Batman: The Telltale Series – The Enemy Within

I didn’t expect two of the best Batman stories in recent memory to come from Telltale, but here we are. From a gameplay perspective, The Enemy Within feels like a step back. They ditch the detective stuff and narrow the canvas to put Bruce Wayne/Batman in the crosshairs of Amanda Waller. But where The Enemy Within makes a genius turn is what they do with Joker.

For some, the game’s approach to Joker may seem like sacrilege. Joker is traditionally (or at least since the era of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and beating Robin to death) the chaotic arch-nemesis to Batman’s quest for order. Telltale turns this story on its head in plenty of ways. For starters, it makes Harley Quinn the dominant member of the relationship, which is fascinating in its own right. Then it has “John Doe” (aka Joker) eager to be Batman/Bruce’s friend. Basically, they attempt the tricky balancing act of making Joker as sympathetic as possible while still making him dangerous, and it works! You really feel for John and think that you might be able to save him.

Batman typically doesn’t have that kind of emotional investment in a villain before. It’s usually reserved for Harvey Dent, but leaning into the similarities between Joker and Batman to show them not as polar opposites but, to use the game’s phrase, part of the “same stitch” makes for a fascinating relationship that really goes in a fresh direction. The recent iterations of Joker in popular culture–Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix (no one cares about Jared Leto’s take)–have been about how Joker is a reflection on the world or society, respectively. By leaning into Joker’s relationship with Batman and making The Enemy Within a kind of origin story, the writers came up with something exciting and new.

While I don’t think they quite stick the landing on the Joker/Batman story, they do find it with the Bruce/Alfred relationship and doing what some of the best Batman stories do: questioning the character. While I’m not surprised that I was in the minority in the choices I made at the end, I think it was some smart writing to really test what’s important to Bruce: his family or being Batman. Some stories seek to reconcile the two, but I liked how The Enemy Within showed it as a fracture.

If you’re tired with the same old Batman stories, I highly recommend checking out what Telltale did with the character.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 videogames

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