Spoilers for several properties of the Batman Arkham universe follow
Know this: Batman Arkham Knight: The Riddler’s Gambit is a fantastic read and a fantastic Batman story. It fits in with the Arkham universe well and gets you ready for Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight.
I need to add here that it was AMAZING to finally be moving forward in the Batman Arkham Universe. I’ve spent so much time exploring the past that the newness I found here was a joy to read.
Reading through the book it’s hard to put it down; author Alex Irvine keeping things moving at a fast clip while still giving all the main players a chance to have their moments of reflection.
The story takes place about four months after the conclusion of Batman: Arkham City; the void left by the death of the Joker in the criminal underworld is begging to be filed and the Riddler sees this as his chance to step up.
I enjoyed how the book gave him a chance to be center stage; Riddler has always been a side player in the games and it was fun to have the character realize this as well.
The clues and puzzles throughout the book are well done in that they are tricky yet believable, with our heroes coming off as just clever as the Riddler for figuring things out despite the deadly situations he puts them in.
Format and the Option to Leave
The format of the book contains what I’ll call a Grapes-of-Wrath-type of interlude where the main action is broken up by a shorter chapters of a different type, giving us commentary of the “regular” chapters that come before and/or after it. They are in the form of news reports from various outlets around Gotham, some we’ve met before (Jack Ryder and Vicki Vale) and others are new (Rafael Del Toro and Trask).
It was interesting that Del Toro – the reporter that we hear from first – decides to leave the city of Gotham by book’s end. Since the citizens of Gotham (in his opinion) would rather rely on Batman instead of fighting the city’s corruption to make him obsolete, he feels he has to move on.
It’s easy to gloss over this event but it needs to be highlighted; here we have a character that looks at a bleak situation, doesn’t agree morally with the current steps being taken to right said situation, and decides to take himself out of the narrative (pages 302-303).
When was the last time this happened? How many stories have we read or watched where you think, “why doesn’t so-and-so just walk away?” Granted this is a specific situation with a secondary character, but still highly unusual that the reader sees someone in the story thinking things through in this way.
Loss and Denial of Humanity
Batman isn’t sure how the Joker’s death is affecting him, only that it is. He felt that he had lost someone close, someone who had been a big part of his life (if a part he’d rather not have).
The scene where Deadshot “explains” what’s going on to Batman – how all this is about Riddler wanting the top crime spot the Joker had previous – and yet he isn’t able to accept this simple explanation because that would mean really letting the Joker go was not the direction I would’ve wanted the story, but it made sense.
Batman’s embarrassment at not realizing that, and later stating that giving himself time to “grieve” the Joker was a weakness, show the reader the cracks that have started develop in the cowl. The lack of giving himself a break, of not realizing his own humanity, will make him lose the focus he seeks by denying it.
Foreshadowing to Arkham Knight anyone?
The Answer to All the Riddles
Riddler being the imago, not Robin, was a nice touch and worked really well being a revelation during the read. The Dark Knight was impressed by the Riddler, calling it masterful how he had brought everything together and make both he and Robin dance to his tune.
However this did give Batman a pause when he realized that Nigma’s ultimate goal hadn’t been to kill then, but to make sure they were worthy opponents – the same way Joker had done.
The Riddler talks himself into the idea that he let Batman and Robin survive, but in the end he likes that better because it gives him the publicity he desires and it lets him move on to the the mid-game in a chess term throwback to the first chapter of the book.
The Riddler gets the first and last word in this book, as it should be.
Closing Thoughts Potpourri
The Batman/Robin back and forth over their communicator worked well in the book – their cooperation while at different locations showed their sometimes strained relationship while highlighting how well they work together.
Batman notes that the level of ruthlessness in the Riddler is new – another point of set up for Arkham Knight I think.
Robin almost tells Oracle his identity when he thinks his life may end – a node to their past (present?) relationship and how he cares for her.
Jack Ryder publicly turns on Batman, thinks of him as a menace even after being saved by him in Arkham City. Jerk.
Vicki Vale was captured (this has happened in other stories in the Arkham-verse) but the line in the paper about her cameraman being killed and leaving behind a family was a good reminder of the untold collateral damage done (page 191).
The book mentions (pages 129, 131) both the Monarch theater (where you fight Clayface in City and where behind in “Crime Alley” Bruce’s parents were killed) and Ace Chemicals where the Joker was “created” – both of these locations are in the game.
I had not realized the significance of either so I revisited the locations in the game and loved the newly instilled gravitas. There was even a message from Hugo Strange and an achievement (“Pay Your Respects”) waiting for me in Crime Alley; this is the best kind of prequel that looks forward but enhances past experiences.
The reader heard about the Burnley neighborhood; it was nice to hear of a place that wasn’t normally touched by the stuff the Dark Knight deals with (pages 235-236).
The simultaneous grappling lines of Batman and Robin as they go after Riddle once Robin was free was sweet, a good buddy moment.
Batman Arkham Knight: The Riddler’s Gambit was everything you’d want in a lead up to the game proper: great story, references to games past that those who’ve put in the time will really appreciate, and page after page of building excitement for the game proper.
Looking forward to Arkham Knight!