Batman: Arkham Knight is hitting shelves later this year, and Rocksteady Games has made a lot of noise about its new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, promising gamers that the character is a brand new baddie created just for this story.
But we ain't buyin' it. It just doesn't add up. Batman has a healthy roster of villains to choose from, and most of them have already appeared in one or more of the Arkham games. They all carry serious grudges against the Dark Knight and most of them have dangling plot threads waiting to be wrapped up in this final game.
For the conclusion of a trilogy, you need a climactic villain encounter that the audience has been invested in for years. You need a villain that you've watched grow stronger and deadlier over the course of the previous games, who only now has reached the peak of his power and has the genuine ability to take down his good-guy enemy.
There's no doubt in our minds that Arkham Knight is really one of Batman's existing villains hiding behind a new costume. The only question is: which one? Here are our seven best theories. And let's get the obvious one out of the way first.
Why it's him: [Spoiler alert for previous games.] The Joker died in the second game. Dead, finito, end-of-line. Yet he's already pulled a switcheroo on us twice now -- once in Arkham City, when he was using Clayface as his double, and also in the prequel game Arkham Origins, where he made his Gotham debut as Black Mask. He's been the main villain of both previous games (and the prequel), so it just makes sense that he'd wind up being the ultimate bad guy for the conclusion.
It would be very easy to write Joker back into the series by simply saying he did his sleight-of-hand trick once more, that the dead Joker Batman carried out of that theater was another impostor. Or he could simply come back to life. Hello, Lazarus Pits!
What about Arkham Knight's fighting skills, you ask? We've seen him appearing very deadly in the Arkham Knight previews, and Joker was never a terribly good fighter. (His weapon of choice was always an ability to plan many, many moves ahead.) Well, if you recall, at the time of his "death," Joker was suffering the after-effects of a lethal dose of the Titan serum based on that Venom stuff that Bane is powered by. His body was broken and he was near the end of his life. But what if something unexpected happened? What if his body acclimated to the Venom instead, and integrated it into his system? That would certainly help him become much stronger. With some training, fighting might just come easy to him.
Why it's not: Finding out that Joker survived that "fatal" encounter with Batman in Arkham City would completely undermine the emotional significance of that game's climax. Also, in the Batman: Arkham Knight digital comic, which is set in-continuity with the games, Arkham Knight is introduced at the same time that Joker's body is laying on a slab in the morgue, across town.
Why it's him: Hush, aka Dr. Thomas Elliot, was introduced in Arkham City after a case of serial murders lead to him having patchworked a new face together from the people he killed. His new face was molded and shaped to look just like Bruce Wayne's, whose identity he intended to steal. It was a very intentional setup for plot points to to be paid off in the third game. There's a nice synchronicity to Hush taking on an "evil Batman"-type persona, and Arkham Knight's costume and face mask are all evocative of Batman's.
Why it's not: Hush's M.O. is an obsession with destroying Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Unless he's undergone a drastic psychological change, transforming himself into the Arkham Knight seems unnecessary. Not to mention the fact that Arkham Knight's face is always hidden behind a mask. Why would Hush hide a face he went to such lengths to create?
Why it's him: Near the end of Arkham City, Batman was confronted by a vigilante named Azrael, who'd been leading him on a puzzle-solving mystery. When they met, Azrael imparted a prophecy that spoke of "dark days," that "from the ashes of Arkham the fires will rage and Gotham will burn." It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those dark days will be depicted in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Azrael was merely an observer in Arkham City, but this time he could see it as his mission to ensure that Batman fulfills his part of the prophecy -- the part where Batman was said to be the savior who will stop Gotham's burning, but in the end would have to sacrifice himself to save the city. Or maybe Azrael wants to be the subject of the prophecy and is willing to take Batman out to make that happen.
Why it's not: There are more compelling candidates. Like Hush, Azrael will appear in Arkham Knight, but he'll still be Azrael.
Why it's him: At the end of the prequel Arkham Origins, an incarcerated Deathstroke was approached by Amanda Waller with an offer to join her Suicide Squad and get out of jail early. The game didn't show whether or not he accepted, but the character's comic book history suggests that he probably did. Arkham Knight has all of Slade's skills and abilities, along with his cold, calculating manner. Perhaps Batman stands in the way of some plan of Amanda Waller's, and she's assigned Deathstroke to take him out. Assuming a new identity could conceivably give Deathstroke some kind of tactical advantage in such a scenario.
Why it's not: Despite a memorable role in Arkham Origins, Deathstroke was absent from the first two Rocksteady games (Rocksteady did not create Origins; it's in-continuity but not part of Rocksteady's trilogy), so those developers may have little interest in using him. If they are fans, just what has Deathstroke been up to all this time? Probably going on covert missions for Amanda Waller. For Deathstroke to turn up here in the Arkham Knight guise, gamers would require a lot of backstory to understand his motivations for backing up Scarecrow (the mastermind of Arkham Knight).
Ra's al Ghul
Why it's him: He wants to burn Gotham to the ground and he wants Batman to be his successor as leader of his criminal organization. The first time he's seen in an Arkham game is in Arkham Asylum, when Batman finds his body in a body bag, but later the body disappears. Undoubtedly revived by his Lazarus Pits, the 600-year-old turned his attention to Gotham with a master plan to construct a new prison called Arkham City, and then destroy it and Gotham from within. If Ra's is still alive and kicking, then his goals will not have changed. He could have constructed the Arkham Knight persona as a dark reflection of Batman, perhaps seeing it as a way of showing Bruce the powerful, deadly warrior he could be.
Why it's not: He died for the umpteenth time in Arkham City's climax, impaled on the gates surrounding the prison after a fall from the Wonder Tower. It's unknown what became of his body, but leaving it behind for Ra's' followers to find and resurrect is exactly the kind of loose end that Bruce Wayne does not tolerate.
Why it's him: He's a longshot at best. The thing is, Hugo Strange is utterly obsessed with Batman and has demonstrated a desire to be him many times. He's got a genius intellect and deductive skills to match Bruce's own. His relentless drive to take Batman's place could push him in an Arkham Knight-like direction.
Why it's not: He's incredibly dead at the moment. Strange was mortally wounded at the end of Arkham City, and couldn't have escaped the Wonder Tower before it exploded. Also: he has no demonstrable fighting skills, and he's a rather hefty guy. From the photos and videos we've seen, Arkham Knight is svelte and spry.
Why it's him: Everything about this character fits with what we know about the Arkham Knight. Jason Todd in the comics was the second Robin, a rebel type who was killed in action by the Joker only to later return to life as the semi-evil Red Hood. His Red Hood was a vigilante who believed Batman too weak to punish Gotham's criminals as they deserved, and took it upon himself to take them down with lethal force. He was a vicious, capable fighter, and he hated Batman for refusing to kill his own murderer, Joker, despite all his crimes. It would be very easy to see a motivation for Jason Todd wanting to kill and replace Batman.
Also, Rocksteady has announced a PS4-exclusive DLC pack that stars the Red Hood as a playable character. This could be a red herring, a placeholder for what might actually be a "playable Arkham Knight" DLC pack. And you know you want to play as Arkham Knight.
Why it's not: We've got nothing. Honestly, Jason Todd is the most likely candidate on this list.