“Batman: Arkham Jihad”

I’ve been enjoying revisiting my original “Batman” story from 2004, rereading my old dialogue, reworking old scenes, adding new touches.

Here’s a taste:

BATMAN:  Arkham Jihad

CONCEPT:  “Arkham Jihad” was born of two emotions, Love and Disappointment: Love, for the excellent Batman stories that restored the power and pathos of an American icon and uplifted the “comic book” genre; and Disappointment, at Hollywood’s refusal to acknowledge the genius of that accomplishment, choosing instead to churn out the next generation of campy dreck — still about the “toys,” whacky villains and their goons, and caped adventure — still aimed at the kiddies, only with a lot more violence and sex… and a lot less campy fun.

Where in the Warner Brothers universe, I wondered, is the richly complex psychological portrait of the intense, grim, tortured, obsessive Bruce Wayne — so scarred by the past that he can’t simply accept life as a billionaire and move on?  He barely exists in these films, despite the brilliant template provided by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and others.  Instead, Warner Brothers’ Batman has more in common with James Bond, complete with a new Bond- (OK, Bat-) “Girl” in each new installment:  He goes from Vicki (T)ail to (S&M) Catwoman to (Hot4Bad-Boys) Chase to (Fatal Femme) Ivy to (The Girl Next Door) Rachel, in the best Batman flick yet, “Batman Begins” (which still leaves a lot to be desired).

As with 007, each new Batman film features new gadgets, a new Batmobile, a new costume, and a new villain who, in the end, must be destroyed — Joker dies, Penguin dies (along with Max Shreck), Two-Face (Harvey!) dies, Riddler is mentally destroyed… and so on.

“Batman Begins,” an entertaining film with a far better than average take on the Batman, comes closest, but none of the Warner Brothers films are truly for grown-ups… and as depraved, raunchy, and violent as some of the preceding ones are, they’re not really all that suitable for kids, either!

It was my disappointment with the films, leaving the theater with the unshakable sense that they had gotten it wrong, that led me to wonder, just how had they gotten it wrong?  What was it, precisely, that they had left out?  Each film led me to a separate meditation on the Batman — the Batman who wasn’t in the picture — the Batman I knew from the Graphic Novels.

I know this Batman, I thought; I’ve read all of the great Graphic Novels:  “The Dark Knight Returns” (and “Batman: Year One”), “The Killing Joke,” and the less great (but still cool) “Arkham Asylum. What was it I had learned about Batman in these novels that the films all missed?

What is it, I asked myself, that makes Batman tic?  (And tic he does, make no mistake.)

After many hours contemplating these questions, I decided that the answer to the fundamental question — Who is Batman? — is darker, more compelling, perverse, and epic than anything we have previously seen in any single Batman story, on paper or on the screen (though “The Dark Knight Returns” comes closest).

While the aforementioned graphic novels all provide key insights into the Batman’s character — his background, underlying motivation, and personal challenges — his legend is not entirely complete in any one of them.  Each of these masterworks has something essential to say about the Batman (and, in some cases, his foes) that the others fail to articulate.

Therefore, I had to conclude, the truest, richest, most awesome, inspirational, and gritty Batman — the whole Batman — is, at present, condemned to exist scattered across several different works (masterpieces, yes, but incomplete, in terms of actually comprehending the Caped Crusader… in all of his awesome, twisted, heroic magnificence).

With no disrespect to those who’ve come before, the Batman’s day has not yet come.

Thus, “Arkham Jihad” aspires to incorporate the most significant, mind-blowing insights about the Batman — and his two principal foes, Joker and Two-Face, provided in the following works:

1.  The classic, traditional Batman character — from the time of his first appearance in Bob Kane’s original stories for Detective Comics (DC) to his decades of service in assorted DC comic books and television incarnations (all the way to Warner Brothers’ various renditions of the character in their films of the past few decades:  heroic, driven, moral, intense, and dark…).

2. Frank Miller’s exhilarating “The Dark Knight Returns,” a seminal work, essential to understanding the character of the Batman…  Miller’s Batman is dark (almost suicidal), a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and a hard, cold, very nearly ruthless soldier in the fight against crime.  Miller’s Batman exorcises the cliched ring of the “caped crusader” phrase by reminding the reader what a crusader is:  an uncompromising zealot.  Suffice it to say, his Batman’s campaign does not lend itself to campy “POW!” and “BIFF!” graphics…  I’m also appropriating from “The Dark Knight Returns” an element (of Miller’s invention, I believe) concerning Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Harvey “Two Face” Dent:  Bruce Wayne’s commitment to Harvey’s rehabilitation.  Although “Arkham Jihad” is set chronologically before “The Dark Knight Returns” and precedes the efforts to surgically repair Harvey’s scarred physiognomy, my story does not precede Bruce Wayne’s efforts to sponsor Harvey’s psychological convalescence (financing counseling and treatment beyond what Arkham provides).

3. Alan Moore’s introduction to Frank Miller’s landmark “The Dark Knight Returns,” noting how the growing sophistication of the mass audience called for revisiting the character, expounding on the essential qualities of the Batman in order to renew and revitalize that which makes him so compelling in the first place (in this case, pathos and grim fortitude).

4. Alan Moore’s incomparably brilliant “Watchmen,” not for any specific reference it makes to the Batman (it makes none), but for its extraordinary contribution to the genre, much of which is relevant to the Batman — especially the character of Rorschach (pathos and grim fortitude in the flesh).  Upon reflection, Moore’s “Watchmen” almost makes “Arkham Jihad” unnecessary — except for one thing:  Batman is exceptional.  An extraordinary, iconic figure like the Batman — rich and complex as he is — deserves more than to be obliquely included in an incidental, if brilliant, deconstruction of the Superhero mentality; he deserves his own story.

5. Alan Moore’s excellent Graphic Novel, “The Killing Joke,” with its compelling Joker “Origin Story” unfolding in the background of an intensely dramatic confrontation between the Joker and the Batman.  Moore’s narrative is enormously illustrative of the villain’s character and motivation; he longs to prove to Batman something along the lines of:  It’s the world that’s sick and cruel, and I’m nothing more than what this world has made of me:  Here (pointing at his chest), but for the caprice of an idiot Universe, goes YOU! Moore’s Joker also seems preoccupied with the similarities between himself and Batman.  Recollecting his own “bad day” (the day that, more than any previous day in his life, set him on the course to become The Joker), he entreats Batman to reflect on his own “bad day,” suggesting that it must have been a dilly, else why the Dracula get up, the extreme lifestyle choice…?  [Having spent many pleasurable hours reading and rereading “The Killing Joke,” I confess I have very little to add to Moore’s characterization of Batman’s arch-foe.  For me, the Joker of “The Killing Joke” is THE Joker...  “Arkham Jihad” merely borrows him, ages him a bit, and gives him some new dialogue -- and a new wild hair up his wazoo.]

6. Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum,” from which I’m borrowing two key elements:  a) The general concept of an Arkham chapter involving Joker commandeering the asylum for the purpose of psychoanalyzing Batman — in order to make a point (paraphrased):  I may be sick, but you ain’t exactly the portrait of mental health, my Batty friend; and b) The insertion of the Disney classic “Bambi” into Batman’s “Origin Story” — either instead of the traditional Batman legend’s “Zorro” element or, possibly, as the second of a double feature (I believe Morrison is implying the former)…  In either case, it is during the film Bambi, Morrison suggests, that his father dragged a young Bruce Wayne out of the theater, mortified at his son’s tears (presumably upon seeing Bambi’s mother killed), harshly reproaching his son — just prior to being gunned down himself, along with Brucie’s mother.

Morrison’s contribution to the Batman story is indispensable.  His Bruce Wayne Sr. is foundational to mine:  he is insensitive and mired in the cult of masculinity (that’s not all my Bruce Wayne Sr. is, but it is an important aspect of his character, so far as young Bruce’s development is concerned).  Morrison’s account has Bruce Wayne Sr. issuing an ultimatum to his young son just before the family’s fatal encounter with the “Crime Alley” mugger:  “If you don’t stop crying and act like a grown-up, I’m leaving you right here.”

7. Jim Starlin’s “a Death in the Family,” which features the death of Jason Todd, Dick Grayson’s successor as “Robin, the Boy Wonder.”  I’m borrowing a couple of elements of Starlin’s story for “Arkham Jihad:” 1) the character of Jason Todd as the “Boy Wonder” and 2) the concept of Joker working with a fanatical Middle Eastern element (here, al Qaeda).  The latter aspect is unfortunately relevant to the world in which we live today, with the United States at war with its former mujahedeen.  The former aspect (using the Jason Todd “Robin”) not only works with the original plot I’ve concocted, involving an aging Batman, near retirement, but is also a fun way of dangling before the die-hard Batman fans the possibility — the likelihood? — that this story’s Robin may not survive the day…

[Scene 1]

Our story begins in a fairly modern setting — not quite the present, but virtually yesterday:  April, 2004… Gotham.

Rooftop.  Nighttime.  Batman is on stakeout.  No telling how long he’s been waiting, but he’s silent as the grave, listening intently at an open vent.  When finally he hears muted noises emanating from below, he reacts immediately, rising to his feet… very quickly and very quietly.  Before he proceeds to the source of the sounds, he checks on something:  his hostage, lying on the rooftop, some 15 feet away.

Batman’s hostage, a young man in his early 20s, with his wrists and ankles bound and a gag in his mouth (apparently torn from his blood-spattered shirt), remains unconscious.  His face is bruised, with blood caked and drying under his nostrils.

Good.

Quickly, Batman affixes a visor to his face and gets to business.

Batman carefully lifts his hostage up, cradling him like a child, and begins to walk slowly, deliberately to the edge of the rooftop.  As he does, a length of cable becomes visible, connecting the man’s ankle-bonds to a customized grappling hook already set in the stone lip of the rooftop.

His hostage begins to regain consciousness just as Batman nears the edge of the rooftop.  Before releasing him, Batman hooks a small device to the man’s belt and depresses a button on the device.  A dull purple light immediately begins to blink — once, twice, three times…

With the ease and confidence of a man who knows what he’s doing, Batman deftly flips the man 180 degrees (facing downward), grasping him by the belt-line of his pants and back collar of his jacket as he speeds toward the edge of the roof.

The man’s eyes grow large with fear as he begins to get his bearings — just in time to be pitched over the edge.

He’d scream if he could…

Just as a smirking Batman releases his victim, smoke begins pouring from the device attached to the man’s belt.

The Caped Crusader doesn’t watch as the cable draws taut and snaps back with a twang, nor does he listen to hear his hostage crash into the window two floors below, landing safely (more or less) inside the building as he completes the arc of his wild ride.

No, Batman is on the move.

He races silently to the other side of the building — where another length of cable rests, attached to a customized grappling hook already set in the stone perimeter of the opposite side of the rooftop.  His stride hardly slowing a step, he grabs the end of the cord, and with a flick of the wrist gets an extra loop of cable around his gloved hand (snatching it into his clutched fist), before leaping (again with a slight smirk) off the building’s edge and into the night.

Two floors below, the room is filling with smoke.  Half a dozen startled gangsters stand, training some serious artillery in the direction of the window — the window that’s just exploded inward, heralding the arrival of their unfortunate, bound and gagged acquaintance (unconscious again, mercifully).

Uzi in hand, one of the thugs moves quickly toward the window, covering his mouth with his free hand (suspecting tear gas, perhaps) as he prepares to fill “the Bat” with lead.

“Just shoot,” he barks.  “C’mon, before the room is so filled with — SHOOT!” Anticipating Batman’s entrance, they begin firing through the broken window as the room grows ever smokier.

In a single fluid motion, Batman swings silently through the already-open window — opposite the just-shattered one — some 35-40 feet away from the chaotic scene unfolding diagonally across the hazy room.

Approaching from behind, he disarms (and disables) the man nearest him before the crook can discern why two other of his compatriots have suddenly let out screams of shock and pain (small, razor sharp, bat-shaped projectiles partially buried in their flesh, seeping a mild (yet painful) paralytic into their bloodstream).

As bodies and weapons rapidly begin dropping to the floor, the remaining thugs discern that their assailant hasn’t entered via the window through which they expected him, and they turn to confront him… as well as their limited visibility allows.  One turns to flee.

With their automatic and semi-automatic weapons, two brave and foolhardy rogues begin firing… somewhat indiscriminately.  But by this time the room is thick with smoke, and they hit nothing.

With his (custom) Night-Vision visor and honed skills, rendering the remaining mobsters harmless, in some cases unconscious, is a matter of child’s play for the Dark Knight.

In the space of a couple of minutes he is the only man left standing in the room.  His quarry lay on the floor, none remotely posing a threat.  Several have sustained injuries that will require a considerable stay in Gotham General.

The conscious ones moan.

A small smile touches the corners of Batman’s mouth.

[Scene 2]

Batman emerges from the building carrying two of the criminals he’s just subdued:  one over his shoulder (his former hostage), the other he drags by his back collar.  The former is still unconscious.  The latter lets out a little whimper at each stair he’s dragged across (his broken leg apparently causing him some distress).

At the foot of the stairs that mark the entrance to the abandoned tenement, the other five thugs lie in a heap (where, in the preceding moments, the vigilante had deposited them).

Just as he’s exiting the building, two police cars pull up to the building and come to an abrupt halt.

Apparently expecting them, Batman is unperturbed by their arrival.  Commissioner James Gordon immediately disembarks from the driver’s side of the lead car and trots over to the Batman as he begins to descend the stairs.

Batman is poised to greet his longtime ally when he sees the passenger door of Gordon’s car swing open and his civilian passenger — as well as the civilian passenger delivered by the second car — begin to file out…  The first, an attractive young woman, is smartly dressed and carries a microphone.  The second, a disheveled young man with a beard, has a camera.

Press!

“Jim,” Batman says through gritted teeth (mostly to himself).

As Gordon nears him, he expresses his displeasure:  “Why, Jim?”

Gordon, his voice low, apologizes:  “Sorry, Batman — I owed Ms. Pryor there a favor… and the truth is, I catch some hell, y’know, when you stay behind the scenes for too long.  People want to see your face every once in a while; humanizes you… makes you seem less a rogue actor, more like a police partner, y’know?  Not a vigil—-”

“Let’s just get this over with,” Batman grouses in resignation, before roughly depositing the thug he’s been dragging by his collar onto the heap with the rest of his partners in crime.

Ms. Pryor approaches just as Batman is about to unburden himself of the seventh and final crook, his former hostage (bruised face still bleeding somewhat, especially from fresh wounds acquired during his crash through the upstairs window).

“No, wait,” she says, “Can we keep him like that—-slung over your shoulder, just like that?  That’s perfect: The hero and his captured quarry!

“Gerry, wherethe-F are you with the camera!”

(A look of disapprobation/discomfort passes between between Batman and the Commissioner.)

“Right here, Sheila,” (Gerry, defends himself), “give me a break.  Here, just a sec — Okay… ready to go!”

“Fine!  Good.  Okay, Commissioner, we’ll get you in the shot, too… Gotham’s top cop still sharing the load with our Caped Defender.  You can tell the people how you coordinated with the Batman to, you know, capture the bad guys… the… I’m sorry, I know you went over this in the car…”

“Addington gang,” Gordon responds. “They’ve pulled off two nighttime bank robberies and a jewelry heist, just in the last—-”

“Right:  Addington.  Got it.”

“Do you—-” Batman begins, before trailing off.

“What’s that, Batman?” the reporter queries, but the Batman, no longer in his element, reconsiders: “Nothing.  Sorry.  Just… just go on with — go right ahead.”

“You got it, Caped Crusader.  Gerry, we set?”

“What did I say a minute ago?”

“Fine, okay:  Here we go…

“Good morning, Gotham!  I’m Sheila Pryor, and I’m here in the wee hours of the morning in Gotham’s old Hutchison-Goss district with Commissioner James Gordon and Gotham’s long-time defender, not to mention the nation’s, the Batman.  Tonight, they’ve caught up to the Lew Addington gang and put a stop to their run of robberies — How many is it Commissioner?”

“Six in the past eight days.”

“Well, they were on a regular spree!  And they’re a very professional, experienced gang of hardened criminals, the Addington gang, very slick, originally from the Chicago area, is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right…”

“And how did you learn the location of their meeting place here, uh… Batman?”

“Well, Commissioner Gordon, uh, introduced me to—-this…” (Lip curling a bit in disgust, he nods his head laterally, indicating the bundle on his right shoulder… which begins to stir.)

“I see… So this fellow here was able to lead you to his partners in crime?”

“Yes, in a manner of…”

“Did he give you much trouble,” she asks, indicating, in an attempt at levity, the bleeding wreck of a young man slung over Batman’s shoulder.

“Well…”

Gordon jumps in:  “Actually, this gang — Addington’s crew — they’re a very hard lot.  I mean, I know this man doesn’t look like much of a threat now, but he and his partners were — are — a very bad bunch of… I mean, real thugs — automatic weapons, not afraid to use them… Long record…”

“I see…”

“They’ve got a number of outstanding murder charges, as well,” Gordon interjects. “–in addition to the robberies.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it, Commissioner.  I mean, if you had to involve the Batman, I’m sure these weren’t exactly your garden variety crooks—-”

“Urrr-uuhhh…Whats’at light…?” (mutters the bundle on Batman’s shoulder).

“Ooh, he’s starting to wake up!”

“Cripes are you — oh, oww, owww… oh, hell!” Various pains settle in on him, before he realizes… “Hey, am I on… T-Veee…?”

“Shut up, scum!” Batman growls in a low voice, barely more than a whisper.

“Hey… Heyyyyy! I remember what you did to me… YOU mother—-

Swiftly, Batman’s free fist delivers an extraordinarily violent punch to the young man’s face, knocking him unconscious again, breaking his zygomatic.  He falls limp, blood dripping from his face.

(A moment of silence passes.  Now it’s Commissioner Gordon who looks uncomfortable.)

“FCC…” Batman volunteers, covering.  “I wouldn’t want to see your station fined…”

(after a pause)

“Of course…”

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