It’s been five years since the release of Batman: Arkham Knight and discussion of a new instalment in the franchise has been eerily quiet of late. While Rocksteady seems to have moved on from Batman and are producing a new mystery game, it’s likely that WB Games Montreal are in production of another prequel to follow up their 2013 effort Batman: Arkham Origins. Despite current world events, we’re now in full promotion mode for the next generation of consoles and new games are being revealed in this E3-less landscape. The new Batman game surely must be next and we have a few semi-cryptic tweets that hint at its possible inspiration. WB Games Montreal tweeted an image of some symbols – one of them featuring an owl – and Batman comic scribe Scott Snyder replied with the hashtag “Beware the Court of Owls”, hinting that the game will adapt his Court of Owls/City of Owls storyline from the New 52. In anticipation for the game, I’ve spent the last week delving deep into the comic book storyline and now, having finished the arc and all of its crossovers, I think it’s the perfect basis for the new Batman game.
While an awful lot of punching and kicking still takes place – this is Batman after all – what makes The Court of Owls interesting is that its conflict is a battle between legends, with Gotham not only as a backdrop but as a prize for the victor. Snyder’s Batman is arrogant at the start of the tale and believes that Gotham is his, only to be dramatically humbled by the events of the book when he discovers the truth about the Court of Owls. The Court is thought to be nothing but an old wives’ tale and Batman is shocked to discover that this secret society is in fact real and has been manipulating events in Gotham since the city’s inception. The reveal shakes Batman to the core as he realises that he doesn’t know his city at all, and that the legend of the Court might now consume the legend of Batman. The later issues of the storyline present the ‘Night of the Owls’ where the mythical court emerge from hiding and use their undead warriors – named Talons – to hunt those who threaten their power, and take control of Gotham once and for all.
While The Court of Owls makes for fantastic reading and has jumped on my list of favourite Batman stories, and could make for a pretty good film, I think a video game is actually the perfect medium to tell this story. Gotham City is a character in this storyline – arguably even the protagonist itself – and there is no better way to explore Gotham than in a video game. In the book Batman says that the best way to know Gotham is to walk its streets, to feel the cracks in the sidewalk between your feet, and a game allows you to do just that. To get up close and personal with every inch of the city. Batman begins the story thinking he knows all there is to know about Gotham, something the gamer will also think having played four previous games, only to have the rug pulled out from under him, leaving him feeling as if the city he has dedicated his life to has been a lie the entire time. In a brilliant reveal in the book, Batman learns that every Wayne Enterprises building has a secret room run by the Court. His enemies have been hiding under his nose for his entire career. It would be great to translate this into the game and reveal secret areas in places we’ve already explored in previous games.
While the Court is made up of Gotham’s rich and powerful founding families who seek to destroy Batman and Bruce’s legacy – the Powers family to name just one in a nice reference to Batman Beyond – it’s their assassins that are sent to destroy his body. These Talons would make for fantastic foes to fight in a game, and I could see WB Games Montreal using something similar to the mercenary system from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Every decade or so since the days of the American colonies, the Court would choose a new Talon and the old one would be infused with Electrum and laid to rest. During the Night of the Owls, the Court revives all their old Talons to retake the city and so Batman has to face some of the best fighters from across modern history. In the game they could have different fighting styles based on their age and origin, and their backstories could be revealed in the mercenary system that keeps track of all the different Talons spread across the city.
The Court of Owls aren’t the only villains from Snyder’s comic I’d like to see appear. The Whisper Gang have a brief but memorable appearance which I’d love to see adapted in the game. They are described as the Gotham branch of the Ukrainian mob and the most vicious and brutal of the city’s five smuggling gangs. They have overseas weapons training making them extremely dangerous and for their first year in the gang, members wear an impossible-to-remove iron mask. A muzzle to prove they’ll never snitch. If that’s not a description for a cool faction of video game goons to face off against that I don’t know what is. And, just like in the comic, I’d be cool for Batman’s ever-growing utility belt to feature some sort of magnet gadget to have cool ways of dispatching the metal faced menaces. Plus, as with all the previous Arkham games, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery weaved into the narrative, or having side-plots of their own. Mr Freeze for example plays a small but key role in the comic as the character who creates the formula to revive the Talons.
After Arkham Knight closed out the series’ trilogy of four, I’m a little disappointed that this next game is rumoured to be placing us right back into the cluttered Arkhamverse timeline rather than giving us something different like Gotham by Gaslight or Batman Beyond. But The Court of Owls could scratch that itch by featuring flashbacks, just like the comic. In Snyder’s book we’re granted glimpses of Alan Wayne’s past being hunted by a Talon in the early 1900’s, and Alfred’s father Jarvis’ death at the hands of the Court some decades later. I’d love to play some of these sections and, however briefly, explore an older Gotham City. Or at least the game should feature a few older buildings in current-era Gotham, like old Wayne Tower, to traverse. The game could really expand the Arkhamverse timeline, but considering the storyline works better the further you get in Batman’s career, I hope the game is set closer to the original Arkham Asylum than Arkham Origins. Or maybe the game could be the start of a whole new continuity just like the comic which launched the New 52 in 2011.
The fifth issue of comic is one of my favourite issues of any comic book I’ve ever read and I hope its contents appear in the game. It features Batman having been trapped in the Court’s labyrinthine maze for a week, drugged and going mad as he explores the same rooms over and over again as a Talon stalks him from the shadows. Bruce is a broken man as he walks the halls detailing the names of the Court’s past members, photographs of the people they’ve killed, and objects detailing the secret society’s history. It’s a disorienting issue that forces you to turn the book upside down as Batman slowly dies learning of all the Court’s victories over the decades and therefore his failures. I would love to play this section in a game and the series is known for some cool dream/fear toxin sequences that trick the player in the most unexpected of ways. And the fact that Batman is trapped in the labyrinth for a week means the game can take place over a longer period than all the others. The discovery of the Court in the first half and the Night of the Owls in the second. As the games expand in size, it becomes more and more unbelievable that everything happens in a single night.
In the past, the Arkham games have had a tough time including other members of the ‘Bat Family’ into the narratives in any meaningful way. In Arkham City we get a brief Robin cameo and Arkham Knight featured Nightwing in his own subplot that barely connected to the overall narrative. The Court of Owls however is storyline that includes every ally of Batman in a natural way. During the Night of the Owls, Alfred puts out a call to all “allies of the Bat” and gives them the list of targets the Court is hunting. Batgirl, Nightwing, Damian Wayne’s Robin, Red Hood, Batwing and more all answer the call and, in a crossover event, we see what they were doing on that fateful night. The game could do something similar and allow for missions where we can play as any number of side characters on a mission to protect someone from the Talons. Dick Grayson can also play a major role in game because in the comic we discover he was courted by the Court (pun intended) and was set to be their next Talon before Batman took him in instead. His conflict with them would be great to see, especially considering one of the revived Talons is William Cobb – his great-grandfather.
Now, while I love the comic overall, there are a few things I would change in an adaptation. First of all, I’m not a fan of an overly technological Batman and so I hope those aspects of the comic are dialed back for the game. I don’t want futuristic contact lenses, holograms or lie detector programs. Especially if the game is supposed to be a prequel to Rocksteady’s trilogy. I’m also conflicted on whether Lincoln March should appear in the game. In the comic, March is a mayoral candidate and member of the Court who – MASSIVE SPOILERS INCOMING – is revealed to possibly be Bruce’s thought-dead bother Thomas Wayne Jr. March poisons the Court after they betray him and he dons a futuristic owl costume to fight Batman, eventually becoming the primary antagonist of the storyline. It’s left ambiguous as to whether he is actually Bruce’s brother or whether he was just manipulated by the Court to make him think he was, with evidence for either outcome left on the table. Initially I was disappointed in this reveal and would have preferred the Court themselves to remain the big bad of the book but, despite some convoluted exposition, I’ve come around on the idea of Lincoln March as a foil for Bruce. It works in the comic but I’m not sure it would in the game, and at the moment I think I’d prefer for that character not to appear.
Just because the Court of Owls have been hinted to appear in WB Games Montreal’s next game doesn’t mean that it will be an adaption of the comic book storyline, or even feature them as the main villain, but I hope some aspects are utilised in the game because it’s truly a great Batman story. The Court and their Talons are brilliant baddies that would translate well into video games, and I’m not usually a fan of secret societies manipulating events in comics. If the ability to explore Gotham in a game better than any other medium is taken full advantage of, not just for gameplay but story and theme as well, then the game could be something special and justify the entry’s existence in a series previously thought concluded. After a five-year drought of Batman games, I’m greatly anticipating any reveal in the near future, but if I’ve read the hints correctly and it is a Court of Owls game then I think they’ve made a great decision for the future of the series.
What do you want from the next Batman game? Are you a fan of The Court of Owls storyline? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.