A little while ago, WB Games Montréal released their Superhero Action RPG Gotham Knights. I got the game on release date and while it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, I still had a fun time with it (You can read my review for my full thoughts here).
Today though, I don’t want to talk about the quality of the game itself but rather a certain plot element: The Batgirl that they chose. As I am going to be talking about the plot of the game this article will be full of spoilers, you have been warned.
Gotham Knights uses Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, as their fourth playable character. On a surface level this makes complete sense for the following reasons.
- Having a playable girl character helps diversify the cast.
- At the time Gotham Knights was going to be released there was an upcoming Batgirl movie (no longer upcoming).
- Barbara Gordon is easily the most iconic Batgirl.
However, while Barbara works on a surface level, the actual plot and character interactions in the game make me feel like she was the worst choice for the fourth playable character.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Barbara’s disability. Barbara Gordon in this continuity was paralyzed and became Oracle, but according to the game’s lore she just…decided to get better once she heard her dad died. The ableist themes behind this explanation cannot be ignored or forgotten however I am not the person who should be talking about them as there are people much smarter and more experienced in these topics than me who have already gone into why this plot point is bad.
No, instead I’ll just talk about how Barbara just doesn’t fit in with everyone else’s central theme of wanting to live up to Bruce’s legacy as his family. Gotham Knights is a game very light on character development due to it being more focused on multiplayer action, but each character does get a sidequest story arc to flesh out their character as well as the central theme of the game being repeated to you during both a Court of Owls hallucination sequence and during the final boss fight/ending.
Every character other than Barbara talks about their relationship with Bruce and their worries about fighting in a world without him….except for Barbara. Her story is instead focused on Jim Gordon and how he was a good cop, even her hallucation sequence is focused on it. This makes Barbara stand out like a sore thumb and makes the potential ending where she can take up Batman’s cowl/color scheme feel out of left field as she didn’t have the same insecurities as the other characters.
But at the same time, this makes sense for Barbara Gordon as a character because she isn’t the type of character to worry about Bruce’s legacy. Her major relationships have always been with her dad or characters completely unrelated to Bruce. The problem isn’t how the plot and sidestory handled Barbara Gordon, the problem was using Barbara at all.
The ableism involved with her inclusion could have been easily excused if they just said she was never Oracle in this continuity but that in combination with her character arc not fitting in with the other playable characters makes me conclude that Barbara Gordon just wasn’t a good choice for the fourth playable slot. I shall now highlight three other characters who I feel could have been made playable and would have fit into the game better.
Suggestion 1: Damian Wayne
I feel like it goes without saying why Bruce’s literal biological son and the current (at the time of writing) Robin would have been a good choice in a game where all the characters want to live up to Bruce Wayne’s legacy, but my reason goes deeper than that.
The main antagonist of Gotham Knights is Talia Al Ghul and the League of Shadows. We have a game starring the Bat-Family where Damian’s mom is the antagonist and yet there isn’t a single mention of him in the whole game?!
However, while including Damian would be obvious there would be a few problems if they had decided to go down that route. For one, gender ratio. It just makes sense for variety to include a female character to avoid the game being a sausage fest. Plus it’s not like we’re dying for media that would have all four Robins.
And that title is another reason why Damian would be just as bad an inclusion as Barbara. If we were to have both Tim Drake and Damian Wayne in this game we would either have two Robins, two people with the word Robin in their name if Tim was Red Robin, or Tim would be called Drake (And none of you want that, you just don’t).
In addition, while there would be potential for cool Talia and Damian interactions if they went down this route in the actual game we got we already have Jason Todd getting unique interactions with Talia as she was responsible for bringing him back to life, so I don’t think Damian would bring much to this roster anyway.
In the end, Damian just isn’t that much better of an option than Barbara so let’s instead discuss a character who wouldn’t have those two issues.
Suggestion 2: Kate Kane
While Damian is the child of the game’s main antagonist and final boss, he isn’t the only missing child for this game’s plot. Gotham Knights’ secondary antagonist, Jacob Kane is the father of Batwoman Katherine Kane and yet this iconic hero is nowhere to be seen in game.
Like my Damian suggestion, putting Kate in the game would lead to some great character interactions with one of the game’s major antagonists who currently only has real interactions with Alfred. Including Kate would also let her character arc fit in better with everyone else’s as not only is she Bruce’s cousin and thus would struggle to live up to his legacy, but she would also have her father’s legacy hanging over her head by the end of the game. It just makes sense!
Kate Kane would be a better addition than Damian and Barbara as she would fulfill the roster’s gender ratio like Barbara and wouldn’t have an ableist “she got better” narrative hanging over her. Plus, Kate was the star of her own CW television series (That wasn’t yet canceled at the time of this game’s announcement/development) so it wasn’t like people wouldn’t know who she is.
The only issues with including Kate Kane in this roster instead of Barbara would be that the identity of Batgirl is more well known to the general public than Batwoman and, in my personal opinion, Kate Kane generally stands out on her own better than most members of the Bat-Family. There’s a reason she was able to star in her own CW show without anyone else, if anything the plot of this game would just hold her down.
So while I do think Kate Kane would have been the best choice as this roster’s 4th character, I do have another suggestion that is entirely influenced by my own personal bias.
Suggestion 3: Cassandra Cain
I am very very open about Cassandra Cain being my favorite member of the Bat-Family and even ended my actual review on Gotham Knights practically begging for a Cassandra DLC, so yeah, I’m biased in saying that they should have used Cassandra as this game’s Batgirl. Now allow me to justify myself!
Like Barbara, putting Cassandra in the game would allow you to use the iconic super-hero identity of Batgirl as opposed to the less well known identity of Batwoman. Using her instead of Barbara would also allow Barbara to remain in the game as Oracle as opposed to having Alfred exclusively provide the game’s Oracle role.
Cassandra could also bring to the gameplay something that none of the other 3 Bat-Family members could: near-deadly hand to hand combat. She could keep the beatdown skill that Barbara already has but unlike the other members of the family who use some sort of gadget or even guns for their momentum skills Cass could use various fist related techniques and be a character whose primary niche would be taking down enemies with large health bars quickly.
Most importantly, she would completely fit in with the other three playable characters wanting to live up to Bruce’s legacy. Cassandra has always struggled with wanting to completely embody the bat symbol so sequences like the Court of Owls hallucination or the ending itself would fit Cassandra as perfectly as they fit Tim and Dick!
While Kate Kane would overall be a better pick because her ties with the game’s secondary villain would be stronger I personally think Cassandra Cain should have been used as the game’s Batgirl instead of Barbara Gordon and while that may be my bias speaking at the very least we wouldn’t have to deal with the whole “Barbara decided to get better” thing.
I don’t want to come across as another Gotham Knights hater, I enjoyed the game and even played enough of it to get the platinum trophy this week, but despite enjoying the game the feeling that Barbara Gordon was the wrong choice and that the excuse for why she was Batgirl felt icky remained hanging over the game’s narrative.
When there is an entire pantheon of Bat-Family members to choose from for your fourth character, why would you intentionally shoot yourself in the foot by choosing the one who works the least and has that, in a word, cringe explanation for being able to walk again?
I doubt I have convinced any of you that Barbara was a bad choice more than any other, smarter, people complaining about it have. What I do hope though is that I’ve planted the seed of how cool it would have been to see some of the other members of the Bat-Family in this game who sadly got forgotten in favor of Barbara.
I’m Skeith from The Story Arc and I’m signing off, but before I do, please consider following the Story Arc Twitter account. I am currently going through a journey to read every Spider-Man comic ever (You can follow my own account to see my progress) and believe me I have so many projects planned for when that is done. Plus every week we post at least one excellent article so give us a follow so you can see those!