Batman: The Enemy Within (The Telltale Series) is a game about Batman. You can imagine what’s in store. You fight criminals. You go undercover among criminals. You even potentially…perform crimes? You throw batarangs. You wear a cape. You pick brooding dialogue choices. You have a butler named Alfred. You’ve seen Batman. He’s a hero!
I had the opportunity to play a game with my fiance recently and having gone through the first Batman Telltale series, I decided it was time we revisit the Batman Telltale story and see what this second game had in store. I was quite surprised. I haven’t really been into all things Batman in a while. For a variety of reasons. That’s not to say I don’t like Batman, I love him! For a good chunk of my early adulthood, in my internet social circles, I spent too much time being a Batman fanboy. I caught up on classic comics of his. I rewatched all the movies. I fawned over the nostalgia of the Animated Series (which, I mean, there’s good reason for that). The Dark Knight was one of my generation’s instant classics. It felt like such a big deal back in the day that I got a group of ten friends together to go see The Dark Knight Rises at midnight. My Batman fandom sort of tapered after that film, but not for reasons one would think. It really had everything to do with video games.
Batman Arkham Asylum was a big deal for licensed superhero video games. In the past, licensed superhero games were just fun things. I can recall playing through the first couple levels of Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage on the SEGA Genesis and thinking it was pretty cool. But it was also a SEGA Genesis game and painfully hard to beat in the first place. Spider-Man had some good games at times with the 3D PS1 title, as well as the tie-in movie games for Spider-Man 1 and 2. But outside those, most superhero games were pretty lackluster. Then came Arkham Asylum. I got it a couple months after release for my 18th birthday. You can imagine how exciting this game seemed hot off the heels of The Dark Knight just a year and a half prior. And it was a really solid game for its time, not just in the “superhero” way, but also in a metroidvania-lite, action game way. And in a “Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are in it to spark your nostalgia for the Animated Series” sort of way.
Arkham Asylum was the early picture of where media was going to turn in the future moreso than The Dark Knight as the Arkham series become synonymous with a sliced off version of a superhero character that existed in its own fiction and world. Sure, the advent of the superhero in pop culture was there with 2012’s Avengers. But these days the Batman Arkham franchise idea is more and more commonplace as media conglomerates realize changing things up is a decent way to start things over for a licensed character. Joker gets his own film made purely for the spectacle of making a solo-Joker film. Into the Spider-Verse not only exists, but it’s maybe the best superhero movie ever made. Arkham Asylum didn’t paint the road for games like the PS4 Spider-Man game. Some mechanics and design trends are there for sure, but there’s nothing in there that wasn’t in other video games already. But it did keep the coals hot specifically in the Batman hype train all the way to the end of the Nolan trilogy in 2012. In the same year, which was just one year after Arkham City came out, video games were graced with Telltale’s The Walking Dead. A video game that popularized the idea of low-gameplay narrative-heavy video games. It won awards, it reminded people we could cry about sad things in video games, and it told a strong tale of sacrifice, hope, and redemption. Telltale would go on to make some very risky financial decisions and pay the rights to make Telltale games of a lot of other popular intellectual properties. Batman was one of them. Unfortunately, I was just about as tired as seeing Batman in everything at the same time we were all getting tired of seeing yet another Telltale Game popping up about some popular media franchise. Back then I figured there wouldn’t be that much relatable that could come out of making a video game in which you’re Batman and have to make choices. I mean, sure, a video game version of the The Dark Knight scene in which Batman has to choose Harvey or Rachel would be tense and exciting. But the Joker still blows up both buildings anyways. It’s not like we haven’t experienced this particular challenge in video games before where our choices only get to matter in the sense that we choose them and thus that’s a reflection of us in that moment. This is an aspect of video games I’ve defended. Multiple times now. But, for the record, by the time we heard about Batman The Telltale Series coming out, we had already experienced the following: The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead: 400 Days, The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead: Season Two, Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones, Minecraft: Story mode, and The Walking Dead: Michonne. Seven games from 2012–2016. We were very tired of the Telltale design by this point as people who played similar games. So you’d have to forgive me for thinking, “There’s nothing interesting they can bring to the table with these mechanics involving freaking BATMAN, right?”
I am so glad I was wrong. It’s just unfortunate I didn’t learn it until here in 2021. I’m pretty sure a lot of people missed the boat on this one. The first season of the Telltale Batman series was fairly bland. The Children of Arkham was a neat villain idea, it took advantage of a known character’s design and our shared cultural knowledge of them to subvert expectations. Selina and Bruce know about each other pretty quickly, there’s a neat new take on the Penguin that allows for a better push and pull in the story dynamics. And there’s a nice change-up in the Bruce Wayne history to make things complicated.
But The Enemy Within mostly puts those story points in a boat and sends it off only to be slightly brought up as emotional chart points for some “topic of the episode” stuff in this second season as well as one middle-of-an-arch plot point involving Alfred. The Enemy Within instead is really a big pay off for some very light setup work done in the first season involving “John Doe”, a character Bruce meets in Arkham Asylum who has no memory of their past and what will happen as a result of their brief, albeit closely tied, encounter. John Doe helped Bruce in Arkham, and he’s got a bit of a wild personality. You can guess where this is going: John Doe is very obviously going to become the Joker. But that’s exactly where Telltale is getting started on this rather ingenious approach to their narrative-heavy Batman game. Yes, it involves more subversion, but it’s more than subversion that made The Enemy Within special to me.
Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it much further without spoilers. So, spoiler warning. I’ll come out the other side of this write-up recommending the game, so if you’d want to buy it or watch a Let’s Play before reading further, I’d suggest you do so. We’re going to get into some details more and more as I go on and it’s unavoidable to talk about this without spoilers.
**Spoilers for a game that came out from 2017–2018**
So The Enemy Within begins with Gotham in a state where they’re all feeling pretty good about Batman, but Gotham’s first supervillain, the Riddler, has come back. Batman pursues him, but the Riddler pulls a trick with a riddle and Batman, as Bruce Wayne, tries to sort out the riddle with the help of Lucius Fox and manages to get Fox killed by a drone missile. tl;dr The Riddler has found a way to use frequencies with cell phones to target people. So obviously the GCPD is on the Riddler’s hit list. Batman swears vengeance while also getting some help from the Agency. You know the Agency, right? They’re led by Amanda Waller, the character you see running Suicide Squad in…that one movie. She’s someone who uses people’s self-interests to get them to do what she wants. Shady government agent-type.
Anyways, Batman takes down the Riddler, who’s about to talk but then someone does a quick snipe of Riddler, killing him. At the end of the first episode, Amanda Waller reveals to Batman that she knows he’s Bruce Wayne. Ultimately she’s looking to get Batman as Bruce Wayne to infiltrate a growing criminal organization in Gotham known as the Pact. Riddler was her way in, but now he’s dead. The Pact is Freeze, Bane, and Harley Quinn by the way. So Waller convinces Bruce that the only way he’s going to take down the Pact is a sting operation. And Bruce Wayne’s way to sneak into the pact is, you guessed it, John Doe. He recently left Arkham on good behavior and the next three episodes weaves a plot in which Bruce Wayne navigates how to build trust between these criminals in an environment where trust is thin and tensions run high.
Getting to Know The Joker — A Meta Experience
The Pact’s goal is to invade the base of a rogue Agency organization called “SANCTUS” and steal a deadly virus to turn it into a serum to cure problems that each member of the Pact have. Harley Quinn is afraid of a disorder her dad had that turned him insane. Bane is addicted to venom. And Mr. Freeze needs it for his wife. In the center of this all, John just wants Harley, which is a fun dynamic in and of itself. You’re watching the Joker try to fit in with some classic Batman villains while he’s not really the Joker yet. He’s like a lost puppy, not really aware that he’s ultimately doing crimes. It’s also genuinely hard to tell at times if he’s serious, joking, or secretly a lot more manipulative than he immediately lets on. And he sees Bruce Wayne as his best friend, he even has Bruce Wayne listed as his emergency contact after getting out of Arkham. There’s a sensation that any normal human being would be filing restraining orders right away if someone like John Doe walked into their life. And yet, because we know it’s the Joker deep down in there, you feel compelled to stick around and see how it all unfolds. Most Joker origin stories are so unwoven from Bruce, this leans in the exact opposite direction.
You also learn about half way through the story that John Doe loves Batman, he loves his style, his mood, the way he plays by his own rules. He has a wall in his hideout room with fake pictures he’s taken with people he admires (including Bruce Wayne) and has a special spot for that moment he can get a selfie with Batman. The various social scenarios you’re placed in with John are hilarious and campy as get out. In one scene John gets to meet Batman and is asking him for a selfie together, in another Batman has the opportunity to train John in how to throw a batarang and you can leave one with him to practice. In a separate sequence John and Bruce sit down over coffee to talk about relationships and you can offer him advice on how to be in a relationship with Harley. And there’s even a sequence where John’s driving a car with you and Harley, Harley’s drinking a slurpee, and she gets all flirty with Bruce offering him some of the slurpee and John gets all jealous if you drink some. It’s every bit as funny as you can imagine. And it all works because you know the characters, but not in this setup, not in these configurations, not in these ways. It lets you have fun with the idea of these characters exactly in ways you’d imagine. The same is true with Batman where you sometimes get the dialogue option to just “(grapple away)”, no words, all brood.
All good things do have to come to an end though. During their big heist, the Pact breaks up. Harley runs off with the virus. The Agency reveals to Bruce there’s no cure. You have to ask John to do something he wouldn’t want to: Try to find Harley for Bruce so she can be turned in to the Agency. And then John gives Bruce some coordinates to find Harley, but she’s not there. John is there, standing over dead bodies that he swears he didn’t cause, and he’s lost his mind over the frail state this friendship has turned towards. In a moment of outrage, John reveals to Bruce that he knows Bruce is Batman. He figured it out but swears never to reveal the secret because Bruce and John are a part of the “same stitch”. John begs Bruce to believe him, stating he has been honest at every turn up to this point. And surprisingly, he has been.
I appreciated the weight of this sequence and how it creates a villain out of John because it’s what we anticipate from the character. But it also gives the Joker extra weight in this relationship dynamic. It’s a bigger theme in the following episode but the core idea is there in development across the whole season: If Joker can’t be friends with Bruce, he’ll be Batman’s enemy forever. It’s a sick, twisted version of friendship explored to its logical extremes in a superhero story. Anyways, upon not trusting John, he runs away. Then, Harley is ready to blow up a small group of vehicles on a bridge with the virus in hand. Batman tries to defuse this situation, but Joker’s arrival and revealing to Harley Quinn that Bruce has betrayed them means the two run off together with the virus and turn it into multiple dirty bombs. This turns the final episode into a full on face off against the Joker and the painful betrayal inflicted upon John across an entire season by lying to him for so long. It turns into real “Death of the Family” territory as Joker gets to sit down next to Bruce, Alfred, Catwoman, and even Lucius’s daughter Tiffany for a game of “I never” so he can judge the various ways Joker has felt slighted, betrayed, hurt. Once opportunity presents itself, Batman and Catwoman fight the duo together and eventually Batman and Joker pair off together to fight each other. At the end of the conflict, bloodied and beaten, Bruce and John are passing out next to each other and John asks Bruce if, at some point, Bruce really was having fun with John, as a friend. It feels impossible to say no. And when I said yes, John stabbed me in his last attempt to get out a joke between the two.
With that, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Joker, and Harley get arrested. Batman’s secret remains safe with the Agency, despite the Agency clearly not being very trustworthy. And the end of episode five sets up what was sure to be a third season that never happened. Alfred makes a call for Bruce Wayne to give up the mantle of Batman, stating the usual problems of escalating villains, the fact that Bruce may die, the fact that it’s maybe doing more harm than good, etc. etc.
As a meta-Batman experience, The Enemy Within is a really fun time. You’ll feel consistently aware of Telltale’s self-awareness of what they’re doing. And Batman’s a hero, so you get to feel like a hero!
The Other Side of Episode Four
The big moment in which John Doe turns into the Joker in episode four is a choice. You get to choose whether or not you’re going to give John Doe the benefit of the doubt after four episodes of fun times with the guy (including some hefty crime in the mix). It’s four episodes of John only, technically, lying to you once, and you lying to him or keeping secrets from him a lot more than that. And so all throughout this plot in episode five that felt so very dedicated to John Doe turning into The Joker and why Bruce Wayne is at the center of so much of that, I only found myself growing more and more curious as to how Telltale made episode five have more or less the same story with such a tremendous turning point near its climax.
So like anyone else would do, I finished the game with my fiance, we jumped online, went to YouTube, looked for someone who chose to trust John to see what would happen. Episode four wrapped up more or less how you’d expect. Instead of John telling Harley about Bruce being the mole in the group, John helps apprehend Harley. Then when John comes back to Batman and Waller, John hesitates giving up the virus to anyone (especially Waller). So Waller pulls a gun on John immediately. Bruce helps John, who runs and blows up the bombs Harley planted in retaliation and more or less makes his big statement that the Agency is corrupt and needs to be brought to justice. He says he and Batman are going to make that happen together. And then the episode ends. My fiance and I skimmed across subsequent videos and I kept waiting and waiting for things to line up with the episode five I had. But they didn’t.
With Harley, Freeze, and Bane apprehended already, Waller turns them against Batman because she doesn’t have her virus that she actually wants to give to higher executives. Y’know, bad governmental interests. Meanwhile, she promises a cure that doesn’t exist to the three criminals, now signed up with the Agency (sort of running the origins of Suicide Squad in there too). Waller is once again using the interests of other people against them to work for her. But this time, Batman and the Joker, who holds the virus captive, are the targets. And so as Batman combats the Agency in Gotham, he is helped out by, no joke, the Joker, all suited up to mimic Batman’s style. He gets dark makeup on his forehead, a pointy hairdo that looks like Batman’s ears, he even gets his own Joker Batarangs and a cape! Batman and the Joker get to have a back to back beatdown against Agency soldiers. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the episode pieces unfolded more and more on YouTube. Telltale finally found out how to resolve their challenge of choices not making much of a difference by giving players two completely different season finales based on the most important choice in the season, which takes place one episode before that. Players who opt out of this experience also opt out of finding out just how deep Waller’s corruption runs and how ruthless she’s willing to be to do her job.
You eventually do have to face off with The Joker, but it’s on different terms. When faced with apprehending Waller or killing her, Batman prefers a stalemate that’ll get her to leave Gotham behind, Joker prefers murder. It’s the only way to stop a threat so dangerous, a threat so resolved in its corrupt ways. So, the two come to an impasse and the Joker becomes willing to do what even Batman won’t do to see justice served. Some of the same plot points get resolved in episode five. You find out who actually killed the Riddler. You may be less friendly with Gordon, Waller, Catwoman, Alfred, or anyone really, based on your choices. But how your relationship with Joker gets defined in Batman’s mythological earliest and most important hey-days is what you’re really getting to see the fruition of in this game. And I can’t downplay how awesome that felt for a Batman fan such as myself. The Joker and Batman still get their showdown at the end of this version, but it comes at the differing paths in how to be Batman, or how to be the vigilante he ultimately is.
Because despite being a vigilante, Batman is still a hero.
It’s time to address the elephant in the room that you hopefully already see. The reason this game actually compelled me to write this piece. Somewhere deep down inside me, upon watching what the game can turn into if you trust John Doe, I realized there was a conversation that can be had there that is rather lackluster in super hero fictions. And if The Enemy Within isn’t going to get recognized for its meta Batman experience that’s absolutely worth the cost of entry, then it’s going to get some credit from me for this bit.
The Real Enemy Within Batman
The following series of comic strips can be found here if you want the original source. LeftoverSalad is the name. I first found the comic on Twitter back in the summer of 2020.
I’m sure it feels like I just sucked the joy out of my write-up about The Enemy Within. To be fair, it’s a good game, and I think it’s worth playing if you like that sort of thing. I certainly do.
But if you feel suddenly angered by what you’ve read and the ideas I’ve just proposed, I’d recommend keeping in mind that Batman’s not real. He’s an idea. But he’s one of the most popular ideas in comic book fiction to date, a comic book cultural institution at this point that’s been kicking around in different forms since 1939. No matter how many ways you slice it, Batman as an idea paints a fictional world where, no matter how much money the Waynes have thrown at fighting crime, it never helped. And so the only answer becomes to brutalize against crime as a complex sociopathic method of seeking justice, vengeance, and allowing one’s demons to become an obsession. A rich powerful cop. The Batman idea of justice is about as close as you can get to using a gun without killing someone because the cops can’t or won’t make that justice happen for you. You just pummel them instead.
A common trope within Batman storytelling is the idea of escalation and the cause of Gotham’s villains. It’s the idea that Batman draws out the nutjobs to rise up and meet him. This is a common small self-critical element of many superhero stories that tries to address the fact that the fictional world might be better off without them. It helps make that world feel grounded in what’s otherwise supposed to be a fantastic adventure. It’s also in place to help you feel okay about the fact that if all the super heroes gave up one day the fictional world might go into less chaos. Just addressing this debate point in the open is enough for people to maintain their suspension of disbelief. It helps us know that the question at least gets asked sometimes. But it’s also the common argument we give ourselves in real life when we want to talk about the fact that we (Americans) may not need to be policed as heavily as we presently let ourselves believe. That we may not need the cops for all the things we ask of them. We tell ourselves the world will descend into chaos instead. I know it’s scary to think that Gotham maybe never needed Batman, that this idea would betray the rules and deep lore of Batman comics. And, to be frank, I’m not as interested in analyzing the lore of the Batman here and the legacy of the Wayne family at helping Gotham so much as I am interested in using Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within as a critical lens to talk about its potentially deeper coding for Batman as a cop, as America’s method of crime fighting, which is to say: Over policing, over criminalization, and the looming threat of police violence to ensure chaos doesn’t ensue every day. It should be noted that John Doe is as pale as can be and the game doesn’t directly engage with racism. But we’re talking about America’s over-policed state here, a nation that was built with racism in its roots. The comparisons won’t be one for one, but I hope you’ll get where I’m coming from and where these ideas go.
So let’s rewind a bit, head back to this video game’s amazing approach to The Joker and the big moment where John Doe is on the bridge. As Bruce walks around in smoke from a smoke grenade John throws, John declares to the Agency, “You corrupt pigs. You’re supposed to stand for justice. But you’re liars. And you’re murderers. And you’re so goddamn rude.” He triggers the explosives and in the ensuing chaos, John declares to Bruce, “You and me. You and me, we’re gonna hunt them down together. You’re all going to pay for your crimes. Batman and I, we’re going to bring you all to justice. It’s going to be so much fun.” Joker jumps off the bridge in that moment and thus ends episode four. In all the interactions with Waller leading up to this moment, John is treated with hesitance, fear, prejudice. And even after completely defusing the situation with Harley and retrieving the virus (which means there is no longer a confrontation) Waller’s immediate response to Joker refusing to give up the virus to Agency hands is to create a confrontation: To kill him or threaten his life to get what she wants.
As insane and cruel as that seems coming from Waller, she’s a corrupt bureaucrat government type. That’s something we’d expect. But I judged John before Waller even got a chance in my run of the game. For me, I never even got to see this side of things because I couldn’t look past John telling me he didn’t murder some people, after I spent hours upon hours lying to him and he spent hours doing the opposite. And Joker does have a checkered past. He was in a mental institution, up to this point I’ve seen him steal a car, a smoothie, and make some…concerning and grimly dark jokes. I’ve seen him participate in an attack on a former government agency base to help steal a virus. But up to that point in episode four, we had never seen John commit a murder, specifically. But my doubt in John wasn’t because of the usual method of “beyond all reasonable doubt”. I doubted John because he’s supposed to be The Joker. Of course he’s the bad guy. In this moment, The Enemy Within is helping us recognize that Batman, as a self-proclaimed hero narrative, is often incapable of looking at anyone with a checkered past as anything more than scum and villainy. That for there to be a Batman means that John Doe HAS to be the Clown Prince of Crime. He’s practically destined for it. No matter which way you try, giving John Doe the chance he deserves is a tougher, harder path that requires us to look past our personal biases about the oddities humans sometimes have in their behaviors. It means investing in other people as potential sources of the same good we try to see in ourselves, because we always see ourselves as the hero in our life story. But so rarely do we see people like John as anyone but the villain.
Episode five shows Joker getting a bit extra brutal on Agency soldiers in his fights against them alongside Batman. There’s some early back and forth between Joker and Batman regarding what to do with the virus and you can convince Joker to let Batman destroy the virus. With Waller still out to get Joker, she begins talk that Joker killed Riddler as extra incentive for policing systems to be out to get him. Bruce needs an edge over Waller since she could use his identity against him. So Batman turns to get the help of one of Waller’s agents that has become loyal to Batman. Agent Iman Avesta brings you dirt, leverage against Waller that reveals not only was she not trustworthy the whole time and a ruthless individual when it came to her work, but so much more. Waller made SANCTUS project whistleblowers disappear. She developed neck shock collars for house arrest criminals. She performed human testing with the projects SANCTUS developed when active, which gave The Riddler some of his more inhuman traits that probably spurned him towards being a super criminal. Waller had this long rap sheet all while trying to have Bruce Wayne work with a criminal group to take down the rogue SANCTUS branch so she can deliver a deadly toxin to the government’s shady side. Once again, these elements are all completely hidden to you if you side against John and turn him into the villain. The reality of a corrupt government official doing some absolutely heinous things to other human beings at the will of whatever bigger suits they serve feels so much more believable in today’s day and age than a crazy guy in a purple suit telling jokes while he kills people. I do have to admit that both are very real. But one I’d imagine is a lot easier to run into than the other. In this lens, Batman becomes someone really working to find justice by turning to the systems we look towards to protect us at larger, national levels. Batman and Joker are trying to root out a very obvious source of corruption in this military political structure that is criminalizing the both of them directly.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, in my playthrough, Batman was the arm of this system. It’s not like Bruce ever bothers digging up this dirt if he’s out trying to stop The Joker and Harley from blowing up twenty dirty bombs all over Gotham. He’s happy enough to accept that people like Waller are a necessary corruption in our world and that they don’t deserve to be investigated further. It’s “scum” like John Doe that need to be watched and carefully policed so he doesn’t do evil things. Because he’s The Joker after all, just look at him. The idea that Waller is someone to be stopped never even occurs to us. Instead, Waller tries to help you apprehend Joker. And we know she just wants the virus, but that’s about the extent of what we know. She also keeps Bruce’s identity a secret and parts on such good terms with him that she’ll clean some slates for you, offer Iman a place at Wayne Enterprises, clear Catwoman’s slate, reinstate Gordon as Commissioner. Your scratching of Waller’s back leads her to accomplishing her corrupt goals and scratching your back as a result. Because the two of them, they know what’s best for the world.
The last major moral distinction between what we experience with The Joker as a villain compared to The Joker as a vigilante is the idea of whether someone should be allowed to live or not based on their crimes. And I’m not one to get into that weighty conversation too far. There’s a deep, primal element to our humanity that tells us some people shouldn’t be allowed to live sometimes. It’s often a very detached perspective, but it’s also one that we sometimes seem to need to cling to to help morally steer ourselves in troubling situations. It’s obvious that this is where Batman, and many players, will draw the line. Batman doesn’t dole out capital punishment. Just a lot of beatdowns.
The Joker, even as a vigilante eventually recognizes the fruitlessness of Batman’s ways. Supervillains, whether they be crazed muscle mountains like Bane, chaotic psychos like Harley Quinn, or corrupt officials like Waller, will always exist in Batman’s world. And all Batman will do is “turn them in” to the authorities, only to watch them leave those systems eventually and do crimes again. (and that’s a discussion all its own) Despite the fact that Joker ultimately is coming to what I would argue is a moral wrongness (deciding who gets to live or die among human beings), the Joker’s conclusion in this game feels inevitable. After all, John Doe spent his time looking up to Batman. He thought his outside the law methods were what were so right about him. Even when the justice systems were corrupt, Batman was right, right? But Joker fails to come to grips with the concepts of redemption and trusting in the justice system to actually change anything. It not only failed him, it also painted a target on his back. So why would it do any good? And if that’s the case, then the only one he can trust to really do justice is himself. Not even Batman. This comes across in a couple sequences. First, when Joker realizes Batman is making a stalemate deal with Waller to leave Gotham and never come back so he won’t release dirt on her, Joker fixes his sights on Waller. In the ensuing chaos Joker releases a small bomb that damages a building, Batman blacks out for a time, and Joker has now taken Waller hostage at Ace Chemicals.
When Batman catches up, the Joker holds a knife to Waller’s throat, he threatens to kill her. It’s in this moment that the Riddler’s killer is revealed as Lucius Fox’s daughter Tiffany. In a room with Joker, Batman, Tiffany Fox, and Amanda Waller, there are no true good citizens around at all. And so all the various rules Batman has set out for Joker as a rising superhero fail. In the standoff, Joker is lamenting the way these ideals of justice and judgment are horribly upheld in this fictional world. But in hearing the lines, typing then, and reading them, they sound so close to our own world. “She justifies her crimes, says they’re for the ‘greater good’. Just like you. You both use that word ‘justice’ as an excuse. So you can do whatever you want!…I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner, trying to do things your way was a mistake…These are the people you want to protect? I should kill them both. Everyone here is guilty. This is a joke! Murder is wrong…Trust the system…Violence isn’t the answer…People just pick and choose what they believe! And you’re no different!” The lines are spoken at times to Batman, and then to Tiffany. But the sensation is all the same: It’s difficult to appreciate a justice system that allows cops to dole out judgment the way Batman gets to, and the way cops do. Every day. In Gotham, Bruce is simply capable of getting away from the police and so he gets to dole out his brutality before letting the criminals get picked up by the police. Eventually the police start utilizing Batman as a weapon, an unpaid helper. In our own reality we create laws that have spent far too long that feed into our ethnic biases, playing into racism, allowing the over-policing of black bodies. And then we create laws to protect the officers that dole out that over-policing. And we perpetuate a cultural crisis that we need literal military hardware to deal with criminals within our own borders.
This big final stand off with Joker draws the line in the sand so that Batman can still put a stop to The Joker. It also paints that ever heroic perspective of what keeps us different from the rest of the world so players can keep playing the game as a hero and have a good time. But in my days after beating the game and watching the bits and pieces of the Vigilante Joker version of episode five, I couldn’t help but occasionally ask myself: What good does it do for generations of children to grow up thinking Batman is the ideal picture of justice in this world? What sort of conclusion would someone purely looking to Batman as their idea of stopping crime come to? It’s an extreme case, but it’s kinda no wonder The Joker wound up taking the side he took in the end. A man that ostensibly looked up to Batman, a guy that fights crime with his fists and cool gadgets every night to try and do that whole “seek justice” thing, only to learn the superficial lessons of what it takes.
How far removed are we from that idea when we remove Batman, Bruce, and Gotham from the picture, and replace them with cops, every day human beings, and any other city in the real world? Cops very much are the arm of the law instead of people capable of protecting and serving. Their involvement in the war on drugs (which is a political effort, mind you) meant the murder of Breonna Taylor, all for a supposed major drug bust that had already taken place elsewhere successfully. The criminalization of black bodies brought about the murder of George Floyd, someone who didn’t deserve to be murdered, at the hands of cops. All for a bad $20 bill. The enforcement of ensuring white people feel safe meant Elijah McClain was stopped and quickly killed by police because he wore a ski mask at night while walking down a street and Elijah, an introvert, rightfully freaked out about what was likely to happen to him, the same thing that happens to so many black people who get stopped by police officers. You see, many police officers may aspire to uphold justice against awful criminals the way Batman does. But police officers unfortunately don’t get the knife and bullet proof armor Batman does. They also have to follow orders, meet quotas, and they’re asked to take care of so many situations they’re not qualified or trained for. They also grew up in a nation that has historically failed to come to terms with its involvement in racism over centuries. Batman doesn’t have that same problem. He just lives in a city that wakes up every day and chooses violence. We like to think cops in America are trained and prepared to be like Batman: Take down bad guys or maybe die trying. But that’s not the right phrasing, is it? There’s more and more cases being made that they’re not really being prepared for that so much as conditioned to expect that one day that they’re going to get killed while trying to do their jobs. And so instead of keeping a cool head in some of the most dangerous of situations like Batman (the orphan man who really has no family or reason to keep living anyways) cops that have families and lives they care about are instead losing their cool in situations that have yet to really turn into a face off against The Clown Prince of Crime like we imagine.
Batman’s the most overpaid, LARP-ing cop in fictional history. And maybe it’s time we confront that. I’m not saying we “get rid of Batman”, I like Batman! I wouldn’t have spent days trying to sort out these words if I hated Batman. In fact, after beating The Enemy Within I went ahead and replayed Arkham City. I’m rewatching The Animated Series. I finally bought The Court of Owls books and blazed through them. I fully intend to play Arkham Knight finally, maybe even this year. And despite it looking like a clear rip off of Seven, part of me wants to see how disturbing The Riddler is in that new Batman movie in development.
But maybe we should stop having Batman be the image of justice in culture. Maybe we have more games like this one that illuminate the pointlessness of Batman’s efforts mentally contrasted with coding for American society. And maybe we stop asking Batman to go after drug related crimes, leave it to the feds or something. After all we don’t want to punish the victims of drug cartels, right? And maybe when someone reports a person looking sketchy walking down the street, we don’t send Batman. Maybe we ask the person reporting it if there’s an actual crime happening and if there isn’t, we don’t turn on the Bat signal. Maybe Bruce Wayne can look deep within himself to realize that The Joker exists only because…Batman made him. Then, maybe, we can realize that the enemy is within ourselves. It is our own concept of crime and what the definition of a real criminal is. Maybe we can do any of those things instead of just deciding that John Doe will be The Joker today because it’s who he is, or because he made me uncomfortable, or because he looked sketchy, or because there’s the chance there may be illegal drugs in his house, or because he said he has a gun on him in his vehicle, or because he gave a store a counterfeit $20 bill. Nobody deserves to die for any of those reasons, least of all become labeled a villain by Batman.
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t give John Doe much hesitation. Any, really.
But I should’ve.
And so should you.
And so should Batman.
And if Batman can’t or won’t, maybe it’s time Gotham part ways or even arrest Bruce Wayne.
The Call to an End
In the closing chunk of The Enemy Within, Alfred makes a big plea to Bruce to stop being Batman. He says he’s leaving. It’s another common Batman story thread: Alfred being the one to reason with Bruce that this obsession is going to get him killed, that there’s no end to it, that these attempts at doling out justice are only attracting people just as strong or crazy as Bruce is, and it’s ultimately hurting other people in the process. And in the game, Alfred will leave if Bruce refuses to give up Batman. You give up one or the other. It was clear this ending was meant to lead off into a third game. If Bruce agrees to give up the cowl, he and Alfred embrace and the camera pans off into the distance where you see the bat signal go out as Batman has declined to heed its call. We need more moments like this game. We need more moments, culturally, and personally, that evoke looking inside ourselves and examining our biases, examining our idea of justice in this country. George Floyd shouldn’t have had to be murdered in the way that he did for our public courts to say that it was wrong. But we love the idea that Batman is the hero so much that we struggle to imagine cases in our own nation where we shouldn’t use his methods, his solution, his answer to a crisis: A physical instrument and violence. Oh how different John Doe might’ve turned out if Batman never existed.
The Enemy Within made me think about all that. And so maybe it’s worth playing if you get the chance. See if it urges you to re-examine your relationship with Batman, with police, with justice. Maybe you’ll find out you never needed Batman in your life after all.