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The entire Arkham timeline explained

Batman has been a central figure in the DC Universe since before there was a DC Universe. From his 1939 comic book debut to his campy 1960s live-action TV show, from the blockbuster spectacle of Tim Burton's 1989 movie to the brutal 2017 Dark Knights Metal comic event, Batman has enjoyed a healthy share of the spotlight over the years. In the realm of video games, the Dark Knight starred in four major console releases in recent memory, with a handheld spin-off game to boot. The Arkham series, as they're collectively known, tell an overarching story that spans a majority of Batman's career as a crime fighter.

The story starts with a simple premise: a series of assassins attempt to end Batman's life. You know, just another day for the Dark Knight. By the end of the saga, he's become a renowned and feared shadow of the night, clearing Gotham of every major criminal overlord in a single night. Everyone from the Joker to Bane gets beat down, in some cases multiple times. And to cap it all off, the final game ends with an explosive bang.

Join us as we recount the tale of the Arkham series. Although Arkham Asylum was released first, let's start where the story really begins — with the appropriately-titled Origins.

Arkham Origins: How many assassins does it take?

As Arkham Origins begins, Bruce Wayne is only in his sophomore year as the Batman. Black Mask, a feared mobster in Gotham, orchestrates a breakout at Blackgate Prison, setting loose many criminals that Batman once put away. To add the cherry on top, Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Batman's head, which expires that night. Now eight different assassins, including Deathstroke, Copperhead, and Firefly, hastily set their sights on killing the Dark Knight.

After Batman fends off some of these assassins, he learns that someone tried to kill the Black Mask in his home. Upon investigation, he finds out that a criminal named the Joker has kidnapped Black Mask and made the mobster kill his girlfriend. In fact, the Joker had orchestrated the entire bounty, as he had stolen Black Mask's identity earlier in the night.

Batman liberates Black Mask from the Joker's custody, sending him to jail. Afterwards, Joker and Bane meet at a hotel to conspire against Batman. The Dark Knight finds them, leading to a two-on-one fight. However, thanks to Alfred, a SWAT team shows up, stopping the fight in its tracks. In the ensuing chaos, Joker gets launched out the window, falling from near the top of the skyscraper. Batman, thanks to his rigid moral code, jumps out the window to save the Joker and send him to Blackgate.

Arkham Origins: The Clown Prince

While in Blackgate, the Joker spends some time talking to psychologist Dr. Harleen Quinzel. He charmingly recounts his descent into madness, and he believes it was his destiny to meet Batman. Meanwhile, Bane figures out Batman's identity, infiltrates Wayne Manor, and nearly kills Alfred. Batman arrives just in time to resuscitate his father figure and best friend. As he does, he finds out that the Joker has orchestrated a riot at Blackgate with the help of Bane. So, for the final time that night, Batman visits the local prison.

Joker sets up a trap that forces Batman to make a killer decision: If he doesn't stop Bane's heart, then the Joker dies on the electric chair. With this conundrum, the clown prince tries to force his new rival to break his moral code. Of course, Batman figures out how to stop Bane's heart, only to revive him in the next moment, foiling Joker's plan. Bane gets angry and uses an experimental form of Venom, but he loses the fight to the Dark Knight. In the aftermath, Bane loses his memories as a side effect of the drug.

In their first "final" encounter, the Joker tries to goad Batman into killing him. As long as the Joker lives, he'll always escape the law, cause chaos, get captured, and repeat the cycle. Batman, sticking to his moral code, spares the Joker after beating him within an inch of his life.

Origins Blackgate: Someone fix this prison

As far as the Arkham canon goes, Origins Blackgate probably has the weakest impact on the overall story. The title plays differently from the rest, employing a sidescrolling Metroidvania approach. Its plot, as you might imagine, revolves around Blackgate Prison.

Three months after the events of Origins, Batman catches Catwoman in the middle of a heist. Of course, he takes her to Blackgate, where all the criminals go. A few weeks later, Commissioner Gordon contacts Batman, letting him know about an explosion at the very same prison. In the confusion, all the guards have been taken hostage by criminals, with the Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask leading the charge.

Batman teams up with Catwoman after he finds out that hostages are at risk within Blackgate. He defeats the three leading villains, unlocking access to the wing where the hostages are being kept. However, Catwoman has duped Batman — he finds Bane waiting for him. Catwoman helps Bane escape after distracting Batman with bombs planted around the facility.

The game comes with three different endings, depending on which of the three villains you saved for last. Regardless of whose ending you get, however, Joker, Black Mask, and Penguin all find ways to escape the prison.

Road to Arkham: A comic book prequel

Before releasing Arkham Asylum, DC published a 16-page one-shot comic called Road to Arkham. The story leads right up to the moment Asylum begins, directly setting up the entire game. The comic opens with Batman talking to Oracle while driving the Batmobile. Sitting shotgun is none other than the Joker, handcuffed.

Batman recounts that he's had a string of high-profile arrests recently that felt too good to be true. Anonymous tips told him exactly what to expect, leading to the arrests of Victor Zsasz and Scarecrow with little to no fuss. Another similar tip is the only reason Batman was able to stop the Joker from killing the mayor. The Dark Knight suspects something is afoot and asks Oracle to look into how those tips were called in.

Oracle claims that she can't find a direct connection among all three tips, but Batman can't shake this bad feeling he has. The comic closes with the Batmobile pulling up to Arkham Asylum, the new home for Gotham's worst criminals — where Batman will spend the rest of the night.

Arkham Asylum: Saving Commissioner Gordon

Batman's gut was right, as usual. With the help of Harley Quinn, Joker takes over Arkham Asylum, freeing all the criminals from their cells. Now Batman is trapped in the asylum with all the major criminals he's locked up in the past. He also finds out that one of Joker's henchmen has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, and if Batman tries following the Joker, Gordon will end up dead.

Batman follows the commissioner's trail, beating down Zsasz and Scarecrow along the way. He finds Gordon being held hostage by Harley, who will kill her captive if Batman is seen approaching them. The Dark Knight takes the more stealthy course of action, quietly dispatching four other henchmen in the vicinity. The Joker then directs Batman's attention to another locked room, where he finds Bane. Instead of using Venom, the hulking brute now uses something called Titan.

Batman dispatches Bane, albeit with a bit of difficulty. He frees Gordon and sends him to safety. Distressed over the new drug, Batman puts his detective skills to work, finding out more about Titan. He deduces that the drug was created by a scientist in Arkham to help inmates survive harsher forms of torture. However, in the right doses, it can rapidly increase muscle and bone mass, like what happened to Bane.

Arkham Asylum: Defeating the Joker, again

Upon further investigation, Batman learns about Joker's ultimate plan with Titan. The clown prince wants to use the drug to create an unstoppable army of supersoldiers under his control. Each person would be at least the size of Bane, if not bulkier. In an effort to stop the Joker's production of Titan, he heads to the Botanical Gardens.

There he finds Poison Ivy, and after threatening to kill all the plants around the Asylum, he forces her to tell him how to combat Titan. She mentions that a specific spore can produce the antidote, but it can only be found in Killer Croc's sewer lair, so Batman heads to the sewers to gather the spores. Meanwhile, Joker injects Ivy with some Titan, knowing she's angry at Batman for threatening plant life. Batman returns to the gardens to defeat Ivy, then heads to the Visitor Center to confront the Joker.

In yet another "final" battle, Joker injects Batman with Titan, hoping to make the stoic hero lose his mind. But with his iron willpower, the Dark Knight injects himself with the antidote. Joker, enraged that his nemesis ruined his fun, injects himself with Titan, turning into a hulking mass of muscle. Batman gives the Joker another one of his patented beat downs, and after some time passes, the Titan starts wearing off. In the final scene, Batman races back to Gotham to stop a bank robbery.

Arkham City: An asylum of death

After the events of Arkham Asylum, the former warden of said facility, Quincy Sharp, becomes the new mayor of Gotham. In his hunger to curb crime, he sections off a majority of the city slums, turning it into Arkham City. Every criminal from both the asylum and Blackgate is moved to the neighborhood, along with critics of Sharp's policies.

Bruce Wayne, who actively campaigned against turning a neighborhood into a prison, gets thrown into the "city." He requests an airdrop from Alfred, delivering all of his Bat-gear into the prison. After suiting up, Batman gets to work, rounding up all the major villains that run wild in the area.

Meanwhile, psychiatrist Hugo Strange has been pulling the strings behind the scenes, manipulating the mayor into creating Arkham City. After analyzing the Batman from afar for years, Strange has somehow deduced that the hero was none other than Wayne. He orchestrates the billionaire's kidnapping, using Sharp's lust for power as the cover story. Before the night ends, Strange intends to unveil Protocol 10, a secret plan to kill everyone in Arkham City. The psychiatrist, who vows to outwit the Bat himself, did all this to ensure that the Dark Knight would die along with all the criminals.

Arkham City: Mutually assured destruction

Batman tracks down the Joker, who knows more about Protocol 10. However, he finds the Joker feeling sickly without much time left to live, thanks to the Titan that runs in his veins. As a form of insurance, Joker injects Batman with some of his own blood, thereby infecting the Dark Knight with the same plague and giving Batman more motivation to track down a cure. When he finally discovers the formula, Harley Quinn steals it on Joker's behalf, presumably leaving the Bat alone with the deadly disease.

Being the hero he is, Batman deactivates Protocol 10, despite his failing health. After stopping the mass murder, he's confronted by Ra's al Ghul. Ra's reveals that he was the real mastermind behind Protocol 10, considering it an early step in cleansing the human race. After dealing with Ra's, Batman heads to the Monarch Theatre to confront Joker.

Batman finds out Clayface had pretended to be Joker, since the real clown has been bedridden for some time now. After subduing the shapeshifter, Batman secures the antidote, using half on himself. Joker selfishly attacks him, making him spill the rest of the antidote. Batman solemnly says he would've given Joker the antidote, despite the criminal's actions. In his last moments, Joker finds Batman's rigid moral code funny and dies with a wicked smile on his face. In silence, Batman delivers the Joker's body to the police.

Arkham Knight: Rise of the Scarecrow

Before the Joker died in Arkham City, he sent some of his diseased blood to various hospitals, infecting people with the deadly Titan virus. While Batman tries stop the tide of Joker blood, some people still get infected enough to develop Joker-like symptoms. Batman keeps them quarantined, studying their bodies to find a cure.

At the same time, Scarecrow develops a more potent strain of his fear toxin, planning to spread it to the entirety of Gotham via a device called the Cloudburst. The police evacuate the entire city, leaving Gotham's finest criminals free to do as they please. By the end of Halloween night, Batman has to find a way to stop the Scarecrow from carrying out his plans, but a mysterious fighter named the Arkham Knight interferes at every step. The Knight fights just as well as Batman and continuously outwits the hero.

In the midst of trying to find and stop Cloudburst, Batman continuously checks on the Joker-fied victims. Henry Adams, who had seemed immune, eventually succumbs to the blood, turning into a pseudo-Joker. However, when he sees Batman, he realizes the Dark Knight had also been infected with Joker's blood. Upon realizing that Batman would be an even scarier version of the clown prince, Henry commits suicide. When Robin sees this, he tries locking Batman up. Instead, Batman overpowers Robin, putting the child in a quarantine cell. Batman, now fighting his inner Joker, sets off to find Cloudburst.

Arkham Knight: Knightfall

Batman teams up with Poison Ivy, who spreads her spores to neutralize Scarecrow's fear toxin. Unfortunately, when the Arkham Knight activates Cloudburst, it puts a strain on Ivy's abilities. After Batman deactivates the deadly weapon, Ivy expels the city of every last bit of fear toxin at the cost of her own life.

Gordon sets his sights on Scarecrow, and Batman chases after Gordon to protect him. The Arkham Knight interferes once again to foil Batman's plans, and he reveals himself to be Jason Todd, a former Robin. Todd, who Batman thought had died mercilessly at the hands of Joker, resented his crime-fighting partner for abandoning him after his "death." Batman extends an olive branch, and Todd leaves in silence and shame.

Our hero catches up to Gordon and Scarecrow, but after some fights and an attack on the police department, Scarecrow gains the advantage. He forces Gordon to take off Batman's mask on public TV, revealing Bruce Wayne. Scarecrow injects Wayne with a colossal amount of fear toxin, rendering him helpless as he has hallucinations of the Joker. In his redeeming moment, Todd swings in to save the day, freeing Wayne of the toxin and subduing Scarecrow.

After Batman subdues various other criminals in Gotham, he goes home to Wayne Manor, wading through a pool of reporters. After he and Alfred enter the mansion, Wayne activates the Knightfall Protocol, causing the manor to explode.