[Warning: it’s spoiler time from here on out.]
The second episode of Telltale’s Batman, begins with a wide shot of one man fervently googling ‘batman telltale ep 2 won’t start’. Episode 2 said it was still “coming soon” in the menus. I eventually got the game working, but only after restarting Steam over and over. The googling told me I’m not the only one with the problem, and there’s no official word on a solution.
The first episode of Batman: The Telltale Series was a disappointing routine Batman story, full of the same moral questions and characters we’ve known for a while now, and episode two doesn’t do much to change that despite a huge change up to Batman’s origin story.
Children of Arkham actually begins by positing the grand moral question: What if my dad was a huge jerk? It’s never answered, exactly, but Bruce Wayne’s psyche is—or should be—rapidly crumbling as he begins to realize that his family wasn’t exactly the clean golden calf of capitalism he grew up imagining. They were gangsters, it turns out, in cahoots with the Falcones and other illustrious crime families in a successful bid to ‘own the city’ and ‘build it from the ground up’—which are avenues of dialogue that various old men dive into several times throughout Children of Arkham.
The Waynes have been outed, and Bruce is dealing with damage to his public image, mostly through hearsay. Dent says he needs to distance himself from Bruce to keep his political reputation clean and reporters question him to elaborate, but because Bruce can hide in his batcave and dash around the city in a red sports car, he can keep a safe distance from immediate repercussions. People aren’t breaking down his door and threatening to ruin him. I was hoping to see Bruce Wayne’s wealth and privilege explored, and it might still happen in future episodes, but I’m losing steam quickly.
Bruce is a trust fund vigilante, a very wealthy man who feels he is a worthy practitioner of justice in a city of people far below his socioeconomic status. By exposing his parents as gangsters, there’s room to gut the Batman formula. What happens when Batman’s moral foundation, his reason for seeking justice (his parents’ murder) is flipped turned against him? So far, he’s just confused and sad-mad. Most conversations, like one with a bearded bar patron, boil down to being a jerk or empathetic: responding to ‘Hey, you’re Bruce Wayne!’ with a choice between ‘Beat it’ or ‘Yep, hello, how about a beer?’Either way, he’s still punching thugs hard enough to induce brain damage without killing them so long as it gets him closer to learning more about his increasingly bad dad. Not much has changed.
In the search for more information on his parents’ death, Bruce questions a hospitalized Falcone. Conveniently, right before Falcone drops the word on who ordered the hit—it wasn’t just a random mugging—the gangster gets shot several times by a drugged cop.
Falcone did mention the mayor as a major player in Gotham’s gangster heyday, so Bruce decides to give him a visit. In one of the more interesting decisions so far, you get the option to visit the mayor as Bruce Wayne or Batman. I went as Batman, because I kept trying to play the unhinged version of Bruce, the one who totally lost it after realizing his life was built on lies and dirty money.
After tossing the old man around a bit, he spills the beans. Turns out Thomas Wayne wasn’t just a rude gangster, he was using Arkham Asylum as a front, imprisoning and drugging whenever he needed extra cash or didn’t like someone in particular—or so it seems. This is grapevine stuff, except for one incriminating video that plays at the end.
Before the final scene, Telltale attempts some relationship building. Catwoman and Batman get into a costumeless barfight with Penguin’s pompadoured henchmen, which functions as a get-to-know-you exercise. After Bruce and Selina beat all those handsome men bloody, they get real close and you get the option to try and kiss her. The whole thing feels sudden and forced. First, they beat up each other, and now, some cronies. I don’t remember having a personal conversation with her, but hey, smooching.
During the climax, Cobblepot, our new Penguin, wants to expose the gangster families of Gotham for who they are, so he hijacks a debate between Harvey Dent and Mayor Hill, injecting both with a dangerous truth serum so they really speak their mind. Hill goes on a tirade against the poor and Dent is actually exposed as a pretty good guy, but Penguin pressures him with his relationship to the Wayne family. Batman and Catwoman infiltrate the stage together, but quickly get overwhelmed by thuggery and hostage situations.
The final decision is a tired trope, but could color the remaining episodes in entirely different ways. Given the choice to ‘save’ Catwoman or Harvey Dent from an imminent beating results in one or the other going full villain, I think. If you choose Selina, you cuddle on a couch and Dent gets Two-Faced by a scalding stagelight. Choose Dent, and Selina gets knocked around and angry, casting narrow eyes in Batman’s direction before taking off. It’s a morally ambiguous decision in a world where no one understands moral ambiguity. No matter how carefully considered your decision might be, someone’s always going to be mad at you.
I suppose that’s the life of The Bat, but it still feels like a rushed remix of tired Batman arcs. Although a few big lore changes are presented, Telltale seems hesitant to fully commit to them. Here’s Penguin, but skinny and with a gas mask. Meet and maybe kiss Catwoman, again. How far should Batman go for the truth, for justice? If we don’t know by now, we never will. A flipped origin story shouldn’t just make him upset, it should force Bruce Wayne to reforge his identity under wildly different circumstances. So far, Batman is still Batman, and I’m still unmoved.