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Batman: Arkham Knight just arrived for next gen consoles and, to no one’s surprise, it’s pretty good! I’m not here to review it, we have people for that, but all in all I think it’s a pretty great successor to Arkham City.
However, from the moment I began playing it there seemed to be something… off about it. Not a bad kind of “off”, just something different. Like someone rearranging the furniture in your house without telling you. As I played I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It wasn’t until later that I had figured it out. Arkham Knight, unlike the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, isn’t written by Paul Dini. Paul Dini, if you’re unaware, is one of the best adapters of DC material… ever? Yeah, ever. Responsible for some of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League. While the game didn’t nose dive into a pile of horrible steaming trash, I still think it needed some Dini. And here’s why!
It’s the little things, guys. Little characters like Firefly and Azreal don’t feel like they belong in the world. Firefly especially. He’s basically a collection of almost-campy pyromaniac tropes (“fire is pure! Pain is purifying!”). Azreal, too minor a character to be fleshed out in Arkham City, is now just a one note pseudo-fantasy, knight stereotype.
In a game series where these well worn characters have these new little spins, this kind of thing is glaringly off. It feels like these characters are built off of a surface level understanding of what they are “about”.
Dini, no matter how you feel about him, has an undeniable, deep understanding of the characters. He was able to give them their new spins, but kept their essence the same. The skin changed, but the core stayed the same. It’s no surprise that all the well written characters in Arkham Knight are simply continuations of the personalities Dini set up in the first two games. Firefly and the others set up outside of Dini are broad collections of traits.
One awesome thing about the series is that it has taken what comic book fans might call “chance”. The first one mutated Joker into a gigantic abomination. Arkham City (SPOILER) just straight out killed him off. Character relationships moved on and progressed. The world changed.
The theme of “ending” hangs over the whole game, which gives it the illusion of change. Gordon gets mad at Batman for putting Barbara in danger, but the world doesn’t feel like it’s moving forward. Scarecrow gets to ranting throughout the game, but it’s just more of the same Scarecrow business. I guess there’s the Arkham Knight, but, well… we’ll get to that.
Perhaps it’s unfair to suppose a hypothetical, but I feel Dini could deliver a post-Arkham City much more deftly. An Gotham that has truly changed, truly evolved. Not to mention, it would give Dini a chance to “end” the world that he spent two games helping to create. To me, that would be the truest finale. I’m sure he’d do it amazingly.
So the Arkham Knight. I won’t spoil anything here, so I’ll go off a few impressions. Early in the game, his motivation is just to kill Batman. It’s literally the first thing you see him try to do. There’s some mystery in who is behind the mask and why he’s dressing at Batman, but for the most part he’s just kinda angry and wants Batman dead. Which, as you may have noticed, is pretty much every other Batman villain ever.
I am 100% fine with making new characters, I think it’s vital for the genre’s survival. However, when you a make a new character you have to make them memorable. You have to do something to break out of the last 70+ years of comic, movie, and TV history. While the Arkham Knight is serviceable, I don’t think he’s memorable enough to live on decades after his first appearance.
Dini has experience in this area. He’s responsible for the creation of Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze’s tragic history (including his wife Nora), and… Condiment King. All of which were later incorporated into DC Comics as canon. Again, perhaps it’s unfair to compare this to what could have been, but with that track record, I believe Dini could have made an Arkham Knight that would have blown us away. One that would have been memorable. One that would have fit The End of Batman.