Understand, this is completely out of the order I had intended. I wanted to wait until I had finished my series on the Complete History of Hugo Strange, but I've put off the next few posts because 1.) I really don't like most of the upcoming stories, and 2.) I don't have scans of Batman and the Monster Men, Battle for the Cowl: The Network, nor the stuff by Tony Daniel and from David Hine's Arkham Reborn. I really wanted--and in some ways still need--to post those before I seriously look at how Hugo was handled in the B:AC game and comics.
But birds gotta swim, fish gotta fly you heard me!, Hef gotta rant! For one thing, this is the most high-profile exposure that the rogues as a whole have gotten since Batman: The Animated Series. For another, the big twist about Hugo Strange pissed me off so much that it not only ruined every bit of enjoyment I had for the character in the game, but it also put a damper on my love of the character as a whole. It was THAT annoying.
Now, I haven't actually played B:AC, since--surprise surprise--Dell laptops suck and thus can't support the game via Steam. So I was forced to watch this series of playthroughs, one of the few without player commentary, and just focused on the character stuff. I ended up having to do the same with the original Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I still haven't played either, but that was a far more painful experience. B:AA was not a well-written, well-performed game. I'm sure the playing experience was amazing, but the viewing experience was tedious and irritating, largely because of the Hot-Topic-ified versions of the rogues, the uninspired voice acting of everyone involved, and ohmygod the Joker at the end WTF still.
B:AC was so much better in every damn way in regards to how they handled the characters and story. Between the first game's success and the new urban demilitarized setting, it's like the designers knew that they didn't NEED to reinvent the characters, and pretty much kept them intact (with some changes) to roam freely, interact, and wreak havoc. I approve! ... But not, of course, without some criticisms.
A perfect example is what was done with the Penguin.
Gotta admit, I'm surprised by how much I liked Pengers here, much as I hate the inexplicable voice, overly-sleazy characterization, and lack of stylish flair in the form of no top hats, cigars instead of cigarette holders, and--most stupid of all--a broken bottle in the eye. Oh yes, that's no monocle! Because he's now GRITTY, you see! How very stupid. And yet, I liked the character regardless. He came off as a more interesting villain there than he has in the comics for YEARS, save for great flukes such as Joker's Asylum: Penguin.
If you'd like full thoughts on this version, I wrote them all up at my Tumblr, but know that I'll eventually be incorporating many of those thoughts into my eventual Penguin Appreciation Post. Hell, I'll probably do a whole Penguin Appreciation Week to go with it! But that won't be for a while yet.
After posting that, someone on Tumblr asked me what I thought about how the rest of the villains were handled. For the most part, my thoughts will be spoiler-free, and I'll save the spoilers for the end. Don't worry, you'll get warning and a lot of blank space.
Either way, if you don't want to be spoiled, avoid reading the comments.
JOKER: Loved it. The Joker's physical condition gave a wonderful restraint for Hamill to work with and around, which I think he really needed. Worlds above how the character was handled in Arkham Asylum, and I think a lot of that has to do with taking him off center stage. The Joker is often times more in his element when he's not the main villain, but rather part of a much larger ensemble. He still steals the show whenever he shows up, and besides, it gives him more toys to play with... or break.
HARLEY: Ugh, hated her so... so... much. I like Tara Strong, but dear god, not here. Whereas Arleen Sorkin would have likely played Harley as pouty and over-the-top in her grief ala the ending to The Laughing Fish, Strong sounded like a whiiiiiiiny version of Toot from Drawn Together. In terms of being grating, she was just a level or two belong Nancy Spungen from Sid and Nancy to me. Ughhh. There wasn't a single damn thing I could like about her here. She was every bit as annoying, humorless, and joyless as the current abomination in Suicide Squad. Not enough blah in the world.
RIDDLER: I really like the character's writing and design (mostly), and thought they made him adequately threatening in a way that didn't push the character too far into Saw or Se7en territory, as some writers seem hellbent on trying to do because they're idiots who don't like fun. That said, his voice wasn't smug nor charismatic enough, and the choppy Max Headroom style delivery of his transmissions only made me long for one of my dream Eddie castings: Matt Frewer.
MISTER FREEZE: The best goddamn version of the character we've seen in over fifteen goddamn years. Holy shit, but I loved Victor here. While the character was reinvented brilliantly for the DCAU, comics writers (including Dini himself!) seemed determined to continue writing Victor as a one-note sadistic maniac, and even when Nora was brought up, it only was used to make things even worse. Not here: they handled the beautiful tragedy of Mr. Freeze beautifully, especially through Maurice LaMarche's voice acting, which captured both the pained humanity of Victor Fries and the cold robotic inhumanity of Mr. Freeze. My only complaint was the forced fight scene which made no sense, because Victor should have known that Batman would totally have done anything to save Nora anyway, and that it was in Victor's best interests to give him the cure. Chalk it up to Victor's villainous inability to understand heroism, I guess.
TWO-FACE: How's the old joke go? "The food here is terrible!" "Yes, and such small portions!" Yeah, bad enough that Harvey was barely in the game, but when he was, he was Doug Moench's Two-Face all the way: a humorless and fanatical maniac who rants about fate and "THE DEATH PENALTY!!1!" who you just wanna punch in the face to make him shut the hell up. Oddly, the Two-Face of the Arkham City digital exclusive tie-in comics is much better, and has far more personality. In the game, he's a brutal thug with no dimension, and what Catwoman does to him is... ugh, no. He deserves better, and I hate that some fans think that this is how Harvey has ALWAYS been, that he's just a small fry villain who doesn't deserve better exposure.
MAD HATTER: The brilliant Peter MacNicol is casting genius for Jervis, but the character was barely used to make an impression one way or another. Chalk it up to "Let's see more next time." I don't like the facial design nor do I love the costume, but I really appreciate how he looked utterly unique and distinct, thus setting him apart from just being a walking caricature based on Tenniel's drawings. Jervis should be his own character, just as he was on TAS. I want more.
ZSASZ, CALENDAR MAN, DEADSHOT, POISON IVY: I haven't seen their levels yet, so I can't comment either way.
HUGO STRANGE: ...Sighhhh. You broke my heart, Arkham City. You won me over, and then, you broke my heart. Hugo is probably my second-favorite villain, and if you're wondering why, then I beg you to please check out my posts examining the character's history in comics. He's a magnificent villain, but one who's rarely used. Based on the game trailers and the character's appearance in the Arkham City prequel comic, I was convinced that Dini has nailed a goddamn amazing take on Hugo. He was brilliant, calculating, and dangeously insane, a master planner and manipulator capable of screwing with Bruce Wayne in ways that no other villain could do, or would even be willing to do. Instead, Hugo vanished for the majority of the game, and when he finally came back, he... he...
... well, now we're getting into spoilers territory. DO NOT READ if you don't want to be spoiled. In fact, avoid the comments too.
Seriously. SPOILERS FOR ARKHAM CITY AHOY. SPOILING ALL OF THE THINGS.
YOU GUYS. SPOILERS. SERIOUSLY.
Well all right then.
Hugo Strange is nobody's fucking puppet. EVER.
The second you depict Hugo as being anything less than a master villain, everything about him--his ego, his boasting, his smugness--falls apart and the character is reduced to being an annoying little toad. He has to be every bit as brilliant as he thinks he is, and part of that includes never working with anyone else unless he's in control of them. The storyline Batman: Terror from Legends of the Dark Knight made this very same mistake, turning Hugo into a creepy toolbag who ended up getting pwned by a lousy version of the Scarecrow. Now, according to Hugo's wiki page on Arkham City, Hugo's real plan was to betray Ra's an replace him as the leader of the League of Assassins, which actually WOULD have been awesome and would fit the character... but none of that comes through in the game. He's all surprised and betrayed at his "master," begging for a second chance. Ugh, Hugo Strange has no fucking master. And Hugo never begs. Never. He didn't beg when Rupert Thorne's men were beating him to death, and he sure as hell wouldn't beg to Ra's.
Also, apparently Hugo came to Ra's with Batman's secret identity? Ra's didn't already know it beforehand? That doesn't work on a number of levels. Ra's has ALWAYS known that Bruce was Batman, because Ra's is powerful and brilliant that way. Secondly, Hugo would never use that as a bargaining chip with Ra's, because that secret means far too much to Hugo himself, who wants to personally replace Batman. That twist annoyed the hell out of me more than I can say. It single-handedly ruined ALL my enjoyment of Hugo in this game and the tie-in comics, and dashed all hopes I had of the character finally getting appreciated in fandom at large. Feh.
RA'S AL GHUL: I don't have much to say. He was perfectly captured save for two details: 1.) the voice was meh, and 2.) I don't think Ra's, for all his evil, has ever purposely jeopardized Talia's safety. If I'm correct in that regard, then the game betrays one of Ra's most complex aspects, making him stupidly simplistic. Either way, I utterly hated the moment where he put a knife to Talia's throat. Ra's is one of those villains who is so smart, who has so many contingency plans that he would never, ever be found in a position where threatening to kill Talia would be an option.
As far as I can tell, the scene of Ra's using his daughter as a bargaining chip was only there to foreshadow what happens to her in the end, specifically for what it means to Bruce. That, to me, is the most interesting part of her role in this game. In comics fandom, there's a contingent of fans who HAAAAATE Talia, mainly Bat/Cat shippers who refuse to believe that there could possibly be anyone but Selina for Bruce's great love. And yet in this game, Selina and Bruce rarely have any moments together to indicate romantic interest, whereas Talia is treated as Batman's One True Lurve.
Too bad that only made her a bigger target. Poor Talia. I thought she was great in this game, and she didn't deserve the ending she got. I also think that Batman was a dick for lying to her, since Bruce never had to resort to that in the comics or in TAS.
Oh, and if you need a refresher on what happened to her, and with the Joker, here's the big finale to the game:
So, let's first talk about our special guest star! I'm sure many expected that twist the moment we saw two Jokers (since Basil's been used as the go-to character for lazy misdirection ever since Hush), but even if you did, TELL me you didn't get a little giddy at the movie screen showing The Terror. Between that and the theatre-based dialogue, this was the closest that anyone's come to remembering who Clayface is supposed to be, rather than just making him a generic monster based on their vague memories of Batman: The Animated Series. It was such a nice touch that I almost forgive the stupid "I ARE BIG SCARY MONSTER" voice. TAS showed us all how effective it was to have a normal voice coming out a character with that kind of abnormal design.
As for Joker's death, I liked it okay. I think it was a nice touch to tie it up with Batman's unflinching-but-still-tested refusal to kill, and while this isn't the gut-punch death that Batman Beyond's "That not funny... that... urk...!" was, I thought this was a fitting enough way for at least this version of the Joker to go. Is he actually dead? Well, I'd say no, but with Hamill finally retiring (for now, anyway), it seems to be the case. I honestly don't much care either way.
Oh, and there's still one more spoiler and extra character in the game:
Yeah. Fuck Hush.
Otherwise, neat game. Looking forward to actually playing it someday.