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The Universication of Media and Its Corruption of the Arkham Batman, by Emma Rudkin

DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers for the Batman: Arkham video game series as well as the newly released Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

It’s no secret how much Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games mean to me - in fact, I wrote a whole article about it. These games are not just important to me; they’re one of history's most praised video game series. It paved the way for superhero games as we know them today. 

Not only were they a technical marvel, coming from the nearly penniless company Rocksteady was at the time, but they were also fantastic narratives. These narratives are not just fantastic for a videogame. They tell stories that contend with some of the greatest Batman stories of all time. 

With the release of Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015, players thought they were saying goodbye to the Arkham universe. The game brings the narrative full circle when Batman fakes his death, an ending that most agree was fitting for the Arkham Batman.

 However, Rocksteady couldn’t leave well enough alone with their 2024 game Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League. They decided that the Batman in this Justice League would be the same Batman from the Arkham games. This decision has tainted the legacy of the Arkham Batman, upsetting players so deeply that they refuse to consider the story canon. 

There’s been a trend in media over the past decade or so where companies prioritize building interconnected cinematic or narrative universes over the merits of telling concise standalone stories. In this process of “universification,” new and old properties are at risk of tarnishment. It prevents new media from truly standing on their own two feet, often relying on nostalgia bait to justify the new media’s existence. Not only does it fail to establish something new and innovative, it can nullify the significance of its predecessor, which is exactly what Rocksteady has done with Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League.

Out of the dozens of iterations portrayed since Batman’s first appearance in 1939, the version of Batman portrayed in the Arkham games is one of the most popular. Players spend a lot of time with this Batman, and with games with as much depth as the Arkham games, players develop a strong understanding of his character.

He's stoic, calculated, and brilliant. However, the attribute that sticks out the most about Batman is his innate desire to protect the innocent and those he cares about. Because Arkham Batman, throughout all four games, accounts for over 60+ hours of narrative through the main stories, side missions, and small dialogue interactions, this is only a surface-level description of Batman. Throughout that runtime, players are given countless insights into Arkham Batman's character — the depth he has is unmatched in other Batman media.

The narrative has made an undeniable impact on the legacy of Batman as a whole. Players grow to love and understand this interpretation of the character, and this connection between him and the player is what makes his sacrifice at the end of Batman: Arkham Knight all the more devastating yet powerful. 

Dubbed the Knightfall Protocol, it was such a fitting end for this Batman: to protect those he cares most about, he destroys everything he spent his life building: his true identity, the Batcave, and Wayne Manor (a physical representation of his parents’ impact and presence in his life). He says goodbye to his friends in his own cold yet heartfelt way players grow to expect from him. The players reach an understanding that Batman, now known as Bruce, to fulfill his ultimate goal, to save the people and city that he loves, he cannot be involved anymore. 

Now that he’s revealed to be just a man, the mythos behind the fantastical “legend” of “the Batman” carries no weight. He has to become something beyond flesh and blood, and that’s exactly what he does following the execution of the Knightfall Protocol. 

While the logistics are left to interpretation, the myth of “The Batman” clearly lives on — something Batman could recognize was more important than his actual presence. In the true ending of Arkham Knight, it’s shown how the cycle of death and crime has been broken or at least inhibited by the Batman. By faking his death and effectively alienating himself from everyone he’s ever cared about, Batman can live on through the effects of Scarecrow’s fear gas or Batman’s continued vigilantism using the fear gas as a tool. However, players did reach a general consensus that Batman had to have faked his death — it’s just a very Batman thing to do. Rocksteady confirmed these speculations in 2020 in a very alarming way by announcing that the Arkham Batman would be returning in their Suicide Squad game.

This announcement raised eyebrows among the fans of the Batman Arkham games. Fans asked if his return would undermine the sacrifices Batman made at the end of the Arkham series. While a valid question, I had faith that Rocksteady would make it work and pay respect to the Arkham series while also establishing the Suicide Squad as the new focus within the universe dubbed the Arkhamverse. However, my faith in Rocksteady waned with time, especially in 2022 when both co-founders of Rocksteady decided to leave the company and the Suicide Squad project due to “creative differences” — an insanely concerning red flag. Maybe it was denial, but I still had some faith in the game’s success. I mean, how bad could it be?

To answer my own question, bad! Bafflingly bad! 

Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League was released on January 30, 2024 with an abysmal reception from players. While there are many problems with the game involving game mechanics, its live service model, repetitive gameplay, and much more, for this article, I’ll only be addressing the characterization and treatment of the Arkham Batman throughout the game.

Taking place five years after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight, Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League properly sets the tone for the rest of the game with lazy writing from the very beginning. The plot's premise is that the Justice League — composed of The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman — has been taken over by the villain Brainiac, except Wonder Woman. Brainiac, as his name may suggest, took over their brains with the end goal of colonizing the earth and transforming it into another Colu, Brainiac’s home planet.

At the beginning of the game, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Boomerang, and King Shark find them imprisoned in Arkham Asylum. Later, Amanda Waller recruits them to kill the Justice League since there’s no cure to reverse Brainiac’s colonization of their brains. The League (minus Wonder Woman), through Brainiac’s mind control, have “unlocked their full potential” and basically are minions to Brainiac, performing whatever duties he wishes.  

How the League lost to Brainiac, which resulted in their mind control, is not disclosed. It’s just a fact of life, and fans are simply supposed to accept that it happened and move on without a word. While this is absurd for any version of the Justice League characters, Batman’s defeat, particularly, strikes a chord with players familiar with the Arkham series. Not only do we have to accept that Batman returned to the public eye after all he sacrificed in Arkham Knight, but also that a matter of willpower bested him.

Over the course of four games, a core attribute of Batman is that he has a will of steel. He successfully fights the titan in his blood from transforming him into a monster in Batman: Arkham Asylum. He does everything in Arkham City while on the brink of death in just one night; in fact, all the games take place over the course of a single night. He is able to fend off the influence of Joker’s blood from driving him to insanity like it did others in Batman: Arkham Knight. Also, in Arkham Knight, Batman withstands enough fear gas to drive “100 men mad” and even successfully overcomes it to take down Scarecrow at the end of the game. 

I recognize that, at the end of the day, Brainiac is a formidable villain, and it is unlikely that Batman’s willpower and intelligence would prevent him from being brainwashed. However, his willpower and intelligence go unexplained in the game. Instead, the major event that leads to the Justice League being bested by Brainiac is reduced to shallow exposition. It feels like there should have been an entire video game released before Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League to properly contextualize the game with the depth the characters deserve — that Batman deserves, the character that put Rocksteady on the map in the first place.

As for the portrayal of Batman’s personality in Suicide Squad, it doesn’t resemble the Batman players grew to understand throughout the Arkham series whatsoever. At the beginning of the game, there are holograms of each pre-Brainiac League member talking about themselves and their powers/gadgets. In Batman’s section, he’s unfamiliarly talkative and arrogant. He references one of his gadgets, the BatPod, and basically brags about its “cutting-edge stealth technology.”

He just comes across as snobbish and conceited. He goes on to say that at “too young an age,” he lost his “parents to the city’s greatest enemy: CRIME,” a gross simplification and outright misunderstanding of Batman’s interpretation of Gotham. This hologram blurb leads into a line he said once in the entire game series, in Arkham Knight: “I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman!” A line with an importance that cannot be understated. However, the writers of Suicide Squad must have found it humorous, as Batman says it at least three times throughout the game’s main story, playing it off as a joke by the Squad at least twice. He is made into a joke, a caricature of who he once was — who Rocksteady once was. 

The Suicide Squad’s base of operations is the Justice League museum, and at the start of the game, the player can explore the museum. The museum provided some shoddy exposition for Batman’s decision to join the Justice League. The reasoning was never really addressed, but they did state that Batman decided to join. Why? Don’t worry about it! Maybe because there is no logical reason why Batman would, so perhaps it was easier to gloss over it and introduce the squad instead. Again, there is a game’s worth of context missing from the plot of this game. Nothing is connecting this game to the Arkham games except for Batman and Harley Quinn’s voice actors. 

New players unfamiliar with the Arkham series have no way of knowing that Batman possesses the skill set he displays in the Arkham series, even though in the game, he’s hypothetically supposed to be even more powerful than he was in the Arkham since Brainiac’s brainwashing “unlocked his full potential” and nullified the no-kill rule. Admittedly, the Arkham Batman was awarded an insane amount of plot armor in the Arkham games. So, of course, no one can really expect that plot armor to fully translate to a game where Batman is the main characters’ adversary. However, it’s hard to ignore his inability to beat the Suicide Squad when he was shown to easily knock out Harley Quinn in previous games (numerous times at that). She was weaker than the thugs Batman had to fight; he took her out like he would swat a fly. 

Additionally, his boss fight was incredibly boring and easy (much like the other boss fights), doing zero justice to the character. Instead, he’s played off as a joke and disrespected by the Squad countless times. Not to mention, the one time when a member of the Squad actually tries to pay their respects, the rest of the squad just start joking and quipping — a dialogue pattern we can thank the MCU for.

All of this disservice to the character and the Arkham series culminates near the end of the game with the Arkham Batman’s actual death. After Batman is shot in the head on a park bench by Harley Quinn, maybe about ten seconds of silence ensued before the Suicide Squad returned to their usual joking. I understand that their characters are supposed to be unserious. However, it is such an egregious stain on the Arkham franchise that it’s absolutely no wonder why the co-founders of Rocksteady left two years ago.

Batman’s death was simply a precursor to the Superman fight. Additionally, there was nothing heroic about his death. Sometimes, a non-heroic death of a beloved character gives it more impact and meaning, as I would argue for The Last of Us II. However, the rest of The Last of Us II is contextualized by the character’s death near the beginning of the game — Batman’s death is within the final two hours of Suicide Squad, not to be mentioned again until the credits of the game, where there’s a tribute paid to Kevin Conroy, the legendary voice actor of Batman who unexpectedly passed away in November of 2022. The tribute to Batman at the end of the game was the only respectful inclusion of the Arkham Batman character — and it wouldn’t have been there had Conroy not regrettably passed away.

The creators of Suicide Squad, in a damage control effort, have stated that all the Justice League members will return as if that makes the mistreatment of the Arkham Batman any less infuriating and disappointing. While disrespectful, Batman’s death was merely a symptom of the overall problem surrounding the game: that it fundamentally should have never incorporated the Arkhamverse. While the game wouldn’t all of a sudden become a masterpiece had the Batman character been original, there would not be nearly as many qualms with the story had a beloved series not been tainted in the interest of crafting this new story.

There simply is no logical reason for this Batman, written with a significantly distinct personality from the Arkham Batman, to be the Arkham Batman. All it does is nullify the impact and stakes of Batman’s decision to enact the Knightfall Protocol to put an end to the epic story told across the Batman: Arkham games. Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League spits on the grave of the Arkham series, if not desecrates. Companies need to realize that some properties are laid to rest for a reason, and letting them be is probably best. Bringing beloved franchises and characters back for the sake of bringing them back is more likely to harm than support the source material and the creation of the new material.

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