The Arkham Knight himself
Warning Spoilers for the Arkham Knight, don’t read unless you’ve already learnt his identity.
One element of Batman Arkham Knight that so few have talked about in-depth is the title character, no not Batman, the Arkham Knight. Hyped up by Rocksteady as a completely new and original character who would challenge Batman the way no other had since the demise of the Joker. From the first reveal of the character, rumors were flying about who the Knight was, could it be the Joker or some other villain reinventing themselves? Could it be Thomas Elliot who had been hinted at in Arkham City, or maybe Azreal?
Clearly designed as an evolution of Batman, the character of the Arkham Knight was meant to be better than the Caped Crusader, some one who would beat him once and for all. Just look at the press shot above: There he has Batman at his mercy, about to finish what so many others could never do. Rocksteady wanted this character to be iconic, a twisted reflection of Batman, taking away any of the humanity Batman had and masking it totally in a way that Batman never has. I do kinda like the design of the Knight, it’s not amazing and maybe trying a little too hard to be an edgy take on an established formula, but it’s an interesting perversion on one of the most iconic characters of all time.
This is where the spoilers begin!
But what of the man behind the mask? (Yes it is a man, would have been awesome if it had been a woman though) well that man is someone all Batman fans already know, Jason Todd, the second Robin. The one that got murdered by the Joker* and one of Batman’s greatest failures. The death of Jason is one of Batman’s land mark events, here was a young, plucky child who wanted to fight crime, being brutally beaten to death with Batman having no way to stop it, like the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents it will be an act that forever haunts him.
Pre-character defining death, Jason Todd was an odd character. He lacked the boyish good nature of his predecessors and wasn’t nearly as good a detective as Tim Drake, but he was angry, violent and unpredictable. He first met Batman when trying to steal the Bat-mobiles tires as a lad, and from there was taken under Bruce’s wing, to focus his rage for the benefit of others. It was this rage that lead to his death, not waiting for Batman in a case very dear to his heart, instead facing the Joker alone.
So where does this fit into the Arkham-Timeline? Well after the ‘Death of Todd’ the Joker keeps the boy hidden in an abandoned wing of Arkham Asylum, torturing him for over a year, breaking down the boys will to fight. He eventually breaks, and just before revealing Batman’s identity is supposedly killed properly this time. It is of course another Joker trick, with the boy some how escaping and managing to raise a militia the size of an army in south america (don’t ask how, super-villains so rarely show their budgets)
That gets us update with the game, so what about the character of the Jason as the Arkham Knight. Honestly, I feel stupid that I didn’t work out who it was earlier than I did. The Knight, knows Batman intimately, know how he works, how he fights. There are few people who have studied him in such detail other than those he’s trained, and given how the other two Robins are in the game already and Barbara as Batgirl/Oracle is disabled (but how cool would it have been to have the AK mask taken off and reveled to be Barbara in a suit which lets her walk? Awesome, though maybe offensive to disabled representation advocates)
So yeah, Jason Todd was should have been suspect number one for anyone even slightly aware of Batman canon. Personally I had my bets on the man behind the mask being Azreal, but this was only from some cursory glances since I was trying my hardest not to spoil the games story before release.
As you make your way through Gotham, being taunted at every turn by the Knight, a under current of youthful petulance smothers everything the knight says. He knows how Batman thinks, so he can beat him he crows over loud speaker, Batman is referred to as ‘Oldman’ obviously denoting that the Knight is the new generation. All of this makes sense in terms of Jason’s character pre-death, he was young and impetuous, who got himself killed because Batman couldn’t keep up. You can see then where his twisted hatred for his mentor comes from, after being viciously tortured for a year by one of the deadliest people on earth I’d harbor a little resentment to those who didn’t find me.
The real nail in the coffin though was the adoption of Tim Drake as the new Robin, while Jason was still being tortured. Replacing Todd with Drake is the sign that Batman had given up on trying to find Jason and instead was trying to move on from that mistake. When this information is revealed to Jason by the Joker, it would be hard not to sympathize with Jason for being angry at the man who had failed him.
As the story of Arkham Knight continues the game finds a lot less to do with the character, in fact after his identity is revealed he doesn’t turn up until the very end, where he frees Batman from Scarecrow. This ending is clearly meant to show that Todd has forgiven Batman for letting him down all those years ago and that he doesn’t want to see the man he looked up to be humiliated on live TV as he is. To me however this ending felt a little cheap, in terms of how they deal with the Knight. But maybe that’s the point, these two men aren’t known as great talkers, hell Bruce has trouble coming to terms with emotions from 30 years ago. The single shot that Todd uses to free Wayne at the end is probably the closest to an apology that he’d ever give
*Fun Fact: Comic readers at the time got to decide whether Todd lived or died, they voted him dead.