Batman Arkham Knight: A Game Review

Be honest. You all saw this review coming, didn’t you? I’d be very surprised if you didn’t, considering my three previous entries on Rocksteady’s Arkham series. This post will officially bring us up to date and to the end of this saga. Well, for now anyway. Of course I am aware of the rumours that a fifth Arkham game is in the works, just as I am aware of them having recently been upgraded from “rumour” status to “likely in development already” status. But as has become typical with me on here, I digress…

Batman: Arkham Knight was perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the Arkham series. By the time it was announced, the series had well and truly established itself as a fan favourite, an offering of games that stayed true to the comic origins of the source material, had incredible stories and were incredibly fun to play. Rocksteady released little teasers of info and hints of what we could expect leading up to the release, sending Batfans like myself into an absolute frenzy of excitement.

By the time it finally dropped, fans had a pretty fair idea of what to expect, but there were still a few mind-blowing surprises thrown in. We knew we were going to get to finally drive the legendary Batmobile, but none of us ever could have imagined just how heavily the versatile combat tank of a vehicle would feature within the game’s story and associated side challenges. Some complained that there was too much Batmobile. I respectfully and whole heartedly disagree. We’d been waiting three games to drive our dream car, and Arkham Knight made sure that it was worth the wait. And oh my god driving the Batmobile and enjoying full-on combat with it is so much fun. I can’t imagine anyone getting tired of it.

The game itself is huge. And I’m not just talking about the massive download size. The story is enormous that surpasses all expectation and will leave you with feels that stay with you long after you’ve finished playing. For those who’ve not played it, you’ll find no spoilers here. Regular readers of my blog know that I don’t do spoilers. Ever. But if you’re keen to find out what happens without playing it through (note I don’t recommend this), you can no doubt find it online.

No review of this game would be complete without commenting on the graphics. This game, by far, contains the most impressive and beautiful graphics I have ever seen. The level of detail is beyond remarkable, taking an already immersive gaming experience and pulling you in even deeper. Gotham City is perfectly reconstructed here, with views for miles in all directions and doesn’t skip a beat with even the tiniest features and minute details.

The rogue’s gallery in this one is so delightfully unexpected. You’ll never know who’s going to pop up next and that makes for a wildly fun and unpredictable story. I can’t say much more without risking spoilers, so I won’t. All I will say is enjoy the twists and turns of a plot that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat from the moment you start until the staggering finale.

The combat is amazing, taking the concept of freeflow from the previous instalments and kicking it up to the next level, by increasing enemy complexity and really putting your skills to the test. Gadgets, there’s plenty. Because let’s be real. It wouldn’t be a Batman game without gadgets. All your favourites are here, plus some new ones thrown in aiding you in adapting your strategies and giving you a whole new way of taking down the bad guys. There feels like less emphasis on detective mode with this one. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s still very much there and critical for completing the story and side missions. But it has become more a part of Batman’s repertoire, rather than feeling like his only edge outside direct combat. I like this subtle shift, as it feels… more like Batman from the comics.

Every Batman fan needs to play this game. While I’ve recommended all games in the Arkham series so far, this one is an absolute must-play. It’s got everything we know and love about our beloved Dark Knight and his enormous universe, and more.

Batman Arkham Origins: A Game Review

Next up in my little game review series, the third instalment in Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise, Batman Arkham Origins. Before I start, lets just get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, this is the least popular of the four games released to date. Yes, it is my least favourite too. But the Arkham games are kind of like pizza. There are no bad ones. So even though this game may get the lowest reviews and least number of replays among fans, its still a brilliant game.

This one is prequel, set before the events of the two previous instalments. Way before. We meet a younger, less experienced Batman, who has already thoroughly annoyed the Gotham City Police Department and made sufficient waves among the local criminal community to end up with a hefty price on his head. And soooo many villains, super and otherwise are incredibly keen to collect.

The gameplay is similar, along with the familiar notion of main story mode as well as side quests to work through. This one will keep you busy for a while. The map comprises all of Gotham City (well, almost), which of course necessitated the first fast travel option in the Arkham game series. Alas, fans were not gifted with Bruce’s sexy Batmobile. But we did get the Batwing. Sadly, no, we don’t actually get to “fly” it. It acts more like a transporter for moving between two map sections. Not quite what we were screaming for when it leaked that the map would be enormous, but the Batwing does let you get around quite swiftly and avoids having to run and glide everywhere. This was fun in Arkham City, but truthfully, would have become tedious on a map the size of Origins.

I feel like I’ve given you too much bad news so far which I’ve of course tried to sugar coat because I do love this game. Origins has a darker and grittier feel to it than the previous two games. Batman is still very much finding his feet as the hero Gotham needs and there are some really tough boss fights to contend with, making it feel challenging and rewarding. Fret not though fellow Batfans. Our beloved Bruce is still awesome as hell when he dons that cape and cowl.

Gadgets of course are a necessity for our Caped Crusader and this game introduces something we’ve not seen before; shock gloves. I’ll spare you the spoiler details but trust me when I say, they come in very handy.

General gameplay and fighting aside, Origins has a really good story to it. We get to meet characters as their younger selves, gaining more insight into who they are and how they evolved into what they eventually became. I loved this element of the game, along with the rare moments of vulnerability shown by Bruce, particularly in several very touching scenes with Alfred. Yes folks, our favourite butler actually makes an appearance in this game.

Overall Origins is a solid game that broke slightly away from the traditional Arkham formula to give us something fresh by delving into the past. And I for one, am glad they did. The story is great, the combat is fun and the villains are awesomely evil and challenging. If you’re a Batfan like me, give this one a go.

Joker and Harley Quinn: Glamourised Domestic Violence?

This is a tough call, but one that has plagued the comic community ever since Joker was given a girlfriend; Harley Quinn. For those unfamiliar with the story, Harley was formerly Dr Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist working at Arhkam Asylum and Joker’s doctor. She very quickly fell in love with him, helped him to escape and has been by his side ever since, re-naming herself Harley Quinn. The comic story was called “Mad Love” and both it, and Harley, became enormously popular with fans. But some have argued that their tale glamourises domestic violence; this post will aim to argue, that actually the opposite is true. Let me explain…

Joker is both extremely intelligent and highly evil. No one would ever deny that. The argument as to whether he is actually insane or not is one that has raged for years, and I’ll leave that one for now. The point here, is that Joker is absolutely willing and able to manipulate an innocent young doctor into falling for him, trick her into helping him, con her into an abusive relationship from which she has no means of escape and have not a shred of remorse about it. We see this is the comics. Joker is frequently verbally and physically abusive toward Harley, including almost succeeding in killing her on one occasion, purely because he’d grown bored of her. The Joker / Harley relationship in the comics is absolutely an example of domestic violence, with most readers feeling pity for Harley more often than not.

Harley Quinn, aside from having somehow apparently obtained a psychiatry degree, has never shown herself to be of particularly high intelligence in the comics. No, I am not saying she is stupid. It is certainly possible that the abuse and manipulation she has suffered at Joker’s hands over the years has impacted her in more ways than we can imagine. And highly intelligent women are certainly capable of being manipulated as we saw in the Mad Love story. However; thinking from a wider perspective. When assigned to treat Joker; Dr Quinzel (as she was known back then), was a young, attractive, inexperienced psychiatrist and new to Arkham. My question is; who would ever put someone like that in charge of the care of probably the most intelligent (sorry Riddler but you know it’s probably true) and dangerous patient in there? The answer is, no one. The very fact she was assigned to him in the first place tells us two things. One, Arkham has some serious management issues. And two, Dr Quinzel had to have somehow manipulated her way into becoming his doctor.

Which brings me to the matter of her psychiatry degree. I can’t help but wonder if Arkham management are so foolish as to let such an inexperienced doctor take Joker’s case, how much background checking did they actually do on her? Is her degree even real? Thinking for a moment that to become a psychiatrist means obtaining an actual medical degree, which even extremely intelligent people struggle with, and what we know of Harley from the comics; does she strike anyone as the kind of person who is really gifted enough to have legitimately achieved such a level of education? I will leave this one to debate, given as far as I’m aware, the question has never been asked until today, let alone answered.

So with all this in mind, it is plausible that it was Harley, not Joker who started the initial manipulation here. She had the advantage going into this “relationship.” She was firstly aware of who he was, things he had done, literal pages and files of information on him that had been gathered for years and years, in addition to what had been reported in the media. When they met; she knew him far better than he knew her. Certainly someone as perceptive as Joker would have figured her out quite quickly, but initially, it was she that had the upper hand and she that likely fought to be assigned his case, on the strength of her (I suspect fake) medical degree.

Having said all of this, the question becomes why. If she did do as I’m suggesting, why did she do it? What kind of beautiful, intelligent young woman fights so hard to get so close to someone like Joker? Some of you may be familiar with the condition hybristophilia, in which a person is only capable of being aroused by partners who they know have committed moral outrages, in particular, violent crimes such as armed robbery, rape and murder. Does Harley have this condition? It’s extremely likely, but, then the question becomes, why Joker? Gotham is swimming with men who engage in the above behaviours, men she could have easily gained access to without needing to go through the ruse of getting a job at Arkham and being in a position to become Joker’s doctor. Does she have a dash of celebriphilia as well? The pathological need to be romantically linked to someone famous? Joker was, after all, extremely well known. But if that is the case, then what of the literal plethora of other extremely violent male super-villains of Gotham? Why Joker? What made her choose him? I would argue that, whether she has either of these conditions or not is irrelevant; what matters is that she saw something in him and was already in the process of falling in love with him long before they met. It’s the only logical explanation that makes even a shred of sense.

So let’s say for now, that’s it. She had a hybristophilic celebrity crush so managed to manipulate her way into Arkham to get close to her poster boy. But this only raises another “why” question. Because, she could have waited until he was free (let’s face it, it wouldn’t have taken long before he’d escaped for the 100th time). So why did she go to all this trouble? The answer is so simple its almost frightening. Because she knew that meeting him under these “safe” conditions, where she would be the one walking in with the upper hand would give her the time she needed to manipulate him into returning her feelings. Meeting him when he was out in the world, she’d never have an opportunity like this and she knew it. Now, keep in mind, this is all my opinion and none of it has been proven factual. But hopefully I’ve got you all doing some really deep thinking into how this relationship really started and that it may not necessarily be as simple as it first appears…

Having said all of that, and assuming Harley did cleverly manipulate her way into becoming his girlfriend, I need to make one point very, very clear. Regardless of how this relationship started; the abuse that Harley has suffered at the hands of Joker is horrific, inexcusable and is not her fault. No woman, real or fictional, deserves it, asks for it or is to blame. Ever. Was she misguided in pursuing such a vicious and dangerous man to become her lover? Absolutely. But that does not mean that she deserves to suffer abuse and violence. No one does. 

Coming back to my initial argument and the main topic of this post. The comics have never glamourised the violent relationship between Harley and Joker. Most comic fans roll their eyes and feel a sting every time we read how much Harley loves Joker, knowing how mercurial and cruel he has been to her. Most of us cheered that time she left him and vowed she’d never go back, only to cringe when she did. But the reason this topic has become a debate is simple. Suicide Squad. The movie that showed a very different Joker / Harley relationship. The movie that left out the abuse (aside from her shock treatment scene, before he fell in love with her). What we see is a brutal, vicious, insane man who is totally devoted to the love of his life. A man who killed another man for simply commenting that Harley was attractive. Fiercely protective and loving, willing to do anything to find her and save her. A man who is absolutely nothing like his comic counter-part when it comes to how he treats his girlfriend.

Suicide Squad glamourised their relationship, yes. But it left out the domestic violence of the comics. Perhaps future films featuring these characters will expand on this and ultimately end up glamourising an abusive relationship (I hope not). But for now, no. The argument that Joker and Harley Quinn glamourise domestic violence is flawed, as it is based on the combination of two different story telling mediums which do not necessarily take into account each other’s full suite of factors. I am hopeful that the comic book and film watching communities keep this in mind and are able to recognise that domestic violence is not something that should ever be glamourised, and this was never the intention of the artists who created these characters and stories.

Why Are the Comic Fans Never Happy? – A Little Rant…

I don’t normally enjoy ranting. I didn’t create the blog to be a platform of misery or whining. But as this is the forum for the inside of my twisted little mind and everything that comes with it, this is something I need to get out.

I have been a fan of comics and superheroes since I was a child. Now that I’m in my thirties, my love of this media has only grown stronger. I’m now able, as a mature adult with a ton of life experience, to more fully appreciate the subtle themes, nuances and dramatic genius of these incredible stories and characters. I don’t buy into the whole DC versus Marvel rivalry. Yes, Batman and his universe has always been and will always be my favourite. But not because it is DC. Because I love it the most. Simple.

But one of the things that endlessly bugs me about the whole comic universe is the other fans, who can always seem to find fault. Particular examples of this are seen in the rash of recent comic movies and TV shows that have been flooding our screens in recent years. As a long-time comic fan, I’m thrilled. But every time I am on social media (yes, almost every day), I see people complaining, whining, asking why it isn’t exactly like the comics. I appreciate that everyone has different tastes and opinions, but some of the commentary has been nothing short of vicious and cruel. This bothers me. Not only because I don’t enjoy reading such nasty material, but also because of the level of emotional investment people seem to put into a movie or TV show.

I absolutely adore Batman. Every time I go to see a new Batman film, I feel a rush, a thrill for what awaits me. Have I been disappointed by some Batman films? Of course. But I don’t take that disappointment and slather it all over social media. I simply don’t watch it again and keep my eye out for the next film, which I hope will be better. In the spirit of that, I won’t specifically name the films that have disappointed me. What I will say, is that all the most recent films featuring Batman have absolutely blown me away and as a huge fan of this character, I am very, very happy. I’m also going to state on record here that I love Ben Affleck as Batman / Bruce Wayne. And I loved Christian Bale as Batman / Bruce Wayne. Those two, along with Adam West (my earliest memory of a live action Batman as a small child) are my favourites. Not everyone agrees, and I accept that.

Yes, I’m rambling a little. Admittedly when I start to write about Batman, I have to stop myself from turning it into an epic novel. I could literally write / talk about him all day. But the take home message that I hope you all get from this post is simply this. Have some respect. Respect for the people who work very, very hard and spend a lot of money to try and make something great for us fans to enjoy. You may not like everything that is made and that’s fine. But for every person that doesn’t like a film, there is another person that does. So please show respect for other fans as well. Social media can be wonderful, but it can also be brutal. Accept that people have opinions different from your own and be nice. Hate a movie or TV show as much as you want. But please don’t throw shade on and hate the people that like it and those that make it. They have feelings too.

Is Batman Insane?

Anyone who’s known me longer than five minutes knows I am a HUGE Batman fan. To me, he represents the ultimate hero and I’ve looked up to and admired him my entire life. It’s not just his ability to be a hero in the absence of superpowers, it’s his unfailing morals and belief that everyone has the capacity to reform and his willingness to take action, no matter the personal costs to himself and sacrifices he needs to make. Obviously I am speaking about the canonical Batman, the one who doesn’t kill, no matter what (however in this overall post, I am not necessarily discounting other versions of the character). Batman’s core values are ones that I share and they have only gotten even stronger over the years after everything I’ve learned from my studies and experienced in my professional career. I am not saying that I necessarily agree that vigilante justice is the way to tackle crime; in fact, no research has found that vigilantism does anything to reduce crime rates. What I am saying is that Batman’s motivation for his vigilantism, is a motivation shared by me in my own professional (and completely lawful by the way) career.

Over the years, I’ve come across a wealth of articles online asserting that Batman is actually not someone that should be admired because he is insane, or at the very least, has mental health issues. I take issue with these for two reasons. Firstly, they are fraught with inaccuracy about the character as well as the multiple disorders they claim with which he is afflicted. Secondly, the notion that someone shouldn’t be admired because they have mental health issues is one I find completely absurd. Am I defensive on this matter because I’m a huge fan? Of course the answer is yes. But I’m a huge fan who also happens to be an academic and qualified psychologist and I’ve yet to find any convincing papers by other credible academics that successfully argue the mental health diagnosis of this fictional (yes, folks, awesome as he may be, let’s not forget he isn’t actually real…) character. 

Anyone who has read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM 5) and has a limited grasp of psychology, tends to be able to magically diagnose everyone, including themselves with at least one, and often more than one of the listed disorders. Trouble is, it takes more than a checklist to make such diagnoses and the DSM 5 doesn’t really offer more than this. I’ll spare you all the myriad of disorders other authors have claimed that Batman has, suffice to say, it is pretty much every single one in the DSM 5. 

You’ll get no argument from me that his behaviour is by no means “normal.” Neither are the circumstances in which he grew up. Both parents murdered in front of him when he was a child, raised by the family butler in an environment of wealth and excess, with few close friends and in a lavish home that bordered on one of the most crime-ridden cities that has ever existed. He took his pain, his grief and used it to make himself stronger, both mentally and physically to engage in vigilante justice, motivated by his desire to make his home, Gotham City, a better place. This endeavour consumed him completely, sacrificing love, relationships, leisure, normal employment, sleep and risking his life night after night for what has largely been a totally thankless task. His motivations have remained entirely intrinsic, even after he became more or less accepted by Gotham’s law enforcement and the general public. Does this make him insane? Or does it make him the ultimate example for positive mental health? Taking the pain of his past and letting it drive him to do some good? I tend to argue the latter for one very simple reason. If he was truly insane, or afflicted with a genuinely crippling mental health disorder, it is extremely unlikely that he would still be alive and so successful in his quest as Batman. It is even less likely that he would continue to allow criminals to live, in fact saving their lives on many occasions to ensure they face genuine justice and are afforded the opportunity to rehabilitate. These are not the actions of an insane individual. 

So why do people claim he is insane? Is it jealousy of this fictional character? A more likely explanation is that people look at someone who chooses to forego the “norms” of life for a seemingly endless quest as having something “wrong” with them. It’s comfortable for people to label those with values entirely different from their own as being “weird” and by extension, having some diagnosable condition. This notion could almost be an entire blog post on its own so I won’t dwell on it here. All I will say in conclusion is that until DC choose, as Batman’s creators and writers, to diagnose him with an actual mental illness, I will yet to be convinced by the amateur “experts” who continue to write articles claiming he is insane. And as someone who has also spent most of my life training physically and mentally, foregoing much of the “normal” that most people take for granted, to work in a field where I am at risk every single day from the very people I believe can rehabilitate, I take issue with the claim that these things make a person insane. Having a strong belief that what you are doing is right, even in the face of danger and being willing to make personal sacrifices to do what needs to be done, to make the world a little bit safer, does not make a person insane. It makes them necessary, and a valuable commodity in a world that desperately needs to change. 

“All men have their limits. They learn what they are and they learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine” – Batman.