Pitchgiving 2020, Part 8: Batmen

Focused mostly on the relationship between Batman and his Robins (current, ‘dead’ and Nightwing), but also with a healthy accounting of Batwoman/girls as well (they would take over in the sequel, reversing the amount of screentime as we give Batwoman the spotlight in Batwomen, presumably ending with “Batfamily” where we bring them all together which I think would have to introduce a nonbinary member of the gang, because otherwise this is getting a little too gender-normative- Batwing might be a good candidate, or maybe Duke- possibly the new Oracle (I’d make this Oracle a person in a wheelchair inspired by Babs- and of course cast Kiera Allen from Run because she- and it- are amazing), if DC are squeamish about using an existing character. Specifically focuses on the death of Jason Todd, how it caused a rift between Nightwing and Batman, and how it impacts a current case. I think it adapts part of Sword of Azrael, loosely. The sequel would necessarily follow Batgirl (Gordon), Batwoman and any other lady bat-family members we want (I’d probably try to work in Cassandra Cain over Spoiler- unless we could fit them both- but that’s my preference- though Stephanie Brown might be worth adding if she were a Robin at the time); it would likely involve Batwoman’s family and the machinations of her sister.

A blonde, spectacled man is running through the dark streets, clutching his bag like it’s his salvation. A man in a cape drops down in front of him, surprising him, and he falls into a puddle. We think for a moment it could be Batman, until he draws a sword that lights on fire, and in the glow from its flame we see he’s Azrael (the old-school, knight design). He cuts down the blonde man, and we cut away. Morning, Bruce is eating breakfast with Alfred and Tim, with the news on in the background. Tim asks about Dick, and why he left. Bruce talks about him becoming his own man, and needing to live his own life. Tim says he gets that, but that Dick hardly even comes around, and asks what happened. Bruce drops his silverware loudly, and the sound on the TV fades up, “body found decapitated in Gotham’s infamous Crime Alley has been identified as one Ludovic Valley. Police suspect it was a mugging gone wrong, as Valley’s effects were stolen after his murder.”

Cut to a different blonde, bespectacled man, Ludovic’s son, Jean Paul. He’s studying at a religious school, and is interrupted by a priest. Cut to him in the priest’s office, along with a lawyer. We hear words intermittently, like “sorry for your loss,” and enough that we gather that the priest has his father’s Will. He hands him a parcel around the size of what his father was carrying, and then says words we don’t hear; Jean-Paul loses consciousness, hitting his head as he falls to the ground, which we see from his POV.

Alfred and Tim are alone in the mostly dark manor. Alfred asks Tim to remember how he came to them, how he deduced Batman’s identity and asked to be taught. But he wasn’t the only Robin who wanted Dick’s old job. Jason Todd stole the wheels off the Batmobile. Bruce took him in. Trained him. And the Joker killed him- beat him nearly to death with a crowbar, then blew up his body. That was the real end of Bruce and Dick’s relationship. Dick blamed Bruce, for being too eager to fill the hole he left; Alfred says he probably blamed himself for leaving the hole, too. And the tragedy is both men, proud, and stubborn, couldn’t get over their grief enough to admit that they needed each other more then than they ever had.

Cut to POV shot, upside-down, hanging over Gotham. Azrael drops (the Jean Paul Valley redesign), landing outside the Joker/Quinn hideout we saw in the climax of Birds of Prey (this is set before that). He wades through circus freak thugs, slicing them up with his burning gauntlets. He manages to fight his way to the Joker, who is at first amused. His smile starts to fade as the religious fundamentalism starts to seep in- he realizes Azrael is incapable of getting the joke- which is about the scariest thing possible to him. Azrael cuts him pretty badly with his burning gauntlet, and he only escapes with the timely intervention of Harley Quinn- who he promptly abandons. Azrael chases after Joker, but loses him.

We’re in a gym in Bludhaven. Nightwing, in civilian garb, is beating the crap out of a punching bag. Tim, also in his civvies, steps out of the shadows. “You’re the new guy, right?” Tim introduces himself. Dick has kind of a fine line to walk, here, because the Dick we know and love is kind of unceasingly positive, and he’s at kind of a personal crisis point, here, at the same time. So he wants to be friendly, and supportive, but he’s also worried Bruce is endangering Tim, and that he needs to work his stuff out before someone gets hurt. But Tim used his detective skills to track Dick down, even though he’s largely living off the grid. Dick’s impressed, and they agree to go a round. Dick’s the better fighter, and bigger, but Tim does a decent job holding his own, and more importantly he’s really good at reading Dick and compensating. “I knew Jason. I don’t think Bruce ever knew that. But when I heard there was a new Robin, I reached out. Tried to give him some friendly advice. Mostly we just commiserated over Bruce. He was pissed off- but I don’t know that I could say he was wrong to be angry. I tried to help. I tried to get Bruce to see that Jason’s volatility made him vulnerable… but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what he’s like.”

“Proud. Stubborn.”

Dick stops, glares for an instant before smiling. “He must love you.” He tousles Tim’s hair, and we cut away.

At night. Joker attacks the GCPD. To save time, we might just want to cut to the rooftop, where he’s shot Gordon, broken the glass on the batsignal but is using it, with a smile sliced into the paint on the symbol. He wants Batman to protect him from Azrael- that he knows Batman wouldn’t let some other vigilante murder him. Batman punches him. Repeatedly. Gordon gets taken to the hospital, Joker gets taken to a safe house. Later that night, as the storm rages on. The safe house gets broken into; at first it’s unclear what’s happening, but there are in fact 2 Azraels acting in concert. Batman puts up a token fight, Robin is useless. Surprisingly, the Joker puts up the best fight of all, but is eventually taken. That’s when it’s revealed that Tim is in the Batsuit, Joker’s in the Robin suit, (and complains about there being “too much room in the tights” while tugging at the crotch), and that Batman was in disguise as the Joker.

We cut to the Azrael safehouse. LeHah, who we recognize as the Valley lawyer from earlier, is our old school Azrael, and Jean-Paul Valley is the newer one. Jean-Paul is brainwashed, barely able to respond to questions. LeHah is convinced that the Joker is their antichrist risen (Biis), and they need to murder him. The rest of the Order weren’t convinced, and so he’s also taking them out, one at a time, and had to remove their previous Azrael, Ludovic. He’s in control of their newest one, controlled by the System. But LeHah recognizes the boon they’ve found. Batman is Bruce Wayne, in control of the Wayne fortune. With his resources, Azrael’s war on the wicked can expand beyond its current humble expression, so they’re going to break him, for his financial secrets and for the location of the Joker, then they’ll kill him for aligning with the demon Biis.

Nightwing shows up in the cave, to help Tim save Bruce. “I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he says.

“You’re a better detective than that,” Dick replies. Tim accepts the compliment, and pivots to the other Azrael sightings. They all correspond to a religious rotary club’s membership- all connected, powerful Gothamites, specifically targeting the leadership. Next in line is a man named Harcourt. We have a cameo, here, from the Batwomen, and how they’re going to handle the rest of the crime in Gotham, including the mysterious appearance of Alice, so they can focus on rescuing Batman and watching the Joker.

Robin and Nightwing stake out Harcourt’s. He’s hired his own security, which the two Azraels plow through. NewAz is robotic, hurting because it’s the most efficient path from A to B. LeHah relishes doling out religious punishment a little too much, and likes to throw out maxims like, “Azrael does not protect,” and “Azrael does not wound,” as commandments to his protégé. Despite Nightwing and Robin’s intervention, they’re unable to save Harcourt. New Azrael pauses to hear Harcourt’s confession as LeHah flees, and the opening is enough for Robin and NIghtwing to subdue him. They’re able to break through the System enough to talk to Jean-Paul, who is terrified, because he’s been a prisoner essentially since meeting LeHah. He’s tried fighting the System, but it’s like trying not to breathe. They receive a note from LeHah, offering an exchange: Bruce for the Joker.

They meet in the mountains surrounding Gotham. Joker is anxious about their plan, rambling like the lunatic that he is, and at the first opportunity tries to bolt. He’s shot by persons unknown, (presumed to be LeHah), preventing him from escaping. Though it turns out the Joker had his own plan, and his thugs arrive, and it becomes Joker, Harley and clowns vs. the Batmen, while the two Azraels duke it out, accidentally setting fire to the trees and chalet. In the end, Jean Paul makes a conscious decision to save Batman rather than kill LeHah, carrying him out of the burning chalet, even as LeHah screams that “Azrael does not protect!” at him. LeHah tries to attack Azrael as he carries him out, only to be shot himself. The mysterious shooter tells Azrael to go, then tells LeHah , “You can walk out of here, and live to avenge another day. Or you can keep coming, and I’ll put you down like Old Yeller.” We cut away to Azrael carrying Batman away. We hear gunfire as the chalet collapses in on itself.

Tim and Dick fight back to back, holding off the Joker’s thugs long enough for Azrael and Batman to arrive. Joker laughs, and says Batman’s too weak to fight, that they can finish them all off right now. Batman stands in a fighting stance, does that little come get some wave like Neo in the first Matrix, and the Joker and his crew lose their nerve, and head away. Dick’s grinning. “I thought he was right. I thought you were bluffing. I thought-” he turns, and realizes Batman is face down in the snow. “Yeah. That’s exactly what I thought.” He bends over to help him up.

The four men are in the Batcave. Bruce has a blanket around him and a cup of cocoa to warm him up. Dick says one thing is still bugging him: he can’t figure out who the shooter was. “I would have thought that was obvious by now,” Tim says.

“So, this is awkward,” Jason says, stepping out of the shadows. “Especially because Bruce doesn’t like it when I shoot people.” Dick says his name in disbelief: Jason Todd. Tim launches into his explanation of the facts, that the Joker blew up someone alongside Jason’s mother. But that a few months later the Red Hood appeared on the streets of Gotham, and Bruce told him they’d “lost” one of their safehouses, without answering any follow-up questions.

Dick isn’t impressed. Instead, he turns his attention to Batman, who stands, and drops the blanket. “He asked me not to tell. Not you. Not anyone. He said he could never undo what was done to him. But for it to have any value, any meaning– Jason Todd had to stay dead. I’m so, so sorry. I wanted to tell you the truth. But it wasn’t mine to tell.” Nightwing balls his fists, and for an instant we really don’t know if he’s going to throw a punch. If it doesn’t feel like too much, I’d have a single tear fall down Batman’s mask, and Dick embraces him. 

Credits scene setting up the sequel, basically an excuse to adapt the Rucka Batwoman Alice storyline, because it’s good. I might throw in Mad Hatter, too, since it’s hard for me to have an Alice without him- just eventually have her discard him and turn out to be the real big bad all along. Really, for those unfamiliar with the story, it could make for an interesting midpoint reveal, that she isn’t an innocent caught in his web, that she’s been manipulating him this whole time- it just has to be handled carefully so you don’t end up completely undermining him, as happened to Bane in Dark Knight Rises (though conversely, a part of Jervis’ charm has always been how truly pathetic he is).

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