The Women of the Arkham Knight
One of the biggest issues I’ve found with the Arkham Knight (Other than the shabby PC port) is the portrayal of women. Women in games often get the short end of the stick when it comes to things to do, typically being kidnapped/killed/tortured in order to give the protagonist (Who is almost always a man) a reason to be the lone wolf badass who kicks ass and gets the girl. Now whole blogs are dedicated to cataloging and examining these issues with more depth and academic literacy than I can muster, but that doesn’t stop me feeling a little awkward at what Arkham Knight (and, in fact, the other Arkham games) do to the women characters in their stories, stories which for the most part are well written and enjoyable but which seem to regress horribly when it comes to the women of the Dark Knight.
Obviously spoilers for both Arkham City and Arkham Knight ahead
Let’s start with Arkham City and the love of Bruce Wayne’s life, Talia al Ghul. A trained fighter from birth taught in all forms of combat by her father Ra’s Al Ghul and commander of the League of Shadows. She is killed by a clown with a pistol. Obviously, the Joker is a homicidal maniac but the writers seem to forget what a formidable warrior Talia is, in favor of disposing of her to give Batman further motivation to pummel someone who he was already going to pummel.
Even when the story is finished, more care and attention is taken to how Batman feels about the Joker dying than there is to how he feels about the women he supposedly loved being murdered.
Now this isn’t to say all the women used in the game are done so poorly, Cat-Women’s sections are well done and even at one point, she saves Batman’s life. Poison Ivy is aloof and cares not for what other people do, of course, much could be said about her use of sexuality, but that’s for people smarter than myself to discuss. Harley Quinn remains the most interesting women in the cast, her strong will dominate most around her but is forever brought to heel by the Joker. So that’s Arkham City. So what of Arkham Knight?
The Women of the Arkham Knight
Let’s start by listing them shall we
- Barbara Gordon: Formally Batgirl, but was shot and paralyzed by the Joker and so takes up the job of Batman’s tech support as Oracle.
- Cat-woman: Highly acrobatic burglar, she is sometimes a villain but mostly is a dubious anti-hero with a sexually charged relationship with Batman.
- Poison Ivy: Super powered eco-terrorist who uses sexuality as a weapon has little interest in the plight of humanity, favoring the company of plant life.
- Harley Quinn: After the death of Joker, Harley is consumed by grief but continues working with other villains to take out Batman, particularly Poison Ivy who she has a close relationship with.
WARNING DON’T READ BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED ARKHAM KNIGHT, LOT OF SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
Let’s start with Barbara Gordon shall we? Her case is certainly the most egregious in the entire game. After about an hour into the game, Barbara is kidnaped by the Arkham Knight and held hostage. Using her wits she manages to leave a trail for Batman to follow but upon arriving to find her, she’s been driven mad by Scarecrows fear toxin and so kills herself in front of Batman. Spoiler She isn’t dead, that was just a hallucination that Batman was having, but he only learns this about 15 hours later towards the end of the game. So he’s spent bloody ages being all stoic about having gotten someone killed and promising to get revenge on Scarecrow because apparently Batman needed more motivation to stop a terrorist from terrorizing people.
Part of the reason the Knight goes after Barbara is that she’s part of the Bat-family, of course, both Night-Wing and Robin are also part of that family but they aren’t ever in that much danger, Robin is shot but is basically told: “He’ll be fine, walk it off”.
Then we have Catwoman, a highly capable acrobat and a fighter who is somehow kidnapped by the Riddler, yes the Riddler. For most of her time in the game, Cat-Woman is trapped in a room while she waits for Batman to solve some riddles before being freed. What happened to that kick ass women from Arkham City who did what she wanted, beat up Two-Face and saved Batman’s life! Seeing this character reduced to a damsel in distress to give some puzzles a sense of urgency is pretty shitty by anyone’s standards.
Next we come to Poison Ivy, the living embodiment of nature and someone whose real power is forever understated since no one in this game is allowed to be more awesome than Batman (Seriously she has the capacity to be one of the most powerful being on the planet) Her role in the story is to help Batman clean up the massive amount of fear toxin in the air, using her plants to do so. She succeeds in doing this, but it costs her life in the process, saving Gotham, thousands of lives and most importantly her plants.
The sacrifice she makes is the only real sacrifice in the entire story, Batman does give himself up, revealing his identity at the end of the story but that just means he doesn’t run around punching crooks anymore, he’s still free to live his life and rebuild Gotham. Maybe giving up his cowl is akin to dying to Batman as it would be others losing their lives but it kinda rings hollow when Ivy is the only person who dies THE ENTIRE TIME, I mean come on, at least, beat Nightwing up a little.
As for Harley Quinn, honestly her story is well told, a good mix of her character defining obsession with the lingering realization that things will never be like they once were, so no issues there really.
So that’s a rundown on the portrayal and use of women in Arkham Knight. There are of course many other readings that could be taken from the games story and use of characters and mine is by no means the best/most cogent/even close to well written. Arkham Knight is a game I really did like, it’s not perfect, not even close but it’s one I really do have a soft spot for. But if I’m to call out the bullshit of games like Watch Dogs, I need to point it out on games I do like as well.