In the current media climate, there’s no shortage of quality comic book material. From movies to videogames to, err, actual comic books. As one of the most iconic DC characters of all time, Batman has had quite the decade; one marked by quality. From the excellent conclusion to Rocksteady’s action-packed Arkham games to the cinematic finale of the Dark Knight trilogy. Okay so thanks to the travesty that was Batman V Superman, it wasn’t all perfect.
Somewhere in the middle though sat the first season of Telltale’s narrative-based Batman series. Where a new, fresh take on both the caped crusader and Bruce Wayne was hampered by an aging Telltale Games engine that seemingly worked against the cinematic ambitions of the story. So much so that on console each episode was plagued by stuttering frame-rates and an overall sub-HD resolution. On the plus side, thanks to the focus on Bruce Wayne’s revelation that his parents weren’t all that great (read: they were criminals), there was a sense that the character was lost and in search of meaning. A fascinating take on the standard Batman backstory that we’ve grown accustomed to.
The most interesting turn though came towards the end of the season, when a familiar green-haired weirdo was introduced – here going by the name of John Doe. A mysterious figure that became fast friends with Bruce Wayne as he was framed and sent to an asylum. The Enemy Within not only picks up and expands on the relationship between Bruce Wayne and John Doe, but by the end of the season player choice directly affects the creation and what form The Joker ultimately takes. A mostly binary evolution where he can become a lot like the anarchic character we’ve seen across multiple Batman stories, or a new twisted vigilante moulded in the image of Batman. Born from a special friendship and a need for approval.
This journey becomes the focal point of the final episode in The Enemy Within, Same Stitch. Where outside of the wonderful first episode, stands above a lot of the in-between story. There are entire episodes of The Enemy Within where it feels like the story is juggling too many characters, and that the shady government agency subplot is simply too convoluted to add any real dramatic tension to set-pieces. Having Riddler, Bane, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, and the creation of The Joker integrated into a single story-thread is certainly ambitious. And putting them under one criminal organisation umbrella, The Pact, makes sense in relation to the Riddler’s goals. Who opens the season as The Pact's mysterious leader.
Except that the Riddler dies at the end of the first episode, leaving The Pact and its place in the overall story – aimless. There’s bio-weapons, corrupt government agencies, power-grabs, and all sorts of secret projects with acronym-laden titles like LOTUS and SANCTUS. After the strong and focused first episode, The Enigma, there’s a feeling that by episode three, Fractured Mask, the season has lost its way. Confused and muddled in its purpose - where you have no idea what the story is supposed to be about. And that’s a problem.
But, in a surprise turn, the story of The Enemy Within is ultimately about relationships. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and John Doe. Between John Doe and Harley Quinn. Catwoman and Batman. Alfred and Bruce. And so many more. For a season with such a dense roster, where narrative elements sometimes fail to sell meaning and importance – the character and relationship choices made along the way carry a remarkable amount of weight. A lot of the credit must go to the finale, Same Stitch, which manages to provide satisfying and often emotional conclusions to season-long tensions.
On this front The Enemy Within feels surer of itself than the first season and features a story that changes significantly based on relationship-driven choices throughout. Where the previous season and other Telltale titles have touted the line that “the choices you make will impact the story”, The Enemy Within probably features the most radically different conclusion in the studio’s history.
Where the first season left its biggest alteration to the Batman character by revealing that his parents were criminals on par with those that he was attempting to stop, it was unavoidable. The Enemy Within lets you shape and navigate your way through not only an entire relationship, that being the one with John Doe, but also in the direction and creation of The Joker. When you factor in that the Joker is perhaps almost as iconic as Batman, that Telltale was able to execute this progression at all, let alone imbue it with emotional weight – makes The Enemy Within essential for fans of the caped crusader.