Welcome to a special edition of Adventure(s) Time, looking back on animated heroes of the past. Or, in this case, fiendish foes of the past.
Aside from being a great show, Batman: The Animated Series was conceived as a means of sustaining Batman merchandising between film releases. Ice cream treats, Happy Meal toys, bedsheets, action figures…Bruce Timm’s designs graced them all. Batman also appeared in numerous videogames of the era, specifically in animated form.
Going Out With A Bang (Maybe?)
In 2003, years after the series’ end, Ubisoft produced Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu. Perhaps the final piece of original TAS merchandising. And even though he never worked on the series, Jim Lee’s participation in Sin Tzu’s creation became the game’s major selling point.
Lee was relatively new to DC's heroes in 2003, with a best-selling Batman run still fresh in people’s minds. Determined to further cement the idea of “Jim Lee = DC” (really not so different from their current strategy), Lee’s name was attached to the project with no shortage of publicity. An all-new Batman videogame, featuring a hot new villain from the imagination of comics superstar Jim Lee! Set in the animated universe because…sure, why not?
A Comic Turned Cartoon Turned Videogame Turned Novel
Reviewing a licensed videogame’s story, especially a beat-em-up’s, is faintly ridiculous. Luckily, there’s another artifact from 2003. Rise of Sin Tzu earned, of all things, a novelization to promote the game’s launch. (You can watch a collection of the game’s cut scenes here, by the way. Maybe not a "lost episode," but still fun to watch.) And don't confuse this with a slim release rushed out to the kids’ section, with more pages of art than prose. Coming in at just under 300 pages, we have an earnestly written novel, an actual adult novel. The format's the same as any Stephen King or Dean Koontz paperback.
Adapting screenwriter Flint Dille’s game script to prose is Devin Grayson, a talent DC took a considerable investment in during the early 2000s. Grayson is famous for falling in love with Batman through the animated series, even calling DC’s offices one day and asking how to land a writing job.
This love for the Batman mythos is evident throughout the novel. The prose deviates from the game’s plot as often as possible in order to provide some inner monologue or lengthy backstory on a member of the Bat-family. Avoiding the standard videogame plot structure would be essential for writing a novel, and the way Grayson dances around it is interesting to watch.
Grinding A Story Out Of A Beat 'em Up
And what is the plot of Rise of Sin Tzu? It’s mostly an excuse for Batman (and a second player) to beat on waves of bad guys. The novel’s ability to shove this to the side is pretty impressive. The premise has the all-knowing, all-powerful immortal known as Sin Tzu turning his attention to Batman. Determined to prove himself the better of the vigilante, he’s arranged to have himself admitted to Arkham Asylum. It’s merely the first stage of his plan. (As Tzu says, the authorities can’t tell a supervillain from a terrorist from a genuine psychopath.)
On the night of the anniversary of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder, he makes his move. The residents of Stonegate Prison and Arkham flood the streets, placing not only Gotham, but Batman’s adoptive family in danger. Having studied the residents of Arkham, Sin Tzu selects his lieutenants. Clayface, Scarecrow, and Bane play roles in the scheme, often unwittingly.