Throwback Thurs: Creating a Modern Batman Mythology

I have a pile of nonfiction pieces that I want to save from the dustinbin of history, and one of the ways is to include them here as part of the blog and larger portfolio. In that light, throwback Thursday.

This piece was first published August 5, 2016 on Comix I Read (now defunct)

While this is a review of the recent Batman game, it is also a meditation on Batman himself.

First, the good – the game is worth checking out. It grapples with one of the big themes of a modern Batman; it is just a matter of time before Batman gets caught. With cell phones alone, it is just a matter of time before everyone figures out what Bruce Wayne does at night.

There are two sides to this – in The Dark Knight, we see part of this. Joker figures out Batman won’t kill and starts to push the envelope. In so many iterations of the modern Batman mythology, we see the power of him growing and creating a myth. A myth that includes rampant speculation about how many people Batman kills. In the opening act, we are already grappling with the style of this Batman. There is the suggestion that this is going to be a central theme of the games. How far does Batman go, both to keep his secret and to prove he is a viable threat? How violent is he willing to get, and what are the impacts of this.

Early on, the game reveals consequences to your actions. This is  beyond the usual “Cold War Escalation” that supervillains represent. If Batman stops a drug shipment, he encourages dealers to cut their dwindling product. This could result in deaths from the poison.

In an era of cellphones and Reddit, Batman would be divisive. Over a long period of time, he wouldn’t be able to last. At some point, he gets identified, or the cops have to bring him in. That’s just a part of the modern world. Bound by insurance and legal obligations, Batman cannot exist indefinitely. He either helps clean up the city or becomes part of the problem.

So, the Telltale game grapples with this issue – how do you create the Batman myth. How far are you willing to push to enact change? In doing so, the game isn’t a game where you get to play as Batman, but rather a game where you get to play as Bruce Wayne. You aren’t the nigh infallible being of the Arkham Asylum series. You’re just a man trying to make the city better. It lays the groundwork for something more to come from this. There is the set-up for a discussion about the nature of evil and what can be done about it. Several characters are reimagined in various shades of grey. Cobblepot that appears to be something different from what we’ve seen before. Selina Kyle takes some cues from Dark Knight Rises. Dent that isn’t already wedded to the binary before his inevitable transformation.

Is it all good? No, not at all. The art seems floaty and hurried, a far cry from the beautiful and stylised Walking Dead games. The subtitles are atrocious, not matching the dialogue. Advice versus advise almost caused me to blow a gasket. The game hung a few times, and there were some bits where a character gave me the wrong reaction to my choice. At the heart of it is a fascinating discussion about the myth of the Bat-man. Why he is a part of a modern pantheon we’ve created. There is a story that adds to the ongoing myths in fascinating ways, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.

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