Gotham Knights

While I’ve sort of fallen away at this point, there was a good long while where I was devouring Batman comics like crazy. I developed a very strong admiration for the Bat-Family, and found myself kind of obsessed with following the various people who came in and out of Bruce’s life over the years.

So I was pretty dang excited when Gotham Knights was first announced, considering it would remove Batman from the equation and focus on the Bat-Family instead. Plus, it was bringing the Court of Owls into the video-game realm, which I’ve been saying should happen for ages.

The icing on this bat-cake, though, is that Batman is apparently dead. This gives WB Games Montréal the opportunity to throw out the rulebook and make some very interesting and exciting changes to the franchise. Remember how ballsy it was to kill off Joker in Arkham City and then to double down on this decision in Arkham Knight? Gotham Knights could be a veritable buffet of these sorts of choices — choices that would shock casual fans and hardcore fans alike.

In fact, with Batman dead (allegedly) and four other heroes burdened with his responsibilities, you could basically make this the Bat-version of The Death and Return of Superman. It’s pretty much the same exact premise already.

Unfortunately, it looks like WB Games Montréal is making the safest, most boring choices possible.

Gotham Knights - Batgirl

First up, let’s deal with the Barbara Gordon controversy. For some reason, they decided to make Barbara Gordon Batgirl in Gotham Knights. Yes, Barbara is the classic Batgirl, but she was later paralyzed by Joker. Instead of Batgirl, Barbara’s been playing a behind-the-scenes role as Oracle, dealing in intel-gathering instead of hand-to-hand combat. Barbara’s injury is apparently canon in Gotham Knights, but apparently she just got better and became Batgirl again.

As many have already pointed out, this is leaning into an ableist stereotype, where no matter what happens to a person, no matter how much trauma or physical abuse they’ve endured, they can grit their teeth and get better through the sheer force of will. Not only is this not how human beings work — like, at all — but it creates false expectations, where your amputee friend is just going to magically start walking again, or your clinically depressed cousin is just going to go sit in the sunlight for an afternoon and be cured. And for people with actual ailments — physical or mental — this creates an unspoken obligation that their ailments are just a sign of weak willpower and not something debilitating. It’s extremely frustrating to have these fairytale expectations thrust upon real-life victims of trauma or illness.

This also misunderstands Barbara’s character arc. One of the reasons she’s such an appealing character is that she continues to help Batman despite her physical disability. Her strength is in the fact that she’s accepted her disability and lives with it, not that she has overcome it. Also, as Oracle, she’s this badass super-spy; becoming Batgirl again kind of feels like a step backward for her.

Gotham Knights - Batgirl

So why use Barbara for Batgirl, when others have donned the suit? Personally, I think Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown would have been much more interesting choices here. Cassandra is just straight-up badass, and Stephanie is often dangerously reckless. In a storyline where Batman is dead (is he really, though?), having Stephanie as a volatile powder keg of emotions could raise the tension between characters and lead to some intense drama.

So why choose Barbara? Because she’s the obvious choice. Even though it doesn’t even make sense to have Barbara be Batgirl in this game, that’s what people expect. So instead of subverting expectations and doing something interesting, WB Games Montréal makes a nonsensical choice — one that’s even kind of offensive to disabled folks.

Less contentious is Tim Drake as Robin. Again, he’s the obvious choice here, but there are other possible Robins. What about Damian Wayne? With Bruce possibly dead, Damian as Robin would be another way to ratchet up the emotional drama of the game’s story. And Damian is another character who tends to act out and go off script, which has the potential to create a whole lot of trouble for the Bat-Fam.

Honestly, I really like the duo aspect of Damian as Robin and Tim as Red Robin, which I think would have worked here. In fact, instead of just having Robin be a single character, why not make him a synergistic duo, similar to Ice Climbers or Rosalina and Luma in Super Smash Bros? Then you could really spice up the drama between those two (I think it’s probably an understatement to say they don’t always get along).

Gotham Knights - Robin

While I guess Red Hood is a somewhat interesting choice for a playable character (especially after his role in Arkham Knight), I can’t help but feel like it’s still kind of a bland option. He does use pistols, so I guess there’s at least a gameplay element to this choice, and I bet he’ll be a blast (see what I did there?) to play.

But you know who I would have loved to see here? Azrael would have been a super-interesting choice, and with Batman dead, this gives Azrael the chance to create a lot of the problems he was creating back in the classic Knightfall story.

Or, if you’re not going to use Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, why not have her be the Spoiler? Not only does Spoiler have a badass costume, but she has a knack for stealth that would make her play a little differently than your classic wam-boom-pow characters like Nightwing and Batgirl.

These are just some suggestions off the top of my head, and obviously my personal preferences lean toward characters who would rather stir the pot than fall in line. But there are dozens of options available here, especially if you go outside of Gotham and include characters from the greater DC Universe. Though, admittedly, the family drama within the Bat-Fam is the hook on which any Batman-less Batman game will hang.

Gotham Knights - Red Hood

Gotham Knights feels very much like a product of corporate storytelling, which I hate so much. This is what happens when you create stories in a corporate boardroom instead of around a writers’ table: You make all of the choices that feel obvious instead of thinking about choices that make for good storytelling. At the risk of alienating the casual audience, you end up alienating everyone.

And the choices on display here seem like the most boring possible options on the table. There’s so much potential to make Gotham Knights interesting and even groundbreaking, but the more I see, the less faith I have in WB Games Montréal to actually pull it off.

And all this has me hesitant to get excited about the game. Even with the Court of Owls, which is a genuinely incredible choice, I can’t help but feel like Gotham’s secret society is going to be wasted here. Yes, there are some really interesting things you could do with the Court of Owls in a video game; I’m just not sure WB Games Montréal is going to do any of it, instead opting for the most toothless, vanilla, corporate-board-room-approved version of the Court of Owls possible. And if that’s the case, why even bother?

Gotham Knights - Court of Owls

Okay, so I’m still going to play Gotham Knights. I’m way too invested in the Batman video-game universe to pass this up (yeah, I know this is not technically set in the same universe as the Arkham games, but still…) But I have a feeling I’m going to have to grit my teeth and accept that this is not the game I was hoping it would be.

But I would love to be wrong here. The ball’s in your court (of owls) here, WB Games Montréal. Surprise me. I dare you.

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1 year ago

Barbara being Batgirl isn’t a problem. People complaining about it are the same ones that accept characters like Jason Todd coming back from the dead no problem. We can accept resurrected characters throughout the DC universe but Barbara walking again is too much to ask for? Yeah I don’t buy that.

1 year ago

You really haven’t a clue of what you’re talking about. This article tells me you haven’t seen of listen to anything of the games creative direction since maybe a year ago. Barbara uses tech to walk…watch the trailer and listen to the dev interview about creating 400 years of non existent lore. This is not an Arkham game get over it. Also the argument of fictional character choices impacting real people’s self-esteem due to there disabilities is just ridiculous.

1 year ago

You have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you even know anyone with a disability? We people with disabilities decking hate this bollocks. Why are you talking for all of us like you know even the first thing about us when you clearly have no clue. Read a book. Go into the real world. The real world isn’t like what you think it is

It’s hilarious that you actually think this magic mech suit thing that allows her to walk is somehow better. It’s not. It doesn’t change the point and the accuracy of this article even one bit.

It’s like you just read the word “ableist” and stopped reading there and had to to virtue signal to all your online friends about how much of a “straight talker” you are and “I’m just saying facts bro£.

Yes, this does affect people with disabilities. Especially children, which is what superheros are for. They’re children’s media primarily. Do you not think that children have emotions? Are you really that thick in the head that you don’t get why this could upset them?

I’m OK because I’m 33, and I’m a lot more worried about the fact I can’t walk than about a video game. But there’s literally millions of people with disabilities who this is going to affect significantly. Not from the game itself. But from people who play the game or watch the game and then go tell people with disabilities that they just need more willpower and then they’ll magically get better. Or they just need some device that’ll help them. You wouldn’t believe the amount of con artists and multi level marketing scams that are aimed at disabled people. Like the “T.E.N.S. device” thing. It’s utter bollocks. It does literally nothing. You might as well rub jam on your nipples and say that that’ll “cure” all disabilities, because that’s equally as useless as the TENS machines, and acupuncture, and chiropractic, etc. All the pseudo-scientific scams that people swear that it cured their back pain. Guess what Karen, I’ve got a herniated disc in my spine, not just normal everyday back pain that you get because you just sit in a chair all day. There’s an enormous amount of money tied up in these scams because people are desperate for anything they’ll relieve the pain.

But yeah, considering how much of reality you seem to be completely unaware of, I’m not surprised you believe in magic.

The fact you have no empathy means your brain is literally unfinished, underdeveloped. Humans don’t gain empathy till age 25. So if you’re over 25 already, and you’re still like this, then you literally have a mental illness, i.e. a disability. And I don’t say that as an insult. The default healthy human brain has empathy. A lack of it indicates you have an illness like borderline personality disorder, or one of a few others.

So it’s funny that you just pretty much admit that to everyone, with the trollop you write. You’ve given yourself away a bit, that your brain is missing vital parts.

Go and learn how the world really works. Make at least one friend in your life that isn’t an online friend. Talk to people. Read a book. Enroll in a class. Just do something to learn how the real world is because you’re bafflingly clueless about it.

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