Opinion Piece

Analysing Batman: Arkham Knight’s Knightfall Ending

 

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The ending to Batman: Arkham Knight is slightly mysterious, to say the very least. No, not that one. The other one. No, the other other one. The one that you can only obtain by completing everything in the game, including finding and solving every single Riddle spread throughout Gotham, a slightly daunting task which is why so many people have opted to instead view the Knightfall Protocol ending on Youtube. Exactly why Rocksteady opted to have three tiers of ending is beyond me, because frankly the first two are a bit pants, and the true one should have been shown to everyone. For the purpose of this article I’m assuming you’ve seen that ending, either by patiently hunting down every last Riddler trophy or via the magic of Youtube, because I’m going to bandy around some ideas as to what it all means. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading now so that you don’t spoil it for yourself. Don’t worry, this article will still be here when you’re done. Seriously, it won’t run away.

Let’s start with what we can say for sure, and what we can say with relative certainty. We see that Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are getting married, which is a nice touch of happiness considering the dark tone of the game. We also see that Jim Gordon is running for mayor, which is also a neat twist. Moving on to less certain events we come to the apparent death of Bruce Wayne at his mansion following his public unmasking at the hands of Scarecrow. We can safely assume this was a faked death as it seems very unlikely Bruce Wayne would actually kill himself, or Alfred for that matter. The other option is that some villain did in fact manage to kill Bruce Wayne.

After that things become…ambigious. The closing scene has left some fans unhappy with how vague the ending is, while others, like myself, were left pretty happy. We’re treated to a scene which seeks to mirror the fateful day when Bruce Wayne’s mother and father were brutally murdered in Crime Alley, even going so far as to replicate the woman’s pearls falling to the cold concrete, before the two criminals suddenly spy a Batman upon the rooftop. Scoffing at the figure and declaring that they aren’t scared because Batman is dead, their confidence turns to sheer mind-numbing, pants-wetting terror as the shadowy shape suddenly grows and takes on a demonic visage before swooping down. And then the game ends. Which leaves us with questions: who or what is this Batman? And was it even real?

Theory number one is that it’s Bruce Wayne. Sort of. Looking back across all three Rocksteady game’s Bruce Wayne has featured very little, which is fitting since Rocksteady have always wanted to focus on making you feel like Batman, and throughout the Batman lore there’s always been the idea that Batman isn’t a mask that Bruce Wayne wears, it’s the other way round; Bruce Wayne is a mask Batman wears. Indeed, Bruce Wayne has always shown disdain for the playboy lifestyle that he lives during the day, although he does use it to try to better Gotham whenever he can. The explosion at Wayne Manor could be a symbolic gesture, the death of the charade and the rebirth of the Batman in purer form, a man free of having to pretend to be something he isn’t. This idea is reinforced by Bruce’s words to the Joker as he locks his oldest and most dangerous foe away in the darkest recesses of his mind; “I am vengeance. I am the night, I am BATMAN.” Aside from being a wonderful homage this could also be a major clue. Now that his day-time identity is out, Batman no longer has to pretend to be someone he is. He “kills” Bruce Wayne, therefore killing that part of himself, and from the ashes arises anew as his more dominant Batman persona comes to the fore, more focused and more dangerous than ever. Meanwhile the scene in the alleyway seems very reminiscent of the Scarecrow’s fear gas, including the fact that the demonic Batman seen by the two criminals closely resembles what Scarecrow saw when injected with his own toxin. Free of his Bruce Wayne persona has Batman decided to truly become something that criminals are scared of, and thus added a modified version of the fear gas to his arsenal, changing into something more than a man in the eyes of his prey? With Batman being publicly unmasked and every criminal able to see him as a man and not a shadowy monster, perhaps Bruce Wayne understood that he needed to symbolically destroy the man in order for criminals to fear the symbol once more. Batman once again needed to become a creature of the night, a myth.

Theory two is that the new Batman is Jason Todd. The use of fear toxin would also suit Jason Todd’s more traditionally violent and direct methods, which includes a willingness to use lethal tactics when tackling crime. Many would argue that his helmet  and his hastily drawn symbol on his breastplate points to him becoming the Red Hood instead, as he does in the comics and in the DLC which takes place after the events of Arkham Knight. However, a stint as the Red Hood doesn’t preclude him from becoming the new Batman. Given that Todd achieved a degree of redemption,and managed to presumably at least partially forgive Batman, his becoming the new Dark Knight would be a fitting continuation of his story arc. Perhaps he once again became a student of Bruce Wayne, trained to be a new, more terrifying hunter of criminals, or he just decided to take up the mantle on his own. It has been done in the comics, after all, where none other than Dick Grayson also took on the role. Given his ordeal at the hands of the Joker and his experiences with the Scarecrow and his prior training under the Dark Knight who else would better understand the power of fear, of a symbol? For me the use of fear gas, assuming that’s what is being shown in the final scene, fits Jason Todd perfectly. In the graphic novel (which you’ll see me reference a few times throughout this article, mostly because it’s sitting right next to me and contains a few handy qoutes) Battle for the Cowl Todd considers one of Batman’s biggest mistakes to be becoming a public figure, when he should have remained an urban legend. He also viewed working with Commissioner Gordon as nothing more than an attempt to feel validated.

Speaking of Dick Grayson as we just were, some of have speculated that Nightwing would be the most likely to take up the Dark Knight’s cowl, just as he did in the comics. Arguably the most trusted, next to Alfred, and capable of Batman’s allies he’s a worthy successor there’s no doubting that. The man is a formiddable hero, with impressive detective skills and a flair for fighting However, my main gripe with this theory is that the use of fear toxin and fear in general doesn’t fit Grayson’s personality, nor indeed that of Tim Drake, the current Robin in the Arkham universe. Dick just doesn’t seem like the kind of person to use powerful fear tactics. Indeed, in the comics his Batman had a much jokier personality, countered by the new Robin, Damien Wayne, being the darker, much more violent member of the team. In the game the few times you get to see Dick in action he’s dropping wisecracks as he pummels foes. His personality profile just doesn’t fit the bill, for me, and it’s unlikely he’d want to give up being Nightwing. He worked hard to get out from Bruce’s sizable shadow, and it took considerable coaxing to get him to don the boots, mask and cape in the comics.

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Theory three is that the new Batman is Azrael, as hinted at by the series of sub-quests in which he attempts to prove his worth to Batman. Oddly “worth” was apparently just seen as the ability to punch thugs in the fact without being hit. Some weight is added to the theory when we consider that we do get to control Azrael, even during the final moments of the mission where we get to choose whether he tries to kill Batman or rejects his brainwashing. Having said this, we also get control of several other characters, too. Some further credence to the concept that this new Batman is Azrael is the very name of the Knightfall Protocol. In the comics Knightfall is a story arc in which Batman had his back broken by Bane, leaving him out of action. Bruce Wayne then asks Jean-Paul Valley, A.K.A. Azrael, to take up the mantle of the Batman, much to the chagrin of Tim Drake who believes Dick Grayson should be the one to do it, but Bruce reasons that Dick has his own responsibilities, and would only take the role on the role grudgingly. In reality Bruce doesn’t want Dick to go up against Bane, and indeed also commands Jean-Paul not to battle Bane directly, either. In the end Jean-Paul becomes unstable, and a newly healed Batman reclaims his mantle. Moving on in the newer Battle for the Cowl storyline a new Azrael is introduced in the form of Michael Lane, the very same man who bears the title of Azrael in Batman: Arkham Knight, who also wishes to take on the role of Batman, although in this instance it’s ultimately Dick Grayson who dons the mask and cape. Interestingly Jason Todd also takes on the role briefly in the storyline, creating a Batman costume and wielding guns. It’s possible, then, that Azrael is the one to try to continue the Batman’s legacy.

Theory four is that the new Batman is some unknown person, and trained by the previous Batman in a Batman Beyond kind of scenario, which is perhaps somewhat hinted at by the demonic visage looking slightly like the traditional Batman Beyond red and black costume. It’s possible, but I do feel that from a narrative perspective this would be the weakest of the theories I’m presenting here, and doesn’t have much evidence to back it up.

The problem we face is that unless somebody locates definitive evidence within the game’s closing scenes or word comes directly from Rocksteady then any of these four theories could be true, as they all fit. Batman symbolically killing his Bruce Wayne persona and rising from the ashes as a new symbol of fear  ties in thematically with the rest of the game, especially toward the finale where Joker is banished not by Bruce Wayne, but by Batman. In fact, let’s delve a little deeper into this concept, so bare with me here as I’m going to try to get into the Bat’s mindset a little and talk some proper nonsense.

One of the key themes we see throughout the game is how Bruce’s closest allies are a strength, as shown in the team-up sections, and yet ultimately are the source of his fears and his failures, both in terms of failing to keep them safe and failing because of them. These people – Commissioner Gordan, Barbara, Tim and Dick Grayson and even Catwoman – represent one half of Batman’s complete persona; Bruce Wayne, or more specifically for the sake of this argument they represent the human side of Batman, the side that needs friends and allies.  Referring back Battle for the Cowl once again there’s a snippet from Jason Todd where he believes Bruce took Grayson under his wing not for Grayson’s sake, but rather as an emotional construct used to keep himself from slipping into insanity, and to hold him back from becoming what he truly needs to be in order to terrify the criminal element. Really, Bruce Wayne and Batman are separate characters.

Consider what happens throughout the game; Barbara Gordon is seemingly shot, another failure for Bruce that is not only devastating in its own right but that also brings back memories of a certain Jason Todd, considered by Bruce to be his ultimate failure. Further on we see his conflict with Tim where he winds up locking Tim away, ultimately putting him in direct danger, yet another failure of Bruce that results from his more human side. Furthermore it’s the endangerment of Tim that ultimately leads Bruce to yet another screw up, forcing him to surrender to the Scarecrow and be unmasked for all the world to see. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that while Scarecrow was defeated in the end, the villain did what few have done before by arguably beating Batman, at least in a sense. Then there’s Wayne’s relationship with Commissioner Gordon which puts Bruce in yet another awkward position, plus the return of Jason Todd who, as we’ve already covered, is often referred to as Bruce’s greatest failure, a tragedy that weighs heavily on his mind. Despite Batman being a seemingly solitary figure in the shadows, Bruce Wayne is no longer on his own, and while that’s often a strength from an emotional perspective, perhaps he feels that to truly become Batman he needs to sever those connections, cutting himself off from the Bat-family to rise again as a symbol of fear. Indeed, there’s several lines during the closing scenes that could be construed this way, including Bruce Wayne referring to the Knightfall Protocol as being the only way to keep “them” safe.  Ultimately throughout the course of the game, Bruce Wayne fails due to his emotional bonds, almost getting Barbara, Tim and Commissioner Gordon killed and allowing that to nearly stop him from beating Scarecrow. The shadow of Jason Todd looms constantly over Arkham Knight’s storyline, both literally and figuratively as Bruce is terrified that what he’ll allow what happened to Jason happen to the rest of the Bat-family, forcing him to capitulate. In the end it’s the colder, calculating Batman persona that achieves victory, locking away the fear that Joker represents, including the fear of failing friends and family, before opting to enact Knightfall and sever his ties with them. Throughout the story we see many examples of Bruce essentially saying his goodbyes and pushing his closest allies away, mentally preparing for what is to come.

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Things do get murky with the faked death, though, or should I say the assumed fake death, of Bruce Wayne. While narrating Jim Gordon mentions that there are hundreds of suspects that could have killed Bruce Wayne, which is of course true, but it seems massively unlikely that Jim, Tim, Barbara or Gordon would believe for even a second that someone like Bruce Wayne could not fake his own death. We could therefore take this to mean that Bruce Wayne was legitimately killed, not through his own actions but by a villain. Indeed, if you look closely Calender Man is lurking in the crowd as Bruce Wayne arrives at the Manor. More interesting is that previously Calender Man stated “The end of days is coming. I was there at your beginning, and I will be there at your end.” a promise that he fulfills. IN some cruel twist of fate, did Calender Man kill Bruce Wayne? It’s probably just an Easter Egg for fans, but still….the Manor did blow up almost immediately after Alfred closes the door. Could they really have escaped in time?

The other option is that Dick and co have simply chosen to accept Bruce’s desire to fade from the world. Gordon delivers several lines which suggests a Batman hasn’t been around, asking “Who will protect Gotham now that the Batman is dead?” The way that the sinister “new” Batman appears during this scene suggests that this is the first time since Bruce’s perceived death that Batman has appeared on the streets of Gotham city, which would explain Gordon’s words. He, like the rest of the Bat-family, assume Bruce’s “death” also meant the death of Batman.

There’s also Bruce’s words to Catwoman in their final shared scene, where he says, “Gotham needs something more, something worse…. to defend her. She needs a new myth, more powerful than I can be right now.” Is this an allusion to later, to his intentions to reinvent Batman and once again become an urban myth, a shadow that many doubts even exists yet keep a wary eye out for? After all, he does say more powerful than he can be right now, and by the end of the game that’s certainly true as the world has seen Batman as a man. Considering how long Bruce has been operating, too, the Batman was no longer a myth, he was very much a reality, and hardly a subtle one with that tank of his. He still scared criminals, but their conversations throughout the game leaves no doubt that while they still fear the Batman, they also know he’s very much just a human. A dangerous one, sure, but ultimately still just a human. It’s only when Batman picks them off one by one that the final criminal experiences genuine terror, which is what Bruce always envisioned Batman as being able to do. It’s also pretty hard to imagine Bruce ever stepping away completely from the Batman. He’s not the kind of man to go and tend to his garden until he dies, after all.

Another way to read the end is that it’s entirely metaphorical, that Batman will always live on as part of Gotham. Gordon mentions that, “Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot,” which some have believed to be referencing the fact that the Batman we see isn’t actually real, it’s just a symbolic gesture to say that in one way or another Batman lives on. But to me this doesn’t added up. Those criminals in the final scene where scared of something. No, I remain sure that there was a Batman, and I’m convinced that a version of Scarecrow’s toxin is being used, either on a permanent basis or just to shroud this “new” Batman in mystery and fear before abandoning its use.

One argument against the idea that Bruce is still Batman is that even after a gap of a few years people would surely suspect Bruce Wayne as being under the mask, considering everything they’ve seen him do in the past, and thus any sense of fear would be tarnished. To counter this argument I’d say that’s what the Fear Toxin would be for. Criminals must always have known Batman was but a man, but there was always that little touch of doubt in their mind that Batman took complete advantage of with his tactics. The Fear Toxin could take this to the next level by overriding any sense of Batman simply being a human in costume, letting the Dark Knight take back his symbol as a hunter in the dark. However, I have no explanation for the fact that Bruce Wayne’s unmasking would have consequences for the rest of the Bat-family, because as far as I’m aware both Grayson and Tim Drake were taken in by Wayne just as they were in the comics, thus they’d surely have a tough time following Wayne’s public reveal. All I can assume is that given how good they are at covering their own tracks any investigations or questioning would turn up nothing, and the public would eventually have to accept that. Supervillains, though, would be less…forgiving.

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Moving on, though, the Jason Todd theory also holds water to a degree. He lacks the moral constraints of somebody like Dick Grayson, which is why I can imagine him donning the costume and unleashing a version of the fear gas. It’s been mentioned numerous times in the comics that Jason always wanted to be the successor to Batman. However, there is a potential flaw in theory; the Red Hood DLC, available to those who pre-ordered the game, appears to take place after the events of Arkham Knight. Of course this doesn’t mean Jason doesn’t eventually dawn the cape and cowl of Batman, especially since the closing scene of the game potentially takes place several years after Bruce Wayne’s “death”, giving Jason plenty of time to step into the boots. Of course that potential gap of a few years could have also been used by Bruce Wayne as a cooling off period before he again stalked the streets, a time in which the criminals could believe Batman to be truly dead before what looks like the demonic spectre of the Dark Knight returns, seemingly from the grave.

Likewise the new Batman being Azreal does also hold up and has some good supporting evidence in the form of Azreal’s sub-mission and the name of the Knightfall Protocol, which heavily implies somebody else taking on the role of the Bat. If the idea that there’s a relatively substantial gap between the supposed “death” of Bruce Wayne and the appearance of Batman is true then that would make sense, as it seems unlikely that Bruce would simply hand over the reigns to Azrael without having known him far longer and without training him personally.

You’ll note that I’m not letting go of the idea that Bruce is very much alive, and that if he isn’t Batman then he’s heavily involved with the new Batman. Firstly suicide seems to go completely against Bruce’s character, and he sure as hell isn’t going to take Alfred with him. Bruce is certainly the type to give his life to save others, but suicide simply doesn’t fit. Nor is he the kind of person to sit around and do nothing, and thus if anyone tried to take on the role of Batman without his permission they’d likely have to deal with him at some point, thus I’m assuming any new Batman has the support of Bruce in one form or another.

As for the ambiguous ending it’s pretty clear this was done so that Warner Bros. could continue with the franchise, and have some leeway in terms of whether they’d like to bring Bruce Wayne back or head in a slightly different direction, all while letting Rocksteady still deliver a pretty satisfying finale for their own trilogy. Hell, maybe we’ll see Warner Bros. cash in on the current trend of indie horror games where everything is pitch black. You play as a criminal being stalked by some demonic visage of the of the Batman. It could work.

Which bring us to the end of this article, and question of what I personally believe the closing moments mean. Firstly, I believe that the criminals truly did see a Batman, and that fear toxin was used to induce a powerful hallucination. I do not rule out the possibility that Rocksteady were going more for letting us see the Batman through the eyes of the criminals. However, the effects shown were too close to those of the fear gas, and the demonic Batman also bore too much resemblance to what Scarecrow saw when under the influence of his own toxin for me to really believe anything else. So, if a Batman was really there who do I think was under the mask? Personally I’m laying my money on either Bruce Wayne, now completely committed to being Batman and bringing back the sense of fear needed to stop the criminal element, or Jason Todd. I’m ruling out Azrael not from a lack of evidence but because from a narrative perspective I believe him to be a poor choice since he was featured so little in the game, and it’s entirely possible for players to never even bother completing his missions, making it an even poorer plot twist. If a sequel was made with Azrael as Batman players would likely feel surprised, and not in a good way. I believe Bruce Wayne considered him because he had the requisite skills, but wouldn’t have offered him the cowl. If anything Azreal’s presence and role in the game feels more like it was simply to make players even more aware of how Bruce was gearing up for something big, and considering a replacement in the eventuality of his death at the hands of Scarecrow or Arkham Knight..

The name of the Knightfall Protocol is the biggest detractor from my idea that Bruce is still the Batman because it quite strongly implies somebody else taking up the role, which could be Jason Todd, though the name does of course heavily suggest Azrael. It could just be a nod to the comics, but considering how it’s in such an important place in the plot it seems odd to include a homage to the comics without it actually meaning something. If I’m correct in assuming that it does mean something then my Bruce Wayne theory goes out the window, leaving Jason Todd. Or Azrael. Truth be told it could very well be Azrael. I just still feel it would be the weakest choice from a plot perspective. I’m probably completely and utterly wrong.

It’s either Bruce or Todd. If I absolutely had to pick, I think I’d side with it being Bruce, but I do believe Warner Bros. wouldn’t have a problem with placing Todd in the costume since the game’s have never been overly worried with the man behind the mask anyway, yet would still want a familiar DC character. As you can see, I’m pretty conflicted here, but that’s probably what Rocksteady was aiming for. Keep in mind that this is all pure speculation, and I’m not exactly a great detective. Maybe other people out there can pick up on other clues and/or provide better explanations and justifications.

For now, though, all that I do know is that an important trilogy in my life has come to end. Sure, Rocksteady, your boss battles were absolutely terrible until the very last (Deathstroke and Arkham Knight tank battles? Really!?), but I’m going to miss your Batman games, even as they live on with a new team at the helm, the very same team who created Arkham Origins.

Bugger.

 

 

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