Batman is my favorite superhero. I love the whole Bat-package: His near-supernatural ability to overcome any obstacle, his ridiculous Bat-themed gadgets, his best-in-comics rogues' gallery, and, recently, his pretty good videogames. But after four Arkham games, the notion of playing as Batman yet again, in another open world adventure, just isn't that appealing to me anymore. I believe a medical professional would say I'm suffering from Bat-fatigue.
The most exciting thing about the next Batman game, Gotham Knights, is that I don't actually have to play as Batman.
Before the reveal of Gotham Knights, we had some inkling that it would be putting you in the tights of members of the Batfamily instead of the Dark Knight. A game where Bruce Wayne is presumed dead opens up a lot of narrative opportunities. But more importantly, it puts a spotlight on Batman's more interesting allies, whose stories haven't been told over and over again (we get it Bruce, your parents are dead). Making Gotham Knights a co-op game makes sense, since it stars sidekicks who've all fought alongside Bats.
I also like that Knights is more of an RPG with character stats—narratively, it makes sense. Batman is essentially a max level hero, so why not have his replacement grind out a bit of XP before taking over the top spot?
The setup is classic Batman. He is, of course, prepared for anything, and in the case of his death, a prerecorded message gets sent to his old sidekicks Dick Grayson (Nightwing and former Robin), Barbara Gorgon (Batgirl, formerly Oracle), Tim Drake (the current Robin), and Jason Todd (the Red Hood and former dead Robin) that says protecting Gotham City from all sorts of costumed villainy falls on their shoulders. It doesn't take long for the bad guys to cut loose.
A Batman game in which you won't be playing as Batman is a risky but welcome move. My favorite Batman stories have long been the ones where Bruce Wayne is out of the picture. I love the idea of playing with characters who weren't inspired by the events of Bruce Wayne's life, but by Batman. Individually, they embody the different parts of the Caped Crusader that make him interesting.
Batman is such a looming and dominant personality that he can smother the characters surrounding him, and it's rare for them to get a moment to shine. I love when superheroes pass on the mantle to the next generation, and that's what I'm hoping for here.
I've read enough comics to know that there's no way Batman is really dead. This could be part of a greater Bat-plan for Bruce to bring his estranged former partners back together, to put aside their differences for the greater good. It's the kind emotional manipulation Batman excels at. He's kind of a jerk that way. The Court of Owls is somehow involved, so it's also possible that the final boss is a brainwashed Bruce Wayne decked out in Talon gear. But hell, I'd welcome that fight too.
In preparation for Gotham Knights I've put together a reading list of some of my favorite Bat-fam stories that should let you get to know each sidekick and what makes them special. There are also some stories here that explain just what the hell the mysterious Court of Owls is, which seems like it'll be important when Gotham Knights gets here next year.
Batman comics to read before Gotham Knights
Dick Grayson - Nightwing
The first Robin (and possibly the dreamiest), Dick Grayson has worn a lot of hats in his crime-fighting career. He's been an acrobat, super-spy, personal trainer, and has even stepped up as Batman when Bruce Wayne was 'dead'. After a falling out with Batman, Dick Grayson moves to the city of Bludhaven where he drops the Robin alias and fights crime as Nightwing.
Dick is no stranger to filling in for Batman. Both of these books show us what happens when an empathic and all-around nice dude puts on the cowl. It's a Batman who trusts, cracks jokes and deals with his own set of villains who exploit this nicer Batman.
Barbara Gordon - Batgirl
Barbara Gordon is in some ways the closest thing to a Batman replacement in both gameplay and her role within the Gotham Knights. Barbara's career includes being Batgirl, then Oracle, and back to Batgirl. Also, Dick and Barb have a history, so I'm sure that'll come up once or twice.
Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside
What I like about these two books is we get two distinct looks at Barbara. One as Batgirl, a young millennial managing her work/life/superheroing schedules and another as Oracle, genius tactician and handler for the Birds of Prey. Both of these highlight how much Barb kicks ass on a team or solo.
Tim Drake - Robin
Sometimes I feel for Timmy. He's often the Robin that gets the least amount of attention. As Batman's final partner before his 'death,' this teenage detective apparently now can teleport because he hacked Justice League tech. He's the extra smart Robin.
It's criminal, the lack of great Tim Drake stories out there. There are a handful of good reads, though, that show off the Teen Titan doing his thing. Red Robin is a series where Tim Drake teams up with the League of Assassins to track down Bruce Wayne after he goes missing. A Lonely Place of Living is an excellent arc where a Tim Drake from the future becomes Batman after his death. He goes back to the present and beats up all your favorite Bat-people.
Jason Todd - Red Hood
Hoo boy, where to begin with this guy? Jason was a former Robin who was killed by the Joker, then was later brought to life as the Red Hood where he terrorized criminals by, um, murdering them. Let's just say that there are some philosophical disagreements between the Red Hood and everyone else. It's safe to say that there's some baggage here.
Based on the trailer, the look for Gotham Knights' Red Hood seems to be inspired by Under the Red Hood, a book where Jason comes back to Gotham (after his aforementioned death) to become a crime lord and kill Batman. The Outlaws series has Jason heading his own team of antiheroes outside of Batman's jurisdiction, where his no-killing rule doesn't apply.
You might have seen the trailer a mysterious new group of baddies in owl masks. These folks are the Court of Owls, a secret society of evil socialites, who've been in Gotham since its founding and use deadly ninja-zombie assassins called Talons to keep folks in line.
Battle for the Cowl is a good primer because it's all about what happens to Gotham City with no Batman and the aftermath that follows. It's a fun read, with different Batman friends all trying to be their own version of Batman.