Continuing from my last article, I now examine the next chapter within the Arkham series: Batman: Arkham City. Though the first Arkham game was more straightforward in its narrative, City decided to become more complex and wide-spread, even down to the environment Batman would take his next internal battle. The first game had a sneaky Easter-Egg in which gave evidence to this very sequel. Warden Sharp had plans to build a brand-new Arkham in order to aid his campaign for Major, to which he wins, resulting in him turning the slums of Gotham into a giant prison where the criminals can run amuck.
Things become even more complicated when it is revealed that Hugo Strange is in-charge of Arkham City. Batman gets himself arrested as his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, before donning his infamous costume to battle against his foe before he can initiate the mysterious Protocol Ten. In the meantime Batman rescues Catwoman from the clutches of Harvey “Two-Face”, who attempts to use the flip of a coin to decide her fate. Then appears Joker who tries to assassinate Catwoman, leading to Batman infiltrating his base believing the Clown Prince of Crime is behind everything. In actual fact the Joker has no idea what Protocol Ten is. His goal is to try and save himself from the after-affects of using a modified Bane serum at the end of Arkham Asylum, which is ultimately killing him. In a Joker-like fashion he injects Batman with his poisoned blood and orders his arch-nemesis to find a cure or they die together.
This places Batman in a very difficult position as he battles against morality, quickly deteriorating as the narrative goes on, but like usual he perseveres with blind-arrogance and determination. In many ways this becomes their most personal battle to date due to their actual shared-connection and the fact that Batman has to save the Joker in order to save himself. Also the chemistry shifts slightly due to the Joker now appearing as a frail person clinging to life. The whacky, insane man is almost gone here, but of course the Joker still attempts to keep face and lets out the odd joke and dark moment here and there. So despite his appearance his threat is still very apparent.
The narrative shifts to Batman trying to track down Mr. Freeze who holds the key to finding the cure but has been kidnapped by Penguin. It was great to see how dangerous Penguin could be portrayed, and the Arkham series does this well, even down to his appearance of having a glass bottle rammed into his eye in place of his iconic monocle. It was also interesting to see both Batman and Wayne encounter Penguin, with his alter-ego breaking his finger. The Penguin is clearly a man of power and status within his criminal organisation, whilst also being a sane enemy for Batman to face. He is, at the end of the day, a normal guy who just wants power and therefore delivers a different kind of chemistry between him and the caped-crusader. Needless to say he gets his comeuppance after his power is taken away, revealing the vulnerable man beneath the hard, blood-thirsty exterior.
Another nice element to this sequel is the inclusion of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins. This takes Batman to some challenging roads, ones that bring him face-to-face with old affections, i.e. Talia al Ghul, and the Demon himself. What is clever is seeing Batman trick Talia into believing he wanted to finally take over from Ra’s in order to drink from the Lazarus Pit to buy himself more time after nearly succumbing to the poison. This clever trickery brings him into another confrontation with Ra’s, after some trippy scenes showcasing Batman’s trials, before finding the last element to the cure.
Finally Mr. Freeze can cure Batman but the Joker is still at large, leading towards the greatest final showdown in the history of hero/villain showdowns. First though Batman has to stop Hugo Strange, who has strangely been forgotten about by this point having been pushed to the side-lines despite being the supposed main villain. Protocol 10 is revealed to be a scheme that will end the criminals of Gotham via a bombardment of Arkham City. It is also revealed that Ra’s had been supplying Strange with the resources to make this plan a reality in order to aid in his grander schemes of rebalancing the world. Naturally Strange is double-crossed but not before Ra’s is too defeated after he falls to his death. This part of the narrative does appear to be the weakest point of the game due to Strange’s lack of development and importance, Ra’s convenient reveal as secret villain and the disappointing revealing of Protocol 10s meaning.
The real plotline lies in Batman’s struggle against Joker (as always) and the journey he went through to cure himself and his arch-nemesis and the dilemmas he has to face in order to win the day. The Joker kidnaps Talia, after she uses herself to save Batman in exchange for giving the Joker access to the Lazarus Pit. Batman finally comes to the rescue after stopping Strange, to which Talia believes she has finally killed the Joker. Surprise! That wasn’t really the Joker, instead Clay-Face pretending to be the Joker for appearance-sake, whilst the real Joker, still dying, finally takes centre stage and kills Talia in an act of madness.
This results in the most gobsmacking conclusion ever. Clay-Face is defeated, the Lazarus Pit is destroyed and a desperate Joker attacks Batman in order to get the cure but ultimately causes Batman to drop the vile. Batman had already concluded that the Joker causes nothing but death and misery and yet refuses to end his existence, instead locking him away for him to inimitably escape and start his cycle all over again. Despite all this Batman was going to save Joker, to which the Joker responds, “That actually is… Pretty funny…” before dying with a smile on his face. The scene is followed by Batman carrying the Joker’s corpse out of Arkham City before Commissioner Gordon. All he can say is, “What the hell happened in there?” to which Batman simply walks away in silence.
Arkham City goes to many dark places and this conclusion was simply the icing on top of the cake. To have Joker die made this battle extremely personal. This narrative shuck Batman’s world upside down and pushed him to places that will leave him in regret. It also reflected nicely the complicated relationship that Batman and Joker had from the very beginning and even in the end they were still one of the same person, just on different ends of the spectrum. It was sad to see the Clown Prince of Crime come to an end but at the same time it served as a great send off for Mark Hamill‘s incarnation. I guess this narrative showcased just how deep the Batman mythology is and that his battles don’t always end in perfect victory, with this one being a deep blow to the caped-crusader.
What do you think about Arkham City? Do you think it surpassed its predecessor? And do you think the Joker’s death was the best possible conclusion? Sound off in the comment section below or on our Twitter page!