Why the Arkham Knight's Identity is a Colossal Disappointment
Spoiler alert! This article is going to be talking about a number of the major events which take place within Batman: Arkham Knight...
Batman: Arkham Knight was supposed to be the crowning jewel on Rocksteady's mind-blowingly amazing Batman trilogy, and in many ways they managed to achieve that goal. You have Batman at what might very well be his lowest, but that's always when he's at his best, the iconic Batmobile has finally entered the fray and you have one of the biggest threats that Gotham City has ever known since Scarecrow is looking to release his fear toxin up and down the Eastern seaboard. Some people have even said that the world presented in Arkham Knight is "Batman perfected," and I actually tend to agree with those sentiments on many levels as I'm about as big of a Bat-nerd as you're liable to find. The teeny tiny little detail which completely undermines that, however, is the identity of the Arkham Knight.
Now, I love me a good mystery. It's one of the thousands of reasons Batman is my favorite character; the detective aspects. I love the subtle hints and innuendos which come with a well-crafted mystery, especially if that mystery lies in someone's true identity. Many of the best mysteries in Batman media are those which involve someone who knows Batman is Bruce Wayne (Hush, Endgame, etc.) and use that advantage as a means of hopefully defeating the Dark Knight, once and for all. None of that is anything new to the Arkham series. Hush, in particular, had a really interesting side quest in Arkham City that gave you plenty of hints towards the serial killer's identity but left out just enough to ensure that the climax was still shocking and memorable. It's a well-crafted little mystery, something which required a bit of work to piece together and is a good example of the fact that people over at Rocksteady know how to present a mystery. I hope then that you can understand, with that being said, how profoundly disappointed I was to have pieced together the identity of the game's titular villain after seeing him in a trailer for the first goddamn time.
Anyone who is even a moderate Batman fan most likely knows who the second Robin, Jason Todd, is. They also most likely know that the whiny little shit was killed off by popular demand (really) and later came back to life (as comic book characters are apt to do) as the even whinier Red hood, who now does next to nothing but complain about how Batman didn't save him from his own stupid mistakes. With this one-note characterization also came a very angsty attitude which compelled him to constantly show (and tell) Batman why he was better than him and how he wanted "vengeance" (again, for his own stupid mistakes). It's a very unique and recognizable attitude which blends together ego, bitchiness and a feeling of inferiority into something that just makes for an awfully bland, annoying character. Why Rocksteady decided to put such a recognizable character (for all of the wrong reasons, mind you) that most anyone playing the game would know into the role of a "brand new" villain whose identity is supposed to be a complete mystery is beyond me. You'd have a better chance of putting glasses on Batman, in his bat-suit, and having him go and successfully masquerade as Clark Kent.
I mean, really? They really wasted every single moment spent building up what could have been one of the better Batman mysteries out there on a character that people would have pegged as the Arkham Knight before the game was even released? Every moment spent hinting at that reveal was completely and utterly pointless as far as a significant, maybe even majority, chunk of the audience is concerned. I suppose I should be thankful that Scarecrow came along to save us from these ill-conceived, obvious plot twists with his own, better twists which actually managed to shock me time and again. You know, like a good mystery should? I've read well over 2,000 Batman specific comics in my time, watched all of the animated films and many of the cartoons, and never before have I been so wholeheartedly let down by a reveal. It was actually so obvious, at least to me, that I was wracking my brain time and again trying to figure out who else it could possibly be simply because I refused to believe that Rocksteady, who had before written some quality Batman stories, could do something so inconceivably stupid.
That's a bit of a harsh thing to say, I'll admit, but we're supposed to be living vicariously through the World's Greatest Detective and by giving us a mystery that WE were able to outright solve from the get-go, even before the game is released, only serves to make Batman look like an idiot for not piecing it together himself, even though to him it SHOULD be a mystery. It's no different than telling someone who is about to watch The Sixth Sense for the first time that Bruce Willis is really dead, but you'd like them to still act shocked whenever they see that for themselves. But then that's the problem with an adaptation of a mystery story, no matter how loose that adaptation is, isn't it? You can't do it without anyone who has either read or read about the source material (a sizable number in this case) being let down due to the complete lack of any mystery to be had. Sure, you can try and cover it up with a new name and a slightly different mask (it now has bat-ears) but if everything else is virtually the same with an omission here or an addition there, it's going to end up being several hours of build-up with precisely zero payoff.
I fully recognize that I might very well be in the minority who downright loathe this decision, but for me it goes even beyond the fact that the reveal itself was pointless. Before the games release, Rocksteady said several times over that the Arkham Knight was a "brand new" character who had a lengthy history with the Batman. Naturally, I took this as meaning that he would be a brand new character with a secret history to be revealed throughout the game. It's a pseudo-retcon sort of storytelling tool which has been used to great effect in many a comic book so it would probably work just as well in a video game if done right. I was excited. It got my hopes up that this mysterious character who was so obviously Jason Todd might just end up being someone completely different, but of course that never came to pass.
It also happens to be a lie that I can't help but find cheap and appalling, not in a personal sense but in that they must have known their reveal would be obvious and tried to cover up that fact by telling everyone that he was a brand new character. There's misdirection, which is usually a key part of any good mystery, and then there is saying something outright erroneous as a means to produce some doubt about a conclusion that much of your audience had already come to (which turned out to be completely right). You can't just lie in the vain hope that your mystery will actually be worth a damn. No one would have seen it coming if, under the mask, it was really a talking bear named George who loves the Yankees, but that wouldn't make for a good payoff because nothing hinted towards that twist. Adversely, everything except for the developers own words pointed to the fact that the Arkham Knight was Jason Todd, which I won't even call "hints" anymore because the character is literally just the same Jason from the comics but with a different mask. There's absolutely zero effort given towards trying to differentiate this Jason from the one we know, even if only to give the big reveal some build-up that couldn't be pieced together by an 8-year-old who really liked Batman comics.
All of this also beggars the question of why the Arkham Knight needed to be Jason in the first place or even a character at all. He doesn't actually achieve anything that couldn't have also been done by someone like Deathstroke or Bane, one of whom is actually in the game but is only used a mini-boss in a weaker version of the Cloudburst tank. Deathstroke is by every definition Batman's physical equal and Bane knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne on top of being his physical superior, if not a bit harder to hide as a mystery man due to his immense frame. Granted, the Arkham Knight knows that Barbara Gordon is Oracle and all that, but his other knowledge (like the weak points in Batman's armor) never had ANY effect on how the story or indeed the game itself plays out. Hell, even someone like the Calculator who I think managed to once hack into Oracle's network could have been brought in as a decent excuse for how they found her. Wouldn't it have been better if they built up this plot that all of Batman's most dangerous foes (and notice I say dangerous rather than famous) have figured out who he really is, along with those closest to him? That they've now formed this group to finally strike him where it hurts the most? Even with that framing, the ending (which is one thing I won't spoil because it's fantastic) could play out almost exactly the same if you merely swap out what little role Jason has at the very end with someone like Nightwing. But, alas, they decided to go a different route which was ultimately one hell of a letdown.
To be absolutely fair, I will say that even though Jason is still the annoying, whiny little shit I've come to hate, Rocksteady did give his post-Robin persona a much better reason to be an annoying, whiny little shit. I mentioned before that he died as a result of his own mistakes, and that mistake was taking on a genocidal maniac like the Joker by himself after being warned by Batman time and again that that was just a terrible idea; and is promptly beaten to death with a crowbar. This time around he's captured in some way which I don't think is ever explained but is actually tortured in really horrific ways for upwards of a year. It makes many of his actions and horribly dull monologues that much more reasonable, but he's still the same old Jason Todd that I already hate. Having a legitimate reason to now be a whiny one-note character doesn't make me like him any more than I did before. Indeed, it makes me like him even less because they did give some effort towards making him a more interesting character. I just wish that they had put that effort towards framing a better mystery, like actually having one.
I really love Arkham Knight. I really REALLY love it. It's a fantastic game with a wonderful story (the Arkham Knight's bits aside...) that actually managed to make me cry at one point, though I'll freely admit that's due to my being a major Bat-nerd. I just wish that the titular villain of this climax to an amazing trilogy wasn't so terribly, terribly obvious. Like I said, I wanted Batman to go out with a bang caused by a mysterious villain whose identity resulted in a major payoff, but instead I got something from a story which I think is now over 10 years old. Thankfully, Scarecrow was able to save the day, ironically enough and turned the incredible letdown that was Jason Todd as the Arkham Knight into a more than fitting finale for the Caped Crusader.