Like most women my age, I grew up with Batman: The Animated Series. (You’re already hearing the theme song in your head, aren’t you?) Kevin Conroy is my Batman. Mark Hamill is my Joker. Adrienne Barbeau is my Catwoman. Two Face is, okay — he pretty much got phoned in after becoming Two Face (and getting played by Ivy) but that’s not important.
The B:TAS created Harley Quinn, gave a real backstory to Mr. Freeze beyond a mascot for igloo coolers, and was the reason so many people were clamoring to see Poison Ivy in a movie (DAMN YOU, SCHUMACHER!).
When they announced that the Batman: Arkham Asylum game was going to be a cast reunion from B:TAS, you’d think I’d have wrested the controller from my husband. The graphics are amazing, with that nice gothic touch that screams Gotham instead of “Chicago but Day for Night.” The voice acting is a nostalgic punch to the happy. For the first time, you feel like you’re playing as Batman with all the sneaking, “beating up” thugs, and gadgets. So many damn gadgets.
The story is…okay. It always felt a bit like a possibly-interesting thirty minute story stretched to fill an entire movie. But we’ve got Mark Hamill back as the Joker! And you can glide around in a tattered batcape and punch Bane.
But where the animated series not only created whole cloth new and interesting women characters as well as breathing life into old ones, the video game stuffed them back into the old fashioned boxes comics refuses to climb out of without a lot of kicking and whining.
Here’s the first Harley Quinn outfit. Get it, because her name sounds like Harlequin, WHICH WAS WHY JOKER WAS FASCINATED WITH HER IN THE FIRST PLACE!
It gives an innocence to a very dark character trapped in an abusive relationship. Her storyline of trying to break away from Joker with Ivy’s help and reform, only to be pulled back in, was both heartfelt and goofy. She just wanted to buy a dress.
And here’s what they came up for her in the Batman: Arkham Asylum game:
Wow, that sure is empowering how she’s wearing nothing to do with a clown whatsoever. She looks like a woman tasked with dressing up like a scantily-clad mime from A League of Her Own for Halloween. Sadly, the costumes get worse and worse with each game.
And Ivy, poor Ivy had to use up all of Arkham’s double stick tape to get her toddler-sized shirt to stay on. She’s really in a bad mood because of the yeast infection from her poison ivy panties.
None of the few women in the Batman games have anything to do with each other. Harley’s only there to be another Joker boss. Ivy exists so that Batman can once again capture her, throw her in jail, then realize she’s the one who can cure (insert whatever stupid plot they have here) and get treated like a disposable napkin.
Their relationship, as complicated as it is, is downplayed and ignored because this game is 200% women are only there to support or antagonize men. If a man walks out of a room, women cease to exist.
And then there’s Catwoman.
Rocksteady, come here. We need to have a talk. Maybe you remember all that controversy over your Catwoman walking around like a talking fleshlight? Of course, most people clung to the use of thugs calling her a bitch while glossing over the fact that we had our first playable woman character and she swung her hips about so hard while in nine inch stilettos I was afraid she might dislocate her spine.
Wanna bet she’s got almost an entire Thanksgiving dinner stuck down her cleavage?
There was quite a blowback from that, and not only from women who were sick and tired of only being represented as a meat bag for wrapping around a guy’s dick. Even a few men were pissed off about this Catwoman (this was also pre-GamerGate bullshit, so they weren’t labelled a SJW and were just accused of being white knights who only thought of women as people because they wanted to get sex. Ah, innocent times).
I bring it up because clearly you haven’t learned a God damn thing.
Enter Arkham Knight (and click away if you want to avoid any spoilers – though I won’t be bringing up the ending, any of them).
Oracle’s been the linchpin for our broody, always-works-alone Batman. She’s locked up in the batcave doing massive Google searches and scrolling through her Netflix list when not calling Bats out on his shit. Which, of course, he ignores, because she’s a girl and girls don’t know nothing.
Originally, she was voiced wonderfully by Kimberly Brooks (who was Ash in Mass Effect) but for reasons I cannot fathom, for the last installment they replaced her with the dead-voiced Ashley Greene – the only likeable one in Twilight (other than the armadillo). Did someone at the studio suddenly wake up and realize, “Oh shit, we don’t have any known actors in this game! We can’t replace Batman, so, I know! How about we give some actual cut scenes to Oracle and then bring in that cutsey faced one from that vampire movie. That’ll get girls to play our game!”
So, Oracle’s helping Batman as he keeps yelling at Robin and Nightwing about how much working alone he does when, dun dun dun! she gets kidnapped.
Are you kidding me?
In fact, all the women wind up getting kidnapped. Catwoman is taken by the Riddler because he must have been stuck on a cat-related puzzle and needed her help or something. And, once again, Ivy’s manhandled and chucked around by Batman because he needs her help to cure something something. But because it’s Batman, it’s not like he can ask nicely or agree to a deal. Instead it’s all clenched jaw and mad brooding!
Harley’s so sneeze and you’ll miss her (in an even stupider fucking outfit) that she somehow misses out on the kidnapping spree. But when you have a whole four women in your game, and they spend most of it needing Batman to rescue and/or use them, you can just fuck off with dropping in a Twilight actor to get women to play your game.
Scarecrow has Oracle for reasons that are vague and kind of stupid. After Batman goes around promising that he’ll get her back and doesn’t need help, he finds her and — slip on your spoiler glasses now:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!
Not only do they kill Oracle in the stupidest fucking way possible, Scarecrow flat-out says “Oh, I only did it to motivate you, Batman.”
Did the writers look up the definition of fridging and think, “Hey, that’s pretty cool. We should include that! And get a vampire in here too. Kids love vampires.”
You’ve had Oracle be useful, contribute to the plot, and even show some characterization – but nope, who cares about all of that? She’s only here to make Batman even more broody and angsty. Not that Batman does more than a quick, “Nooooo,” then he’s out the door acting like nothing happened. Way to really drive home how important Barbara Gordon was to him. Of course, Robin gets his ass captured, but rather than being forced to shoot himself in the head (seriously? GAH!) he’s held for like two seconds and then fights his way out.
WHY COULDN’T ORACLE HAVE DONE THAT? We’ve already got like fifteen Robins flapping around, wouldn’t have killing one off also have been a much better bookend for your great big secret in the game?
Oh, but I forgot, women are the delicate hothouse flowers in stinging nettle panties. They need the rescuing or to be crushed to motivate our hero. Men are powerful and can save themselves. Silly me.
It isn’t just the hamfisted 1970s approach to female characters that turned me so far off the Arkham games I want to take a comically sized clown hammer to them.
Batman is the worst! By the third installment, he’s reached such a high point of not giving a fuck he’s added missiles to his bat-tank and regularly runs people over. Oh, I’m sorry, he “nudges them with his cattle prod.” Nudges fifteen feet into the air where they land on concrete, but I’m sure they’re fine and not at all dead. The charismatic Bruce Wayne who made Conroy’s Batman sing is long dead. A psychopath in a black cape ran him over with his cattleprod tank.
I’m doing my damnedest to remember a time when Batman wasn’t a colossal prick, but it’s like Nolan not only destroyed all future Batmans, but somehow washed away the likeability of past ones as well. God, even Adam West is squatting in his bright grey tights moaning over his dead parents and how only he can protect the night. MAKE IT STOP!
What made the Animated Series so great was that Batman wasn’t a lone wolf. He’d regularly call on Robin to help, and not with that, “Fine, I guess you can work with me THIS ONE TIME!” resignation. When Batgirl rolled onto the scene, they threw open the cave for her and treated her like one of their own instead of someone to sit in the Batcave and do Google searches Bats was too lazy for.
And all villains were treated like people. Women weren’t shackled off to be rescued by our hero. Ivy was complicated, Harley became instantaneously popular because of her villain/redemption/villain stories. And Catwoman wasn’t there to purr and get dicks hard. She had her own plans, she was always trying to rescue animals and build shelters. She had a life that had fuck all to do with Batman.
And therein lies the problem. A good game doesn’t feel like the NPCs all shut down the second your character leaves a room. You want something bubbling below the surface, people with their own lives who may not add to the plot, but enrich the world. But this is Batman, and Batman has somehow become every stunted man’s fantasy of being the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE! If people aren’t talking about Batman at that very second, he’ll do it his damn self. Seriously Bats, the reason the villains know your every move is because you won’t stop talking about every damn little decision you make. SHUT UP!
I always felt a tug about the Arkham games, like I should want to play them, I should want to get into the world, but something rang sour I couldn’t put my finger on. Sure, Ivy and Harley are dressed like the scantily-clad Halloween versions of themselves, but that’s par for the fucking course in video games, unfortunately. (I would kill to see the “sexy” version of Two-Face or Penguin. Maybe Joker in one of those cock socks with a clown head.) It took until watching Oracle get scared into taking her own life that I finally realize: Rocksteady hates women and really doesn’t want them in their playground.
Oh sure, they announced that Batgirl DLC (which is its own special rant – studios shuttling off any minority characters to their DLC and leaving the main game full of white dicks. Yeah, we know why you do it. Stop patting yourself on the back for your quarter-assed inclusiveness.) but if you don’t think Barbara Gordon won’t be sashaying her un-shattered spine the same way as Catwoman does, I have a bridge to sell you.
Sorry, Batman: The Animated Series. You brought a lot of great into the canon, but sometimes you make a monster or two by accident as well.