Warning: the following is a discussion on the ending to Batman: Arkham Asylum. Very explicit details about the ending will follow. You’ve been warning
Batman: Arkham City has a lot in common with its predecessor. Arkham City simply improves on Arkham Asylum by increasing its scope and ambition. Instead of a normal prison, you have city-sized, super prison. Instead of one central villain, you have several whose factions are at war against each other. And instead of a stupid and unsatisfactory ending, you have a passable but mediocre conclusion.
Something just bugs me about Arkham City‘s ending. On one hand, it was definitely better than Asylum and it had a certain amount of shock value that made it immediately enjoyable.
On the other hand, certain elements of the ending felt sudden and rushed, leaving me thinking, “Is that it?”
Arkham Asylum‘s ending was hated by many due to how uncharacteristic and easy it was. The Joker is a criminal mastermind who doesn’t normally lower himself to grunt work and fisticuffs. I’m no comic buff, but with Mark Hamill reprising his role as the Joker, my image of him was always one who had an assortment of devious tools and plans but was never much of a martial artist. To have him resort to taking the TITAN serum himself in order to hulk out and try mashing Batman was bad enough, but to have his fight be brain dead easy due to very gamey design choices (for example, being vulnerable to attack as he showboats to the news helicopter) made the experience pretty lame.
So what about Arkham City‘s ending?
Objectively, the ending makes sense to me and all the loose ends are tied up. I have to admit, when you hear the twist, not only does it come as a classic, shocking moment; but it also introduces another Batman villain that is much appreciated among fans.
But something continues to bug me about the ending. And perhaps I can put these ideas onto paper to straighten out these conflicting feelings and see another opinion on the ending to Arkham City.
The Deus Ex Machina
A classic plot device in many memorable stories is to have something seemingly innocuous and unimportant mentioned at some point in the beginning. Near the end of the story, when the climax comes to a head, the seemingly pointless object from the beginning is revealed to have tremendous value in resolving the problem.
In Arkham City‘s case, Joker’s cryptic question of how to hide a secret from the world’s greatest detective turns out to have grave consequences near the end. It’s revealed that Joker was, in a way, hiding in plain sight, having Clayface stand in for him as a cured Joker and trick Batman at the last minute.
Earlier I mentioned that this was a welcome addition to the game. Clayface has always been a memorable and dangerous foe for Batman and he was even present in Arkham Asylum. But when I dig a little deeper, I still ask myself the same question as Batman: “Why?”
Clayface responds that it was because Joker offered him, “The role of a lifetime.” But I’m not convinced at that answer. Is the chance to kill Batman, especially as an offer from the Clown Prince of Crime, really all that would motivate him into taking the Joker’s place?
Compared to the TITAN Joker boss from Arkham Asylum, Clayface is an immense improvement as a final boss but his sudden introduction as a deus ex machina leaves me feeling like his inclusion at this moment was too sudden and even a bit of a cop out. If there had been hints of Clayface’s existence in Arkham City, I might feel differently. After all, you see hints of Killer Croc in the sewers before finding an Easter egg revealing him. But that’s not the case with Clayface if when you don’t count his pseudo-appearance in Arkham Asylum.
The Death of the Joker
One thing I’ve always liked about Batman, for better or worse, is that he had an iron rule to never kill. Sure, not many superheroes are known to kill their opponents, but for Batman, who’s simply human, it’s an amazing feat of self-control.
Well, yes, it was an accident obviously. Batman already states that he still would’ve saved Joker had he not stabbed him in such a way that would’ve caused him to reflexively drop the antidote. The best thing about Rocksteady’s Batman games is that they make you feel like Batman, so naturally we’re doing things Batman would do instead of being presented with some moral choice like so many RPGs nowadays.
But still, how Joker’s death is handled makes me feel like I should had some control in the matter. Opinions on canon aside, Batman’s most memorable and even important enemy has always been the Joker. The unstoppable force against the immovable object, as The Dark Knight put it.
While yes, the story had already been written with Joker dying of a TITAN related disease, and the move for Joker to infect hundreds of innocent people, as well as Batman, with his tainted blood was a great arc, something about losing the unforgettable Clown Prince of Crime leaves me with a sense of wistfulness.
I won’t claim to be a hardcore fan of the Batman comics, because I’m not a comic book buff. But I did grow up with the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon, which I can enjoy with the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, along with Gamestop’s Animated Series Batman skin bonus. Batman is such an iconic hero and like any nerd, it’s important to bring out any problems, no matter how big or small they may be, when it comes to the legacy of our heroes.
Arkham City is a nearly unbelievable follow up to Arkham Asylum. Somehow, a game that was already praised to be one of the best games of its time, was improved upon in its sequel. It gave us more of what we wanted like more villains, a refined experience such as in freeflow combat 2.0, and a bigger playground to feel like Batman in. The only thing that besmirches Asylum‘s experience was the ending and City‘s ending is already hundreds of times better than it. But I don’t think it was perfect. I can still call it good but it’s the kind of thing I will happily discuss among my peers both out of principle and out of enjoyment.
How did you feel about Arkham City‘s ending?