If you believe the reviews Batman: Arkham City might be even better than Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady's first Batman title was the surprise hit of 2009, selling millions of units and racking up numerous Game of the Year awards. Now Arkham Asylum is poised to repeat. Considering the Go-Go Checked past of both Batman and superhero games, this is a startling turnaround, and similar to the recent trajectory of the Batman film franchise.
By the end of the 1990s the Batman movie series was deader than Val Kilmer's career. Cause of death: Joel Schumacher in the multiplex with Batman and Robin. Schumacher veered hard from the dimestore goth of Tim Burton and straight into the camp fantasia last occupied by the Batman TV show of the 1960s, killing off a billion dollar franchise in the process.
Batman's cinematic corpse was eventually brought back to life by the human Lazarus Pit known as Christopher Nolan. The director of Memento brought the stern seriousness of Frank Miller's 1980s Batman comics to the movies, winning over America with a slightly more realistic and psychological look at the Caped Crusader. After decimating the box office with 2008's The Dark Knight, Warner Brothers asked Nolan to oversee the reboot of another beleaguered comics legend: Superman.
If Warner Brothers turns to Nolan to salvage other superheroes, they could very well do the same with Rocksteady. A publishing company with a history as long and varied as DC's features dozens of characters and concepts that are fertile ground for video games, and Rocksteady has proven themselves thoroughly capable of tilling that soil. Here are a few DC properties we'd love to see Rocksteady work on.
The Man of Steel may no longer resonate with America as deeply as he did in the past, but he's still the original and most important superhero of all time. With over 70 years of stories behind him and one of the most iconic cast of characters in any medium, Rocksteady would have a motherlode of material to pull from. Instead of the claustrophobic atmosphere of Arkham Asylum, a Superman game should take place all over the universe, with stops in Metropolis, Smallville, the Fortress of Solitude, the bottle city of Kandor, Bizarro World, and the Phantom Zone.
There'd obviously be showdowns with Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Zod, and other famous villains, but a successful Superman game should be less about fighting or combat and more about saving people and preventing disasters. After all, Luthor's threat isn't physical, but mental, and reducing Superman's power level to make him easier to threaten would fundamentally undermine the character. Season with occasional outbursts of 5th Dimension trickery from Mxyzptlk, filling either the Riddler or Scarecrow role, and at least one showpiece moment apiece for Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, and you could have the basis for the first good Superman game since the old pinball table.
The Flash isn't as iconic as Superman or Batman, but he's still one of the most famous and longest-running characters in comics. As a property the Flash's greatest strength is its almost familial lineage and its excellent roster of off-kilter rogues. Rocksteady seamlessly incorporated a number of villains into the plot of Arkham Asylum, and as celebrated as Batman's villains are they collectively have nothing on classic Flash bad guys like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, the Trickster, the Pied Piper, and the Weather Wizard.
Instead of the random and disconnected villain encounters in Arkham Asylum, a Flash game could easily revolve around the concerted schemes of this fractious crew of super criminals. With the Flash Rocksteady could also explore different time periods, flashing back to the Golden Age Flash's crimefighting during the 1940s, or even explore the entire parallel Earth-1 / Earth-2 dichotomy that dominated DC canon for decades. The Flash would also be perfect for a Modern Warfare-type moment when your playable character unexpectedly dies, only to be replaced by his now-grown sidekick. It might be tricky to turn the Flash's speed powers into a gameplay mechanic, but no doubt the professionals at Rocksteady could figure that out.
Jack Kirby's Fourth World
Jack Kirby's post-Marvel masterpiece is a sweeping mythosuperheroic epic of unparalleled scope. Beyond the enduring legacy of Darkseid, DC's most powerful supervillain, Kirby created a highly detailed universe in which two planets of supergods waged an endless struggle. New Genesis represents youth, beauty, and freedom, while Darkseid's Apokolips represents the dark and dehumanizing side of industry and technology. Kirby delicately weaved this story through four different series that ran at once in the early 1970s.
The Fourth World saga wouldn't be as easy to adapt as Batman, since it's a concrete (albeit prematurely ended) story and not just an enduring archetype that has been refined and reinterpreted for decades. Kirby's prescient message is more vital today than it was forty years ago, and with an expansive cast of characters (including the belligerent hero Orion and the escape artist Mister Miracle) and timeless tale of good and evil the Fourth World is ripe for a videogame discovery.
The Suicide Squad dates back to the 1950s, but we're only concerned with the 1980s series written by John Ostrander. Ostrander turned this deep undercover government task force into a team of interned supercriminals embarking on deadly black ops missions in hopes of earning their freedom. The Suicide Squad was noted for constant turnover and a high casualty rate of secondary supervillains but also for finding the humanity at the core of these criminals, turning the obscure into the compelling. A Suicide Squad game would not only have a deep roster of characters to pull from, it could also basically kill any of them off at any point with total impunity. The grim and gritty aesthetic of Arkham Asylum that some found tiresome would be more at home with a Suicide Squad game. Also Rocksteady could make the game as violent as they'd like, as, unlike Batman, most of these characters have absolutely no problem with murder.
Despite debuting with a similar concept a few months earlier than the X-Men, the Doom Patrol has never been a big hit. Its various volumes have featured some of the weirdest superhero comics published by either Marvel or DC, though, especially after Grant Morrison took over in the late 1980s. It was already weird from the start, focusing on a small team of superpowered misfits and societal outcasts. Their early enemies in the 1960s included the Brotherhood of Evil, a group lead by a disembodied brain and a brilliant gorilla with a French name, who Morrison later revealed were in a committed but unconsummated relationship.
A game built on the foundation of the 1960s series but with a streak of Morrison's arty absurdity would look and feel like no other superhero video game. By tapping into Morrison ideas like the Brotherhood of Dada and the Scissormen of Orqwith Rocksteady could make a game as visually and structurally bewildering as El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, but with a crew of superheroes dealing with body dysmorphic disorder instead of a hipster angel.
Freelancer Garrett Martin writes about video games, music, comics, and everything else he loved in middle school. Read his work and follow him on Twitter at @grmartin.