently a few times,then take the jokers body out lovingly while batman is walking behind her,escorting her to be arrested by the cops.

    • Pax says:

      That’d be great if Batman’s line to the police was something like: “Think you can keep him from escaping NOW?” Totally inappropriate for the story, but completely hilarious.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Instead they were forced to do both plots at the same time, and the result is a disjointed mess.

    This wasnt the first time that the joker stumbled into another villains plan and completely took over.So I wouldnt say that the problem is in that they had to do both of these guys,but that they pulled it off poorly.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    and it’s usually unfair to pin blame for large creative mistakes on just one person.

    Except when that person is Casey Hudson.

    But anyway,I dont think the problems of arkham sequels are that much because of the skill of the writers.If you look at the catwoman thing and the robin dlc and that fucking tank,its more like they were forced to stitch together unrelated things that were forced on them by someone else.Its really hard to write something good when you are given a task like that.Some people can pull it off,but rarely.Because even the best can stumble when forced to do something stupid.

  8. Duoae says:

    I really enjoyed this series! I’ve played and loved all the main titles in the Batman series but, like you conclude, I didn’t really analyse the story enough for it to make an impact on my enjoyment of the game. Arkham Knight, on the other hand…

    • Neil D says:

      Seconded. I can’t get enough of talking about these games. I’d love to see a similar essay on Arkham Knight, or even Origins, though the latter might just be 14 chapters of “Seriously, what the fuck?”

      • Dreadjaws says:

        I don’t know, at this point I really can’t tell which game annoys me more, Origins or Knight. I mean, at least Origins had the excuse of being made by a different development team, I had no idea what possessed Rocksteady to simply lose sight of what people liked about their games or the protagonist.

        If we going by gameplay alone, Origins is the clear loser, but if we go by story and characterization, Knight is easily the worst one.

        • Duoae says:

          I disagree (surprisingly!). I think the gameplay of Origins is better than Knight – the fights are faster and you don’t drop combos as easily (maybe because I’m crap at the games? :) ). On the other hand, neither game does “Batman” well but Knight does the city and characters terribly… PLUS, Knight had the opportunity to really run with the two-person fights and didn’t!.

          For that alone, I condemn it…

          • Dreadjaws says:

            I think the gameplay in Origins is easier than Knight’s. I mean, there’s the problem early in the game with the timing of the counters being broken, but once you get the electric gloves, the thing gets too easy. Meanwhile, in Knight, the combat is as good as ever (though it does look like the punches don’t have such impact), and the dual combat is just amazing. There is the problem of the predator sections being much easier and less prevalent, though.

            And I’m not even counting the Batmobile, otherwise I’d have to put the gameplay in negative numbers just for that.

            • Duoae says:

              Perhaps I’m just associating the ‘evenness’ of the gameplay as a better experience. Like you point out, in Knight, you’re switching between Batmobile sections and scant alternative encounter modes (like the predator sections) unlike in the other three games where you’re more consistently engaging enemies in fights and challenges. I think the side missions in City and Origins are better/more engaging than in Knight as well. Knight’s side missions are often quite short and I really would have liked them to expand on the detective mode stuff (though I understand that’s probably more expensive to make, content-wise).

              • Neil D says:

                I just think there’s much more to talk about overall in Knight. The tag-team fighting, Robin’s increased (but still ultimately sidelined) role, Nightwing’s involvement, the Joker twist, the Batmobile (tank battles, race tracks, and environmental puzzles), the new fighting mechanics (‘Fear’ takedowns, the medics, etc.), the friction between Batman and Jim Gordon – what worked and what didn’t in all of that. And then you have the A & B main villain plotlines to discuss, plus the final ending and what it means for the legacy of the character.

                With Origins there doesn’t seem to be much to say beyond “Batman fights this bad guy, then this bad guy, then a bad gal, then that first bad guy again, etc. In between, he’s cranky – (probably because of this long-ass bridge he has to keep crossing.)” You could get a few articles out of it, it just seems to me that there isn’t much new or noteworthy, and it would be pretty thin.

  9. Dreadjaws says:

    I don’t know if the final scene with Batman carrying Joker was supposed to evoke sadness. I mean, surely Harley would be sad, yes, but clearly the police and the mooks were merely speechless because they couldn’t believe it. Also, they surely were questioning themselves if Batman had done it, as no one had any clue of what had happened inside. I do agree that it does look like everyone’s supposed to be sad, but I really think it’s a case of simply unintentionally giving the wrong message.

    About the Spider-Man games, I can tell you why the Arkham combat doesn’t work. They don’t try to work the timing correctly, they don’t really work the combo+takedown system, and worst of all, the system simply doesn’t work for the way Spider-Man is controlled. Unlike Batman, Spider-Man feels lightweight, constantly jumping around and moving too fast, whether you like it or not. With Batman, you feel his body weight when he moves, you feel the impact when he attacks. Every movement you make with him feels like it’s made with the exact effort it would take to move a person of that size.

    Not so with Spider-Man, who always feels like you’re controlling a balloon. And combat is particularly annoying considering that Spider-Man should be able to take any regular mook down with one punch. I can’t even begin to tell you how ridiculous this is in Spider-Man 3, where he gets trouble from ballerinas in silly hats (who are clearly Harley Quinn impersonators but unlike her don’t have the excuse of having their bodies enhanced).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Unlike Batman, Spider-Man feels lightweight, constantly jumping around and moving too fast, whether you like it or not.

      What was the reasoning for this?Spiderman should be stronger than bats.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        Yes, he should be stronger, but there’s a disconnection between his his movements and his strength. He doesn’t feel strong, he feels precisely as if he was weaker than Batman. If he was smashing stuff around while moving at high speeds then it could work, but he moves like a balloon and punches like one.

        The only part that remotely comes close to portray Spider-Man’s power with his movements comes in two movements, the swinging kick (which can kick a car away, adequately showing the character’s strength) and the falling down with the black suit in Spider-Man 3, which leaves a crack on the floor (and just to make it clear, it’s merely a visual, there’s no gameplay advantage to that). Otherwise, the visual feedback makes the character feel wrong.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          It’s a matter of presentation. Spidey has always been drawn as an agility and mobility focused hero while Batman is presented as stealth and strength (and gadgets) character. In a similar fashion Spidey comes off as visually more mobile than Superman despite the fact the latter is both faster and can actually fly under his own power. For that matter, and bearing in mind I neither kept in touch with the comics for a while nor were that many of them accessible in my country when I did, I don’t think DC has that many male agility style supercharacters, this would primiarily be the domain of women (Catwoman, Huntress) and younger sidekicks (like some of the Robins when they were actually presented as kids). For Marvel I can name Spidey, Gambit, Speedball, Longshot just off the top of my head (admittedly I wouldn’t call all of them first league characters).

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Isnt flash the agility character?

            • Sleeping Dragon says:

              Oooh, that’s probably fair. He definitely is speed, he is literally speed if I understand some of the intepretations of the character. I’m going to blame that oversight partially on the limited availability of comics I mentioned (the only book I distinctly remember seeing him in at the time of my youth was when he was gueststarring in Superman). I’m still going to argue that while he definitely has a speed aspect I don’t think he’s really about agility? But, again, my experience of the character is rather limited.

  10. Matt Downie says:

    It’s not surprising to me that it’s like this. Writing an open-world game isn’t like writing a novel. Writers contribute various ideas. Scenes are added for the sake of gameplay. Maybe it will all come together at the end.

    When they give (presumably) Paul Dini some dialogue to write it’s usually good dialogue. But getting all those scenes to add up to a coherent whole is really difficult.

    “Hey, did anyone actually schedule animator time for the scene where we deal with what’s going to happen to all the innocents the Joker infected?”
    “Weren’t we going to have them saved somehow? Like making a new cure from Batman’s blood, or Joker’s blood, or something?”
    “I thought we were going to make it clear that they were all going to die because Joker broke the vial. His final joke at Batman’s expense. ‘They’ll all die because you drank half the cure and I wasted the other half.'”
    “Yeah, there were scripts for those, but both of them spoil the rhythm of that really expensive scene we already animated where Batman dumps Joker’s body on a car.”
    “So how are we resolving that plotline?”
    “We don’t have time to sort it out before the Thursday cut-off. Maybe we can deal with it in the sequel?”

  11. Falterfire says:

    [DISCLAIMER: I’m describing stuff here not to say ‘you should have known this’, but rather to say ‘here is context for what the designers were thinking that they failed to make clear to the audience’. I completely agree with judging the game’s completely divorced from comics context]

    With regards to the Cain & Abel painting and the final scene:

    So I normally see Arkham City’s ending discussed by Comics People, and the thing about seeing conversations with a group of people with a shared interest is that you start to think of some references as being way more widely known than they actually are.

    In this case, the piece of the puzzle that you’re missing is that the Cain and Abel painting is not actually ancient – From what I can tell, it was painted specifically for the game (I found a listing for the painting in an old auction of ‘video game art’ with the artist listed as ‘Rocksteady’s Kan Muftic’) and both it and the closing shot are based on a rather more modern piece of art.

    Specifically, within comics fandom there’s a very important event from aeons ago called Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s probably the highest profile bit of continuity reshuffling and dramatic retconning in all of comics, and it’s the source of one of a comics cover that is well enough known within comics culture that somebody deep enough into it might erroneously assume that it was well known in all of geek culture.

    That cover gets referenced a lot in comics. I found a good list of a bunch of other comics that use the pose. It showed up before Crisis, of course, but if you see it in a comic – especially a DC comic – you can pretty comfortably assume the creator was at least aware of the Crisis cover.

    This doesn’t really undercut your point at all though, and if anything just raises more complications – Why introduce this art to the player through a biblical connection? Why connect Crisis to this at all? The Supergirl/Superman connection only makes more sense than the Cain/Abel one in that it’s the same universe – In Crisis, Supergirl dies fighting the major villain to give other heroes a chance to pull an injured Superman to safety, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what happens here.

    Honestly all this context just makes your overall point stronger – The writers took an homage they wanted to make and then added a second layer of nonsensical ‘symbolism’ onto it.

    • Retsam says:

      Ah, that makes a bit more sense to me. The Cain&Abel painting itself being a reference to the Crisis cover would maybe work as a bit of foreshadowing that someone is going to die in this game. The fact that it’s Cain and Abel is perhaps not meant to be a meaningful reference to the Biblical story, but simply a bit of reasonable looking camouflage.

      It’s a neat bit of foreshadowing, but, yeah, it just doubles down on the wrongness here; the analogy apparently being that the death of the Joker is as tragic to Batman as the death of Supergirl is to Superman? Yeah, that’s pretty bad.

  12. Philadelphus says:

    Does anyone know if that’s a real painting they used for the Cain & Abel painting? I’m not familiar with that as a theme of (what appears to be) Renaissance art, and it seems odd as a composition as Cain isn’t really biblically depicted as showing any sort of remorse or sorrow for his actions, but it’s entirely possible it’s some obscure painting I’ve never heard of.

    • Retsam says:

      Found a reddit topic on this (in the ArtHistory subreddit). Short answer, no, though it may have taken inspirations from a few places. (e.g. the Pietà)

      But yeah, it doesn’t make much sense in the original story either. Cain tries to hide that he’s killed his brother, so some tragic “carrying the body back” scene doesn’t really fit.

      • Falterfire says:

        A gave a more complete explanation in an earlier comment, but short version is: That thread is helpful for indicating that it’s not based on a renaissance painting, but all of their references for what did inspire it are almost certainly wrong. It is far, far more likely to be based on this famous cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, which is very well known inside the comics community, but much less so in the broader fandom culture.

        • Neil D says:

          Even that Crisis cover calls back to a 1963 Batman story titled “Robin Dies at Dawn”.

        • Philadelphus says:

          I didn’t see your comment when I posted and have just seen it now; thanks for the explanation. I’m no art history major, but I have at least a vague familiarity with the general currents of art throughout history and that painting didn’t seem like it fit the time period the style seemed to be going for, so I’m glad to hear my hunch that it was modern (or created specifically for this game) was correct.

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    The nonsensical, tin-eared Joker veneration is a great example of “malignant” fanservice: when the things that the writer or audience care about, or even merely recognize, take on a prominence or even a holiness not contingent upon any diegetic considerations, irrespective or even in direct contradiction to the logic of the world or the characterization of anyone involved.

    To me, this is the kiss of death. Whenever I start getting signals that the writer cares more about the idea of the work than the work itself, I totally check out mentally and emotionally.

  14. djw says:

    Does this mean Borderlands is up next week?

    If so, very excited. I’ve read the Batman articles, and they are well written, but the game is not really my cup of tea. Borderlands on the other hand is very much my kind of game, and I can’t wait to see it get taken apart.

    • Duoae says:

      Yeah, I’m interested to see what someone who really likes the series thinks about it. I enjoyed the first Borderlands but got bored somewhere between half-to-three quarters of the way through 2 (and I got that for “free” with PS+!). I didn’t even bother playing the pre-sequel.

      • djw says:

        Actually, neither have I. Its on my to-do list, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I just found the humor and gameplay in Borderlands 2 to be quite good, and I played that through several times.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I played 1 and 2 so far, both co-op which greatly enhances the experience, we’re planning to get pre-sequel but with DLC included it never seems to drop quite low enough in price for our tastes (maybe this summer sale). Myself I thought 2 had more personality and better delivery even if a lot of it is definitely hit-or-miss (implied redneck incest humour ahoy!), a big portion of humour in 1 came in the form of mission (de)briefings which, being a wall of text, were a touch dry at times. I also feel I need to mention that in my personal opinion the writing in Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is gold, and not just comedy gold (although that too).

    • Redingold says:

      And will you be covering Tales from the Borderlands? It’s very different from the other games, but it also has the best writing, and you do tend to focus on storytelling in these write-ups.

  15. Mousazz says:

    Wow. ‘The writer’ of Arkham city seems like he’s suffering from (industry-induced) Alzheimer’s – forgetting about Strange’s Protocol 10 to chase after Joker, then remembering it all of a sudden to (almost-completely) forget about Joker, just to come back to him at the last moment.
    If we instead separate the writer into two, one for each of the plots – the writer of the Joker storyline feels also feels the same way – “The Joker story forgot all about the people of Gotham. It forgot about Robin. And after lavishing so much screen time on Talia, it managed to forget about her too.” Yikes.

    However, I don’t remember any of that (I did play it like 5 years ago, though), and definitely didn’t worry about the ending or the plot too much – as you said, it meshed well with what the audience was involved with, so most simply didn’t care. Neither did I. It’s just like Film Critic Hulk says – it’s not really a plot-hole if it didn’t pull you out of the story. It might on repeated playthroughs, though.

    Also:

    If this was just some gag, hidden reference, or nod to the fans then that would be one thing. But this is the death of the joker.

    The ‘J’ in ‘Joker’ isn’t upper-case.

  16. Alex Alda says:

    Shamus, thank you very much for this series!
    I was actually playing through the game (for the first time) while reading it, so it was… interesting… to get two competing viewpoints on the plot. I’d play a chapter and think “hmm, well OK, makes sense” and then read your take on it and realize that no, it bloody well doesn’t. :D
    Here’s a question though: what is, in your opinion, the best Batman story ever told (in any medium)? No plotholes, consistent character, an actually heroic Batman who doesn’t walk on corpses etc.?

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