Ben Affleck's #Batman may be the best part of the current DC Extended Universe, but the big bad Bat is not without his flaws. Something just never sat right with most moviegoers and critics, leaving us wondering what an alternate cinematic Batman could look like. Lucky for us, out there lurking in the shadows is another Batman series that just might deserve the film treatment more than Batfleck and co.
It's not a new animated series or fan film that beats out Zack Snyder's universe. No, I'm talking about Batman: The Telltale Series. It's the latest Batman video game, and it's also the freshest, most fascinating spin on the world of #Gotham we've had in years.
Batman: The Telltale Game is a five-part episodic game series by, you guessed it, Telltale Games. The recent #Arkham video games by Rocksteady Studios were terrific at putting players in the Dark Knight's shoes, but their action oriented gameplay never really allowed for exploring the equally important facade of Bruce Wayne, the unmasked billionaire. Telltale aimed to showcase a side of Batman beyond the brawling, and with both the Bat and the man at its disposal, the studio is crafting its own story-based game that truly dives into the essence of the character.
Three episodes into its five-part "season," this new Batman game is exploring elements of Bruce as well as his allies and enemies in ways that are at once uniquely fresh and comfortably faithful to the DC Universe. Dare I say it, Telltale's doing a superior job at handling Batman's world, more so than the DCEU currently is. Here's why:
1. Reinventing What We Know
Affleck and Snyder's mission statement with the DCEU Batman seemed to be about breaking convention and reinventing what a movie Batman could be. It's easy to see why — the team at DC wanted moviegoers to clearly distinguish this Batman from the one last seen in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy only a few years back. The easiest way to do this in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was to present a Batman seen throughout the film wielding guns, drinking booze, and oh yeah — killing dudes.
#TelltaleGames wanted to differentiate its Batman, too, only in a different way. In part one of the Telltale video game, Bruce Wayne learns that his deceased father Thomas Wayne was involved with some of the worst crime lords in Gotham, and that the Wayne family fortune is all dirty money. Bruce is shaken by this discovery, as are we the players, who've been told for more than 70 years in movies and comics how righteous and goodwilled Thomas and Martha Wayne were before their tragic murders.
Flipping our understanding of Batman lore upside down is a welcome addition to a new cinematic universe, but not when it involves altering Batman fundamentally. The DCEU tried modifying Batman's character into a killer, something contradictory to the hero we know. Telltale, on the other hand, attempted to modify not the character of Batman, but the rules surrounding him.
If the DCEU wanted to deliver something brand new, it could alter the circumstances surrounding Bruce Wayne instead of his moral compass. Imagine a big-budget, cinematic take on Batman in which he has to wrestle with the knowledge that the fortune funding his war against injustice came from crime itself. Batman could stay true to his character's morals ("no guns!"), but face new scenarios and limitations in a very different setting that would easily separate him from previous iterations. Picture a movie Batman who, halfway through the film, ditches his gadgets and goes full ninja to make a statement against his unethical wealth.
2. Less Homage, More Vision
While the DCEU's Batman attracted casual movie fans with its reinvented Batman, the studio also tried reeling in core comic book fans using story cues from classic Batman books. Remember when the Batman v Superman logo was first shown and we all screamed, "They're doing The Dark Knight Returns!" Or when #theFlash showed up in Bruce's vision and hinted at a Flashpoint/Injustice story setup?
#BvS seemed to have pulled from and been influenced by as many iconic stories as it could. Although seeing a variety of comic characters and elements all in one flick is great for trailer footage, Easter Egg hunts and "things you missed" lists, it creates muddled storytelling. Don't think so? Just ask Spider-Man 3.
That's where Telltale's Batman succeeds. Instead of trying to be a greatest hits of Batman and DC stories, Telltale endeavored to tell its own unique story using Bruce Wayne and his gallery of rogues. In a behind-the-scenes featurette, Troy Baker, who voices Bruce Wayne, had this to say about the game:
"It really is different. It's really about not pulling from and paying homage and tipping the hat to previous versions of this, but really trying to come up with your own version."
Other cast members share similar sentiments. Voice acting queen Laura Bailey, who voices #Catwoman, insists, "I feel like I've never seen this side of Selina, so it's really cool to explore that." Although it's a new side we're seeing, it's not something contradictory or foreign to our understanding of Selina Kyle. Telltale's game is inspired by Batman lore, but it isn't trying to do a particular arc or reference a specific style; it craves something new. So should us fans.
Unlike BvS, The Telltale Game doesn't rely on previous books or story arcs as a plot template, and instead asks the player to carve their own path. While this mode of interactive storytelling only works in games and can't translate to a film, the sentiment that new ideas are both welcome and necessary is missing from the #Batfleck adaptation (so far).
Ultimately, the Batman seen in the current DC Extended Universe suffers from two major issues: An overemphasis on character reinvention, and a reliance on recognizable story queues. It may sound contradictory and hypocritical to essentially call a movie too different and not different enough, but Telltale's game shows that it's possible to do both. The three episodes of Batman: The Telltale Game released so far dive into plot territory that feels entirely different than anything that's come before. Yet the game also stays faithful to the world of Batman by making sure that despite the new rules surrounding Gotham City, every player still plays the same.
Telltale's stellar Batman game is the movie we deserve, but it's not the one we have right now. The DCEU movies are proving so far to be fun popcorn flicks, but have yet to do anything meaningful with the characters or truly understand them. Fortunately, while not a film universe, Batman: The Telltale Game plays enough like a movie that you can watch your friend play or tune in to a Twitch stream and pretend you're immersed in a new cinematic universe.