Pitchgiving 2021, part 7: Justice League Dark 2: Newcastle

I’m not sure how much of Newcastle to show at the beginning. Probably best to just get the basics across, since I’m assuming we’re still shooting for a PG-13, even if a hard one. So we see flashes, enough to maybe know Constantine organized an exorcism of a small girl, that it went awry and Constantine’s friends died. We cut from the horror, and it’s a bright, normal day. Constantine relaxes back into a chair, setting his lighter on a coffee table in front of him.

We start in on the slice of life, show Tim being a normal human boy. Only the shadows are showing an interest in him again. It starts subtle, at school, all the shadows tilting towards him as if the sun’s light is coming from a dozen different directions at once.

Close in, as we watch someone open a hand-written note addressed to “Fate.” Before he can read it, his phone rings, and he sets the note down in the foreground. We watch as the text, which had read, “Panel on reversed incantations was moved on me at the last minute. Could you take my spot watching Tim tomorrow morning? Should give you plenty of time to make your panel later in the day. Let me know, Z,” change, the words “tomorrow morning” glowing, before reforming as, “3 days from now”. On the phone is Zatanna, and he tells her that he only just opened it. He picks up the message, as he explains that mail to the Tower is always spotty, especially with the state of the post office. He tells her of course he’ll cover her- he had hoped to be able to see her panel, because she always puts on such a show, but he can always astral project there and leave enough of himself behind to cover Hunter.

Now we’re back with John as he meets with some black-market magicians. They’re skeptical, because it wasn’t too long ago he was breaking up their smuggling efforts. He tells them this time he just wants to pass a message- that if they play ball he’ll even play nice next time their paths cross, let them off with a slap on the wrist. He’s trying to pass a message to the Cult of the Cold Flame. They’ve been infiltrated, and as much as they might be enemies, having a literal demon in their inner circle is bad for everyone’s business.

On the convention floor, a confused Zatanna bumps into Dr. Fate (or Occult if we’re concerned with burning through his contract appearances) at the convention

Conspicuously, during the meeting, Constantine’s lighter, which he set on the table, opens, and lights itself with a blue flame. “Bollocks,” Constantine says, and excuses himself.

Zatanna calls John. You see, Dr. Occult (but preferably Fate) supposedly swapped timeslots with her, so she could be at the convention now, and he could be there later. She doesn’t think he flaked, she thinks they’ve been had. She starts casting about for someone who can teleport- John’s got a subtler idea.

Constantine makes a phone call, to someone in a smart suit. We’re going to play coy, for a moment, lingering below his face, because who it is going to be a reveal. The Cult of the Cold Flame are making another play for Tim; because of a magical conference everyone normally protecting Tim is away, with magical interference guaranteeing that there will be a gap in his coverage. The person on the other end just so happens to be in London, dealing with an issue with a subsidiary. Constantine asks him to pull Tim out, and that’s when we finally reveal who he’s talking to: Bruce Wayne.

Alfred walks up to Bruce, in full tourist mode, happy to be home, but also happy to go on holiday. He sees the steel in Bruce’s eyes, and we watch as his happiness deflates. He tells him he’ll cancel his appointments. “No need to cancel. Lucius can still take the meetings, and I can conference in. Bring the car around. I need to change.” He tugs on his tie, and we cut to the car. Alfred hits a button and the plates change. Batman tells him to get out, and go on his holiday. Because Alfred deserves nice things, once in a while.

We cut back to Tim. The shadows are getting more aggressive, but he still doesn’t seem to have noticed. We watch, as a tide of shadow is about to crash down on Tim, only for what is essentially a flash-bang to go off, burning away the shadows. Batman tells Tim they need to go, he should grab anything he needs, and they need to be gone in thirty seconds. Tim grabs his backpack, and they walk downstairs. Batman is confronted by Tim’s father, who demands to know where he’s taking his son dressed like the weird fella from Pulp Fiction. “Ving Rames?” Batman asks. Tim tells his father to sleep, then snaps his fingers, and he collapses back in his recliner. Before exiting, Tim asks if he’s going to get to ride in the Batmobile?

“Better,” Batman says, looking up at the sky as they exit his apartment. It’s empty. “Sorry, it’s hard to time an intercontinental flight in your head.” He points to the sky, where a Batplane is hovering like a Harrier jet, and grabs a grapnel from his belt. He lifts Tim up in one arm and grapnels them up with the other.

We get a flashback, this time more than just flashes, from 10 years earlier, Constantine attempting an exorcism. Half his crew die in the attempt, the rest will include the artist from last movie, as well as some fodder for this one. John’s consulting with a psychic from Newcastle. The psychic knows Nergal’s around, but is terrified of getting back on the demon’s radar. John threatens to bring Nergal there, to summon him, if he won’t help. Reluctantly, the psychic agrees to try and figure out which of the council of the Cold Flame is currently being possessed.

Batman and Tim go on the run, with Tim proving he’s picked up a few tricks along the way. It’s a fun and games, relatively light B story to Constantine’s much darker A plot. The Cult prove to be much more resourceful than Batman is used to. It requires all of his wits and some of Tim’s magic to keep them on the run.

But this story is as much about counter-moves as it is about moves, and while Constantine is hunting Nergal, Nergal is hunting Constantine. He kills some of Constantine’s friends from Newcastle before arriving on the Swamp Thing’s doorstep. “You serve the green just as I serve the black. To say you’re out of your league isn’t right; we aren’t even playing the same sport. Example: you’re playing flag football, with symbolic little moral victories- while I prefer full contact.” Nergal shoves Holland’s astral form outside of his body, and leaps into the Swamp Thing. Inside, Nergal is standing in a dense, lush forest. “Well, shit,” he says, and leaps out, only to find his old host looking green-tinged. He shoves Holland out of that body, too, only to find it, too, has a forest inside it now. “You prick,” Nergal yells, trying to shove Holland out of the Swamp Thing again- only this time astral plant tendrils grab his spirit and hold it in. “Clever prick,” Nergal says, a grudging respect in his voice. “I see why Constantine chose you. A friend I can’t easily snuff out. Hmm… This is going to be a lot more fun than I thought. So enjoy your symbolic little moral victory, plant-thing.” Swamp Thing tries to get the word out, but finds that Nergal cut his phone line, so he’s going to have to grow a new body elsewhere to transfer his consciousness- costing him time.

During the interim, Nergal attacks Zatanna, getting so far as to infiltrate her mind, only to discover her father taught her well, that she’s basically built an inception honey-trap in her mind, that as the details differ, they tell her what’s going on, that it’s an attempt to influence her to soften her up for demonic possession- only she’s got some spells- old spells, cast by her father- that she calls upon to violently eject him. She’s horrified, though, because she couldn’t duplicate the spells on her own; she’s basically shot her wad, and if Nergal comes back, she won’t be able to stop him. She gets on the phone with John, demands to know what he did when he snuck off in Berlin- not what he told her, but what he did; he tells her he bought an artifact from a friend, there. She asks with what, because he was practically homeless, then; she paid for their dinner, their hotel, plane tickets, even his cigarettes. He doesn’t want to say, that given the state he left her in, it might be possible to interpret the coin he used as ‘a mite dodgy.’ She’s disgusted, and convinced that she’s back in the real world- that it isn’t another intrusion by Nergal. She tells him Nergal attacked her, exhausting her countermeasures, and she needs to run. There’s pounding at the door, before it’s smashed to splinters. Nergal, in a new host, tells her he was halfway to Charing Cross when he wondered if maybe she’d expended her defenses, and he might just be able to stroll right on into her pretty little body. Her window’s open, and she’s gone, her landline still hanging off the receiver, with John calling after her.

Nergal picks it up, and tells him, “I’m coming for you, Johnny, and I’m going through every friend you’ve got in the world to get to you. It’s your last chance to say goodbye to any who really matter to you- not that either of us are sentimental enough to believe anyone does.” Nergal hangs up.

“Bollocks,” John says. He dials up Oracle on his phone.

This is, to be clear, the post-Batgirl in a chair Oracle I have proposed. She demands to know how he got that number. He tells her the man in the pointy-eared gimp-suit gave it to him. “You must be Constantine.”

He tells her he furnished a list of contact info for every single magic user in their universe, and he needs to put out an all points, with whatever logistical assistance she can render. He says, “Bruce- I’m not calling him bloody ‘Bat’man-”

“Bruce?” Oracle asks. “He never told me his name.  

Constantine sighs, and realizes aloud, “He’s going to punch me for that. He insisted I also furnish a list of ‘vulnerabilities,’ in case I was ever compromised- the folk who are in the crosshairs. I need them moved to safety, by anyone with so much as a card up their sleave.”

Constantine is contacted by the Cult. I’d probably have their emissary be Mr. E, who isn’t on good terms with Constantine after trying to kill Tim. He insists they exclude one member of the council, that he not even know what’s going on, or they’re all as good as dead. E knows more than he says, being in the same business as Constantine. It might be fun to draft him into the Council, that his prospects being limited, he decided on a path to try and reform the Cult from the inside, rather than bash his brains out on the outer walls, unable to effect any change whatsoever.

Tim and Batman are on a globe-trotting adventure. The Cult is closing in, having learned enough about him to be watching even the clandestine resources he uses as Batman. So they’re in Vegas, literally gambling on the idea that Tim’s magic can get them some untraceable cash to buy them a little bit more time and space. I imagine part of this b plot is Constantine insisting Batman can’t call on his super friends, that the Cult might be able to hijack anyone he might go to, that were he to go to Superman, he might be handing the Cult their own Kryptonian superweapon.  

Constantine ends up meeting the Cult of the Cold Flame’s leadership to broker a deal for him to remove Nergal. They ask Constantine what’s to keep them from killing him right then and there. He tells them it’s the usual; he’ll kill at least half of them, just for making the attempt, and the other half is a coin toss- and he wouldn’t have handed them the coin if it coming up against him wouldn’t work out for the better. “I’m worth taking any one or two of you off the board. A coin that I get the lot of you and walk free seems a gamble worth considering, if you’re me. Push me, and half of you are guaranteed corpses; the rest are the ones relying on a coin. Heads I win, tails the rest of the multiverse does. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like my odds.”

Nergal attacks Jason Blood at his home, only to find the corpse he possessed housed Dead Man, who slaps him around for a moment, before vacating- telling him this was a set-up. Blood proves more than capable, first sealing him, then exorcising him- but it doesn’t work. See, despite what Nergal said, he didn’t drag the Newcastle girl’s soul to hell. Instead, he’s kept her here, for years. She’s his tether, so long as he’s bound to her, he’s bound to this plane. Blood then summons Etrigan, stating he’ll shred Nergal’s soul, instead, and the bloodied tatters can remain for all he cares. Etrigan and Nergal fight for a moment within the corpse, a cool CGI feast before Nergal flees.

Blood calls John, to tell him they have a problem. John’s already aware of it- he snuck a scrying spell into Blood’s place the last time he was invited over for drinks. He already has a man on it, one of the best problem solvers in the business- “even if his fashion sense is a wee bit batty.”

So while the magic folk snatch Constantine’s friends and family and spirit them to Fate’s tower, the attack squad of Justice League Dark (including Tim) mass at Blood’s to return to the Citadel of the Cold Flame, while Batman tracks down the girl Nergal has hidden away. Batman does, tracking money Nergal’s various hosts have drawn on electronically, finding his shell holdings, finding storage locations and warehouses. Oracle still thinks it’s going to be the cold storage outside of London. Batman knows Nergal’s type- he wants it to hurt more, wants it personal- he wants her to have been under John’s nose the entire time- or rather, in the shadow of Ravenscar. When Batman finds her, he calls Fate to come and remove Nergal’s taint- freeing her from being his tether. Nergal feels it at the second attempted exorcism. Fate teleports Batman to where the others are.

Nergal pulls his trump card- Tim, who he got to through his Yo-Yo: Tim. Only this time, Nergal’s pulled more than he bargains for. Tim grabs him by the throat, and it burns him. Nergal eyes Constantine. “This boy could end everything, Constantine. You’re madder than I realized.” Nergal knows he’s in trouble, and flails. “I could drag the boy’s soul with me, straight down to Hell.”

“Now that’s against the rules, mate,” Constantine says.

“Who the Hell cares? I’m a demon.”

“Heaven cares, my son, or at least this bloke does.”

Specter is suddenly behind him. “You would threaten an innocent, a nearly pure boy, before the hand of the Presence,” Specter bellows, equally incensed that Nergal would have the gall to do it in front of him as he is that he’d do it at all. Specter basically punches into Nergal and rips out a bloodied chunk of his soul, shredding it enough with this one gesture that it kills him.

Specter and Constantine have a little staring contest; the Specter knows Constantine used him to take out Nergal, and is angry about it. “I am not your attack dog, Constantine,” Specter growls.

“If you’re trying to put the fear of God into me, you think you can succeed where a thousand nuns with a thousand rulers failed?”

“Some things about that night we spent in Berlin are falling into place,” Zatanna says.

“I won’t ask,” Batman agrees.

Constantine smooths Specter’s robe. “Not my dog, no,” he says. “But sometimes it pays to have one around, regardless of who’s on the other end of the leash.”

“There will come a day, John Constantine, where I will stand in judgement of you. And on that day, your soul will burn, for the lives you’ve taken, the friends you’ve sacrificed, the carnage left in your wake, and the spheres shall be wealthier for your loss.”

“If you persist in domming me, we’ll have to put you in his gimp suit and fetch you a whip, mate.”

“You are a creature no less vile than that,” Specter nods towards Nergal’s remains, “and when next we meet, you should expect no better treatment.” Specter disappears.

For a moment things seem okay, almost celebratory. Then Batman steps to Constantin. “I have a question, one I wasn’t about to stop to ask while the boy’s safety was in my hands. Why didn’t I remove him into the care of one of your magical friends?”

John admits that might have solved things, but that in his circles people tend to get possessed as often as people in his business change which Underoos they’re wearing outside their pants, that the other part of why Constantine had Batman and Tim on the run was to preserve his reputation. By keeping Tim out of pocket for a week while he played chess with a demon and the Cult, Constantine’s legend only grows. At first Batman bristles, until Constantine tells him, “The good a man can do with a scary reputation far outstrips the cost of building that mythology, wouldn’t you agree?”

For a moment Batman seems pacified, before he says that he heard from Oracle, and belts John in the stomach, doubling him over. “Yep, I deserved that.” Batman isn’t done. He threatens to burn Constantine’s life to the ground if he endangers his family ever again.

“Probably could. And you’re a good enough man, I’d probably let you.” That stops his wrath for a moment. “We go to war, only one man walks away. If it’s me, we lose all the good you’d do. We lose me, and the world is just down one bastard. Hardly a comparison, really. And into the bargain we’d lose that wicked fashion sense of yours.”

Batman leaves in a bit of a huff. Zatanna helps John up. “You’re not wrong about him,” she tells John. “He is the better man.”

“I know,” John says, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt by it. John coughs up some blood, and makes a joke about Batman’s punches.

“I don’t think that’s from a punch, John.” Zatanna says, before he passes out.

We cut to a hospital room, with John in a gown, hearing bad news from a doctor with scans of cancerous lungs on the wall. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and takes out his lighter, and we fade the sound back up, and hear the doctor say, “You can’t smoke that in here. And in your condition, you shouldn’t smoke it anywhere.” John lights his lighter anyway, but Zatanna uses magic to crumple the pack. Constantine blows out his lighter, and we cut to black.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 6: Teen Titans 2: Impulsive Youth

“No reason to be nervous. They’re just like any other people. Who can think and move tens of thousands of times faster than you. Even an idiot moving at that speed would make you look like… like Superboy.” Robin rings the doorbell, and before the sound hits him the door swings open, with Wally West standing inside. He’s roughly Nightwing’s age, having been a Titan, previously. He looks around, for Batman or Nightwing, then looks down, disappointment showing on his face. “I thought one of the older bats would show. Guess I’m just hanging out with a Robin. Not a first time for that.” He sighs. “Come on. Bart’s in here.” Wally leads Robin inside. The front room is a mess of cables, monitors, magazines, comic books. Bart isn’t just there, he’s everywhere, a blur of motion as he reads and games and watches movies and surfs the internet (at agonizingly slow speeds for him).

“Bart, chill; ADHD can be hard to handle at normal speeds, but at super speeds- you’re going to make Robin go cross-eyed. You up on your meds?”

“I’m always up on my meds, I just metabolize them so quickly that I have to take one every five minutes or so.”

“How is that possible?” Robin asks, before appending. “Legally.”

“Currently, the Wayne Foundation is sponsoring sensitive research on the best timing for weening doses of ADHD medications, which means they go through a lot of them. Daily.”

In the blur, we get a single, static image of Impulse eating Gray’s Papaya. “Were you eating a hot dog?” Robin asks.

“Have to keep up my caloric intake. There’s nothing magical about us Flashes; takes me the same amount of calories to run across the continent as it would for you- I just do it thousands of times faster. Plus I had a hankering for Gray’s Papaya.”

“That does sound-” before Robin can finish the thought he’s holding a hot dog in his hand, and so is Wally. In fact, there are dozens of hot dogs around the room; they aren’t all from Gray’s- they only have so many cooked and ready at any one time. Robin’s about to take a bite of his hot dog, before he thinks to question, “And you got these legally, too?”

Wally laughs, because the Bat really does encourage distrust in his people. He notes his concern is well-founded. For a while Barry was feeding himself with change from wealthy people’s couch cushions, which he felt bad about, and especially when other Flashes started popping out of the woodwork, that was so many superfast mouths to feed. “We cover all of our expenses in cash, now. Batman got us access to some venture capital from Bruce Wayne. Turns out we had a few ideas worth patenting, and now Jesse’s running QuickStart licensing them out. And occasionally, Wayne’s companies hire Flashes to do supercomputing for him- basically we can process information faster than any computer, and there are occasions where that additional processing speed can be life or death. Currently we’re mostly working in the Wayne physics labs, with the supercollider. There are particles created in the lab that last only fractions of a second- but to a team of Flashes that’s like days.”

“And it’s sooo boring,” Bart says, bounding between activities. Wally grabs him as he blurs by, and forces him to stand in place for a moment.

“This is what we talked about. I know it can be rough, having to move at someone else’s pace. But you need to leave your feet on the ground, sometimes, and be a part of the human race.”

“It’s not my fault the rest of humanity’s a few hundred laps behind,” Bart says.

“Joke all you want, kid, but nobody’s buying this ‘a Flash doesn’t need friends’ BS. Because we’re all Flashes here; I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Barry, Jay, Jesse, even you. And that’s ignoring that I still have all the guys from my days in the Titans. It okay to need people, Bart; it’s okay to be human.”

“You only think that because you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

“Bart ran back here from the future, but whatever spooked him enough to rip a wormhole through spacetime, it screwed him up.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not in the room.”

“I can see as fast as you can move; half the time you weren’t in the room. And while I don’t doubt you saw some things, you have amnesia; even you haven’t seen what you’ve seen.”

“I still saw it. And I ran back here.”

“To stop it?”

Bart stops moving. “I…”

Wally’s there in an instant, a shoulder for him to collapse into. “He can’t remember even that.”

“That… sounds really rough,” Robin says. “But that’s why I hope you do come with us. I was skeptical, when I first joined the Titans; I didn’t think anyone could understand me, or what I’ve lived through, or what my life’s like. And they don’t, not completely, because we all have our unique problems. But they do, better than anyone else could, understand what it’s like to live in the shadows we do, the weight of the legacies we have to uphold. You have a family here, people who care about you no matter what. But I hope you can join my friends; they’ve helped me be a better me, and I think you can, too. Plus, Batman lent me a batplane to fly us-“

Impulse is gone in a blur, his clothes and selective magazines, games, etc. are, too. “He’s in the plane,” Wally says. 

Robin finds him sitting in the backseat of the plane, which is now full of Bart’s junk. Robin slides into his seat. “I was wondering if I could fly,” Bart says. “I read the manuals while I was waiting for you, as well as everything in the Central City Library, section 629, Aviation.“

“Everything?” Robin asks.

“Yeah, even Aviation in Southern Oregon¸ by Bill Alley, even if I’m not sure why we had a copy here. Wait.” He’s gone and back. “Apparently it was an interlibrary loan for a graduate student paper, but they kept it so long the loaning library just charged them for it, and they donated it to our library. And I did appreciate the picture of ‘Professor’ Charles Nelson’s balloon; it looked like a boob- appreciate in the amusement sense, not the pervy sense- it didn’t look that much like a boob.”

“I see why they call you Impulse. But, why did you put ‘professor’ in scare quotes.”

“Because the book did- though they never explained why; I guess there was some question as to his credentials.”

“You have an eidetic memory.”

“Uh…” He’s gone and back again, and this time is holding onto a dictionary. “I do. And a debauched, unchaste mind. And a prurient sense of humor.”

“I’m pretty sure most of that is being a teenage boy.” Impulse gives him a quizzical look. “I’m just glad none of the girls can read our minds.” He adds, quieter, “And none of the guys.”

“What was that? Sometimes when I’m moving fast- like to return the dictionary” (which is now gone) “sound works differently, you can make it sound like someone mumbled something real low, or sound like they’re speaking real fast and high-pitched like the chipmunks cartoon. It sounded like you said something about Tom Yum Gai, and now I need some Thai soup. Gimme a second.”

An instant later, he and Robin are both holding soup. “Batman would not be cool with us eating in the batplane.”

“It’s cool,” Impulse says. “I move hundreds of times faster than things fall due to gravity. Even if you spill, I won’t let it spill. Okay?” Robin still looks anxious. “And I won’t tell Batman.”

“Cool.” That loosens Robin up, and they eat in the plane.

We cut to Wonder Girl, flying over the waters along the California coastline. We can set this in Atlantis if we want, but I’m just going to assume that somewhere in the mainline DCEU movies that I’m not plotting we’ll have sunk San Diego and it’s now Sub Diego. Wonder Girl dives into the waters, shooting like a bullet down, stopping at the entrance to one of Sub Diego’s underwater domes. She emerges inside to find Mera. She explains that Arthur was unique, but the idea that his mother was the only Atlantean that might meet and fall in love with a human, well, it was naïve. One such native of San Diego discovered her powers when her home sunk into the ocean, and used her abilities to save as many of her neighbors as she could. But since then she’s been just like Arthur- lost between two worlds, a foot in each, a home in neither. Mera hopes that, like Arthur, being a hero to both might find her a home in both, too, and that the Titans helped Garth get his land legs. “That’s what the Titans are for. Um. Do you mind if I talk to her on my own?”

Aquagirl is sitting on a bench, looking sad and lost. She barely looks up at Wonder Girl as she approaches. Cassie sits down at the other end of the bench.

“Hola,” Lorena says, without looking up.

Cassie perks up. She’s taken some Spanish. Not like a lot. But maybe she can make Lorena feel more at home. “Hola,” she says enthusiastically, then her brow knits as she tries to figure out how to proceed, before stumbling out, “Soy Cassie.”

“Me llamo Cassie,” Lorena says, meeting her gaze.

“Oh, you’re Cassie, too?

“No. Me llamo Lorena. Tu llamas Cassie. Se llama Mera,” she says, pointing at Mera. “But my English is fine, if you’re more comfortable with it.”

“Then why’d you start with ‘hola?’”

“Because this was home. With my family. They wouldn’t let me speak Spanish outside the home- I needed to fit in, to be ready for people who might not accept me if I had an accent. But at home- at home we only spoke Spanish. Spanish means home for me. Family. Meant…”

“Oh.”

She sighs heavily. “I couldn’t save them. The house came down in a mudslide. Everything but my bedroom window was subsumed in mud. I was digging with my hands, thinking of mom. She was an EMT. I asked her once, when my cousin and I collided. There was a lot of blood, lots of little scrapes, but she was everywhere at once fixing us up. Handling two kids with a few cuts, sure, but I asked how you handle it, when there’s too many people to help. She told me you can’t save everyone, and the hardest part of her life- not just her job- was knowing that trying to save some people meant letting a lot of others die- that sometimes to help the most people, she had to decide only to try to save the ones she could. And my family were buried under thirty feet of mud. Even if somehow they hadn’t been crushed in the fall, they weren’t going to have enough air to last the hours it would take me to dig them out.  So I saved the people I could.”

“God…”

“Was not answering prayers that day.”

“I’m so sorry.”  Cassie presses Lorena to her.

“Me, too. I do hope Mera’s right; up there, down here, I’m tired of being alone with this.”

We overlay that last line over the kids all arriving at the camp, as Robin grabs Superboy by the hand, and pulls him away from the rest of the folks into a more secluded part of the main hall. (first, a note: I’m not so much queerbaiting, here, as it might seem; I absolutely do intend to make Robin bi, now that it’s cannon. Superboy isn’t, and while I think making theirs a respectfully unrequited love but still strong friendship might be in the cards, I’m not planning on just completely 180ing away from my prior plans, either). Robin explains that he DNA tested everything at the camp, hoping to get a lead on Deathstroke or Ravager. “Or at least catalog everything Beast Boy humped,” Superboy offers.

“I did learn more about his emissions than I ever cared to; curiously, some of his changes occur down to the genetic level. But I’m telling you, specifically, Conner, because this has to do with you. We’ve known you were cloned by Cadmus scientists at the behest of Amanda Waller while Superman was ‘dead-’”

“Yeah, but they couldn’t get a complete sequence, so they had to patch it up with human DNA, like they used frog DNA in Jurassic Park.”

“Right. Cadmus swore up and down they used DNA from that Rhodes scholar physicist who just barely missed a slot on the US Olympic gymnast team- but no one really believed them. And what we never knew before now was which human they took DNA from. Some of that might be that before recently, until he had a run-in with the Outlaws, we never had a sample of his DNA in the batcomputers.”

“Did you just say batcomputers?”

“Shut up,” Robin says quietly, only mock-defensively, before he gets about as empathetic as we ever see him. “I’m asking you if you want to know who your human ‘father’ essentially, is.”

“You just told me he’s shady. I don’t imagine I can say, ‘No,’ now.” Robin looks wounded, until Conner smiles. “I’m yanking you. Who would say, ‘No?’ You?” Robin shakes his head as he opens up his laptop, then shows Conner his laptop screen. It’s an image of Lex Luthor, with his name in the corner. “No way.”

“Yeah. When the sequence came back, at first I just thought it meant Lex was skulking around. But it was also only a 50% match. Took a while for me to figure out the other half was Kryptonian; it doesn’t just sequence the same way, some of the catalysts are different and… I’ll shut up.”

“No, it’s okay. I missed your blathering, and it was keeping what you told me from knocking me over.”

“Yeah, it’s uh, it’s been a year for surprising revelations.”

“That sounds ominous. You okay? I’m in no position to be helpful if you’re not, but I’m floundering for anything to distract me from… my parentage.”

“Ominous?” Robin asks nervously. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing, just maybe surprising. Unexpected. And I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way I do- or anyone, really, but… I want this to be a safe space. And it can’t be if we’re holding things back, keeping secrets. I don’t want to be Batman.”

“Dude, that’s not a secret. No one wants to be Batman. I barely know him, but I doubt even Batman wants to be Batman. Dude is miserable. You’re way too well-adjusted to be Batman.”

“No- thank you, but that’s not the…” Robin trails off as he stares at Conner, who just stares, always a little slow on the uptake.

“There you two are,” Wonder Girl says from the doorway. “Up to no good? There isn’t still bad blood, is there?”

“Under the bridge,” Robin says with a crinkled nose.

“Well come on. Like it or not, we’re all linked to the big 3. People look up to us, for leadership and grooming tips. And to keep Beast Boy’s libido at least somewhat in check.”

“Yeah,” Robin says, “there are definitely some adjustments we need to make to our collective boundaries on that one.”  

They do an orientation thing. I assume it will be dorky, so it’s a good chance to cut away, zooming into a bored Lorena’s head, we zoom out, she’s someplace else, looking riveted. We linger for the moment on the gathered crowd of teen heroes, sitting or standing, listening to someone at the front of the room. In the crowd are: Hawk, Dove, Aquagirl, Speedy (the one recruited in the Outsiders, not Roy Harper), and Miss Martian.

There are burlap sacks they each were escorted in wearing (these are the theatrics he mentions). “I’m sorry for the theatrics. But someone has infiltrated the Titans. I… spoke with Robin, but couldn’t convince him to take precautions. So I have to take them for him. That’s what all of you are: a precaution. Lorena here got herself recruited, she’ll be our eyes on the inside. She can test boundaries, loyalties, push people enough to figure out who’s a danger. I imagine some of you are asking why I need a whole team, and the answer is that I can’t believe there’s been a spy in their midst this long without detection. The only alternative, is that some of them have been turned, possibly even all of them. Push comes to shove, I want to be able to stop the Titans before they can hurt themselves or anyone else. We’re here as friends of the Titans- not foes. But sometimes, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. That’s why, if it comes down to a fight, Hawk will be your field commander. Until that point, Dove will be in control, as we agreed. Dawn, it’s your operation, as of now.”

Dawn Granger, Dove, rises. She’s fairly no-nonsense, essentially having only agreed to be recruited because she wants to pursue a peaceful solution with the Titans first; her and Hawk’s involvement is basically premised upon her getting first bite at that apple. “Thank you, Batman,” she says, and we finally see it, we’re in the Batcave, with Batman standing in front of his batcomputer, with Batgirl standing close by.

We don’t stay for long, but get the idea that Dawn wants to play it subtle, at least to start. She considers the Titans heroes, and so they need to be careful about how they proceed.  

We cut back to the orientation, panning from the bored Lorena to the manic lack of focus of Impulse. He’s daydreaming, for a moment, and we see him flashback to the moment between Superboy and Robin right before Wonder Girl interrupted. I’m thinking, to visualize the idea, we watch Impulse run back into that scene, stare at Robin, staring at Superboy, look at Superboy, and we watch as he, at relatively quick speed, figures out Robin’s crushing. Hard. His mouth drops open, and then he smiles. “Good for him,” he says, before running out of the room.

I’m thinking later in the evening, they’re doing a bonfire as a group. Roasting marshmallows, team-building type of stuff. Robin and Conner are staring at the fire, as Robin’s struggling to tell Conner how he feels, and Impulse just jams them together for a kiss, not really understanding why that’s not okay. Wonder Girl takes them all into the administrator’s office.

She demands to know what’s going on, and Impulse demurs, realizing from her anger that he’s screwed up, and clamming up.

Conner, nervous, makes a joke about her wearing a tight Principal’s outfit. Impulse adds his approval. Cassie basically is trying to push them to be empathetic to Robin coming out, but he kind of splits the difference, “I think that would be a good look for you. And I never said I was gay.”

“The request is denied, and if I hear one more peep about it I’ll have you all in miniskirts before the day is out.”

“Her heart-rate’s steady,” Superboy says.

“She is not bluffing,” Robin says.

“I don’t know if you do want to say anything, Robin. But if you do, you’re with friends.”

“I’ve been struggling with this since we first got back. I don’t think I ever questioned it before. I always liked girls, dated girls, was only really ever into girls. And at first I just thought I was jealous. You know, Conner’s got good hair, that jawline, a physique some men would cripple for, and he could be relaxed, and himself, in situations that terrified me. And I was a bigger dick to him even than my usual, at least until we patched things over. And then I came to respect him. Even admire him. And… I don’t know how to say the next part…”

“Dude,” Superboy says, “just say it.” Because there’s drama to be had, I’d play it ambiguous, like he could be hurt/angry and just wants this awful moment to end.

“I’m attracted to you, Conner, which makes me bisexual.”

“That’s cool,” Conner says with a shrug.

“It is?”

“Dude, I may live in Kansas, but I’m not like from Kansas. I’m from Metropolis.”

“Your cousin’s from Kansas, and I wasn’t at all nervous telling him.”

“You told Cla-ondike Bar Man?”

“Nice save,” Impulse says; he is eating a Klondike Bar, because Conner gave him a hankering.

“And yeah. He was super supportive-”

“It is in the name. But I’m glad. I know he’s, he’s a better me, in every way; at least twice the man I could ever hope to be. And I’m glad you told him first.”

“You’re not,” Robin says, “but it means a lot that you wanted me to tell you first.”

“You’re not going to try to kiss me again, are you?”

“Only if you want me to, and even then, I don’t know. I don’t kiss every pretty girl I meet. There’s more to it, than that.”

“Man, that makes me itchy; like it didn’t matter five minutes ago, but now that I know it’s a possibility, I want you to want me. I don’t think that’s a healthy impulse.”

For a moment they all wait for Impulse to weigh in and he says, “I’m not arguing.”

“I mean, you’re welcome to try if you want, but only if you want,” Robin replies. “I don’t want anything from anyone they can’t give freely.”

“I,” Wonder Girl starts, “have some concerns about Starfire.”

“She does strike me as the jealous type,” Impulse agrees. “And the type of jealous type to start fires when she’s jealous. Wait… is her name a typo?”

“I was more worried about her feelings, though now I’m also concerned about fires.”

“Starfire’s great,” Robin says. “She’s also not really into me.”

“I seem to recall what the K…” Conner stops himself again, “kindly parental figures I have in Kansas would call ‘heavy petting,’ last year.”

“Sure. And we had fun together. But as we talked, it kind of became clear she had more of a thing for Nightwing. And I told her to go for it. Um… I did emphasize waiting until she’d reached the relative physical and emotional maturity of a human adult first, but yeah. I think last year I was just the Robin she could get- not really the Robin she wanted. And maybe that’s changed. Maybe she’s changed, or I have. But I really don’t expect that she’s carrying a torch for me.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Wonder Girl says. “Just be gentle with her. And not just because of the fire thing. But also not entirely excluding the fire thing.”

“She is such a sweet person. The absolute last thing I’d want to do is hurt her. I’ll talk to her. First thing. And if she’s in that kind of a mood, I’ll take my licks.”

“Maybe I should go with him,” Bart says. “For moral support”

“I don’t think you have the morals to support anyone,” Wonder Girl says.

“And he didn’t mean those kind of licks,” Superboy says.

Now, for my money, I kind of like the idea of Starfire having a Robin thing. Like, she originally had a crush on Nightwing, and that’s why she was excited to join the Titans, only to find that the Robin she was going to spend time with was a newer one. But then, also getting to know and like him. What I’m saying is, at least until we can get Nightwing and Starfire in the same movie, I kind of like the idea of having our cake and eating it, too; I’d even likely build out a love triangle, though Tim would likely step aside at that point. He’s too good a detective not to see that given who she is, she doesn’t want to be with Nightwing’s self-serious younger brother- not really– that why they’re perfect for each other is the unbridled joy they share, and that, while of course it hurts, he’s okay with that. “I loved you as deeply and honestly as I could, so I hope it doesn’t hurt when I tell you this: I don’t think you’re the love of my life, but I think he could be the love of yours. And I love you enough that I want that for you.” Given the… events I have planned for Titans 3, I think there’s a pretty easy off-ramp for that, and no, I’m not giving you any hints beyond that, no matter how many boomerang arrows you might shoot at me (I have a no giving into boomerang-based terrorism policy that has never served me wrong).

And to address the elephant in the room: this really isn’t a no-homoing. I’m completely open to getting Robin a boyfriend for the next one, even if I’d personally prefer it be another hero, because I don’t really want to start dealing with the normal partners in one of these- it pulls too much focus from the team (though given the line-up I had in mind… it might be easier to set him up with a shape-shifting telepath who could be both– though I could be down with making Hawk bisexual, too, and assuming we’ll have a love triangle between Hawk, Dove, and Robin- though if we assume the general structure of these stands and only plan to do a trilogy, that may not leave a lot of time for that to play out). But this is all largely a logistical issue; if I’d known earlier on that DC were going to have Tim comes out as bisexual, I might have been able to balance my roster differently, maybe have Aqua Lad (but not Tempest, he’s in the Outsiders orbit) show up to be the beef to Robin’s cake. Those kinds of details are usually fudgeable, long-term, but for whatever reason it feels important to me, as part of the challenge inherent in these pitches, to play it where it lays, essentially.

The Titans are all at the swimming hole, in trunks and suits.

“No powers, but then I’m just ‘boy,” Superboy complains.

“Hey, me, too,” Beast Boy exclaims.

“This sounds an awful lot like Robin trying to even the odds,” Terra snipes.

“We discussed that, and Robin agreed to give up his wonderful toys.”

Impulse, elongating the words excruciatingly says, “Eyedondnowhiffffeyekenmoobdadzlohleee.”

“Too bad. Now, I know our powers are part of our identities- who we are, and using them can be unconscious. But the moment you use a power and get called on it, you have to stop. So if you’re flying,” she points at Beast Boy who’s a green bat in the air, “you have to drop.”

“Uh oh,” Beast Boy says, shifting first into himself, then into an elephant and cannonballing into the water.

“If you don’t, you’re out, and your team just has to operate with fewer players. Name of the game is king- or queen– of the hill. Girls start on top of the hill, boys have to try and take it. You can use whatever tactics you want to employ, but no powers. Last man- or woman- standing on the raft wins, and the losers- including anyone ejected from the game- cook dinner.”

I see it playing out a lot like most X-Men sports, that they start with the best of intentions, and fail repeatedly; I think Cassie nominates the first boy and girl out to act as referees for the opposing team- because the more people they catch out, the more spread out the cooking will be. I imagine Beast Boy and Terra get one another out almost immediately goofing around with their powers. I suspect Robin hatches a plan using Impulse as a sacrificial lamb, moving fast enough to make them think that both he and Superboy are using their powers, which gets Cassie, Aquagirl and Raven to go after them- only to find Superboy had been hiding underwater. But then Superboy underestimates Starfire’s prowess, thinking without her flight or fire or strength she’s just a girl he can push off a raft, only she rolls and throws him, and he starts to fly, getting amped enough that he keeps flying even after Cassie tries to get him to stop and she tackles him before he reaches the raft, splashing down in the water, where she tells him he’s out.

Robin manages to sneak up on Starfire, tackling her- but she parries enough that when they go rolling she stays on the raft, and ends up on top. And she’s confused, thinking he didn’t like her anymore, yet he’s responsive, his skin flushed, pupils dilated, skin moist, and his trunks are doing that thing again. He tries to play coy, to tell her he thought she was into Nightwing, and she tells him that, after much soul-searching, and much girl-talking, “I have decided there is room in my bank of spanking for two Robins. Spanking is the way humans show one another affection, yes?” He tells her she’s just as beautiful as when they first met- the only difference is he now knows Superboy is beautiful, too.

Starfire is intrigued, because now he is a cute boy who can talk about other cute boys, but will still kiss her like she’s the only Tamaranean on Earth. She kisses him, really passionately

Cassie starts flying, “Yeah, I’m, uh, shutting this down. They win. I don’t want to take the raft back, now. We should go. Give them privacy, or at least make it so I don’t feel like I’m in the audience of the show they’re putting on.” Beast Boy, who is standing at the edge of the raft with his hands over his eyes, splays his fingers to gawk. “Come on,” Cassie continues, yanking Beast Boy by the shoulder, “we’ve got an apparently romantic dinner to cook for them.”

Robin and Starfire meet up at the main hall for dinner. He’s wearing a suit. She’s got on a flattering dress. “I can’t believe they made such a big deal. It was some kissing,” Robin says.

“I’ve heard Conner’s parents refer to some of it as ‘heavy petting.’”

“I’m pretty sure to them that’s anything more erotic than touching hands,” Robin says, but flushes when she takes his.

“Am I petting you too heavily?” she asks gingerly.

“No, it’s, it’s perfect,” he says, and they go inside.

The rest of the Titans have put together quite a spread. “You brought a suit?” Superboy teases Robin.

“I learned from Batman; I prepare for everything.  And I don’t know that your cousin told you, but he packed one for you, too.”

“Um, you went through my stuff?” Conner asks, clearly uncomfortable about the prospect.

“He and I agreed we need to,” Cassie says seriously. “All of our stuff; I went through the girls, he went through the boys. And I went through his and he through mine.“

“You rifled through her ‘stuff?’ Starfire asks. “Is this the kind of thing I’m expected to be jealous over?” Raven purses her lips and shakes her head, “No.”

“Unless she was wearing it when he rifled through it,” Lorena offers, and Cassie shakes her head that that did not happen.

Starfire is relieved, because jealousy really isn’t her speed, and she doesn’t feel she really gets it.

Superboy’s still upset. “I kind of wanted her to deck you. You went through my stuff.”

“I think we’re still being hunted,” Robin says.

“Deathstroke?” Superboy asks.

“Or his employer. He’s a mercenary. We were a contract to him. And maybe we made it costly enough he couldn’t justify the job anymore. But whoever asked him to attack us in the first place, they probably didn’t go away.”

“So Batman, then?”

“Conner,” Cassie says.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Robin says. “But the first thing I learned from Batman was to never start from an assumption. It makes you ignore clues, and try to fit others to your preconceived notions. If we want to catch whoever is coming for us, we needed to be alert. That meant checking for bugs or anything else that might give them an in to hurt us.”

“It also meant playing our cards closer to the vest,” Cyborg says, emerging from one of the side halls. “I’ve been here since before any of you arrived, watching, scanning for signals, trackers, bugs.”

“And you finally ended the longest game of secret hide and seek because you haven’t found anything?” Superboy asks.

“Not exactly,” Cyborg says, opening his palm. He has what looks like a cricket in his palm.

“Aw, he found a friend,” Beast Boy says, transforming into a cricket and leaping into Cyborg’s hand. “Hey, momma,” he says, before it attacks him, making him realize it’s a robotic ‘bug.’ Beast Boy shifts back into a human. Cyborg shifted his hand to form a little cage around the bug, which is docile again.

“She’s territorial with other insects, to keep them from interfering. That was how I found her. I kept finding piles of dismembered insects- her suitors. Once I found her, I could monitor her, listen to what she was transmitting. To keep from letting them know I was onto them, I had to let the broadcasts through. And the broadcasts were encrypted. Some high level, black ops government encryption. Took me forever to break it- until tonight, in fact. That’s when I learned this little bug wasn’t alone. There are thousands in this forest.” He projects a hologram of the campground, with thousands of dots all radiating circles to signify their communication. “Now, I can shut them down the second I want; hit the entire forest with an EMP and they’ll all go dead. I think we should keep them active. I think, now that we know we’re being watched, and how, we can use that to our advantage. And hopefully, between now and then, I’ll be able to take over their swarm of cyber locusts.”

“So then it’s definitely not Batman, right?” Conner asks. “Because then they would definitely be robot bats, right? Or maybe, if he was playing coy, some kind of insect that’s symbiotic with bats, or specifically hunted by them. Right?”

“I’m not convinced,” Robin says. “But it does seem like a very good reason to be careful.”

In the back of the room, Terra stares, worried. She looks a lot more comfortable in the next scene. “So they’ve discovered our surveillance. Seemed like that was a matter of time. But the intel we’ve gathered in the interim is priceless. The money we could get from the Gotham circus crowd just for some insight into Batman’s fight tactics is enough to retire on- though collecting is always a matter of having to dodge corrosive pies and penguin suicide bombers.” Their location looks familiar. I won’t spoil it yet, if you haven’t guessed why. Deathstroke is more familiar with Terra, this time; it goes beyond the familial relationship he pushed in the last movie, to where now he’s clearly stringing her along romantically. All the while, Ravager looks on, uncomfortable. When Terra leaves, she confronts him about it.

“Dad, I watched you gut a teenager for having the audacity to throw a dagger at you. But… this feels wrong. Manipulation is one thing. I’m on board for love-bombing Terra; I like her just fine, and if that makes her more pliant for what we need, that’s serendipity. But you don’t want her. You don’t even like her, not as a person, not as a partner. So using that to manipulate her, it’s dishonest to a much more extreme degree- one that doesn’t even feel necessary; it’s just egregious.”

“I don’t have time for your Elektra bullshit.”

“Ew. Gross. No. My having minimum standards is not the same as being incest-curious, you sick prick. I’m saying why do this? She’s already going along with everything you want. Why toy with her emotions? Why break her heart? Perhaps more critically, why risk alienating an asset that essential and powerful?”

“Because I might need more than this. She’ll betray her friends for me. But would she kill one, if that’s what it took? Would she kill all of them, if there was no other way to fulfill our contract? Kindness is a mercy I can’t afford.”

He storms off, and we linger on her a moment. “That went great, Rose,” she says, clearly hurt. “He’s Deathstroke. I don’t know if he has feelings, so of course he won’t understand why him lying to Terra makes it impossible to trust he isn’t lying to me. God, he’d probably punch me just for wanting to trust him. I just wanted someone to care about me, a dad… I can’t believe I thought it could be him.”

Cyborg matches the bug tech to Luthor patents. Robin consults with Red Hood over a video link, who relates that Luthor leaves his fingerprints on his black market tech; nothing so blatant as LexCorp. insignia- nothing that the authorities would be willing to hassle him over, but stuffed with proprietary, patented LexCorp. tech no one has the expertise to even use- he wants the capes to know he’s the one supplying black market tech- especially weaponry. “It’s his way of saying he’s gunning for us.”

“About that-” Robin starts. Cyborg pantomimes that he’s going to go, and give them privacy.

“Don’t. I’ve already got Nightwing crawling up my ass over it. My choices are mine.”

“Are they, though? I’m really not trying to hassle you. I’m asking the question I would want to ask if what happened to you happened to me. Are your choices your own? Or are they a reaction to an extreme, even unfathomable trauma. Over the course of less than a year you lost your innocence, any belief in a just, rational world, even the ability to trust in a kind, benevolent paternal figure.”

“He was never kind, and unless you’re a Gotham charity clinic, it’s hard to see benevolence in his actions. You do know that ‘Batman’ is a legally accepted reason to collect disability in the state, right?”

“I don’t want to debate. You’ve been through things I can scarcely imagine, and clearly they hurt you, even changed you. I’m not trying to judge you. And I don’t want to insert myself in this any more than you want. But if you want to talk, either to process, or to probe, or just to have someone hear your pain, I’m here for you.”

Red Hood sighs. “I hate that.” Robin asks what. “You and Dick. With Barb, she’s teacher’s pet. That type, they outshine us, and you know it’s because they’re trying to fill a different kind of hole inside them-” he winces- that was not what he meant. “You know what I mean. But you two. I hate that I take after him the most of us. That both of you can be nice. Kind. Caring. That all I seem to have got from the old man is a desire to hurt people so they can’t hurt other people.”

“You don’t have to be anything like him,” Robin says. “You can choose who you want to be. We all struggle with that, with trying to be who we want, instead of defaulting to who we think we are. But there’s a lot more choice than most people think. If you want to be kind. If you want to be nice… just try. And you’ll be nicer, at least. None of us can be Superman but him.”

“Dick could. Given a spit-curl and the ability to fly.”

“Fair. But the rest of us, we get there by trying to be better than we have been. We make the effort. And that, truly, starts with being kinder to ourselves. I know you feel like our broken bat, or at least the family’s black sheep. But to us? You’re just our brother. We want what’s best for you. For you to be happy- whatever that needs to mean for you. And for you to be proud of us.” Robin takes off his mask. “This thing’s heavier because you used to wear it. And that weight makes me cherish it more, makes me take carrying it more seriously.”

“You were always going to be the serious Robin. I’ve seen pictures from your childhood. You were a serious 8-year-old. And I’m both proud and angry. Because you’re a much better Robin than me- than I could have ever been. I wanted it, so badly… but wanting it didn’t make me a good fit. But you are. I was just keeping the tights warm for you.”

“Nah. You just outgrew them. Like Nightwing. You’ve got your life to live, now. Just, make sure you make the space to live it, and not just in between being who everyone else needs you to be. Not Batman, and not any of the other madmen we deal with, either.”

“Okay. You take care, little brother,” Jason says, and cuts the video link.

“Everything Kosher?” Cyborg asks, emerging.

“Copacetic,” Robin says, wiping his eyes and replacing his mask.  

“You know the Arrows?”

“Green, Red, Speedy, any others I’m forgetting…

“They mock the bat ‘family.’ But it’s because they aren’t close. They don’t have what you have, and wish they did.”

“I didn’t know they mock us.”

“Not anywhere you might hear- not with the way Batman teaches you to punch. I heard he flattened a Green Lantern once.”

“No. He was talking hypotheticals- that if the ring protects a user based on their sensing a threat, you could theoretically cold-cock one before he realized it was coming.” It seems like we’re changing the subject, until Cyborg turns to leave. “Thanks. We’ve got problems, like any family, only when one of us screws up people get hurt, or sometimes die. It can make it really hard to see the good, when the bad is so important.”

“Know what you mean. My dad saved my life. He also made me a high-tech Frankenstein. Maybe, if I’d had the chance to process, I could have landed somewhere near ‘complicated.’ But before I could, he sacrificed himself to save the world.”

“I get it. He loved you. But he hurt you. And it’s hard to accept, on an emotional level, that the father who hurt you was the same one who loved you- that he isn’t all good or all bad- just you dad.”

“Something like that, yeah. But I… I didn’t come back to interrupt. It’s the bugs… I cracked the next layer of their encryption. I can see their transmissions, now.” He takes over the screen, and puts up the same map of the camp from earlier. Only this time the ripples are being responded to, and we see ripples, painting an outline of a location. “Given the time between call and response, and the literal thousands of data points a second, I know where they are. And maybe it’s just a relay station, but it’s a solid lead.”

“What time is it?”

“You don’t have a watch?”

“You’re a walking clock. You don’t have the time on your HUD?”

“It’s 2.”

“Is that too late?”

“For normal people, or you?”

“Who here’s normal?”

“I think we go, now, we keep the element of surprise. I’ll brew some coffee, we’ll pour it down our people. Cool?”

“In a pot. In the kitchen.” Cyborg, slightly annoyed at the intimation he’s a coffee pot, stomps off into the kitchen, muttering, “I can’t tell if you get Superboy stupid after 2 AM, or Superboy mean, but I know I don’t like his influence on you.” Robin beats him to the kitchen, “What the f-” he stops himself.

“You know Conner’s not stupid, right? He can think nearly as fast as Impulse. And from what we know of his father he has the potential to be a world-class scientist, but one thinking at the speed of the world’s fastest supercomputer.”

“I wasn’t trying to insult your crush.”

“I’m not defending him because he’s cute. I’m defending him because everyone seems to forget he’s three. He was cloned, and artificially aged. He had the weight of the world thrust on his shoulders by Cadmus and Amanda Waller before his first birthday- and just as quickly the original Superman came back and he became, in the same moment, obsolete and the lesser copy- because Superman is an impossible ideal for the rest of us to strive for. Conner is trying to shoulder a legacy most of us couldn’t budge, all while trying to figure out how to grow up- but in a fraction of the time everyone else gets.”

“Hey,” Cyborg says, touching his shoulder, “we all struggle with our mantles- and with our fathers’ legacies.”

“There are parallels, sure, but this isn’t about you and me. Superman died once. And it could happen again. And if it does, Conner is going to be the greatest hope we have, and as we’ve seen, hope in a world without Superman is a very precious commodity. We need him to grow up, but we also need him to grow up feeling loved, cared for, respected, and nurtured. Imagine a Superman who grew up to be someone like… like Lex Luthor. Feeling entitled, disrespected, angry, motivated by greed and petty jealousy. Superman’s family had a gentler time to raise him, and a lot longer, to build him into the man the rest of us depend on. I know Conner can be that, too, but if he’s going to get there, we all have to help him- we need to, and he needs us to.”

“Okay, man, you’re right. I’m here to be the adult. It’s not cool of me to peck at him. Conner deserves the chance to be his own man, and I need to get the hell out of his way.”

“I’m,” is what Robin gets out, and we can tell he’s struggling to apologize for coming down on him, but I also want to keep Cyborg’s moment going a moment longer, not because he doesn’t want the apology, but because he recognizes he should be the bigger man in the moment. “I know, man, but like I said, I’m the adult.” (I’m not entirely sure how old Cyborg is supposed to be, but I’d aim for as young as possible, that he’s technically in the Justice League, but that he’s barely old enough to drink, and while technically not a teen, he’s only just their senior, so while he feels like he should be a mentor he’s not that much more experienced- mostly because I don’t want there to be a weird age difference, and I want him to be able to pal around more where possible)

“Thanks. I should go start waking people up.” Robin leaves the kitchen, and Conner is there waiting.

“I know that was for my benefit- that you knew I was here.” He scoops Robin up in a hug.

“And if I didn’t?”

“Don’t make it weird.”

“Like this hug?”

“Don’t make the hug weird, now.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re the one doing that.” Conner puts him down. Robin’s actually a little shy, in this moment, because he’s really getting mixed signals from Conner. “Just, don’t do anything you don’t mean, okay?”

“What?” Conner asks.

“I felt something in your jeans, something warm, solid, yet yielding. So unless you were carrying a roll of Rolos in your jeans for some reason…”

Conner reaches into his pants pocket; right now I’m amused at the idea his jeans are tight enough that there’s some maneuvering to get it out of his pocket, before he removes a roll of Rolos. He pops one into his mouth, maybe several, because I think this line only gets funnier the more full his mouth is, “And I’m not going to explain myself.” There’s a long, awkward moment, before he asks, mouth still fairly full, “Want a body-warm Rolo?”

“I legitimately don’t know how to respond to that.”

More awkward silence, before Conner says, mouth still full, “Prude.” He finally chews it down and swallows. “But seriously, what you said. I know lots of people are scared of me. Pa-w Paw-”

“I know who your foster family is, and ‘Pa’ died before you were even created.”

“Right. But I’m bad at keeping up the secret identity. This is practice. But he used say, according to his wife, that he didn’t like horses. They’re too strong to be as stupid as they are. And I know a lot of people feel that way about me. That I’m just… irresponsible. That I don’t take anything seriously. And… I don’t always, it’s not a completely unfair criticism. But I- I really am trying to do right by people- to be the kind of man C-ousin, my cousin is. How do you do this? Living two lives.”

“I mean, it helps that my dad is my dad and Batman is Batman. But it’s pretty much that. When my face feels funny because of the mask, I feel like a different person. It’s a persona.”

“You in the mask, or out?”

“Both. They’re both facets of the real me. You ever feel shy, reserved?”

“What?”

“I know that, typically, you’re brash, outgoing, fun, a little disruptive. But there are moments where you feel you should listen, and be serious, right? Like when your cousin introduced you to the rest of the Justice League.”

“Sure. You know about that? I guess… Batman seems like the loose lips kind of guy.”

“He is, typically. But with Kryptonians, he assumes the rest of us need to know the score. If even one of you went rogue…”

“Yeah. And I bet he’s the first target if one of us ever does. He’s already demonstrated a propensity for going after Kryptonians, and he… won, so far as my cousin describes it. So yeah, if anyone mind-controlled any of us or we got Eclipsoed or whatever… yeah. Not surprised he’s got a back-up plan.”

“Back-up plans within back-up plans. I just assume, 1000 years from now, one of Joker’s long-dormant projects will come to life, and some poor ancestor of mine or Dick’s will have nanotech kick in that makes them the Batman of that era. Or something less silly sounding.”

“Should you not be telling me this?”

“Oh, I don’t know anything specific to tell. But… the point is, that day, when you met with the League, you put away class clown Conner, or even class president who’s still one of the guys Conner, and you listened. You wanted them to take you seriously, and you knew proto-Fratboy Conner wasn’t going to cut it.”

“Proto-Fratboy?”

“Harsh. But if the toga fits.”

“Togas always fit. That’s like half the point.” He pauses a moment. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Robin squeezes thumb and forefinger together to indicate a little bit.

“It’s just that. It’s situational. It’s code-switching. Everyone does it to some extent. You and I, we have to do it a little more dramatically than some.”

“I thought code-switching is a Black thing.” He whispers the word black, but loudly, so it’s basically the same volume as the rest of the sentence.

“You’re really starting to sound like you’re from Kansas.”

“Dude.”

“Code-switching can refer to the ways in which Black people will speak in a more relaxed vernacular amongst racial peers, then try to speak in more racially neutral ways in more mixed groups to avoid the biases usually demonstrated against people using that vernacular.”

“Can you imagine a Black Superman? People would freak out. Imagine if they’d used Steel’s DNA for my human half. That would be crazy.”

“Conner?”

“Right. Focused.”

“I think that’s a lot of what your cousin does. That the kind, outspoken, caring, attentive hero is the real him, and that when he puts on the glasses, that’s when he’s taking a step back, being the reserved version of himself, the one who listens, the one who tries to figure things out before rushing in.”

“So you’re saying it wasn’t an accident he became a reporter?”

“I don’t think it was, no. I think he was trying to figure things out- figure people out, too, figure out how he fit into the world. I think it probably started young. In Kansas. Asking his parents about who he was, and where he came from…” Conner gets quiet.

“I… I think that’s part of why we get along. I didn’t have a childhood. And I get the sense from you that you didn’t, really, either. I mean, I assume he doesn’t keep you locked in the cave during the day doing the Batman equivalent to creepy, cloistered home-schooling, but you sleep, right? And not during the night. I bet you sleep-walk through your classes just like I do. I bet your real life is your night life, and the rest of your life is just the thing you get through to be able to do this.”

“People who think you’re an idiot are idiots.”

“People think I’m an idiot?” he deadpans. After an awkward wait he smiles. “I was hoping having Impulse here would soften that, a little.”

“He’s the best-read idiot you’ve ever met. I don’t know how much he comprehends, but he retains literally everything he’s ever read.”

“Then why did he have to borrow my magazine for so…”

“I think you’ve said too much already. But it sounds like you two have a bond. Or at least have riffled through the same sticky pages more than once. So I’ll let you wake him up.”

“Dude, morning wood…”

“I’m going to just assume that’s the clever nickname you gave him one morning on a not-completely-romantic walk through the wood on a crisp morning.”

“You would assume incorrectly.” There’s another weird moment. “It was dewy that morning.” And we finally cut the scene that never ends. Montage of the domino effect of Titans waking other Titans. It’s dawn by the time they amass in the woods. The Titans are attacked by the team lead by Dawn. Dawn makes one last plea for a peaceful resolution- that if the Titans will give up the spy they’ll stand down. The Titans refuse, because they don’t believe one of their own would betray them, and there’s a big fight, with the interlopers eventually retreating to the makeshift Batcave we saw earlier.

There, the addition of Batman and Batgirl begin to turn the tide, until Robin, no longer convinced Batman’s involved, takes on Deathstroke, who is wearing Batman’s costume. Ravager tries to shoot him in the back, only for Starfire to intervene, and Robin is able to tear back Deathstroke’s mask. That changes things. See, Hawk, who is big into wars, mercenaries, everything of the stripe, recognizes Deathstroke, real name Slade Wilson, and knows for a fact he isn’t Batman- that Wilson was prominently fighting in the Middle East when Batman first started haunting Gotham. He also says Batman’s a pussy. But the big deal is that Dawn’s Titans now know they’ve been had. While they’re all pretty banged up, this makeshift group of all of the Titans square to Deathstroke and Ravager. The music swells, Dawn and Wonder Girl share a look, before Wonder Girl says, “Titans.”

Before she can finish, Deathstroke says, “Now,” and they’re hit from behind by a cave collapse. I think Robin is about to die, that Impulse stops for a moment, and actually says that he could pull Robin out at speed, but probably not without hurting him. That moments like this he really hates being a hero, because it’s going to hurt, but Robin’s his friend, and he heals fast enough to survive it- unless something happens to one of his arteries… in which case he can’t be sure he wouldn’t bleed out in a fraction of a second, and that that’s a really disturbing thought to have right before- he shoves Robin out of the way just as time returns to normal speed and Impulse is bludgeoned into unconsciousness by falling rocks.

Most of the Titans are stuck under rock, not dead, but injured (some of the heavier hitters, like Superboy, Wondergirl and Cyborg are actually resisting her, and keeping the rock from doing permanent damage to any of them. Deathstroke leans on Terra to bring the cave down on the Titans collectively. This is where she breaks Beast Boy’s heart. He pleads with her to stop, tells her that whatever happened with Deathstroke, the Titans are her family, they’ll forgive her, they’ll take her back, they love her. She looks from Deathstroke and Ravager to Beast Boy. She kisses his cheek, and tells him she’s sorry, she got a better offer, stepping aside as a big rock smashes into his head.

This is the point of no return. Terra sees it on the other Titans’ faces, the anguish that she’s betrayed them. “Terra,” Robin says. “Please. Whatever his hold on you, let us help.”

“You are, birdboy,” she says. Terra strolls to Deathstroke, and kisses his cheek, the way she did Beast Boy. “How’d I do?”

“Job’s not done,” Deathstroke says. “Why are they still alive?”

She turns back to the Titans, and a smile crosses her lips. “That’s interesting.” The cave shakes, as Terra rips several Titans out of the rock. Those stronger Titans I mentioned are essentially in a ball, surrounding Aquagirl. She’s an aquakinetic, and has been using both the water content in the rocks and the water in the surrounding area to try to cushion the other Titans. Terra forms rock restraints around the stronger Titans and peels them off Aquagirl. “All this to protect their mole- well, our mole, really.”

“She’s a Titan,” Wonder Girl insists, even as Terra pulls her by the rock restraints have her on a rack.

“Just like you,” Superboy agrees. He tries to heat vision Deathstroke, but Terra puts rocks in his way, before flinging him out of the cave. But Terra’s unnerved. She expected them to turn on her. She expected their hatred. Their anger. She wasn’t prepared for their anguish… and certainly not for their conviction that, whatever else is going on, she’s still one of them.

Raven was the last of the protective Titan ball. “Tara,” Raven says. “We’re your friends. Whatever’s going on, let us be there for you.”

Terra is breaking, and looks to Deathstroke. She needs a push, one way or the other. She needs Deathstroke’s approval, or for the Titan’s to turn on her. And this is where Deathstroke having his mask torn from him fighting Robin screws him. Because he can’t hide who he is. He can’t hide the fact that he doesn’t care about her, that his approval was always conditional, always manipulative. “Finish the job,” he barks, glaring.  

“Or don’t,” Ravager says. In that moment, I think she’s smarter than Deathstroke, recognizing that what Terra needs in that second is not to be an instrument, but to be a person, to be cared for, and considered. But he can’t see that. All he sees is defiance, and one more bratty girl standing in the way of him finishing this job- and the job, even though it isn’t personal, means more to him than the both of them.

“Get it done, or get out of my way so I can do it.” She tenses, and then releases the Titans. The injured, including most of the newer Titans, limp towards the exit. Raven stays, using her powers to create a stretcher for Impulse, who is messed up. Robin tries to have Raven fly Impulse to safety.

Impulse breaks his wrist so it can heal properly. “Not leaving,” he says, “only another hundred bones to reset.” Raven tells him she can do it faster, but it will hurt. We hear a symphony of cracks, before Impulse lands on the cave floor in a sprinter’s run. You can tell he wants to run at the bad guys and beat them down for the pain they put him through, but he notices his friends, the softness of their stances. They aren’t fighting anymore, not physically. They’re trying to save Terra, and to a one they realize how delicate these next few moments will be, and he drops his fighting stance, too. “Even though you broke a hundred of my bones not five minutes ago, Tara, you’re one of us. Whatever happened, we should go home, and figure out how to make it right.”

You did this,” Deathstroke bellows. He tries to stab Ravager in the back with a blade. She blocks it, and we change angles, to show that on the other side, she stabbed him in similar fashion.

“No,” she sighs bitterly. “All I did was try to help you. You just couldn’t help yourself.” Ravager starts walking away when Deathstroke pulls his sidearm and fires at her. 

Terra steps in the way of the bullet, the only sign of its impact an eruption of blood from her lips. She squares to Deathstroke. “I was aiming for Rose,” he protests.

Terra laughs bitterly, “I can see, now, that I was always in your sights.” A tear slides down her cheek. “You all should go,” she says, to Ravager and the Titans. “The cave is coming down. I was the only thing holding it up, and I can’t any longer.”

Impulse is at her side in a moment. “I’ll stay,” he offers. “I can run you out at the last minute. We can make this okay.”

“Or you can ride on cheetah-back,” Beast Boy offers, “in style.”

“I could give you a piggy-back ride,” Superboy offers.

“The point, Tara,” Wonder Girl says, “is you have a family right here. Some of us might be hurt for a while. But family forgives.”

“You would,” Terra agrees. “I’d just never be able to forgive myself. I can never go back, to who I was before I hurt you. But I did love you. All of you. I just wish I understood that sooner.” She encases them in a rock ball, which is deep enough they struggle to break out of immediately. Terra tells Deathstroke, “We can still run away together. I’m hurt, but I’m tough; and together, it could be a life worth having. If you could put away your plans, your obsessions, your jobs, I know I could make you happy.”

“No,” he says, “you couldn’t.”

“You never really loved me, did you?”

“I don’t know that I ever really loved anyone.”

The rock ball starts to crack and Terra rolls them out of the cave. “I really hoped you wouldn’t say that,” she says sadly, as the cave begins to shake.

We cut to the inside of the rock ball, as they roll, Robin tells them they have to wait until they can stop the ball, or either Impulse or Conner might kill the rest of them trying to break loose- or hit each other on the way- that only one of them should go when they stop. Time slows, as Conner and Impulse look at each other, and Impulse suggests Conner- he’s got the better chance of saving her, since he can fly straight to her, even through the falling rock, but that he’ll be right behind him to help in any way he can. Wonder Girl and Conner link hands and stand at opposite sides of the ball to slow it. As soon as it does Conner bursts through it, with Impulse on his heels. He flies into the mountain as it caves inward. For a moment it’s quiet, before a burst of heat vision carves a hole out, and he flies, showering chunks of rock in his wake.  

“Is she…” Beast Boy can’t finish the words.

“I was too late,” Conner says. “Right before I got to her, the rock crushed her chest, broke her heart. I saw it with x-ray vision,” he’s broken over it. Wonder Girl takes Terra and sets her gently down. 

An instant later, Impulse has stacked a giant pile of rocks- all of the ones from the cave-in. “Deathstroke’s gone. There’s a series of caves that go for miles, and come out in a hundred places. I could keep looking, though.”

“No,” Robin says. “We need you here more.” The other Titans are gathered around Terra’s body, mourning.

Robin’s the ambassador to Deathstroke’s Titans. They’re worried about Terra, and Robin invites them in. “You’re all Titans today.” Dawn tries to revive Terra, but fails, and says she didn’t seem to want to come back. Hawk holds back, because he’s not good with death, and because they brought a present. It’s Ravager.

She’s a little pissy about being dragged along by them. “They didn’t bring me. I found them. Because what I want, what I stupidly followed Deathstroke in a misguided attempt to achieve, is what you have. I never wanted to be a mercenary. I just wanted… to belong somewhere. To matter. To help.”

“I’d like that,” Robin says, “but I’m not sure you’ll like how I answer you.”

We have a funeral. Both teams of Titans are there as Terra is laid to rest under a headstone with her own statue atop it. We don’t linger, instead moving into the T-shaped Titan Tower, where Robin and Ravager are speaking.

“This feels like the opposite of what I wanted.”

“I know. But your dad’s still out there.”

“Really? He probably just squirreled away some high-tech accelerant to make sure he didn’t leave behind a corpse to desecrate.”

“People like Deathstroke are never really gone.”

“Now you just sound paranoid… but it wouldn’t be the first time literally everyone thought he was dead, either.”

“And I want you working with the Titans. But we’re burying a friend down there because of your father, and some among us are going to have a harder time not blaming you.”

“You mean you, right?”

“If not for you helping Deathstroke, would Terra be alive today, instead of in the ground?”

“I- shit. Yeah. Probably. I helped him put off wholesome family vibes, so she didn’t see him for the creepy manipulator he was.”

“Don’t shame-spiral. There’s a reasonable emotional reaction that you bear responsibility. There’s also a reasonable explanation as to why you were equally emotionally available for similar manipulation. Doesn’t absolve you, but it’s an extenuating circumstance- or we wouldn’t be talking now.”

She takes a deep breath. “I’m here to atone. I know I screwed up. And I know belonging is something you earn, and that the price of earning it goes up the more you hurt people.”

“Good. Because I want you to be down there, with us.”

“I know. Next time, I guess, that maybe that will be a wedding, or at least a Bris for Impulse.”

“I’m definitely telling him you talked about his penis.”

“I will definitely kill your whole family.”

“I’m an orphan.”

She pauses a beat. “You’re lying.”

“You’re not sure. And I didn’t mean on some far off day, as a prize for good behavior. Tara was your friend, too. And you tried to save her. Just like we did. You deserve to stand with us today. And eventually, I hope you can stand with us every day.”

Cut to the lobby, as they walk towards the funeral. “What is it with your bat family and taking in strays.”

“Like I said, orphans.”

“I still think you’re lying about that.”

“I still don’t think you’ll ever know for sure,” Robin says with a smile, walking into the sunlight. There’s a slight commotion at Ravager’s arrival, and Robin intervenes. “There is not one person here today who did not try to save Tara Markov, and there is not one person here today who did not care about her. Today, we’re united by grief and by loss. Tara deserves to have all of those who loved her by her side today, as we say goodbye. We all feel some responsibility for her, for how she hurt, and how her hurt was weaponized. I asked all of you here, because I don’t want any of you to have to be alone today, not with your guilt, not with your pain, not with your grief. This is what Terra wanted, a family, so for today, at least, I want us to give her that.” Robin sits. While most of the Titans are on opposing sides, with Deathstroke’s Titans on one side and the originals on the other, Robin sits at the head of the casket, flanked on one side by Ravager and on the other by Aquagirl. Music swells, we pan over their shoulders towards the setting sun over the bay.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 5: Batman Beyond

We see a thinner version of a mechanized Batsuit, all black, with a red bat symbol, flying through the air with boot jets. He tears through a group of paramilitary hostage-takers, making short work of them. He gets to the hostages, and is about to free them when he stops, clutching his chest, and falls. The bad guys rally, gather around him and stomping him. We hear a click, as he raises one of the sidearms they dropped in his initial attack. He aims it, and the attackers decide it isn’t worth it- that no one said anything about going up against the Batman, let alone a Batman holding a gun. Bruce waits until they’ve gone to stand, flings batarangs freeing the hostages without looking. He leaves the building as sirens approach, and collapses against the side of the building, tearing clear his mask to reveal a much older Bruce beneath the mask (for my money I’d use Kevin Conroy, because he’s mostly a voice on the radio, though that might be entirely why they brought back Michael Keaton). He realizes he’s still holding the gun. His hand starts to shake, and he drops it, and as it falls we see flashbacks of his parents falling, his mother’s pearls falling, blood hitting the street. He flies off.

We do a several years later, and meet Terry at school. He’s bullied by a jock, but isn’t impacted, because he’s focused on Dana. She wants to spend time with him but his dad calls; he needs one of his offline files from his personal drive at home. The jock hits on Dana, makes it clear he’ll be where she’s going, whether or not Terry shows. Terry promises he’ll catch up with Dana. Terry runs the file in to his dad at Wayne-Powers, bumping into an older Wayne (literally) who uses a cane; we get from the rushed nature of the conversation that Powers is getting into all sorts of things he shouldn’t (like literally there are archived items that were never to be opened without the express permission of Wayne; Bruce is fighting in the courts to try and get him to stop, both because it’s a Pandora’s box, and because it may reveal his identity).

Terry has a fight with his dad over responsibility, Terry wanting to spend time with Dana instead of watching his little sister; his dad grounds him, and he leaves in a huff.

Terry goes to spend time with Dana, and stands up to some Jokerz who bust into the place, leading them on a chase that ends at the gates to Wayne Manor. The Dee Dees are involved, because they’re fun, and I’d prefer to have them established by the time of the sequel.

Wayne and Terry fight the Jokerz back to back, turning them back; the head Joker says they can’t treat them this way, they’re the Jokerz, and Wayne pops off, “Sure you are.” As the Jokerz flee, Wayne clutches his chest and says he needs his medicine.

Terry helps Wayne back to his Manor, and gets him his nitro pills. Wayne collapses in exhaustion, and Terry ends up corralled inside by Ace (the Bat Hound). He finds a bat stuck in the old clock, and accidentally discovers the steps down into the Batcave trying to free it. Terry descends the stairs, and we get a big dramatic sting as Terry finds the cybernetic suit and the flying Batmobile. Wayne discovers him and kicks him out.

Terry returns home, to find Commissioner (Barbara) Gordon presiding over a crime scene. His dad was working from home, instead of in the office, while watching his sister. It looks like the Jokerz figured out who Terry was and broke in to get to him. Barbara is almost aggressive in asserting the need to be there for him, telling him she knows how hard one bad day can hit. But Terry feels like he’s to blame, as his mom arrives. He confesses that he yelled at his dad, and she hugs him, trying to sooth him, but he’s looking past her, to her car. We see that same car abandoned outside the gate to Wayne Manor.

We see a bat-symbol shaped slab of beef land at Ace’s feet. He sniffs it warily, before taking it. A sleeping Ace doesn’t stir as someone sneaks past him. We see the front door ajar, a hair pins still sticking out of it. We start to hear snoring, even as we see the clock down to the cave is ajar. Then the empty mannequin where the suit sat earlier, and the missing car. The snoring is louder, and we see that it’s Bruce Wayne, having an old man nap in his lounger, but he stops snoring for a moment, and our ears prick up as we imagine the Batmanly wrath headed Terry’s way… before the snoring resumes.

Terry doesn’t smile as he flies the Batmobile, which is likely a challenge, because it is a hell of a ride. He ends up flying some pretty daredevily paths, before ending up under the bridge where the Jokerz play. Terry chews through them. The suit enhances his strength, true, but it’s mostly the legacy behind the symbol; the Jokerz are straight-up scared. He’s also having an easier time because half the Jokerz were arrested, found with valuables stolen from his house. The Dee Dees profess their innocence, even as Terry hangs them up for the police (or just to be a jerk).

But their protestations stick with him. On his way back to return the gear to Wayne, Terry decides to stop at his own home, instead. He uses the detective tech in the suit, finding things the police missed (like the deliberate, not incidental damage to his father’s computer; he’s able to reconstruct missing data to know what his dad was working on, and enough to make that seem shady, leading him to break into Wayne-Powers).

Terry finds out that Powers is trying to bury a bioweapon that is basically weaponized necrotizing fasciitis; the researcher working on it died from exposure to it after reporting his concerns to Terry’s dad. His plan is to sell off the entirety of the program to the Corto Maltese- and the reason there’s security everywhere is it’s happening tonight- right now. Terry is discovered and gets attacked by Powers security. Wayne shuts down the suit as he’s being attacked. Eventually, hearing the pain in Terry’s voice as he talks about his dad, and how he’s responsible, makes Bruce relent when he says: “If that evidence leaves Gotham, his murderer walks.”

I think it also sets up a conversation between Bruce and Terry, later, after he stops Powers. But for now, Terry intervenes, catching Powers making the hand-off personally. When his guard, who we recognize as one of the hostages Bruce saved in the first scene, refuses to fire on Batman, Powers takes his gun and tries to shoot him, inadvertently hitting the weapon, spilling it on himself. Bruce has him spray Powers in an adhesive designed for Clayface to seal the bacteria in, then carries him back into the research wing where the virus was created for quarantine. Then he blasts both of them with radiation, the batsuit absorbing some of it.

Powers’ team arrives, and take control over Powers’ recovery themselves. A scan of the batsuit says he’s no longer contaminated, so Terry leaves.

Terry brings back the suit, expecting to get his head handed to him. He might have, but Bruce can see Terry’s being harder on himself than he would be. Bruce tells him that he spent years blaming himself for what happened with his parents, and Terry should learn from him what it took years of punching people and getting punched- it wasn’t your fault. “I read about what happened to you. You were a kid.”

“So are you,” Bruce says. “What happened with your father… I think I had more to do with it than you.” 

We do a scene similar to the Joker finding out he’s disfigured in Batman ’89, but high-tech. Powers is subtly glowing as a Geiger counter’s chirping continues to increase in speed. The head of his team, Dr. Lake, tells him that while the team has made use of the available technology, the amount of radiation he’s producing seems to be escalating, and seems to correlate to distress, which is a problem, since it’s a distressing condition he has. She suggests cloning as a possible way to undo the cellular degeneration, that she has a test subject in mind.

Back in the cave, Bruce relates that he was working with Terry’s dad, who was an internal watchdog for the company, one of the few checks and balances remaining in the company from when he was the undisputed head. Bruce explains that the Wayne corporation wasn’t just the family business, or even where he sourced his tech. It was where some of the most important, and dangerous, things he ever fought, are buried. The fasciitis he suspected was developed by a madman named Ra’s al Ghul; Bruce had kept a sample, along with an antidote he devised, in case he ever attempted a similar scheme.

We start on a high-tech looking freezer door. It opens, and we see Freeze’s thawing, cryogenically frozen head clamped in place. They reanimate Freeze, and clone him a body. While at first it appears that he’s cured. Because of his history with Batman, Terry trails him, to be sure he’s on the up and up. But for all appearances Victor seems to be a changed man. He uses money he’d set aside, a small trust initially, grown large by decades untouched, and puts together a charity in Nora’s name to benefit those he hurt. He also starts a romance with Dr. Lake, who feels shortchanged by the fact that she feels she’ll never live up to Nora.

Inque, a Clayface-like saboteur attacks Foxteka at Powers’ behest, run by the son of Lucious Fox. Powers has been looking to buy out the company for years, which Bruce was always able to forestall. But now they’re also home to an advanced skin-graft tech that might allow Powers to resume something like a normal life (he’s burning through the inferior Powers competitor in hours, not days), and while Dr. Lake seems confident, he’s not the sort to put all his eggs in a single basket. The facility is on the harbor, and Terry discovers that Inque doesn’t like the water (though he isn’t able to use it to his advantage- he just gets tossed into the drink).

Fries starts to degenerate, proving that Lake’s cloning therapy requires more research- she decides she needs an autopsy. She doesn’t hesitate to try to kill him, motivated in part by feeling jilted by the memory of Nora. She tosses him into a cell and bombards him with heat. She also reveals that Powers has siphoned off most of his wealth from his charity, and used it to open the Nora Fries Advanced Cryogenics Institute. However, the name is a misnomer; it is instead monetizing the experiment that caused her so much pain, and all of his work to try to restore her, at once a huge tax write-off and a way to sucker rubes with the promise of miracle cures just barely this side of research- it’s a perversion on every level of what Fries wanted.

To Lake’s dismay, it doesn’t just kill him- it forces a reversion of his degenerate physiology, he becomes Mr. Freeze again, and is able to break loose. It turns out, he also had a spare of his old armor, too, one he refits to look even more sci-fi. Freeze decides to bring the entire complex down, with Lake and Powers inside it.

Freeze attacks Dr. Lake while she’s working on Powers. Freeze is surprised when Powers puts up more of a fight than he intended; apparently Lake has convinced him one of his better chances is her cryonics research, and he fights Freeze, until Batman arrives. Powers attacks Batman on sight, and it’s eventually Freeze who saves him. Enough damage has been done to the facility in the fighting that it’s going to explode. Terry tries to get Fries to leave with him, but he coldly says there’s no one left to mourn him. He’s able to postpone the destruction until Terry is away safely, but stays behind.

The next day, Terry is opening some of Bruce’s mail, when he discovers Freeze’s will, leaving everything to Bruce. “Why you?” Terry asks, suspicious.

“I couldn’t save Victor… but we managed to free Nora from cryonic storage twenty years ago. She lived about a decade; years of experimental medicine took its toll. But she remarried. She has a daughter in the city.”

“He didn’t leave this to Batman.”

“And I didn’t keep him in the cave.”

“You told him.”

“Fries was a genius, and unlike most of the other Arkham inmates, he wasn’t obsessed with keeping our ‘game’ going. There were a few times I think I only survived because he didn’t want to succeed enough that he could justify killing me.” There’s also a storage locker key in the envelope. Terry raids it as Batman, and finds all kinds of goodies, including a futuristic-looking freeze gun.

Bruce calls him, and Terry slips the gun into his waistband. Bruce tells him there’s another break-in at Foxteka, this time the skin-graft research facility. Batman arrives, and takes samples from Inque, but is too late to stop her. He gets back into his car and flies back to the cave. Inque hitched a ride inside, and attacks them both. Terry provides a distraction while Bruce gets a firehose, and is able to soften her up. She manages to sever the hose, and knock Terry into the Batmobile, going after Bruce, reasoning that he’s the brains of the operation. I’m warming to the idea Bruce grabbed one of the Joker’s gag lapel flowers, and squirts her with water to free himself. Terry then freezes her with the gun.

Blight throws a hissy fit. Inque had the tech stashed, and hasn’t been heard from since she called Powers to tell him she was hitching a ride back to Batman’s hideout, to get him and his partner (I imagine we play back some audio of her call). Powers has an important meeting with the board, one that won’t keep. His doctors warn him that his rage is an accelerant, that the angrier he gets, the faster he burns through the prosthetic skin.

Terry and Bruce have a little tete a tete when he drives him to the shareholder meeting. Bruce has suspected something for a while, that he knows who Blight is. He tests the theory by provoking Powers in the meeting. He expected him to have more control, to make an attempt on his life, but instead he freaks out and shoots green radioactivity all over the place, including other board members. This was broadcast worldwide to Wayne-Powers shareholders, and Powers is only stopped from killing Wayne and the rest of the board by the timely intervention of Batman. Powers goes on the lamb.

Powers, in a last, desperate Gambit, tries to have his son act as his proxy. The son, however, gives him up, leaking his whereabouts to Terry. Terry attacks Blight in one of the only locations he can hide (without a Geiger counter giving him away), a decommissioned nuclear sub once used by the late Doctor Phosphorus that still leaks radiation. Bruce tells him it’s safe, despite what his suit is telling him. Terry plays with Blight before confronting him. “You killed my father.”

“Do you have any idea how little that narrows it down?” Blight asks. Terry manages to subdue him, albeit temporarily, only for the entire submarine to be detonated around them. Terry barely escapes. Bruce explains it to Terry as he flies back to confront the younger Powers, that his father’s shares were about to be seized by the government; he had a tiny window in which to see to his father’s tragic demise in an industrial accident, likely leading to him inheriting his father’s shares, his wealth, and maybe even letting him collect on a sizeable life insurance policy.

Terry asks if there was any chance it was the sub that went off. Bruce tells him the sub was decommissioned by the Justice League- namely by Captain Atom and Ray Palmer “Between them I wouldn’t expect a single atom of radioactive material remained.” Bruce is coy, and Terry realizes he had radioactive material he was hiding nearby.

Terry arrives in the cave at that moment, hopping out of the car. “You need to show me everything.”

“I was waiting for you to ask.”

Credits. Mid-credits scene: the Dee Dees are in a holding cell amongst the other Jokerz. “Delia and Deidre Dennis, your bail’s been posted. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” We see him long enough we’ll remember him- you definitely want an actor with an easy to remember face. The Dee Dees have rope-burns from Terry tying them up.

They’re greeted by an older woman, who doesn’t look pleased to see them. She comments about having “plenty of rope-burns in my youth, and blisters from where a chain would catch and pinch you; one time I got tied up in Plastic Man, and I’m still not sure it wasn’t just an excuse to rub against me.” She stops reminiscing. “Now what have I told you girls?” We pause a beat. “Always have a fall-guy to take the rap.”

“Yes, Grandma Harley,” they say in unison. Yes, this is elderly Harley Quinn. And yes, I do want her played by Margot Robbie in age makeup. Or if her grandmother’s still alive, I guess you could cast her. But I think paying Margot Robbie to be old would be hysterical. Hell… I kind of want to make the character a presence in the sequel so we can have some more Old Lady Harley.

End-Credits Scene: the same hallway we just watched the Dee Dees walk down. We play something like the theme music of the Joker from the animated series, but relatively slow, relatively dramatic. The halls are filled with acrid green smoke. The officer from earlier is hanging off the now wide open holding cell door, a rictus grin plastered on his face, and we see that the rest of the Jokerz are gone. Another cop has a “Bang” flag planted in his back, and is slumped over a desk. If we want to be real fancy, pan to frame the entire bullpen, showing that the bodies of officers lay in the shape of a smiley face, then fade to black, where white text appears, each line appearing after a short pause:

continued in

Batman Beyond 2: Return of the Joker

Pitchgiving 2021, part 4: Outsiders 2

We pick up immediately from the mid-credits scene, close on the picture Arsenal’s using of himself for target practice, from when he was Speedy (timeline-wise we’ll probably play fast and loose with this, but the general idea is that he and Ollie were friends, and when Ollie started heroing, Roy tried to help, but was too eager to get out there too quickly, and got the hell stomped out of himself, which required some pain meds while he healed… which led to him shooting heroin; he’s upset at Ollie for cutting him loose rather than helping him through rehab; Ollie’s perspective is that he was helping by cutting him loose, that he’d put too much on the kid’s shoulders and had no right to keep asking for something he couldn’t give). An arrow bullseyes him in the other eye. Jason tears the photo down, the way it tears leaves a sinister-looking happy face torn through the photo. “Self-loathing can be a great motivator,” Jason says, “provided it doesn’t become a problem. You sure you’re good?”

“Fiddle-fit, boss-man.”

“Don’t try to fool me, Roy; you know who trained me.”

“The Joker?” Roy asks.

Jason breaks the leg of the chair Roy’s sitting in so he falls forward, towards one of his arrows Jason freed from his target board. Jason stops him about an inch from the arrow jabbing into his throat. “You get that one crack for free. Next time you bleed for it.”

“I had been pulling your chain,” Roy complains, “but you ain’t convincing me the Bat would pull what you did.”

“There’s plenty of places he and I disagree, but reading people, knowing what they don’t want you to,” he slides a newspaper clipping out of the desk Roy’s sitting at, “I had a hell of a teacher.”

Roy tries to be unphased. “It’s just a newspaper clipping.”

“It’s that girl you failed to save.”

“I tried. She was pinned.”

“Wrong answer,” Jason says, his voice softening. “I was there, remember. We couldn’t lift it, even before Killer Croc knocked me unconscious. There was nothing you could do, Roy.”

“I could have asked for help sooner.”

We see a flashback, Arsenal trying to budge a bolder pinning a little girl under water, but he can’t even wiggle the damned thing; it’s important, for the arc of this, that it at least be feasible a human being could, even if we’re talking men who do those silly strongmen competitions where they pull semi-trailers with their teeth. It might make more logical sense that Roy has to swim rescue breaths down to her as the chamber floods; however, it might not be possible to film that in a way that it visually reads. Regardless, the girl points out that Jason is now underwater, too, and will drown without help. Roy swims Jason to a ladder or something, and by the time he gets back to the girl, she’s gone. Budget allowing, Artemis and Natasha arrive and move the boulder and help Roy with Jason- but the girl can’t be revived.

“Tash and Artemis were busy with Croc. They peeled off as soon as they could…” he squeezes Roy’s shoulder, “it wasn’t your fault. We are a band-aid in the violent patient wing of Arkham; we’re trying to save a world that wants to bleed itself to death. We save who we can. But we can’t save everyone. Probably not even ourselves. But so long as we can lace up our boots we do the job, and we try, anyway, to make this crazy place sane again. You did everything you could- everything I would have.”

“That’s not what you said, then.” I think we just cut to Jason, soaking wet, berating Arsenal. We probably don’t need (or want to hear it), but it’s brutal, cruel even by the standards of what you’d expect from this kind of scene because Jason is beating himself up, too; even in the present, he’s trying to save Roy because he can’t save himself from that guilt, from that pain.

Jason sighs. “World-class detection I learned at the feet of the master. But compassion… was never his strong suit. I was angry, and I was wrong, on the merits, and taking my guilt out on you. With the two of us, with our tech, maybe we could have got her loose,  but I lost focus, and got myself knocked out.”

“I’ll meet you half-way,” Roy says: “We both suck.”

“That’s probably fair,” Jason says. “But use it. Hit the weights harder in the gym. Remember it the next time you’re exhausted and don’t think you can go on- because you know what happens when you fuck it up. No pity party, no wallowing- you make the ones you can’t save count, by using them to help you save the next ones.”

“The Bat let any of you people drink?”

“You think that’s a good idea.”

“I neither want to be alone or sober tonight. Sounds like a perfect solution.”

Jason sighs. “Fine. But we’re planning the mission- and the moment you’re too sloppy for that I start pouring you coffee instead.”

“This gig doesn’t work out for you, something tells me you’ve a promising career as a dominatrix.”

“A male dominatrix is called a dominant.”

Roy gives him a side eye. “I know what I said.” We need to end this scene. I get addicted to banter, and we’ve got a whole movie to plot out, here.

Roy drops off a much sillier Jason a few hours later. Artemis is annoyed he didn’t call, until she sees him with Roy, and realizes he really has been with the other Outsider all night and not either patrolling without her or visiting strip clubs.

“I am going to give you the best sex of the last twenty minutes of your life,” Jason whispers loud enough the neighbors definitely hear it.

Artemis tells Roy she isn’t sure exactly what he means by that, but she is intrigued. However, Jason faceplants loudly across her couch- clearly in no position to deliver on whatever he promised/possibly threatened. She thanks Roy for seeing him home, then hopes he didn’t drive; Roy says he’s got a car waiting to take him back to his place.

Artemis sits on the couch. Jason’s still drunk, still a bit silly, but we also find out he’s got more of his wits about himself than he let on. She asks if Roy’s okay. Jason asks if any of them are. She ponders a moment, before saying Natasha seems fairly well-adjusted, all things considered. And Jesse seems to have a reasonable head on her shoulders, too, probably on account of being a scholar of super-hero history. He grins, saying he mostly meant the pair of them. She smiles back, and says they are screwed up in ways that are adorably complementary, and that she intends to hold him to his boast, and turns out the light.

The next day, Natasha and Jesse are patrolling Gotham, Natasha from the air, Jesse from the street. They’re speaking by radio, trying to understand what it is they’re looking for, but also just chatting, some girl talk- namely about how the Speedsters did start patenting their tech through the QuickStart company she’s now helping run- which Natasha is interested in, because she’s now helping her uncle John run Iron Works. Eventually, Red Hood breaks through to explain to them this is Gotham. With its night time freak parade you might think it’s all one big anarchic carnival, but during the day the city runs on corruption- that if Lex had plied his corrupt scheme here he wouldn’t have had to feed Ivo to the wolves, his polling would have gone up if his corruption was exposed. He points out that Gotham’s corruption is old, as much a pillar of the community as the Waynes, that it’s persisted through years of reformers like Dent and Gordon and even the Batman because it’s run like a company- you take down the head and they just promote somebody else. So while it’s possible you’d see a brutal gang like the Snake Kings take territory – the only way they keep it is paying for it- either in blood or treasure. They’re looking for disruptions, namely violence. Jason’s watching the financials of the hundred or so crime figures most likely to be involved.

Natasha doesn’t like this plan. “So we’re waiting for bodies to drop, or for the corrupt rich to get richer- riches that will be used to fortify their position through bribes and hiring more thugs.”

Jason tells her these aren’t their only irons in the fire. We cut to Roy, showing up at a gang initiation for the Snake Kings. They make him give up his weapons- no projectiles, including some guns and a crossbow. Roy, a little concerned, talks nervously to himself (really a concealed earpiece) about his odds in this crowd hand to hand. Red Hood, on the other end of the radio, tells him that they said he couldn’t bring in any projectile weapons- that didn’t mean he couldn’t turn weapons into projectiles. He also tells him Artemis is standing by to extract him if it comes to that- but they’ll have to try and mop up enough of the Snake Kings to cripple their organization- if they fail to infiltrate them this time they’re done. Roy says he’ll try to handle it.

Artemis complains to Jason on a dedicated channel and says she doesn’t like this- that it isn’t the Amazonian way to use guile and subterfuge. He basically tells her too bad, that if the Snake Kings get their asses handed to them by an Amazon, and think Wonder Woman’s in town, that’s a whole kettle of fish. But dressed like she is, she’s just one more distant cousin in the Batfamily- and even he can’t keep track of all of them. We only see her in silhouette for now, because it’s going to be more fun to wait for the reveal, but she’s definitely wearing a batsuit with pointy ears and the spikey cape.

We cut back to the air. Natasha dispatches Jesse to check out a shooting at the LexCorp. branch in Gotham. She’s in and out, quickly assembling clues. It’s almost an afterthought that she moves a woman out of the way of rifle fire before taking the rifle, unloading it and disassembling it at the shooter’s feet. I imagine she takes the ID out of the first dead woman’s purse and compares the address to the ID from the man’s wallet (and we see that she’s already tied him to a desk with Cat 5 cables). We next see her taking keys from a police sergeant to get into a filing cabinet. “It’s a domestic violence beef. Killed his ex, who had a restraining order on him, and looked about to execute any cute young brunettes with a passing resemblance. Not our guy.”

Natasha asks about Rupert Thorne. On paper, she says he just looks like a run of the mill corrupt politician, but before he came to Gotham, he was linked to organized crime figures in a handful of cities- pictures taken with the local bigshots, never involved in any kind of arrest. Red Hood breaks in to tell them that he’s just the kind of guy the mob would bring in as a face- a lightning rod for criticism and protest, but also always just removed enough from the action to act as a shield for the rest of their exploits. Course, if he doesn’t feel the mob are paying him his due, he might start working on a side hustle. Jason tells them to check it out, but to keep their presence subtle for the time being.

We cut back to Roy, as he’s punched in the face. Roy stumbles backwards, his puncher apparently confident, until he reaches for his belt, where he’d kept a knife in an overly-ornate scabbard- the missing blade for a moment pinched between Roy’s fingers before he lets fly, the blade sticking deep into the meat of his leg. He goes to pull it out, but Roy’s on him, and puts him in a sleeper hold, informing him that it cut his femoral artery, and the only thing keeping him from bleeding out is the knife sheathed in his skin.

King Snake, presiding over the fight, stands and declares Roy hasn’t won. These fights are to the death, and he must kill the man. He also moans about using a weapon as a projectile, which was firmly against the rules. Bane stands, and voices that he feels Roy has won; he’s cut the man’s femoral artery, and he will die without assistance, but in preventing the death, he’s also proven both his skill and his desire not to waste the Snake Kings precious resources. He waves away the concern about projectiles; they don’t want the entries to be gunfights, but that doesn’t mean a man shouldn’t be able to use what they left him with to his advantage. 

Bane gives a handful of gestures, after which the next three applicants attack Roy together, even as the one Roy wounded is carried off the field. King Snake is furious with Bane, says something to the effect of “How dare you contradict me in front of my Snakes?” Bane swells up to his full size (no artificial inflation from Venom), and tells him even at his prime the King Snake would have been no match for his Bane- and that he is most certainly now no longer at his prime. Then he pivots; he tells Snake King that if Roy can survive a fight like this, without the time to strategize, without being able to take the short-term pain to gain the advantage, then he deserves a place in the Snake Kings, regardless. And if he dies, then the previous fight was a fluke and he doesn’t.

I’m thinking, just for giggles, he’s up against a man with a long, pliable staff, another with a whip, and a final man with a thin machete. Roy gets the staff first, because he’s used to having to fight with a bow with a broken string. Then he gets the man with the machete to cut specific notches in either end of the staff, before stealing the whip, and threading it through the notches. Finally, he gets the blade. The three men, however, are formidable hand-to-hand combatants, and he’s still having trouble keeping them at bay. He manages to catch them off guard a moment, drop-kicking the first into the other two, so they’re lined up in a row, firing the sword from his makeshift bow through them as all four fall. Personally, I’d cast these three so that they could come back as Bane’s henchmen, that they weren’t using their signature attacks because Bane told them not to, but are otherwise formidable even then.

King Snake is irate this time, believing that Roy leaving them alive is a personal insult after the last match. Roy responds: “I came here to stand with men worthy enough to have my back. If you want me to kill everyone in this room weaker than me, we aren’t going to have enough men left for a basketball team, let alone a gang. But it’s your dime,” Roy grabs the blade, and is about to yank it up and out of them, likely causing fatal wounds. Bane rises, and stops him. He knows Roy could have aimed for the throat, or the head, even the heart, but he can see from there they’ve been pierced just below the ribcage; painful, debilitating, but intentionally avoiding their organs or spines. Bane tries to play it off as a playful thing- that his father would chop off Mozart’s hands if he played a symphony at a different tempo than he preferred- but that he has an appreciation for talent, and that Roy stays.  

Roy leaves to get some air, and is accosted by a handful of thugs, who blame him for throwing off the curve- now anyone who can’t fight 3 guys at once isn’t going to get their shot. Roy’s had the holy hell beaten out of him, and they’re armed with guns, and have enough distance Roy’s screwed. Someone in black rubber drops on all three at once. It’s Artemis. There are, honestly, a lot of permutations of why this would be funny. It could be a cheap Batman costume Jason bought her from a Halloween store, or one he clearly hand-sewed. It could be an ill-fitting Batgirl costume the taller, curvier Artemis is shoved into. It could be funny just putting her into one of the Snyder-era muscle suits just because putting a woman in one would emphasize how silly those were. I’m not sure what the best version of this joke is, but Roy snickers. “I could kill you with one of them; you realize that, don’t you?” She asks, and he snickers again and tells her it might be worth it.

Red Hood, over the radio, and cameras, we now see, switches his focus to Jesse and Natasha, and asks how things are going with Thorne. Natasha’s going over digital records, and tells him Jesse installed a network dongle she could access remotely. Jesse’s read two-thirds of their physical records- would have been done, but at about the 40% mark figured out how the records actually functioned as both the clean transaction records- but, once decoded, showed the dirty records, too- records of payouts to corrupt municipal authorities, contractors. Jason’s concerned she’ll be seen; she says people can’t see things that don’t stay in their vision longer than 1/220th of a second, and that she paces when she reads, anyway; the Speed Force, which protects her (and by extension everyone in contact with her) from the truly devastating impacts of someone moving at those speeds blunts the problems she would otherwise have moving through an office at thousands of miles per hour (otherwise the air she displaced would essentially create tornados in her wake wherever she went).

Jesse clarifies that it’s clear that while Thorne might be their cut out, he functions as a separate entity, a free agent- so that even if Thorne got nailed, they’d just move on to the next cut out. Natasha has the final piece- that isn’t represented on the paper records Jesse’s been scanning: Thorne’s been consulting for a Santa Priscan outfit, namely the mercenary corporation that took over the government, and now operates the gangs and drug funneling operations they’re targeting. The money doesn’t seem to even be acknowledged in any of his political fundraising or disclosures; it’s off the official books. Jason thanks them, and tells them that they’ve done good work- and that they should meet back at the hotel- he’ll be joining them soon.

We go back to Roy, within the Snake Kings compound. He’s at the head of a group lead into the inner chambers. He is greeted by the three mean he pierced together, now bandaged. One each grabs his arms, while the third puts a knife to his throat. “What the hell is this?” he asks. Bane tells him that they’ve had many attempts to infiltrate, from the Bat people, Checkmate, even a Gardner for the Superfriends. And from every law enforcement alphabet you’d care to imagine. They never cared. They let them in- if they passed this final test. The secret to the Snake Kings’ tenacity and strength is their Venom. They sold its weaker form on the streets, like heroin, if heroin made you feel like you could push over a car or a tyrannosaur. But the good stuff, the pure stuff, the strain Bane has hooked to his gauntlet- that was a high no one could walk away with. Strength you could never go back to living without. Riding the Venom meant pledging yourself til death to the Snake Kings. Most of those infiltrators were wise enough to pass, to walk away; the few who weren’t served the Kings, turned on their lives, their lovers, their coworkers, whatever they had believed in their life before the Kings. Venom isn’t a test- it’s a rebirth.

Jason is legitimately worried. “Roy, stall; I can have Artemis there before they can so much as call you a mean name.”

“I can handle it,” Roy says out loud, and snorts a line of Venom, and proceeds to beat the crap out of his attackers. Bane watches, with his hand on the dial of his own Venom supply. After thrashing the three, Roy spins on Bane, ready to attack him, too. But he stops, and says that he can’t stand people trying to kill him.

“Then you don’t like me,” Bane says.  Roy shrugs. He’s not against someone wanting him dead. But doing somebody else’s wetwork? That’s just low class. Besides, he knows if Bane really wanted him dead, he’d turn that dial and do it himself. He tells Bane he puts other people in harm’s way to understand who they are- but they both already understand who they are- the only thing left to be gained is violence. Bane opens his hands, removing the one from the dial as he extends the other to Roy. “Welcome, brother, to the Snake Kings.”

Artemis and Red Hood chat on their private link. She’s pleased with the progress of their mission, and underconcerned with Roy. Jason cuts off abruptly, saying he’ll have to call her back. Because finally, we pull back to confirm that, yes, Jason has been in the Batcave this entire time. And 2, that Batman is standing there, glaring angrily at him. “I asked a question, Jason: what the hell are you doing here?”

Red Hood shoots back that Nightwing called about his little Venom problem. Batman says he doesn’t have a Venom problem. Jason replies that Gotham sure as hell does, and given his history of… performance anxiety, Dick was concerned he might need some help- help he would never, not if he lived to be 9000 years old, ask for.

“I want you the hell out of my cave. Your mission’s concluded. I want you out of Gotham, too.”

“What’s your favorite pie?”

“Rhubarb.”

“It isn’t.”

“But that is the password, if you’re trying to find out if I’ve been doubled or mind-controlled. I haven’t. I just want you gone.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because you put together a team consisting of has-beens and wash-outs, all with a chip on their shoulder or something to prove, most of whom would content themselves with petty revenge. Maybe you just see enough of yourself in them that you want to give them the second chance you feel I haven’t given you. But you put a junkie undercover in a drug sting. You put an Amazon who was too extreme for other Amazons into a batsuit. Your judgment is beyond compromised. And I thought I told you I didn’t want to see that symbol back on your chest until you earned it.” Yup. Subtly, just essentially an indented detail like some of the latter-day Batsuits, Red Hood’s costume has a bat symbol carved into the chest. Eventually he’ll have the full red symbol he wears. I think it should probably be there from the moment we do the mid-credits scene in the last film- Jason essentially considering himself having earned it while Bruce… clearly disagrees.  

“Guess you really can’t go home again,” Jason says, trying not to show how hurt he is. Then he spins on his heels, a smile on his face. “No. You almost had me. I don’t know if this is your pride, or you trying to protect me after you failed so spectacularly to. But you don’t get to tell me not to help. I’ve got an agent in with the Snake Kings. And we’ve put together who the cut out is they’re using to pass a percentage to the local cappos to stave off a turf war.”

“Thorne,” Batman tells him. “I’ve known for a week.” But there’s something beyond intensity in him, perhaps a little pride. “We couldn’t get past the initiation. Everything I tried, every barrier, every countermeasure, anti-toxin or anti-dote, failed to even slow Venom down. Nightwing thought he could talk his way past it- when he refused to snort the stuff Bane tried to kill him. GCPD ignored my advice, put in their most seasoned undercover; Venom hit them so hard he put a bullet in Gordon; he barely survived.”

“Roy can handle it.”

“He’s an addict. Pull him out.”

“You don’t get to give me orders anymore.”

“It’s not an order,” he says, his voice softening. “It’s concern. They look up to you. It means they’ll do most anything you ask. Even when you have no right to.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“If you think that’s best.”

“I do.” Jason turns to leave, feeling triumphant.

“Just stay the hell out of my cave.”

That night, Artemis arrives. They discuss their progress. Natasha tells them that she installed surveillance equipment on Thorne’s phones, and still has Jesse’s backdoor into his campaign’s equipment. Arsenal’s tracker starts moving. Natasha checks, no emergency communications from any of the known Snake King associates. Jason says that he doubts the Kings tell Thorne everything- only what he needs to know to keep them good with the mob- especially if we’re talking shipments of something a rival might decide to try to take for themselves.

So they follow Roy’s tracker. Red Hood and Artemis ride on a Batbike together. Jesse, mostly a blur, runs beside them, with Natasha in the air overhead. Jason asks Natasha if she’s sure she isn’t exposed. She tells him that with the cloud cover and the gray sky, she’s practically invisible to the naked eye. The rear of a moving truck opens, the back metal gate hitting the pavement with a shower of sparks. One of the King Snakes fires a stinger missile at her. It’s one of the men who Arsenal fought earlier, specifically Bird, tipped off by his falcon. Jason asks Jesse to confirm Arsenal’s location; last thing they want is for him to get hit in the crossfire. Jesse zips up to the truck, then zips back as gunfire hits a sideview mirror where she’d been. She tells them he’s in the cab, and she thinks he took a shot at her. Jason tells her he’s probably preserving his cover, then says, “Natasha, stop the truck.”

She plops down in front of it, planting her feet in the pavement and pushing against it, stopping the truck. Bird leaps out of the back, onto a follow car. “Artemis?” Jason says, but she’s already flying through the air towards the car, letting a spear fly. It goes through the driver and into one of the passengers in the backseat, and she kicks the front passenger through the windshield. We get a quick, brutal fight scene where she fights four men in a confined space and just dominates; it’s more about speed and skill than powers, though- think John Wick. Jason brings his bike to a stop beside Arsenal’s door. Arsenal kicks the door open, and it smacks Jason in the face, bloodying him. Jason opens the door violently, prepared to smack Roy for his little Joke. But we see Arsenal’s eyes- he’s stoned out of his gourd, and his blood is up, his veins bulging, maybe his muscles, too.

Jason’s caught flat-footed as Arsenal draws on him. Artemis leaps between them, her shield on her arm, as she dives past, deflecting the shots. As she clears, Jason flings a fistful of red batarangs into Arsenal, the pain making him drop his gun. Artemis relates that she’s seen that look, fighting Norse berserkirs- that Arsenal isn’t himself. There’s a gunshot, hitting the grill of the truck; there are more Snake Kings at the overpass. Jason and Artemis exchange a glance, and she flies off to deal with the assault.

Jason and Arsenal spar for a moment, Arsenal demolishing him, before picking him up and throwing him onto the hood of a car. From the pavement, Jason tells Jesse to put Arsenal down. Arsenal is suddenly hit with several dozen punches, before falling over. Jesse stands over Jason. “So, when you said ‘down’ I assumed you meant as in lying and not as in like a quadriplegic St. Bernard with a bad heart.” He nods.

Jason checks out the truck, and finds out it’s full of Venom, big enough containers that Jesse can’t lift them, and enough of them that while Natasha and Artemis could maybe each carry one or two, it that would leave too many. Jason calls Batman, and asks him if he knows a way to ruin a shipment of Venom. Batman asks what chemicals they have immediate access to. He says he might be able to whiz in one, and if they weren’t currently shooting at the truck, he might be able to siphon some gas- but the tanks appear to be hardened against heat, and there isn’t enough gas for an explosion- besides which aerosolizing a truckload of Venom in the middle of a city seems like a bad idea. Batman complains that they aren’t giving him a lot of options. “You’re the one with the head for chemistry. We might only be able to hold this truck for another sixty seconds.”

“And where are you- nevermind, I got enough tower pings to triangulate. Can you start the car? Because you’re only a couple blocks from Axis.”

He tries to start it, but the battery took a bullet in the fighting. He calls out, “Irons, start the car.” She routes power to her outer shell and shocks the car to life- also blasting off a couple of Kings who had grabbed her. Jason gets it to turn over, and peels off. “Axis? Thought it was a Superfund.”

“It is .It takes an average of 12 to 18 months to clean up a Superfund site- and this is the third time it’s been designated as such.”

“And that will destroy it?”

“Even if they manage to clean the toxins out of it, would you be willing to take a hit if it might turn you into the Joker?”

“For some people that might be a selling point.”

“Not enough to build a stable market.”

Artemis tells him over the radio she’s led a retreat- which was easy, because the Snake Kings are all following him- some on foot (could make for an interesting scene as several Kings pump after him, T2 style).

Jason says they should keep retreating, but he’ll need one of the flyers with him- to literally pull his ass out at the last minute. He thinks a moment before clarifying- just him- he needs the Venom to be contaminated.

Jason bursts through a chained gate onto the Axis property. Jason checks the side mirror, and sees a King chasing after him, getting close. He drops a batbomb out of the truck, blowing the King off his feet. Jason asks Batman what the shelf-life is on the gases in his grapnels. He says 18 months. Jason says he’s pretty sure the one he has is older than him, and his team aren’t responding. Jason drives the truck up a ramp of fallen wall, and the van tips into a chasm over the pits Joker threw Harley into. Jason jumps out the door, firing his grapnel… which sputters, barely gaining another couple of feet before dropping limply. His oustretched hand is grabbed by Natasha Irons, who flies him over the pit.

She flies him back over the pursuing Kings. They’re firing at them, and Jason gets agitated. She tells him she’s been thinking about his cute little gas bombs, and considering the need for crowd control. Panels in her suit slide open, and a couple of dozen gas canisters shoot out, into the Kings, enough to put even the enVenomed Kings down. “Cops may not be able to get all of them, but they should get some of them, and that should make all our jobs easier.” Jason congratulates her.

Arsenal is in the Snake Kings infirmary. He’s woken by Bane, who puts a bow in Arsenal’s hand; he has his own, even heavier duty, slung on his back. Bane leads him out into the night, specifically to a rival organization’s headquarters. He’s skeptical of Arsenal- that in the infirmary he refused more Venom. “It enhances healing, counters pain. It also makes my men more predictable, and dependable.”

Arsenal’s in pain, and irritable from the detox, so he can’t keep himself from sniping back, “And pliable.” Bane doesn’t deny it, and we get the sense, from his voice, that he’s amused that Roy’s so much more aware than the rest- he’s grooming him for an important position in the Snake Kings. He tells Arsenal to shoot the man in charge, who, on closer inspection, seems to be a ventriloquist dummy.

“Not the dummy, the man with his hand up its ass.” Arsenal pulls the shot at the last minute, only cutting the Ventriloquist’s throat- it’s a nasty wound, one the Vetriloquist may never speak again after, but he’ll live, if his mooks can keep pressure on it while they wait for an ambulance.. Bane grabs him by the arm and twists it behind him, straining it until it pops loudly and Arsenal screams in agony.

Bane releases him, and says that he refused to kill a criminal on command- even when it would save his life. That strength of will makes him very dangerous. Bane breaks Arsenal’s bow, and sets his own down at his feet. He tells him it was custom-made, that it cannot be pulled by a normal man, especially not one with a fractured radius. He puts a syringe down beside the bow, tells him he read about him; he preferred needles when he apprenticed to Green Arrow, yes? He offers him a choice. Shoot up with Venom, and he can use the bow to stop Bane. Or stand and watch while he kills an innocent bystander. He picks a woman at random from the street, and jumps down a fire escape. Bane follows the woman into an alley, and is reaching for her when an arrow strikes the brick beside his head. He sees Roy, with a second arrow waiting, aimed right at him. Bane smiles.

We cut to King Snake stalking powerfully around his chamber. Bane is cool and collected, with Arsenal standing by with Bane’s bow. King Snake is furious that Bane is trying to depose him, to use failures beyond his control- failures in part due to Bane’s hiring choices, to push him out. But Bane isn’t similarly passionate at all. He’s cold. Collected. “I inherited the tactical brilliance you used to turn a losing mercenary campaign into a successful coup, but none of your weakness: your vanity or venality. I synthesized Venom from the sciences I taught myself while serving out your prison sentence- from an infant. If I must end you to take my rightful place, I will do so, with regrets. But I will no longer stand by and excuse your failures.” My thinking is that, like in the comics, Bane was part of the experimentation in the Peña Duro prison, working from the Miraclo serum used by Hourman back in the day as a template, to create a longer-lasting formula. Most prisoners died from exposure. While Bane survived, it still only gives him a short burst of strength. However, Bane had taught himself many things, including enough science that he was able to help the scientist fill in the blanks on why his Venom didn’t work. Once it finally did, the scientist promised that he’d help him get out of prison, he’d see to it that he was granted a full pardon. Bane said he will help him escape the prison, but not the way he thought. Bane killed him, and uses his credentials as well as the Venom, to escape.

King Snake complains that he has no right. Bane corrects him, that it is King Snake’s short-sightedness that would have doomed their operations, because without the tribute to keep the other gangs at bay, the Snake Kings would become a losing proposition. But Bane refused to carry out his orders; only a portion of their shipment arrived the previous night- the rest arrives tonight by alternate means. Bane tells his father this proves his superiority of mind, but that if he must, he will prove his superiority in strength, as well. King Snake relents.

The Outlaws still have Arsenal wired for sound; they don’t know whether they can trust the intel, or whether they’re walking into a trap. Jason says it could be a trap, but Arsenal is snared in it. He’s getting him out, and trying to stop the shipment, too, if he can, but it’s his mistake, if they don’t want to come with him. The other Outlaws, in grand speechmaking tradition, relate their own mistakes, which brought them to the Outlaws in the first place. “The Outlaws are where you end up if you’re too traumatized for the Titans, too violent for a Justice League, or too good for the Suicide Squad.”  

They do a Fast and Furious heist of the rest of the Venom, with Jaime Reyes again showing up to assist in the finale. He says he’s sad he missed Jason’s crow-eating speech- but agreed to help, because Natasha says she taped it. He’s sure it’s a lie, before Natasha plays some of the speech over their comms.

The Outlaws win again, this time echoing the Dark Knight Rises having Batman pick up the armored truck of Venom in a batwing and fly off with it.

The Outlaws then travel to the Snake Pit (what the Snake King’s nest is called) and soften them up for the cops, who are finally coming because the Snake Kings can’t afford to bribe Thorne without Venom to sell- who was in turn keeping the cops as well as the cappos of their backs.

Bane and his three henchmen are absent, as is Arsenal. They attack the Outlaws back at their hotel, initially humbling all of them methodically. The foursome all sport Venom upgrades similar to Bane. Bane doesn’t bother with Arsenal, buying him off, essentially, with the narcotic form of Venom he’s been hooked on, expecting him to stay out of it.

Roy is able to resist his demons long enough to help turn the tide, putting an arrow through Bird’s bird, and one into Bane’s leg, buying the other Outlaws enough of an edge it becomes clear Bane can’t win. Bane manages to escape, remarking that he’s learned a lesson: to isolate his foes, removing their friends first, their strengths second, and finally, exploiting their weaknesses. It seems like a win, until they realize Arsenal is shooting up with Venom- in fact, he’s ODing. Luckily, Batman gifted Jason a Narcan derivative he mixed that can keep himalive.

I think next is a tough love moment between Arsenal and Red Hood, where he locks him up. At first, Jason is angry at him, it seems, saying, “You told me you could handle this.” His expression softens. “But that’s on me. I shouldn’t have asked what I did. You wouldn’t take a gambling addict to Vegas and stay on the strip. I put you on the casino floor and told you to stay put. ,I” Jason takes off his mask, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let this happen to you. But I am going to make it right.” Roy starts chattering at him to let him out, thinking he can talk his way into an opportunity to get off the chain. “I’m getting you clean. Whatever it takes.” As Jason closes the peephole, Roy realizes Jason’s his jailer.

“Don’t say it,” Jason says. Batman asks what he would say. “I told you so, or any variation on that theme.”

“I meant there’s nothing to say.”

“That’s… not like you.”

I’m honestly not sure if this conversation is better, or him just leaving it there, and sitting with Jason. But because it’s a pitch and not an edit of the movie, I can have my cake and eat it, too. “Every one of you reminds me of myself in some facet,” Batman tells him.

“Let me guess: I inherited your temper.”

“I don’t think I was ever as angry as you are. Dick… Dick is the me I wish I could be, that I wish I could heal enough to be; he’s the hope I usually don’t have the courage to live. Tim has the mind everyone thinks I do.”

“But no one can take a crowbar to the face from the Joker like me and you.”

“Kind of. In a lot of ways I’m lucky. Born with money. Health. A good mind. But the one thing that felt like it was mine, that I didn’t inherit, was will. To keep going. Keep fighting. Survive, even when everything inside me told me to roll over and die. To get up, even though you don’t know where you find the strength to. To build something that will outlive you, filled with people who are better than you. And to shoulder your failures. I know what you think, Jason, but you are not one of my failures. I failed you; I know that. Failed to keep you safe. Failed to teach you how to channel your rage, temper it, into something you can use to change the world. But you haven’t failed me. Not a day.”

“Not even with these?” Jason asks, pulling his pistols.

“There was a time they would have been a deal breaker for me. Watching my parents die the way they did… but fighting with Nightwing, of all people, taught me every man has to forge his own path. My path can’t be yours, as much as I might wish it, as much as seeing you so much as hold those hurts.” He sighs. “But I will ask that you use them as a last resort; only when there’s no other way-  that you only take a life in order to save one.”

“You know I can shoot to wound, right?”

“In a fight? With a hundred variables, including enemies moving at least as fast and erratically as you do? I’ve almost killed people with batarangs, and a grapnel, once. I don’t care how cautious you are, you’re going to kill someone with those things. So you should only use them when that’s an acceptable trade. But… I didn’t come down here to ask for that. I came because, I think you’ve been reckless, trying to accomplish more, and bigger. That when I said I wanted you to earn it, you heard I wanted fireworks. I wanted Joker in bracelets, with a few of his teeth left in his skull to show you’d learned restraint.”

“What, even that wouldn’t do it?”

“It might have. But this was what I was waiting for. Consequences, you accepting them, with maturity and grace. We all fail, son. Even Clark, though none of us shoulder it quite as well. But our failures only define us if we let them- and that includes trying to run from them. You made a call, and Roy got hurt. Accepting that you’re going to do the hard work putting him right, and accepting your culpability, that was how you earned it.”

They hug. Credits. Mid-credits scene. Batman and Red Hood continue to hug. Jason says, “If anybody asks I’m telling them I earned it kicking Bane in the nards.”

“I will too, son.” Resume credits. End credits scene. We start on a radar screen. An operator tells someone over radio that that’s negative, still no atmospheric radio contacts. The person on the other end says “Good. Then we still have time.” We recognize this voice from Outlaws 1, belonging to Lex Luthor. We can also see his face, because despite the fact that he’s built himself some Iron Man armor, he still really needs you to know it’s him sitting in it, so the face is see-through. He’s standing on top of the LexCorp. Tower, holding someone shiny in his hand by the throat. “I meant what I said when I thought you were dead, John, the world really would have been poorer for losing your genius. Lucky for it, I’ve got it- backed up every little thought you and that precocious little niece of yours ever had. Your recent stuff, I think we’ll live without. You’ve started repeating yourself, John. It’s sad, really; I know how we’d all prefer to go out on a high note.” He squeezes, crushing the armor around John’s throat, before dropping the armor.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 3: Emerald Twilight

This would function as basically Green Lantern Corps 1.5/Justice League Interplanetary 1.5, in the same way that Captain America: Civil War was Avengers 2.5 (this sentence will be utter gibberish in a handful of decades). We open on an attempt to fortify Oa against Jordan’s oncoming assault, with John Stewart told this defense is their only hope of stopping Jordan. To safeguard their power supply, the Guardians send Kyle, Jade and Soranik Natu (I’m going to keep pushing this love triangle, because done right it’s good, clean character drama), because, “There is another.”

The basic idea is that Jordan wages war on Oa, taking on most of the heroes from Green Lantern Corps., and decimating most of the unnamed ranks yet again. Jordan is also doing something different this time around- he’s taking rings and/or absorbing power from the defeated Lanterns on both sides. He attacks the Guardians, and absorbs as much of their power as he can before John and the gang show up and give him some actual resistance, at which point he flees- absorbing the energy he can from the central battery.

Soranik Natu interrogates Sinestro, for information on Jordan. At first he’s too proud, and refuses to admit to his errors (reversing some of his growth at the end of the last movie, not because he can’t change, but because real change is rarely a flicked switch). She softens, and asks him to tell her about her mother. Sinestro tells her that when he first became a Lantern, he tried to save Korugar from a military junta. However, upon overthrowing the junta, the planet looked to Sinestro for leadership. At first, he hardly weighed in, his intention having been to free his people, not rule them. On one of his periodic visits, however, he caught the eye of Katma Tui, a passionate activist who wanted him to use his influence to make Korugar into the planet it could be, rather than the planet it was. The pair fell in love, and she encouraged him to put in place reforms to make the planet more democratic, and kinder to its lesser citizens. Over time, however, their love faded, and his duties to the Corps meant that he neglected both his love and his world, and in his name his hand-picked administrators created a dictatorship crueler than the junta it replaced, using green energy weapons to signify Sinestro’s power, and leading the people to hate Green Lanterns. When he finally returned, he found that Katma Tui had fallen out of love with him, and had given birth to their daughter. As one last show of love for her and their people, she asked that he put things right, and dismantle his government- quietly. Sinestro did so, orchestrating the overthrow to look like a popular revolution. However, his abuse of power was discovered by the Guardians. They stripped him of control of his home Sector and rank within the Corps.. To keep Katma Tui quiet about these indiscretions, they inducted her into the Corps. and gave her control of the Sector. However, Korugar still mistrusted the Lanterns, especially Sinestro, who they called ‘the Wicked’, and held Katma Tui as suspect, calling her ‘the Lost.’ While Tui vowed to use her power to protect her people and those like her across the Sector, she recognized that to give her people peace of mind she would have to do so from the shadows, while her sister raised Soranik in her stead.

Soranik asks where her mother is now. Sinestro admits that she was not among those he fought on Oa, and that she hasn’t been seen for some time. He tells her there are rumors she is one of the Shadow Lanterns, lanterns given the dual mandate of maintaining the quarantine around sector 0666 (I imagine they read this as, ‘Zero-triple-six’ just because reading it out loud as , ‘Sector Six-Six-Six’ feels a little too silly); he’s never seen her, or any other Lanterns, there, but given that he was violating the quarantine, was doing what he could to avoid those guarding the Sector. Soranik tries to transition back to the interrogation without hardening her manner, but he resists, until she calls him, “Dad.” Sinestro relates that Jordan called him a fool, that he mocked him for thinking he could prevent the Blackest Night, that he saw his sniveling fear as readily as a child’s. He told Sinestro there was no breaking the black wave- that the only rational thing was to cleave to their loved ones and mourn the dark death racing towards them- but that at least Hal could try to put right was Sinestro broke- that Sinestro believes Hal means to resurrect Coast City.

Hal proceeds to Earth. The human Lanterns arrive first, because they’re willing to spend energy to move faster- time is of the essence for them, while Jordan requires every last drop for what he’s about to do. They speed to Earth, and contact Justice League Interplanetary, who rally the Earth’s defenses and heroes to try and stop Hal. See, there’s a problem with Hal’s plan- the Lanterns really can’t create life; the closest such attempt by another, earlier Lantern, to undo his failure to save a planet from destruction, raised an army of half-alive monstrosities that nearly razed the entire sector. There’s also the very real possibility that in combining the green and yellow energies, he’ll create a release of energy that could cleave the planet in half. “So if he fails, everybody dies. If he succeeds, everybody dies,” John Stewart sums up. The heroes assemble messily. It might pay to have the major teams have an ‘assembling’ montage, so we see the Justice Society discussing the threat, and the League, and the Interplanetary League, Outsiders, Outlaws, Birds of Prey, etc.. We get a big, bombastic series of montages and action pieces, as the Batman-related characters try to defend Gotham, the Superman-related defend Metropolis, etc., all a feint to draw attention from Jordan’s real target, where Justice League Interplanetary and Stewart and the other human Green Lanterns are waiting, because they know what he plans to do.

Unfortunately, they can’t stop Hal. I imagine we get quite a few little fights between Green and Yellow Lanterns, until Hal descends. He takes on both Superman and Martian Manhunter at the same time, frantic that they’re spending energies he needs to try and resurrect Coast City’s fallen, lashing out at them more violently for it. I imagine he eventually just flattens everyone, friend and foe alike, taking all the rings and basically using his rings to make energy hands to operate the additional rings. At that point, Jordan knocks Superman out of the galaxy; we see a red and blue blur go flying out of the system and beyond. At the same time, he seals Manhunter in a bubble, squeezing the volume of air. Hal explains that the Lanterns have extensive files on Martians, and that increasing the pressure in the bubble will increase the temperature, until the Manhunter’s flesh reaches its firing point. Manhunter screams, instinctively turning intangible and falling from the sky in a ball of fire, which is, mercifully, extinguished on impact with the soil.

Jordan turns to the task of recreating Coast City. We watch it build up, a brick at a time, at first. We see Jordan’s eyes, as he processes all known information from government and internet sources about every citizen of Coast City, lingering when he reaches Carol, and he whispers, “Carol,” as his voice catches. The other Lanterns are helpless to resist, still ringless. Superman returns, and Stewart fills him in on what he missed, and asks if Superman can stop him. He tells him he can’t- not without killing those people. Superman points to the light constructs, and tells Stewart that they are, down to the atomic level, alive, that he’s in the process of reconstructing them on the molecular level, that it would be the equivalent of taking a million people off of ventilators at the same time. The light coming off the rising city dims for a moment, and we cut back to Hal, who grimaces, and begins to shake because he needs more power. A yellow light shoots from Jordan towards the sun, and we see a fireball sucked along it, as the city returns

Superman is troubled, but recognizes that he can’t let billions die to save millions. Stewart stops him, and tells him there might yet be another way. I imagine we won’t show much of what their mission entails, because it’s kind of a reveal, but they could have a skirmish with some Yellow Lantern stragglers that’s going poorly, until there’s a purplish light, and we cut away.

Carol Ferris floats to Jordan, flying over the light construct of Coast City he’s trying to will back into existence. She tries to engage him, but he assumes she’s just another ghost haunting him. “I’ve had enough of ghosts!” a distraught Hal yells at her, refusing to stop… until she strokes his cheek, and he stops, and whispers her name, and asks how.

She tells him she wasn’t in Coast City… but her heart aches for those who were. He asks again, clarifying- how is she there now, how is she flying? She uses her powers to peel away her civilian clothes, revealing her (probably less revealing than the one in the books) Star Sapphire costume. “What, did you think you were the only one who got to go on interstellar missions for remote alien civilizations?” she asks with a light laugh.

He maybe tells her that statistically he would have assumed so, yeah. She flies to his side, this time directing his eyes to the sky, and the sun, and what his yellow ring was doing to power his reconstruction. “What-“ he’s taken aback by what he’s done, the damage he’s done to the entire planet. Hal’s going to heel-face turn, here, and work with the heroes to fix the sun. This is an excuse to gather all of the bigger brains of the DC Universe into one room. They’re somewhat at a loss, because none of this should be possible, and no solution should be workable. Hal insists there is one, that he has more computing power at this fingertips than they have on the entire planet- even if they were networked in a way to leverage it- which they aren’t, that if he can at least get the sun back to a degree of homeostasis, knocking it off the unstable path its on, now, that should work- it might not put all the years back on the sun’s dial, but stop it from prematurely going nova.

It’s totally possible to keep Hal alive after this part, but I have plans for him, you see, very black plans indeed… so I’d have Hal sacrifice himself to save the Earth. I think you could get a really poignant moment out of it, Carol and Hal flying towards the dying Sun to reignite it, her determined to do whatever it takes to save him, him determined to do whatever it takes to make up for what he’s done. But eventually she fails; her powers aren’t enough to protect the both of them from the heat and gravity, and she stops him for their tearful goodbye. She tells him love should conquer all; that if he comes back with her they can figure out another way, together. He tells her the damage he did to the sun is so severe, it will be irreversible by the time they could make it back to the planet. “I can’t be a man who deserves you if I don’t make this right. I’m sorry. You truly deserved better than me.” He flies into the sun, and a moment later, there’s a ripple of green and yellow energy that reignites the Sun- but its beaten to Carol by green energy pushing her far enough back to be unharmed by the Sun- Hal’s last gesture is saving the woman he loves as a Green Lantern.

Superman and Ion salvage the green lantern rings from the sun, leaving the yellow ones there. The depowered Yellow Lanterns are taken into Waller’s custody. Clark hands over John’s ring, and Stewart tells him they should talk, about the prophecy of the Blackest Night.

Credits. Mid-Credits scene: We see a red-skinned Green Lantern flying on the edge of Sector 0666 (I’d probably have some familiar-looking planets from the beginning of Green Lantern Corps.); she looks a bit like Soranik Natu. She’s flying in a relatively straight line before veering suddenly, narrowly avoiding a blast of red energy. I’m currently undecided; in the books, Atrocitus used the blood of the other four Inversions to power his battery. It might save time/amp up the threat if the other Inversions become Red Lanterns themselves; an unkillable hierarchy or ring-powered terrorists rightfully pissed about the massacre of their homeworlds… that sounds pretty terrifying. And of course they recruit the cat, because a pissed off cat Lantern sounds like fun. Tui manages to evade the Inversions, hiding in an asteroid field. The Inversions start smashing their way through it, flinging kilometers of rock away at a swipe. Atrocitus tells them to leave her, he wants the Oans to know they’re coming, because there isn’t a thing they can do to staunch the Rage of the Red Lanterns. Dex-Starr, a cat with a Red Lantern ring on its tail, attacks Tui in her hiding place, clawing at her face, before being torn clear by one of the other Red Lanterns, and scampering off after them; Dex-Starr doesn’t float, at first, but bounds from red energy ledge to another to gather up speed before flying. Tui sends out an all points bulletin: there’s another Corps. of Lanterns, and they’re headed straight for Oa.