Batman: Arkham Origins was a pleasant surprise. I had heard mixed things about the game, especially since it was made by a different developer. Some critiqued how scaled down it felt from Batman: Arkham City or the lack of marquee villains, like the Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. What I found, instead, is a game that was closer to what I liked about Batman: Arkham Asylum, both is size and tone.
Arkham Asylum had a focused story with a dark atmosphere, that also made the player feel claustrophobic. Batman wasn’t trapped per se, but he had to go deeper into the worst place in the world, sort of like the aggressively lonely catacombs found in Tomb Raider Anniversary. With it’s mixture of eclectic villains, crumbling architecture and plot twists, Arkham Asylum had all the makings of a classic Batman story, in any medium.
I found Batman: Arkham City to be bloated and nowhere near as intriguing as the first game and I thought I was done with the series. But, Arkham Origins brought the scale back and refocused the story, with villains that work well in the same plot. The smaller scale of Gotham City means less flapping around with no purpose. The streets themselves are emptier than in Arkham City, but the game is set during Christmas Eve and it helps contribute to the feeling of being alone on the holiday. In fact, I played it over the Christmas season for that reason, as the snow and frequent use of Christmas tunes makes this game one of the best holiday titles out there. Combine this with Batman Returns and you have a pretty great Christmas lined up!
The stealth, gadgets and combat all function as they have in previous games. Detective mode is a bit dull, as it has been throughout the series. But all the different gameplay elements work together to make something easy to play and enjoy. I’m not great at big fights in the game, but I can feel great with the mechanics. And, I’m left to wonder why Batman doesn’t have those electric gloves all the time.
I know not everyone enjoyed this entry in the series, but I found it to be my second favorite of the three I’ve played. It has real boss fights against villains I was happy to see, such as Firefly, Deathstroke and Deadshot. Heck, this game even reminded me of why Bane is such a great foe for Batman, as the character and his troupes are accurately translated from the comics, much better than in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, I’m a big sucker for a strong Batman/Joker conversation.
In fact, I enjoyed this prequel so much, I finally purchased Batman: Arkham Knight, a title I have been avoiding due to my lackluster response to Arkham City and the PC port in general. We’ll see how that fares to my disdain of large open worlds, as Arkham Origins reminds me of how much I prefer focused, story driven games. And the viewers that stopped by all seemed to have a soft spot for this title, many of them feeling this game get’s underrated. I’m right there with them now.
Eric: Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke and released as a one shot graphic novel in 2005. It’s reads as a direct sequel to Year One, dealing with Batman’s first encounter with the Joker.
I’m trying to remember what I thought when I first read this book way back when. In all honesty, I don’t think it left too much of an impact, it was just another book I grabbed at the Comic Book Palace (Haverhill, Ma). Sure, it was a little longer, being a graphic novel, but it read like any other one shot. At the time, I might have been interested in the Joker’s origin, but time has tempered that desire.
Kendra: I really liked this one. However, I wasn’t prepared for how dark it was. I have been watching a lot of the Batman animated series with Eric and though the Joker is bad news, we know Batman’s got it under control. Here, however, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. In Gotham’s defense, they had never dealt with The Joker before so they truly had no idea what to expect.
Even though Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written 18 years after Year One, it is still written in the same style. We get to hear the entire story by going back and forth between Batman and Gordon’s points of view. Also, it seems to take place not long after Year One. Gordon is captain but still not commissioner, and he fills us in on what Batman has been up to since showing up on the scene. It was cool to read them back to back so it seems like a continuous story.
Eric: The problem with being a sequel to Year One is that the book just isn’t as good. I don’t mean it should or could be at Year One’s level, but it’s not as good as a story for what it’s doing. It gets from point A to point B, but without any real pathos or style. Considering this is the first battle between two legendary characters, you would expect to see something memorable.
Joker kills some people. Batman thinks maybe the Joker was the Red Hood. Joker is going to poison Gotham’s water supply. Batman stops him. The end.
It’s not very compelling. Jim Gordon is in it, narrating like he did Year One. The problem is that Gordon doesn’t do anything besides serving as exposition. Where his story was just as important as Batman’s in Miller’s tale, here Gordon is used because Year One used him. He explains what’s happening, gives us some plot and reaction to the Joker’s crimes, but he’s basically useless.
Kendra: Like I said before, this is really dark which is not usually my style but it worked. Some of the pictures were hard to look at. While reading this I realized that I was seeing a side of the Joker I had not seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Joker’s poisonous laughing gas seems to be an integral part of the character in the comics and animated series, but they left it completely out of the movie. I wish Nolan had used this in his film. I think maybe they didn’t use it because in Batman Begins, the Scarecrow tried to poison the water system. Still, Joker loses some of his personality when all he’s doing is planting bombs everywhere.
Eric: The parts that work for me in this book are small. Seeing the victims of Joker’s experiments as he tries to perfect his toxin is creepy, if not overly grotesque. Batman may feel responsible for the Joker and he’s willing to make some hard choices to stop the clown’s plans. If this is canon, I suppose it gives us the most solid look at the Joker’s origin, but we might have been better off not knowing.
Mahnke’s art is solid, but too sketchy for my taste. Realism is nice, but Year One had that and wasn’t ever ugly. His Bruce Wayne looks older than Gordon at times. The Joker gets the benefits here, as he does look like a scary clown, but it’s still done is a way that tries to remind us that this grounded. Depending on your taste for such things, your mileage might vary with Mahnke’s art style.
Kendra: The only other problem I had with it was there was no big fight at the end. Batman just blew up what Joker needed and that was it. He did it in the nick of time but it still seemed too easy. I liked seeing Batman’s struggle with whether or not to kill the Joker. I did like being reassured that Batman is truly out for justice and that he’s not a killer (How ‘bout that Man of Steel)! Overall I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. A must read for any true Batman fan. Just be prepared to see the Jokers most evil side.
Eric: Kendra’s review makes mine sound harsh. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is still a solid comic book, telling a story as well as it can. It was also a sequel written twenty years later from the first part. But it doesn’t do anything more, or say anything about the relationship between the Joker and Batman/Gordon/Gotham.
Next week is our first recap week. I’ll be flying solo as I look at other stories set between Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Batman: The Long Halloween. This won’t be a ‘reread’ because I’m just working off of memory, but some (all) of these tales are still worth checking out. If you want to check them out before then, here’s the list;
Batman: Year Two
Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Batman: Dead to Rights