Batman: The Telltale Series is the Best Bruce Wayne Story Yet
A major component of the Batman character is the suggestion that the Dark Knight isn’t really all that different from the maniacal villains he opposes. Yes, he may not be prone to murderous killing sprees like they are, but when all is said and done Bruce Wayne is still donning a silly outfit, beating people up and defying the law in order to soothe his own conscience. Much like Mr. Freeze or Alan Moore’s take on The Joker in The Killing Joke, Bruce Wayne is another guy dealing with bereavement in his own, uniquely bat-shit insane way, and though he’s fighting for the good guys his behavior isn’t exactly indicative of a clean bill of mental health.
But although Bruce’s alter-ego is the most obvious evidence that he suffers from a few loose screws, it’s his day-job as a billionaire playboy that offers the greatest window into his troubled mind. Though a prerequisite of a superhero is maintaining a secret identity, Bruce Wayne is forced to go one step further as a result of his high profile, with him therefore required to project an image to the world of a self-absorbed, arrogant and unfathomably wealthy asshole who couldn’t possibly wear a mask with little ears at night in order to punch bad guys in the mouth. This dichotomy has been explored in everything from the comic books, to Batman: The Animated Series and through to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but for my money Telltale have nailed it better than anyone else in their video game adaptation of the Caped Crusader.
The majority of depictions of Bruce Wayne tend to go down the simple route of portraying him as a bit of a jerk, a womanizer and basically what you’d expect from a guy who inherited a massive fortune without actually having to work for any of it. I’ve always found the ease in which he slips out of Batman and into Bruce Wayne mode a little jarring, with his various interpretations across comics, films and TV regularly showing him as being thoroughly and weirdly comfortable with this transition. Take Batman Begins, for instance, in which Bruce returns to Gotham after spending years training to become a fighter in South Asia with Ra’s al Ghul, only to then turn up to a restaurant in a flash car, jump into a water feature alongside two models while fully clothed, before handing a check to a disgruntled waiter in order to buy the establishment. Sure, after this series of events he may tell an appalled Rachel Dawes that “inside” he is “more,” but the point remains that one minute he’s dressing up like a bat and beating up burglars in the dead of night, then the next he’s frolicking in fountains while still wearing his shoes. It’s weird.
Episode one of Batman: The Telltale Series achieves what few Batman adaptations have attempted by placing the spotlight upon Bruce Wayne, focusing on his involvement in Gotham’s politics, his confrontations with its criminal underbelly in a non-Batman capacity, and his uncertainty surrounding his worthiness to carry the Wayne legacy. As with all Telltale games, you navigate your way through its story by selecting from a series of multiple choice dialogue options, allowing you to guide the direction of Bruce’s story. But although you can effectively veer between stern abrasiveness and rich kid smugness, this take on Batman doesn’t depict Bruce Wayne as a persona that the superhero is burdened with, but rather a human being that is struggling with great inner turmoil and the consequences of trying to provide a glimmer of hope in his beloved but broken city.
Though the game’s narrative roots itself in a familiar tale of Batman trying to take down notorious crime lord Carmine Falcone, the real story is Bruce Wayne dealing with suspicions raised regarding a potential link between his late parents and the mob, throwing Bruce’s reasoning behind putting on the cape and cowl into doubt. In this story Batman is an ancillary character, an unfortunate necessity who does what must be done while Bruce is out politicking. Telltale makes this interesting by allowing the player to explore the shades of gray of Bruce’s personality, an exciting opportunity considering that the character is known for possessing a strict moral compass that typically only allows him to see in black and white. Granting players the option to deviate from the kind of decisions that Batman would make – whether that be brutalizing a criminal rather than subduing them in a non-violent manner, or vocally expressing a desire to move on from his parents’ death – adds a layer of uncertainty to a character who, in the vast majority of his other interpretations, is stubbornly confident in every decision he makes.
Telltale even go so far as to make one staple of the character – the concealing of his identity – less important to the central narrative in order to add a new dynamic to his uneasy relationship with Catwoman, as Selina Kyle swiftly clocks on to who the man behind the mask is after a short encounter with Bruce over lunch. Though Bruce’s swift acceptance that Selina has potentially undone years of tireless work by immediately deducing that he is Batman is questionable, this can be forgiven due to the interesting ramifications it should have on future episodes, with a new layer of tension being introduced into one of the Dark Knight’s most enduring relationships. Sure, there have been plenty of other instances in which Catwoman has learned of Batman’s identity, but rarely has such a major plot point been uncovered so early on in a Batman story.
The most interesting relationship, though, is the one shared between Bruce and Harvey Dent. Dent is depicted here in his pre-Two-Face days, campaigning to become Gotham’s mayor while Bruce provides him with both moral and financial support. Outside of his closest confidants such as Alfred, Barbara Gordon and the Robins, we have rarely seen Bruce Wayne warm to another person, with him saving the majority of his compassion for those he trains to fight alongside him and, of course, Alfred. However, in Telltale’s take on the character Bruce is even shown confiding in Harvey, with players able to select dialogue options that see him dropping his guard, displaying sensitivity and, in some cases, vulnerability, too. Whereas Bruce and Harvey Dent’s relationship has been portrayed in other interpretations as an amicable, necessary but unemotional alliance, in Telltale’s take the pair are depicted as sharing a relationship that strongly resembles friendship. Considering Bruce’s complete lack of friends in mostly every other portrayal of the character, that’s a pretty big deal.
Though Bruce Wayne has had his fair share of stories that have eclipsed his crime-fighting alter-ego, from his doomed romance in Mask of the Phantasm to his bout of amnesia in a recently concluded story arc in the Batman comic series, Telltale have crafted a compelling spin on a well-established character that makes him more interesting than he’s been in years. Even if they’re only one episode into a six-episode series, enough groundwork has been laid for this to become one of the better Bruce Wayne stories in the character’s history, and I can’t wait to see where Telltale is going with it.