Arkham City: Wonder and Collapse

Just before you reach Ra’s al Ghul’s lair, the game starts seriously cribbing from Bioshock for a while, in style and presentation if not in exact detail. The only way to get to him is through the abandoned subway system and into Old Gotham, AKA Wonder City, a utopia of Victorian-era automation that was ruined in a cataclysm, but still remains underground, with the Gotham City we know layered on top. An old recording extolling the city’s innovation plays in a loop as you cross the threshold, now decorated with hanging corpses, presumably as a warning to delvers.

Apparently all the work in Wonder City was done by retro-looking robots, which lie scattered about, inert but still just functional enough for Batman to scan some useable data from their mechanical brains. The same robots are depicted in posters all over the place, so the designers really want us to notice them, and learn their distinctive design. Which probably means they’re going to come to life and start fighting me at some point. This hasn’t happened yet, but hey, it’s only the second time the plot has sent me into the underground. There’s probably a rule-of-three going on.

For all that this expedition is motivated by a sub-quest, I feel like this is where I’m getting close to the story’s central secrets, the real reason for Arkham City’s construction. The city’s central panopticon tower is definitely an echo of the Wonder Tower that used to be on the site, and seems to have something of the same function: acting as a lightning rod, feeding electricity to some dire mechanism below. The mechanics of Wonder City’s fall are still a bit of a mystery to me, but foreshadowing and precedent make me think it has something to do with those robots and/or their power source: Lazarus. This is the substance in the Lazarus Pits that Ra’s al Ghul uses to resurrect himself, and its natural abundance in the ruins is the reason that he’s holed up there. Although the term “Lazarus Pit” has been part of Batman lore for decades, I think this is the first time I’ve seen it explained as “a pit full of Lazarus” rather than just “a pit that is named for Lazarus because it raises the dead”. I imagine the reason for giving these semantics is the influence of Bioshock again: like Adam, it’s using a biblical name for a chemical that forms the basis of a fantastic technology that brings a city to ruin.

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