War Games was a Batman cross-over/event that ran in DC Comics between October 2004 and January 2005. The War Games story arc appeared in all the Gotham related titles running at the time, Detective Comics, Legends of the Dark Knight, Nightwing, Batman: Gotham Knights, Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Batman, and Gotham Central. The War Games story arc has since been collected in three trade paper backs, Batman: War Games, Act One - Outbreak, Batman: War Games, Act Two - Tides and Batman: War Games, Act Three - Endgame.
The story begins with Stephanie Brown (aka. Spoiler), trying to redeem herself in the eyes of Batman, after recently been fired as Robin. In an effort to regain Batman's confidence, and hoping to take back her Robin mantle, Spoiler sets into motion an elaborate contingency plan Batman had developed in the event of widespread gang violence. In essence the plan involved gathering all of Gotham's crime figures together and to unite them under a single crime boss, Matches Malone, and alias used by Batman to infiltrate Gotham's organised crime. In effect this plan would have given Batman control of Gotham's organised crime, if it were to go to plan. Unfortunately, Spoiler was not aware that Batman and Matches Malone were the same person.
When Spoiler gathers the crime figures without Batman's knowledge, and with Matches Malone an obvious no show, things turn pear shaped, and the gangs go to war with one another. Batman and friends are immediately drawn into the action, trying to put an end to the war before Gotham is destroyed.
In the chaos, The Black Mask appears, a villain that shares a history with both Batman and Bruce Wayne. An opportunist, the Black Mask decides to step into the role Matches Malone was intended to play. With Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, Batgirl and Catwoman stretched to breaking point, Spoiler is captured and tortured by the Black Mask. When Black Mask learns the truth behind the War Games scenario being played out in Gotham, he has all the information he needs in order to take control, and rule Gotham City's underworld.
Set amongst the over arching story are various sub plots, dealing with individual characters and how they respond to the situation and there personal circumstances. For example, Tim Drake is dealing with his parents learning that he is Robin. At the start of the story he has stood down as Robin, however as the story unfolds, he's drawn back into the role due to the escalating violence. Batman is becoming increasingly withdrawn, Nightwing is dealing with his own demons, which seem to have followed him home, and Oracle is increasingly frustrated by her role in the whole scenario.
As the story winds up, it is the Black Mask that finishes on top, successfully seizing control over Gotham's gangland. As the violence draws to a close and Gotham appears to return to 'normal', Batman is left to pick up a whole heap of pieces.
War Games has a number of repercussions on Batman, and many of the other characters that inhabit his world. Due to events in the story, Commissioner Akins declares that all masked vigilantes are now regarded as criminals, and should be treated as such. Distance grows between Batman/Bruce Wayne and Leslie Thompkins, the doctor who had been an ally of Batman for many years. An already withdrawn Batman is further wracked with guilt due to the death of Spoiler, although apparently the Spoiler character is retconned back to the land of the living later on. The Black Mask becomes the most prominent crime figure in Gotham.
I really enjoyed War Games Parts 1, 2 and 3, and ripped through them very quickly. For me, it was an introduction to a couple of characters I'd not previously seen, Nightwing, the Burtonesque Batgirl, Onyx, The Black Mask and Oracle. Even thought the story was written by a number of different authors, it all flows like one epic yarn.
War Games is essential reading for the Batman fan, so if that's you, hurry up and pick up the trades. Overall I'd give the story arc an 8 out of 10.