Let's Get Caught Up With the Batman Arkham Series
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
In a little over a month, Rocksteady and WB Games will close out the circle started with Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009. So in the interest of getting caught up, I figured let’s run a little refresher on the Arkham series. When Arkham Asylum first opened with Batman rushing the Joker back to his cell, the Batman mythos has already been established. For years, Gotham’s Dark Knight has tangled with his extensive rogues gallery, his Bat-family already experienced the hardships that befell the ranks of those that follow the bat. Robin is Tim Drake, Dick Grayson has taken the title of Nightwing, Jason Todd was killed by the Joker, and Barbara Gordon takes the title of Oracle after being crippled by the Joker. This wasn’t an origin story and rightly so… some of Batman’s greatest stories happened after years of protecting his city. It’s assumed that the events of “A Killing Joke” and “Death in the Family” have already occurred in this new chapter of the Batman mythos.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Another routine escape turns tragic, after Batman once again captures the Joker he remarks that it was “too easy,” and rightly so… it was all according to plan. Thanks to the ever maniacal Harley Quinn, Joker takes complete control of the Asylum… forcing Batman to wade through a gauntlet of some of his most deadly adversaries.
A powerful chemical formula called Titan looks to be Joker’s ultimate goal, after seeing first hand what it can do, Batman couldn't let it escape the confines of Arkham Island. The Titan Formula bears many similarities to Bane’s Venom, and rightly so since Dr. Penelope Young has been experimenting on the Venom in Bane’s blood to create this new compound. Turns out she was Joker’s ultimate goal, letting Batman catch him to gain access to her.
While digging deeper into Joker’s master plan, he learns that Dr. Young has been secretly accepting under-the-table payments from a mystery man with deep pockets. When she discovered that this mystery financier was none other than the Joker, she attempted to end the business relationship. This of course doesn’t please the Clown Prince of Crime much, you don't just “walk away” from the Joker, and Dr. Young met her end thanks to an exploding safe.
By manipulating several inmates at the Asylum, Joker successfully points them at Batman like a loaded gun. Scarecrow attempts to trap Batman in his deepest fears, Poison Ivy’s killer plants overrun the asylum grounds, and Killer Croc stalks the sewers under the asylum. All of this leading to a full on no-holds-barred battle between the Bat and the Clown. While head to head, Batman clearly has the advantage, but thanks to a dose of Titan, Joker goes full on hulking monster… forcing Batman to employ every part of his repertoire to take him down. A well placed punch to the jaw laced with explosive gel sends the clown down for the count.
Batman: Arkham City
Set one year after the siege at the asylum; Quincy Sharp, former warden of Arkham Asylum, has taken sole credit for halting Joker’s siege. Using this newfound distinction, he successfully becomes the mayor of Gotham City. His first act as mayor involves closing both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary, feeling that neither institution is suitable to contain the ongoing criminal element of Gotham, his administration turns a huge section of Gotham into an enclosed open air prison, appointing Hugo Strange as the facility’s warden and dubbing it Arkham City. This massive prison in the heart of Gotham acts as the setting of arguably one of Batman’s darkest chapters.
Convinced there’s more to the facility than meets the eye, Bruce Wayne actively campaigns against Arkham City. During a press conference outside the city walls, Strange’s TYGER guards abduct Wayne and sentence him to serve time in the very facility he hopes to dismantle. To make matters worse, Hugo Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Strange declares that after the night is through, the mysterious Protocol 10 will make Strange every bit the “hero” Batman is.
Within the walled off streets of Arkham City, a cross town gang war between the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face turn the city streets into a warzone. While Penguin and Two-Face hope to build more traditional ill gotten gains, the Joker’s is more along the lines of self-preservation. After injecting himself with Dr. Young’s Titan Formula, the side effects proved to be more so negative. It mutated Joker’s blood, gradually killing him. After being captured by both Joker and Harley (thanks to the old “fake Joker gag”), the Joker performs a blood transfusion on Batman, infecting him with the very blood currently ravaging his own body. To further fuel his resolved, the Joker has peppered his blood all over the city’s hospitals.
The first step to developing a cure comes thanks to Mister Freeze and Ra’s al Ghul. After successfully rescuing Mister Freeze from the Penguin, Freeze reveals that the cure he developed is unstable. Ever the detective, Batman deduces that the answer lies in Ra’s al Ghul’s blood. While on the hunt for the Head of the Demon, Batman lies to both Ra’s and Talia about his intentions to finally take over as the head of the League of Assassins. This of course doesn’t sit well with either, in a last ditch attempt to force his hand, Ra’s takes his own daughter hostage and threatens to kill her if he doesn’t comply. Quickly dispatching Ra’s and taking a sample of his blood, Talia walks out on both of them… disgusted that her own father would try to kill her and the man she calls “beloved” lied.
Freeze was able to synthesize a cure, but this victory is of course short lived when Harley Quinn steals the cure from Freeze’s vault. Returning back to the Sionis Steel Mill where Joker has built a base of operations, Batman sees a now returned to health Joker and the two fight when Strange activates Protocol 10.
The truth behind Hugo Strange’s plan is set into fiery motion, as countless TYGER helicopters rain all manner of destruction down on Arkham City, attempting to purge the city of crime in the most basic of ways… through destruction. Leveling the steel mill, Batman is trapped under rubble, and just as Joker was about to finally kill the Bat, Talia walks in and offers him a chance at immortality if he spared Batman’s life. This of course is all according to Talia’s plan, pointing out a tracking device on her body.
Catwoman comes to Batman’s aid, saving him, but before he can chase after Joker and Talia, Alfred convinces him to deal with shutting down Protocol 10 before chasing down his most hated adversary.
Scaling Wonder Tower in the center of the city, Batman halts Hugo Strange’s purge… but not without one more twist. Ra’s al Ghul reveals himself to be the one behind Arkham City and Protocol 10. Quincy Sharp was elected mayor and Arkham City was made possible thanks to the influence and very deep pockets of Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins. Ra’s kills Hugo Strange, but not before Strange can activate Protocol 11… initiating Wonder Tower’s self-destruct. Both Batman and Ra’s jump from Wonder Tower and tussle on the way down, with Ra’s eventually getting skewered on a sharp gate… nothing a dip in the Lazarus Pit won’t fix though.
This all leads to the final confrontation with the Joker. Over at the Monarch theatre, by Crime Alley, the site of Batman’s birth. There he finds a seemingly cured Joker holding Talia hostage, saying he’ll kill her if he doesn’t bring him the cure. Distracted, Talia gains the upper hand and skewers the Joker. Admitting that she stole the cure from Harley Quinn, a second Joker… still stricken with his illness… makes himself known and kills Talia. The old “fake joker gag” comes full circle, two Jokers mean only one is the actual Joker. The one that Talia seemingly killed begins to reanimate and reveals himself to be Clayface, making sense of the two Jokers we saw through the entire Arkham City chapter. After Batman dispatches Clayface, Joker sets off explosives he planted in the theater floor sending the two of them plummeting to Ra’s al Ghul’s lair below. Batman destroy the Lazarus Pit before Joker can take a dip and drinks half of the cure. While debating whether to cure his greatest enemy or not, the Joker attacks him causing Batman to drop the remainder of the cure… shattering the vial. As the now beaten Clown Prince of Crime laps up whatever he can of the antidote from the floor, Batman says to him “You want to know something funny? Even after everything you’ve done, I would have saved you.” As the Joker sucks down his last few breaths, he laughs and says “Actually, that’s pretty funny.”
Carrying the Joker’s body out of the Monarch Theater as an envoy of GCPD officers, Commissioner Gordon, and Harley Quinn & the Joker’s gang watch. He leaves the Joker’s body on the hood of a GCPD cruiser. As Commissioner Gordon asks Batman “What the hell happened in there?” He just zips away, visibly shaken by the deaths of not just Talia but also the Joker.
Beyond Arkham City
Following the events of Arkham City, we got a limited release digital comic titled Arkham City: End Game along with a DLC epilogue of the main game, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge.” The Joker get’s one last laugh and Harley tries to enact revenge for the death of the Joker. In End Game, a video message recorded before his death plays out to the city, offering a $100 million reward to anyone who can find his body and return it to Harley Quinn, all the while he has bombs planted in the city (as per usual). In “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” Robin has to infiltrate the Sionis Steel Mill to save Batman while thwarting Harley’s plan to kill the cops she’s taken hostage. Of course both plans get thwarted, the Harley’s plan unravels and the Joker’s body is laid to rest in fiery brimstone.
Clearly, I left out Batman: Arkham Origins from the list. While I did enjoy the game for what it was, i don’t feel it truly belongs with Rocksteady’s otherwise amazing trilogy. Though it was a fun romp, the lack of nuance to this origin story left me wanting and honestly I only continued to come back for the challenge maps.
A few key points to make clear before Arkham Knight, the Joker is clearly dead, they cremated his body. This arguably is leaving a huge void in Gotham’s underbelly, so with this dark final chapter in Rocksteady’s Batman mythos, they're going to have to pull out all the stops. Batman: Arkham Knight marks the final chapter, a dark finale for Rocksteady’s take on the Dark Knight. June 23rd can’t get here fast enough…