The video game noir Batman Arkham City was released this week, and my pre-ordered copy arrived like an angel in xbox 360 green. Within the first five minutes I had goosebumps from the perfect timbre of Dr. Hugo Strange’s voice and the early appearance of the femme fatale Catwoman. The main story is a lightning paced buffet of the memorable villains and mainstays of the Gothamverse; brilliantly counterpointed by the new “side mission” system that truly introduces you to the basest elements of Arkham City. Within 72 hours I had beaten the main story arc, and was well on my way into the delectable extras unlocked by the accomplishment. Now, I eagerly divulge the noir elements of this noir comics staple turned video game noir- Batman Arkham City according to the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
Arkham City is a sprawling piece of old Gotham turned penitentiary by the twisted mind of Hugo Strange. All of the inmates from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison have been inserted into the walled island, and told to fend for themselves. Derelict buildings, the frothing sea-front, and abandoned subways frame this haven of crime. This seedy underworld is absolutely noir.
2) The Anti-Hero
Batman, the dark knight himself, is the anti-hero of this video game noir. He is known as “the world’s greatest detective” and is referred to as such several times throughout the game. The character archetype of Batman is absolutely founded in the private eye/gumshoe detectives of the old noir crime fiction and film noir genres: Batman Arkham City is no exception. As a player, much of your time is spent piecing together clues and following the trail of events to their final (inevitable) conclusion.
3) The Femme Fatale
You would think Catwoman was the femme fatale, but she didn’t fit this role exactly. She seemed to be bored of Batman and he was utterly uninterested in her. Talia Al Ghul was more fittingly cast; she refers to Bruce as her “beloved” and she was identified as the only woman that he ever truly loved. The fact that he chases her around the plot is motivated to save and protect her in spite of her failings makes her the femme fatale.
Every female character in the game is crafted by male defined sexual desire. Talia Al Ghul, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy are scantily clad vixens who exude sexuality. To their credit, each of these female characters have redeeming attributes: Talia Al Ghul is violent and powerful, Catwoman has a well developed personality, Harley Quinn becomes a villain in her own right, and Poison Ivy is a petrarchan monolith (cold and utterly unobtainable). The tragedy in these characters is that they are still wholly male defined.
The entire Batman mythos is founded upon the pillar of redemption. Bruce must redeem himself from not the guilt of allowing his parents to be killed. Also, as a detective, he “redeems” each crime by exercising intellectual control over it: knowing how it happened. Thus, even though he was unable to stop the initial crime from happening, knowing the details of its execution and punishing its perpetrators spiritually redeems him. Herein lies the tragedy of Bruce Wayne’s story, for he will never be redeemed. Without dropping any spoilers, I would argue that Batman Arkham City is the story of the Joker’s redemption. As you play, ask yourself, “How important is the Joker to the story of Batman?”
6) Loss of Innocence
The Riddler’s little game with the lives of several hostages comes across as very sick and twisted. Batman finds himself in “riddler rooms” whose chief purpose is to force the dark knight to cause the death of the captive. These deaths are sadistically engineered, and the penalties for Batman’s failure as swift and irreversible. Listening to one captive be blow torched alive was enough to place the Riddler in this “loss of innocence” category.
The only instances of eroticism within this video game noir are as follows: Talia Al Ghul bares her middriff, Poison Ivy doesn’t wear any pants (just little green panties), Harley Quinn’s thong is whale-tailing, and Catwoman’s suit exposes her deep cleavage. Selina Kyle’s catsuit becomes more sensual and erotic the longer that you play, because a multitude of snags and tears reveal the delicate skin beneath by degrees.
8 ) Blaxploitation
The only black characters are the inmates that Batman pounds in the streets.
The Penguin enjoys a stogie and several inmates often talk of their desire for “a smoke.”