DC Films and Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Batman has garnered a strong critical reception and box office run, and now the world of Gotham City that Matt Reeves is putting together is already expanding beyond the planned trilogy of movies. HBO has already given showrunner Lauren LeFranc’s (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chuck) The Penguin limited series the green light for HBO Max, but Reeves also confirmed that an Arkham Asylum-inspired spinoff is also in the works.
This concept opens an exciting door for live-action Batman-related projects, especially since Reeves mentioned in an interview with The Cyber Nerds that he wanted to embrace the eerie “house of horrors” atmosphere that the notorious asylum has. Using live-action spinoffs in a shared-universe format is a smart way to venture the IP into genres that would typically not work in a theatrical setting, which could open up a wealth of possibilities for fleshing out the Dark Knight’s on-screen rogues’ gallery.
Note: Spoilers for The Batman are discussed in this article.
A supervillain who is simultaneously underrated and has recently been exposed more in the mainstream is Hugo Strange. The character’s prominence among general audiences likely grew after Rocksteady’s 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City, where Strange was the main antagonist. Given his background as an unhinged psychiatrist, an Arkham Asylum spinoff series would be a perfect excuse to give the villain his blockbuster debut in a world with an established Batman.
Unlike the Scarecrow — who’d admittedly also work well in a show like this — Strange’s penchant for corruption lies in his laser-focused obsession with the Dark Knight himself. He’s developed a warped fixation on the darker machinations of Batman’s mind that makes him work the way he does because Strange is desperate to surpass him as a “perfected” Caped Crusader. Introducing him here would do the legwork in setting him up to go against Batman in a theatrical sequel. What better place to start than the most dangerous, corrupt mental hospital on Earth and the creative liberties offered by HBO Max?
Though he has admittedly become oversaturated in recent years, the infamous Clown Prince of Crime is one of Batman’s top-tier supervillains. He’s also one of the best rogues in the history of comic books, giving longtime fans one of the most complex and compelling antagonistic dynamics in the superhero genre. While Reeves probably could’ve done just as well had he chosen not to create another Joker adaptation, the prospect of Barry Keoghan playing him is as tantalizing as Robert Pattinson playing the titular hero.
It’s a casting that audiences never knew they wanted, and his cameo and off-screen meeting with the brooding detective in a deleted scene already creates a lot of intrigue for his place in this Gotham City. With the city in shambles at the end of The Batman and the villain in Arkham State Hospital, a breakout storyline practically writes itself. It could take a page from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth comic book, and could be a great way to balance another live-action portrayal of the character. Having the Joker play a major role in a spinoff TV show would pave the way for the lion’s share of the spotlight in theatrical Batman sequels to be reserved for newer villains.
The next most obvious pick after the Joker would be the return of Paul Dano’s Riddler. The actor channeled a Prisoners-like performance for the iconic villain, putting a Zodiac Killer-like spin pn the character that contrasts with the zany take by Jim Carrey in 1995’s Batman Forever. Many superhero movies end with the main antagonist thwarted and never to be seen again, but the ending of The Batman and the reveal of an Arkham Asylum series in early development presents a refreshing opportunity.
While his days as the main villain in Reeves’ movies might be done, he can continue with Keoghan’s Joker in this potential series. Like the latter’s hypothetical role, having the Riddler get in on wreaking havoc within the walls of Arkham alongside the Joker is a solid foundation for a story. Edward Nashton is in a volatile mental state, which could make him a prime target of manipulation for the Joker. And for good measure, Pattinson could potentially guest star in an episode or two to interact with both of these villains.
The Batman exposed the corrosive ecosystem of systematic, political corruption by using villains like the Riddler, Carmine Falcone, and the Penguin. That corrosion carries over into the deplorable state of Arkham Asylum in the comics and, surely, Arkham State Hospital in Reeves’ Bat-verse. Another avenue that could be taken in such a show would be cult-like religious corruption through the lens of a deranged fanatic. He’s one of the more obscure rogues, but Deacon Blackfire would be a perfect character for this.
And just as perfect would be introducing him through the asylum itself, as Blackfire is a devout cult leader with an aggressive messiah complex. Blackfire was created for Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson’s The Cult, which is an underrated horror-like miniseries that used the villain as a leader who brainwashes Gotham’s disenfranchised homeless population into a murderous cult. Should he be used in an Arkham series, his more overtly unhinged portrayal in Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight could fit a horror tone, but the more charismatic comic book version would make for an interesting juxtaposition.
Julian Day/Calendar Man was once a villain used as a joke during the campy Silver Age of comic books, but was radically reinvented in the ’90s. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s acclaimed The Long Halloween took him from wearing a calendar-themed spandex costume to being an ominous, gimmicky serial killer inspired by Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
Having the setting revolve entirely around Arkham would make this villain a natural fit for this show, and Calendar Man seems like a character up Reeves’ alley based on the universe shown in this first movie. It’d arguably be the most ideal place to have him, as a movie might feel somewhat derivative of what the Riddler just did. Similarly, the only other issue could be Keoghan’s Joker already having canonically filled this role, courtesy of the aforementioned deleted scene.