Summer Book Club Review: Batman: Arkham Knight Official Novelization and The Riddler’s Gambit Prequel Novel

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums.

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From publisher Titan Books and authors Marv Wolfman and Alex Irvine respectively, come a pair of companion books for Rocksteady’s trilogy-capping Batman: Arkham Knight video game, including the official novelized adaptation of the game’s story, as well as an original prequel novel that fills in the gap between the ending of Arkham City and the beginning of Arkham Knight.

Notice: Before going any further, let me first just point out that there may be spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution. I should also add that I personally have not played Arkham Knight yet–something about the whole Batmobile tank combat implementation has steamrolled my immediate interest. It has been nigh impossible to avoid spoilers, though, so I already knew all the key plot points before poking my nose into the novels. Plus, I have completed the previous Arkham games, and thus have a working knowledge of the overarching storyline.

With The Joker now nothing more than crispy particles of clown flesh after kicking the bucket at the end of Arkham City, Gotham City’s criminal underworld has gone quiet. Too quiet and too calm for Batman’s liking. So in steps Edward Nigma, aka The Riddler, to fill the void and turn jokes into riddles as the city’s brainy new criminal mastermind.

As The Riddler’s Gambit opens, four months after the Joker’s demise, Batman is cautiously taking the lull in crime activity to restock supplies and recover, both physically, from the beating his aging body has been through, and psychologically, from a twisted sense of loss and grief he feels now that the Joker is gone. But things don’t stay quiet for long as a package, seemingly sent by the Joker from beyond the grave, is delivered to Commissioner Gordon at GCPD. Thus the first move in the Riddler’s grand scheme is played, a masterpiece of “puzzles within riddles within conundrums within enigmas,” laid out and timed perfectly to make everyone forget the Joker’s insanity and behold a classier brand of crime. Yeah, good luck with that, pal.

Spurred on by a repeating countdown clock that leads to the mysterious assassinations of seemingly random citizens every time the clock tick-tocks down to zero, Batman and Robin follow leads that propel them on separate paths, all brilliantly orchestrated by the Riddler of course. While Robin finds himself fighting through a series of the Riddler’s infamous challenge rooms, Batman uses his deductive prowess as the World’s Greatest Detective to track down clues and confront a familiar rogues’ gallery of Gotham City villains–now allied with the Riddler–to uncover the solutions to the deadly puzzles Robin is faced with while simultaneously trying to thwart the Riddler’s plot and protect the citizens of Gotham.

This sets up a compelling dynamic as the story shifts around between the perspectives of Batman, Robin, and the Riddler, yet maintains a consistent pace and narrative continuity. Another interesting plot device comes into play in the form of newspaper, radio, TV, and online reports that provide small breaks between chapters with accounts from characters like Jack Ryder, Duane Trask, and Vicki Vale about the unfolding events, as well as their personal talk-radio, blogosphere views on Batman’s impact on the city. Fans of the games will also appreciate the references to things that occurred during Arkham City, such as when Batman saved Jack Ryder from Deadshot and Vicki Vale from the helicopter crash. Batman’s encounter with Killer Croc in the book even recalls their Easter Egg conversation from City, which is a cool touch.

Moving on to the Batman: Arkham Knight official novelization, it is just that, an adaptation of the video game’s storyline typed out across nearly 400 pages sandwiched between two paperback covers. The story begins nine months after the Joker’s cremation, with Scarecrow stepping in as the new supervillain flavor of the month. Plotting to blanket Gotham City with his fear toxin, Scarecrow stirs up all heck with the help of the titular Arkham Knight, a mysterious masked figure in command of an army of drone tanks and militia. Who is the Arkham Knight? Will Batman stop Scarecrow before it’s too late? Will Gordon ever forgive the Dark Knight for hiding his daughter’s identity as Oracle? Tune in next week to find out. Oh wait. My bad. This is a book, not a TV show. Please continue.

My thoughts on the Arkham Knight story parallel Tim’s critiques from his review of the video game. The novel rigidly follows the main plot of Batman and Robin trying to stop Scarecrow and uncover the identity of the Arkham Knight, without branching out to incorporate any of the side stories that might exist in the game. It’s a dark Batman tale that reads well and is certainly entertaining, but one that falls a little short compared to the Caped Crusader’s past adventures.

As has already been well documented by critics of the game, the way the story draws to a close is a bit contrived and unsatisfying, particularly when it comes to the Arkham Knight reveal. The thing that bothered me while reading the book was how telegraphed the reveal was. The author isn’t shy about reminding you that the Joker killed Jason Todd, which, when combined with the Arkham Knight’s uncanny knowledge of Batman’s personal life, gadget capabilities, and crime-fighting tactics, makes it blatantly obvious that the former Robin is the man behind the armored mask. The attempt at a twist just comes across as lazy and predictable.

I also agree with Tim that the highlight is the way Joker’s presence is written into the story as a figment of Batman’s imagination. The combination of being exposed to Scarecrow’s fear toxin and the Joker’s infected blood coursing through his veins like a poison plays with Batman’s mind and alters his perception of reality in ways that lead to some truly dark and fascinating plot developments. Dead or alive, nothing can knock the Clown Prince of Crime from his mantel as Gotham City’s top villain.

The other good thing about the novel is that you can enjoy the story for what it is, without the Batmobile mucking things up. Yes, Batman does use his iconic ride turned battle tank throughout the book, but in text its presence doesn’t seem so over the top and out of touch with Batman’s ideals as it does in the game. (Though whenever Batman does engage in Batmobile warfare the author always makes sure to point out that he’ll only destroy the unmanned drone tanks. Living bad guys get riot suppression ammo.)

If I had to choose just one, The Riddler’s Gambit would be my first recommendation of the two Batman: Arkham Knight companion novels. However, both are fun, quick reads that retell and expand upon Batman‘s narrative in a more substantial way than comic books are capable of. Arkham series fans should totally check these out.

Batman Arkham Knight: The Official Novelization and Batman: Arkham Knight – The Riddler’s Gambit are now available at Amazon.com and other book stores for $7.99 each.

Disclosure: Free copies of the Batman Arkham Knight novels were provided to VGBlogger.com for review by Titan Books.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!