WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman: The Telltale Series. Don't read on you don't want to see them!
Writing for a franchise like Batman is equal parts exciting, humbling, and terrifying. So many incredible versions of Bruce's story already exist. Comics, books, TV series, videogames, feature films... stage plays, probably. You can watch his parents' murder over and over again in the medium of your choosing. On first glance, it appears that every corner of the Bat-verse has been mined. So with that caveat, we fools at Telltale decided to take up the mantle and give Bruce Wayne another go.
When I joined the writing team for Batman: The Telltale Series, much of the creative had already been done by Pierre Shorette, Nick Herman, Michael Choung, James Windeler, and many other talented folks at Telltale. They were the ones who concocted all the new twists for old Bruce Wayne. The re-imagined Penguin. The bat-voice modulation. The transforming Batmobile. And, biggest of all, putting the Wayne family legacy in jeopardy.
My job was to take these elements and arrange them into a compelling fashion for our first episode "Realm of Shadows." Our story had to make sense for Batman fans who first read about him in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) AND those who are visiting Gotham for the first time. It was a fine line between "Yeah, yeah, everyone already knows Bruce Wayne is a billionaire" and "wait, what? Penguin is a hyper-violent/hyper-lovable British gentleman who wears a trench coat?" One of the trickiest balancing acts for this first episode was to make sure that all Batman fans found a reason to pick up this game and get hooked.
As a writer, especially one coming to a story they didn't create, you need to find your way in. What I mean is, what can you bring to this world? And what character, scene, or line gives everything a unique spin? As we all know, every story has been told, but it hasn't been told by you — that's where originality comes from.
My way in was the idea that Bruce still keeps the movie tickets from the night his parents were murdered. He literally has them in a protective case right next to his Bat-computer as a reminder that he can't allow any more innocent people to die. The tickets instantly connect old Bruce with young Bruce — they connect the young boy in the alley who saw his parents murdered with Batman's struggle to end crime in Gotham. And even though he sometimes wants to forget that night... he can't. All this emotional boil over he has about not being able to save them, and honestly that he can never truly save the city, explodes whenever he puts on the cape and cowl. On a super simple and superficial level, that turned the first lock and opened the story to me.
Once I was in, I kept working through the various scenes figuring out how and why they made sense to me. For example, the theatricality of Batman slinking around in the shadows and intimidating criminals with his growly voice always teeters on the edge of silly. We got right out in front of that with Bruce admitting to Alfred: "It's a scare tactic, Al. A performance." From then on, even if things become a bit over-the-top, we know where he's coming from. The silliness evaporates and is replaced by what Batman is really doing: his job. Little moments like this add up to something that both pays homage to a classic character yet adds a slight tweak to make it "Telltale's Batman."
Everyone at the company perpetuated this mentality — pay homage, try something new. That was the mantra. In the first episode, we wanted to clearly set up the chessboard of Gotham. Who is who. What is the state of things. Why did Bruce Wayne become Batman. I will admit, at times it will feel like you've seen this version of Batman, but trust me: the series goes in directions you could never imagine. All the big changes, the big twists, are yet to come. I truly believe it's one of the most unique and compelling Batman stories that has been told in a long time... and you are the storyteller.
For all of you who picked up Batman: The Telltale Series, I would love to hear what you think about it. Leave me a comment below and let's start the conversation. If you haven't played yet, you can pick up the series digitally on all platforms (PC, PS4, XBOX ONE) today.