by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Marvel’s various takes on their Civil War franchise have all urged readers to “choose a side.” That’s not an approach Tom King and Mikel Janin can really take with “The War of Jokes and Riddles” though, because who wants to support either side of a war waged by sadistic supervillains? Yet, that’s exactly where Batman finds himself in Batman 29 — forced to pick between supporting either the Joker or the Riddler if he wants to end this war once and for all.
This is likely the primary source of the guilt Bruce so palpably expressed back in issue 25 — while Batman’s been shown playing gangs against each other in the past, explicitly backing one group of criminals in order to take out another is extreme even for him. Bruce is clearly desperate, even going as far as to invite eight supervillains into his home in order to broker peace.
Bruce is quite serious about his offer to choose as side, too — which gives Janin and King plenty of opportunity to explore just what makes Joker and Riddler tick as Bruce weights his options.
Janin keeps his layouts consistent across both pages to reinforce their equal positions, but otherwise, they couldn’t be more different. Joker and Riddler’s fantasies about killing Batman reveal quite a bit about themselves — Riddler wants to dominate Batman, wants to prove himself superior (because that’s what testing people with unsolveable riddles has always been about), while Joker wants a more intimate experience, one that will make Batman smile (because he’s still an obsessed showman at heart).
A few pages later, Janin and King pull the same move, only this time, Riddler and Joker get to sum their opponent up instead.
Even then, though, they’re revealing more about themselves as well. Riddler attempts to “solve” the Joker, to declare him pathetic and empty, again hoping to make himself look better in the process. Joker, meanwhile, couldn’t be more dismissive of Riddler — as always, the only people he cares about are himself and Batman.
Legitimately examining both sides of this conflict only makes Bruce’s choice feel more impossible; the lesser of two evils is a major understatement here. We aren’t privy to Bruce’s final choice by the issue’s end, but if I had to guess, I’d venture that he’ll back the Riddler. After all, Riddler promises to release his hostages, while Joker had already slaughtered his before their meeting even began. Bruce looks livid in response, and if there’s anything that could get him over the repugnancy of working with the Riddler, it’s the sheer inhumanity of the Joker.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Instead of cringing at the utterly atrocious pages you guys showed (the Riddler doesn’t want to prove his superiority. He wants to prove his INTELLECTUAL superiority. The difference matters. And the Joker isn’t looking for any intimate experience with Batman. He’s looking for understanding. He needs Batman to laugh with him), let’s talk about the new Telltale Batman game
So yeah, the second season of Telltale’s Batman, called The Enemy Within, got surprisingly announced and, a couple of weeks later, had the first episode, the Enigma, released (A reminder: a Telltale game is like an interactive movie, where you play the lead character as they go through events, influencing their personality and, to a limited degree, the plot. You get to choose the dialogue of the main character, and make choices that influence the story to different degrees.)
The first season was a fantastic twist on Batman, providing focus on the Bruce Wayne side of the equation, and shining the light on lesser seen aspects of the mythos, while filtering everything through their own unique twist, a mix between a political technothriller noir, a focus on relationships and a killer twist that reinterprets the entire Batman mythos and filters everything through a new vibe.
With the new season, Telltale show their wish to develop these ideas further, by showing the rise of the supervillain. While there were supervillains last season, they were unique threats. In fact, Catwoman and Twoface weren’t even proper supervillains – Catwoman was a thief and Twoface was the mayor. There was only one, true supervillain, and they felt like the ending of a story, not the beginning.
Which is where the Enemy Within starts. The era of ordinary crime in Gotham is over, ended by the resolution of the Children of Arkham crisis. And now, there is a new era. An era’s birth that will coincide with the rise of the mysterious John Doe into the Joker.
But, in true Telltale Batman fashion, they have instantly found a twist. And they did this by asking one simple question. What is a supervillain? Telltale’s Supervillains aren’t new. They’ve always been there, and a secret war has been raised, beneath Batman’s war on crime. And with Batman triumphant, this new war has come to light. And this war has come to light thanks to the return of what was once a blight upon Gotham, the Riddler. This means a slight change in genre. The political and technothriller elements have been dropped, and replaced with crime and espionage.
On the one side, you have the Agency, led by Amanda Waller (I have no idea why they didn’t call it ARGUS or DEO or an existing agency with an actual name). The Agency has a dodgy past that Gordon doesn’t trust as they basically seize control of the case. Yet they are open to working with Batman, and Amanda Waller is a new face who may be trying to reform it.
And on the other side, are the supervillains. And this is where Telltale answer that question of what a supervillain is. In the context of their universe, a supervillain is the ultimate bad guy. The guys who sit on top of the FBI’s Most Wanted. Part terrorist, part crook, these are bad guys whose very existence changes the shape of the gameboard that extraordinary measures are required. A supervillain is a crisis.
Led by an existing, famous Batvillain, who I won’t spoil as it is a great twist that completely recontextualises the character and feels like an amazing new approach, a bunch of GOtham based villains are in the middle of a shadow war with the Agency. In bringing down traditional crime figures, has stumbled into this new war.
And to complicate things further, the mysterious John Doe has been let out of Arkham. And after meeting Bruce in Arkham last game, he has a developed an unhealthy fixation. And it is quite clear that John Doe is unstable and a problem. He’s not necessarily dangerous – despite his white skin and green hair, he isn’t the Joker yet. He doesn’t know who he is, but he’s not the Joker. But he struggles to control his emotions, reacting in extreme ways to the smallest of triggers. And combine that with major socialisation problems, and every interaction with him is tense, as you navigate dialogue options trying to keep the peace and control the situation without letting him explode (the choice of venue for the conversation in the first episode is perfect). He’s somehow involved in everything, and navigating him is a crisis even without everything else. While I liked him in the first season, I was nervous on how well this approach would transfer to a story where he is in centre stage. But thankfully, it works amazingly.
Which leads us to the Riddler. After menacing Gotham long before Batman’s time, the Riddler is back. Through him, the first step is a giant story begins. Unfortunately, the Riddler is the big problem with this episode. Telltale do a fantastic job at motivating him in nearly every respect. We understand his connection to his allies, to his victims, to the Agency etc. As a villain, he is done fantastically. But as the Riddler, he is lacking. Not because he is different from the comics – the joy of Telltale’s Batman is how they build new characters from the ground up. But they fail to properly explain the choice of Riddles and tests of intelligence. Quite simply, this is the very first time Telltale have ever answered a question about a character with ‘Because that’s the way it is in the comics’. WHich is disappointing, because I was really interested in finding out why their Riddler had the methodology he did. Instead, they explained everything else but that. It leaves him as the weak link, even if luckily he is a very small part of a much greater role.
And, of course, there are all the other elements. The twist that the last game was built around hangs over the game, as Bruce continues to reconcile with that past. So many scenes, explicitly or implicitly have Bruce have to confront his legacy. And, of course, there is the ways that Bruce has developed himself. In the last game, Batman and Bruce were two seperate figures. Both committed to saving Gotham, but using radically different approaches. But after the climax of the last game reconciled these two sides (interesting fact, the episode synopses of the first season referred to Bruce and Batman and two separate characters, the ones for this season don’t), Bruce unmasked self takes a different approach, deeply involved in Batman’s crusade and, in its own way, constantly on the front line. He’s not hiding behind political candidates, but facing crooks personally as part of a singular mission, utilising every part of himself.
And he has a new ally. Considering the early point in the timeframe, we start the recruitment of the first new ally outside the core of Alfred, Gordon and Lucius. And in true Telltale style, it is a complete shock. Taking a small, seemingly forgotten part of the mythos and shining the bright light. It isn’t Dick Grayson, or anyone else you are thinking of. It is… Tiffany Fox. Never been as important as her sister, Tamara, and Tamara was barely important. COmpared to Luke Fox, Tiffany is a nobody. But she quickly stands out, both through characterisation and because of how clearly Telltale use the relationships she does have (largely her father) to place her engagingly on the board. Quite simply, even a nobody like Tiffany can be interesting if you just think carefully of what she could be, and I’m looking forward to seeing her grow into being part of the Batfamily.
The Riddler is just weak enough to say that this isn’t a great start, but it is a good start that contains the most important element, potential. This is so incredibly rich with potential that even if it didn’t perfectly actualise a new and unique approach on this section of the Batman mythos in its first episode, it has built the foundation for the second episode to do just that. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next. Because what they’ve suggested could turn into something special.
And if we could have something as special as that first season again? We would be truly blessed