Gotham Knights didn’t just kill Batman — it also killed Gotham
Along with some of the most fascinating villains in the canon,
The animation staff of Batman: The Animated Series had a standing instruction from the show’s co-creator, Eric Radomski, to paint backgrounds in light colors on black paper rather than the industry usual of dark colors on white paper. This resulted in what the show’s makers dubbed “black deco,” a distinct design inspired by Tim Burton’s Batman flicks, detective noir, and art deco. This Gotham is what comes to mind when I think of Gotham.
Rocksteady draws inspiration for their Arkham games from this episodic masterpiece. The trilogy not only used the animated series’ superb voice cast, but it also styled Gotham in the dark deco style: Gothic architecture, huge moon, art deco interiors and exteriors, noir mood, and lighting. This image is crucial to both Arkham City and Arkham Knight.
It’s a shame, though, that in WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights (which I did somewhat enjoy), this type of deep depiction of the city, as a distinct character unto itself, gets diminished, along with the villains. Gotham City, Batman, and his rogues’ gallery are inextricably linked: all great Batman stories are weaved from these three strands. Any of these will result in a less rich tapestry of whatever Batman narrative is being constructed.
[Editor’s note: Gotham Knights spoilers follow.]
You take over Batman’s role as the defense of the titular city after his death, in the wobbly boots of four proteges: Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, and Red Hood. The four patrol an open-world Gotham every night. This is a metropolis filled with fog that clings to distant buildings; colorful lights shine through the darkness; soft rain falls down walls and latex suits; and gargoyles adorn various structures. On the surface, it appears to be attempting to resemble Gotham. However, I found it absolutely devoid of personality: its homogeneous, lifeless districts varied only in name, and it does not change at all during the Bat-adventure family’s in Gotham Knights.This Gotham is more of a flat surface of monotony than a patchwork of personalities.
Arkham City and Arkham Knight dealt with Gotham as a character and a setting: You witnessed lasting architectural or landscape changes. (Joker blows up a tower in Arkham City; in Arkham Knight, Batman frequently “redecorates” buildings and highways with his tank.) In Arkham City, Two-minions, Face’s dressed in two-toned outfits, break into banks and automobiles, while the Joker’s henchmen in clown makeup loiter around carnival-themed settings. Tailored activities took place in various areas, giving Gotham dimension and, as a result, identity.Because they regarded Gotham as a full character, Rocksteady’s interpretations on Gotham, along with WB Montréal’s own in 2013’s Arkham Origins, developed a strong relationship to the deeper parts of Gotham. However, the Gotham of Gotham Knights is motionless, dull, and uninteresting. What is the long-term impact of Mr. Freeze affecting the weather? What happened to the structure after Clayface escaped?
Worse, Gotham Knights mishandles a set of villains who have been intriguing, sinister avatars of the city’s sordid past throughout their tenure in the comics: the Court of Owls.
Despite being one of Batman’s canonically oldest entities, the Court was just introduced to the Batman mythology in 2012. The Court is made up of Gotham’s wealthiest and most powerful families, who retain dominance through espionage and assassination. They are cultish and frightening, operate in the shadows, and pose a real threat to Batman since they also pose a menace to Bruce Wayne.
Outside of the comics, the Court has only appeared in the wonderful animated film Batman vs. Robin and the TV program Gotham. Naturally, the thought of clashing with them was one of the Gotham Knights’ original charms. With my penchant for all things cultish and frightening, I had great expectations for these new baddies.
Unfortunately, following a major massacre by the League of Shadows, another recurrent set of enemies in Batman fiction, Gotham Knights unexpectedly sidelines the Court. All of the mystery and dread surrounding the Court dissipates: While there are some small side tasks involving the Court, they are mostly paint-by-numbers missions with little to no complexity. They frequently entail a brawl with a few stragglers, but nothing more serious results from these confrontations. In the game’s marketing, one of the main threats to the Bat-family becomes little more than a chapter in the broader story. Gotham Knights squandered an opportunity to burrow into Gotham’s veins, to find the Court poisoning the city, the very organization that views itself as a solution.Would Gotham fall apart without the Court? Would the city irreversibly change? These are intriguing questions. However, they are simply asked in passing in Gotham Knights.
With Batman dead and the city’s most fascinating criminals gone in the blink of an eye, it’s up to the city to lift the Gotham Knights. However, Gotham is underpriced. The environment does alter, but only in closed-off major missions that leave no permanent marks on the wide world.
Rocksteady’s Batman was continually decaying, and so was Gotham: plants erupting from fissures, poison in the air, the water establishing a foothold, and so on. This was due to the fact that characters evolve, and Gotham itself should be a character. That idea is not present in Gotham Knights.
Gotham Knights ruined Gotham by homogenizing all of its districts and in-world activities; it had access to the Court of Owls, one of the most fascinating actors in the Batman mythology, but tossed it like Batman would a loaded revolver. This world has no growth since it is only a backdrop. In its initial moments, Gotham Knights makes a huge deal out of slaying the Dark Knight. What is the greatest tragedy? It also killed Gotham.