It goes without saying but this article is going to be overloaded with giant spiky spoilers for the recent video game Batman Arkham Knight. This article is essentially a discussion and opinion piece all about its ending, or endings in this case.
To clarify, I’m going to talk about what happens when you reach 100% story completion, so that means I’m going to be referencing the ends of a few side-plots too. If you’ve also finished the game, or you just don’t care about spoilers, then join me down below after the image!
Final Warning! Full spoilers follow for Arkham Knight!
So I suppose already it’s a bit unclear on which ending I’m actually talking about. Arkham Knight ends multiple times in a way. There’s the ending to the main storyline with Scarecrow, the Knightfall activation, defeating Deathstroke after he takes over the militia and then the “full” version of the Knightfall ending once you have 100% completion.
First let’s re-cap, Batman beats the Arkham Knight, unmasks him in the rather obvious reveal as Jason Todd and is then unmasked himself later by Scarecrow. That’s where the main story ends. Then we get Knightfall, which Batman cryptically describes as some one sort of endgame scenario that he’s only comfortable doing once Gotham is safe. Or at least mostly safe, as he’s happy to activate it early with just a majority of threats dealt with. Although this leaves a comical situation where Batman calls it a night potentially with Riddler and Deathstroke still out there. But I understand why developer Rocksteady made the decision to let you activate Knightfall at this point: some people don’t have the time to solve all of those riddles and I don’t blame them.
Knightfall, Part One
This version of Knightfall shows Batman returning to Wayne Manor where he then blows it to bits in front of a crowd of onlookers. Unless Batman decided to do a double-suicide and incinerate Alfred in burning rubble, it’s pretty obvious he faked his death. I’ve heard a few people say they think a super villain actually destroyed it, but this seems unlikely to me. Batman is obviously doing something as that’s what Knightfall is, he also says this is the only way to ‘protect them’. Speaking of which, I also saw some chatter where people assumed ‘them’ meant the people of Gotham. Personally I think ‘them’ means his Bat-family, because Arkham Knight is a game all about family.
Let’s backtrack a little. Batman is shown to be tortured by the “death” of Jason Todd. We know this because Joker, or the ghostly mental image of him in Batman’s mind anyway, shows Batman what he did to Jason Todd. Joker doesn’t know that the Arkham Knight is Jason, he’s simply trying to mess with Batman and show him that Batman is great at getting people killed. Something he wouldn’t do unless it bothered Batman, obviously. Earlier in the game Batman is sprayed with fear gas and sees Oracle kill herself, Batman explains that it’s his fault Oracle “died” as Scarecrow was punishing Batman (let’s save the painful women in refrigerators problem on show here for another day). Later Batman locks Robin in a cell for his own protection. He also refuses help from Nightwing and encourages him to stay away. The point is, Batman is scared of something: he’s scared of losing his family again. Therefore at the end of the game I would have to imagine that Batman is faking his death so people won’t go after his friends and family to get at him, like Scarecrow just did.
Honestly, I thought this was a little bit forced. Did he need to go that far and obliterate his family home? I suppose it deals with the problem that vigilantism is pretty illegal so maybe Batman just wanted to get out of jail time. But even then I’m sure with all his money he could spin that Scarecrow faked the whole thing. Then Batman’s identity becomes a kind of open secret, something we’ve seen happen to a couple of super heroes in comic books before.
I have a suspicion that Rocksteady did this more to salt the earth and go out with a bang than because it made sense for the plot. Batman has a very fatalistic attitude in Arkham Knight, telling both Nightwing and Catwoman that this is the last time they’ll ever work together. I think some of the dialogue here is actually pretty good, especially with Catwoman stealing that kiss, but overall it doesn’t really feel necessary. Batman is still in his prime, or close enough anyway, why is he giving up so easily? This is either a plot hole, a very forced bit of story development, or there’s something going on we don’t know about…
At this point having seen the original Knightfall ending I set out to unlock the full version, which the game says will happen if you deal with all of Gotham’s threats. Later, with 100% completion closing in, I started to speculate if the extended Knightfall ending would shed some light on why Batman felt he had to fake his death and what was coming next with the full Knightfall Protocol.
I had a few theories, such as Bruce Wayne announcing Batman Inc. as he did in the comics (albeit with his secret identity still intact) where multiple people would be taking on the Batman identity as the brand goes global. Or how about the Justice League? Would they turn up in some form? Arkham Knight contained the most blatant references to the wider DC universe yet, with Lex Luthor even having a voiced cameo of sorts and multiple appearances of companies linked to other heroes and villains. Although that said, a Justice League appearance seemed unlikely, as Arkham Knight is still a game that’s still very steeped in Batman lore at its heart.
Finally I wondered if we’d get an appearance of the whole Bat-family vowing to take over. Like Lex, we hear Batwoman’s voice in the game (something that excited me as a huge fan of her) and we’ve also got Jason Todd still around as Red Hood, Tim Drake as Robin, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, then we even have Azrael (although I did throw his ass in prison) it’s not like Gotham is going to go undefended. In the comics Knightfall was a period where Batman was replaced (by the original Azrael), meaning this seemed like the most obvious outcome; to have Batman replaced in some form possibly by the Bat-family as a whole or one individual. I also wondered if we’d see shades of Battle for the Cowl, a really fun mini-series from a few years ago where Jason Todd, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake all attempted to take over as Batman to fill the void left by Bruce (shout-out to a commenter who brought this up on the blog as an idea a few weeks ago). Instead though, the actual final Knightfall ending is… bizarrely unsatisfying.
Knightfall, Part Two
If you’ve not seen it, here’s a video of it:
If you’re not able to watch it right now, this is what happens: Commissioner Gordon gives some rather wonky dialogue about what Batman taught them and how he’s now gone. It’s implied Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are getting married while Jim Gordon himself is mayor. Then we see a wealthy looking family, obviously allusions to Thomas and Martha Wayne, take an ill-advised shortcut down an alleyway. Will it all happen again? We wonder as the couple get robbed. We’re then shown an ethereal Batman-like figure watching them while the crooks state they’re not scared as they know Batman is gone, for some reason they don’t think this could be one of Batman’s allies or someone else about to break their bones. Then things get weird as we see a Scarecrow fear gas like effect as Batman transforms into an actual fiery demon-like bat and charges forward to the screen. The End.
…What? I have a few thoughts about this and I’m not sure what I really think is the answer, but unfortunately I have to be honest and say I’m not a big fan of that scene.
Firstly, I have to wonder why Rocksteady went with this ending. It’s possible they’re trying to leave an ambiguous ending for two reasons: One, to get people talking (which worked evidently) and two, to leave whoever picks up the franchise with a loose starting point. Because let’s be honest, Rocksteady may be finished with Batman but the stunning sales of the franchise show that Warner Bros. would be morons to not toss the franchise to another developer. Maybe it’ll drop the Arkham name, as it’s getting pretty clunky forcing that title in, but there will be another Batman game in Rocksteady’s style I’m sure of it, I just don’t think they’ll be the ones who create it. Though as I alluded above, I also wonder if this is one reason they worked so hard to have Batman be outted and apparently killed, to make it so any sequel has to move away from their story and start fresh. But that seems odd and surely any competitive feelings like that wouldn’t extend so far as to change the entire ending of their game, right?
What Does The Extra Knightfall Ending Mean?
So what might this extra 100% completion Knightfall ending mean? Well, it could be Azrael as Batman brandishing divine justice. That doesn’t really answer why the ending has such a strange horror slant to it though. Is it supposed to be Scarecrow’s fear gas? Has Bruce Wayne returned as Batman and is now using the gas? That seems a little out of character and rather overboard for Batman.
Another answer could be that Bruce Wayne is now Batman full-time and perpetuating a myth that Batman is now an undead demon ghost. This seems plausible on some level because Batman states in the game that there needs to be something more defending Gotham, a concept beyond Batman. Thus turning Batman into a terrifying vengeance seeking ghost is a lot scarier than him being a really rich guy with lots of gadgets. That keeps criminals on their toes and more apprehensive to follow rich people down alleyways, if Bat-ghost might materialise. Although I’m still left wondering why criminals would not be afraid of Batman anymore and why Bat-ghost would be necessary. By this point in the timeline everyone knows Batman is flesh and blood and not a myth or a monster. Overheard dialogue throughout the three Rocksteady games shows that people know Batman is out there and that he makes use of gadgets, not superpowers, yet they’re still afraid of him.
Another thought I had was that it’s symbolic. That the whole world turning to fire and Bat-demon isn’t fear gas or literal, but symbolic of the fear the crooks feel at seeing Batman out there. But again, this seems to clash with the fact that the thugs literally call out to Batman and tell him they’re not afraid.
Then of course there’s the chance there’s DLC coming that will answer who it is. If this is the case, I’d expect this demon Batman to be some copycat who got hold of some Scarecrow fear gas. But I don’t feel like this is the case, as weird as that final scene is I do get the impression it’s supposed to be the end of the story.
Unfortunately I just feel like the ending encapsulates the main problem I had with Arkham Knight: the story is very inconsistent. Some story beats hit perfectly while others fall flat and end in disappointment or are surprisingly straightforward. For instance why does Scarecrow act so radically different than he did in Arkham Asylum? Does his plan really just boil down to ‘I don’t like Batman and I like people being scared?’ The Arkham Knight was a good idea but the reveal of who he is is teased out for so long that it goes from being fairly obvious to begin with, to blindingly apparent thanks to multiple indicators later on. You end up in a situation where there’s no mystery left and it seems silly that Batman is still scratching his head over who it could be. The world’s greatest detective can scan bones, detect scar tissue through clothing, analyse Azrael’s brain but he can’t figure out that the person inches from his face is somebody he trained for years? Time to update detective vision I think…
Arkham City had multiple story threads that complimented each other, even the final hour of the game had multiple twists and clever moments that made everything clearer. But Arkham Knight juggles its plot threads in a much more haphazard manner. Is this a game about Scarecrow? Joker again? Or Jason Todd? The family theme is a strong one but it gets muddled in with other plot beats and as a whole the game feels pretty unfocused. Having Batman unmasked and giving up also feels tacked on and worryingly like it might have been done just because Rocksteady are ready to leave Batman behind. Like this Knightfall ending, it doesn’t feel like a natural end to the game.
Okay so yes, I’m being very critical. Arkham Knight is still a very good game and I’m a huge Batman fan so of course I enjoyed it. But I can’t help but think how Arkham City didn’t leave me with any of these unsatisfied feelings, both previous Rocksteady Arkham games were much better paced and built to satisfying conclusions, especially Arkham City. Meanwhile Arkham Knight ends on more of an ‘Oh. That’s it?’ after bunch of predictable twists.
The lesson? When you’ve had one amazing lead writer for two of your games, you probably should ask him back to finish your trilogy. Why was Paul Dini not asked to return for Arkham Knight? Beats me, from his Twitter it seems he wanted to come back. There’s an alternative universe out there somewhere with his take on the game and I guiltily suspect I’d have liked it more. But hey, the grass is always greener, right?