THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILER FOR BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY. JUST A HEADS UP.
Alright, so this one is probably one of few articles where I might actually know what I’m talking about. You see, I’ve always been a comic book geek. I don’t own back catalogues of every issue of Bacon Man, or Mr. Asbestos, or even, god forbid, Squirrel Girl, but I do know a fair bit more than the average punter and have an interest to match. Admittedly, I don’t have a very wide perspective on the industry – my usual tactic is to find one series that suddenly means absolutely everything to me, and read it until my I can no longer think, at least not without a white cloud filled with text appearing above my head.
For this reason, I never really understood Batman in the depth that I’d like to. The absurd amount of history I’d have to catch up with, as well as the prohibitive cost of such an experiment – well, it was generally all enough to keep me too intimidated to approach the series. Kind of appropriate, really.
But I have read a few examples of this ancient franchise, and the one that always sticks with me is the Killing Joke. I won’t spoil much for those who haven’t read it (who really, really, REALLY, should, by the way), but it’s basically about the Joker, and what sticks with me is what Batman tells him at the very beginning, the statement from which the whole story stems – the fact that one day, one of them is going to kill the other. They can both see it coming, in the same way that people falling off cliffs can see the ground coming towards them. Big, lethal, unavoidable. Only a matter of time.
And I think Batman was right. Whilst I don’t believe that the comics industry would ever let the Clown Prince Of Crime die (it’s been tried, and they keep fighting it), we could all see that no matter how this went, it would end in blood.
And in the 2012 game: Batman: Arkham City, it did end that way. The Joker died. THE Joker. Not a copy, not a clone, not a disguise or another character or a parallel universe version, or any of that other nonsense that the comics industry likes to pull. He was killed outright, poisoning himself through a combination of foolishness, ambition and failing to trust Batman to do the right thing. You can’t say it wasn’t fitting.
People were rightly sceptical, usually because games that are adapting or drawing from some larger franchise are always scared of upsetting the status quo. Theories went around, speculating on how “Mister J” pulled off his greatest practical joke ever, faking his own death right before Batman’s eyes. But months went by, DLC was released, and he didn’t come back. In the end, Rocksteady Studios confirmed it – he’s gone. He’s not coming back, he’s not going to be in Arkham Knight.
Perhaps this is all smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that he WILL return triumphant in the final game, which is coming out in less than a month. Maybe it will all come full circle, but it doesn’t have to. The game looks good, it can survive without him in it, if they do it right, but that’s the point. I have a nasty suspicion that my feelings about the Joker’s death at the end of this series aren’t going to be “What a bold direction,” or “Such fascinating implications.” I suspect I’m going to be thinking one thing only.
“…Was that it?”
Killing the Joker is not forbidden ground, but it is at the very least sacred, so show it some bloody respect. Remember that this is not just some villain who happened to be in the first game. This is a figure who has become so infamous in our culture that he has risen to the level of minor deity. And what was he in his own fictitious world? Insanity given form. If the Grim Reaper is the manifestation of death, then the Joker has ascended to become the manifestation of madness, the true embodiment of it.
It’s a hell of an achievement. Removing such an icon from the world should have consequences, it should feel important, you know what I mean? This wasn’t just a man that died, it was The Joker.
But Arkham City ended too fast to really appreciate that. We don’t see the impact that such a loss has except for a brief bit of DLC about Harley going nuts, and Arkham Origins was just footling around until this next game, the important one, was finished.
But Rocksteady have been so vigorous in their denial that he’s returning, not to mention the fact that he’s gone unmentioned in the advertising campaign for so long, that I can’t help but feel uneasy. Have they forgotten about him? Are there only going to be token references to him before he’s swept under the rug to be replaced by less interesting characters like the Mad Hatter and Catwoman?
I’m starting to feel that this is the case, and it feels wrong. Joker is a fascinating figure, the strangely intimate relationship he has with Batman is worth exploring on its own. His death? Well, that’s worthy of its own franchise, but it’s not going to get that much space. It’s got to share now. And the other villains don’t seem very willing to make much room for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some mournful fanboy whining for my favourite characters to come back. I wouldn’t have been bothered if the Joker had just been put back in the Asylum for Arkham Knight, in order to give the other villains time to shine. But they KILLED him. The writer in me feels the need to rebel at how ignored such a fascinating concept is appearing to be. Maybe the final game will do the event justice, but I’m not feeling confident about it.
Demolishing a beautiful building can be acceptable, if you plan to build something better where it stood. It’s risky, but admirable when it comes to intentions. But don’t kick down a palace in order to build a block of tenement flats. And more importantly, just to keep this rather endless metaphor going, don’t forget the foundations you’ve built on.
It won’t be the first time Rocksteady have pulled this rubbish. The worst example was what I can only think of as “the pregnancy scare” in the second game. It might’ve been an even more interesting plot device than the Joker’s death itself. It was simple, subtle, clever. As we walk through the hideout shared by the Joker and Harley Quinn, in the corner of one room is a used pregnancy test.
It’s reading positive.
My mind boggled at that. It was such a simple idea, brimming with promise. The Joker, a father? What would he be like in those circumstances? What would the child be like? If Harley Quinn had to choose between them, what would she do? Could Batman ever trust the child when it grew up?
I can almost hear somebody yelling “spoilers,” so let me stop you right there – it’s not a spoiler. At some point after the game, I can only assume that the writers panicked, decided they had bitten off more than they could chew, and hastily tried to fill in the hole they had dug for themselves. In the DLC that takes place several months later, we see the room again, and this time it’s full of pregnancy tests, all reading negative, and the box they come in now has a footnote we hadn’t seen before, stating that you might get the occasional false result and it’s best to be sure.
That sounds smart to me. You know, being certain before you commit to anything. You wouldn’t want to feel really excited and hopeful about something that wasn’t really happening, would you? Because that would be rubbish.