Pitchgiving 2021, part 9: Elseworlds

I view these as largely low-budget films done with largely practical, period effects suitable to the type of movie they’re aping (excepting, of course, where modern tech can make something safer and/or cheaper). Doing them this way, you could probably continue the Elseworlds franchise indefinitely, like James Bond, and I have literally a dozen synopses already. I may pitch only the sequels that make sense for a trilogy, but I might also do all 12. Kind of depends on how I’m feeling.

The franchise would nominally star the Martian Manhunter, though he would mostly only appear in the beginning and end, maybe here or there once in a while, and even then largely CGed, so even he could largely be recast movie to movie. Because the series involves altered timelines it would also permit the leads to be recast between pictures, too, which would both help keep budgets down and also guarantee that just because someone makes sense as cyberpunk Batman, that doesn’t mean we have to sit through his groan-inducing medieval Batman and also opens opportunities for race, gender and other diversity-bending.

For those of you unaware, the last remaining Martian, John Jones, can shape-shift, read minds, is as strong as Superman, can control his density, become invisible. He could single-handedly take down the rest of the Justice League… provided no one accidentally caused a spark. Yeah, his weakness is to fire… which is a pretty ridiculous weakness to still have modern day (probably trumped only by Green Lantern’s weakness to yellow; side note, I want to give that weakness to JSA GL, and then have the Trickster have a flash mob pelt him with bananas- because it’s funny).

This movie starts during a fight with the immortal Vandal Savage. Probably to keep the budget down, we could just imply the rest of the Justice League are there, have Batman’s cape billow in from off-screen, show some heat vision blasting in, Wonder Woman’s lasso whipping a guy across the room. That kind of thing. John grabs Savage just as he’s trying to use a device to send him to a different time to escape them (I’d probably set it up through some narration as Batman deducing that Savage had been engineering evil throughout the millennia- that that was the reason Batman was after the image of Wonder Woman, too, looking for proof of Savage’s influence- including collaborating with Hitler (he helped Nazism get off the ground). John grabs him, but they’re separated by the machine, and flung into the past. Or a past, really, since the machine had really only be calibrated to work with Savage’s DNA, and was thrown for a loop by the addition of John.

We comedically dump John through a portal into pastoral England. The trauma of the machine reassembling John from atoms knocks him out every time. This time, it happens to be in the presence of the Green Hood (Green Arrow by way of Robin Hood). John comes to in Sherwood Forest. John has spent years honing his abilities, and to prevent detection amongst humans, has trained his body to revert to a human form when he is unconscious. This John just happens to be rather large, a veritable giant of a man. Hood says that there are men who would burn him for a witch for that, which likely means he’s arrived at an opportune moment.

We cut to court, where Lord Lexington (a bald Luthor in a suit of plate mail painted in the colors of his battle suit, so purple and green), as the Sheriff of Nottingham, presides. Savage is there, in the background, working as Nottingham’s advisor. One of the other nobles expresses confusion, why this one is different. They’ve been holding ‘King’ Arthur for a fortnight, but this Themysciran ambassador arrived in town only yesterday. They don’t understand why Lex is in such a hurry to burn her at the stake. Lex says that Arthur’s claims are worth investigating. If he is indeed a king, even one in exile, his execution could bring them into conflict with the kingdom of Atlantis, and there are only rumors a peasant woman saw him trying to commune with fish. He might just be one more in-bred noble.

Whereas no one’s heard of Themyscira, the ‘ambassador’ flew in view of several members of the city guard, and who on earth has ever heard of a woman ambassador. He pounds the table, and demands that she and the other witch must both be burnt at the stake before they are able to ensorcel them all (the Sheriff has declared all metahumans witches and enemies of the realm). At that moment, the younger, handsome noble to one side of Luthor collapses forward, knocking over his wine onto Luthor’s lap, apparently having fallen asleep at the meeting. He stirs, muttering about not likely missing anything important. 

“Not at all, Wayne, by all means, sleep the day away,” an irritated Lex grumbles. It’s subtle, but Wayne pockets a key.

We cut to later that day, as John and Hood sneak into the castle. The square is filled with people, there to watch as an executioner in gray plate armor reminiscent of Firefly lights a torch, preparing to set the pyres two women are tied to alight.

“Fire is… bad,” John says.

“Yes, my simple friend,” Hood says, and claps him on the back. “That is why we must rescue these fair damsels from it, and preserve England from the stain of having murdered an ambassador in the process. I just have to figure out how…”

We cut back to the women. One is Lady Diana, the ambassador in question. Her garb is strange, with a Greek, togic influence, and some variation on the red, blue and gold color scheme. The other is the witch Zatanna, smartly dressed as a courtesan reminiscent of the purple and white costume with the cape she wore in the comics; she has a rag tied across her mouth preventing her from speaking. Diana snaps her bonds, and then tears the gag from Zatanna. Immediately the witch begins to chant, bidding the flame to jump from the torch onto Firefly.

We cut back to John and Hood, with John asking. “Part of your plan?”

Hood rises, drawing his bow, and firing into Firefly, who ignores the fire engulfing his armor and lifts an executioner’s ax above his head. “Ours is apparently a supporting role in this play.” Hood fires, managing to strike Firefly in the joints of his armor, causing him to fall. John flings a stone torn from the castle wall into another guard that was sneaking towards Zatanna as she removed her bonds. Zatanna and Diana fly over the castle wall. John leaps over it, not wanting to draw more attention to himself than necessary. “Little help?” Hood calls to the escaping women, and an exasperated Zatanna mutters something that lifts him after them by his shorts (it is a flying wedgie) and he exclaims, “Ah, my pantaloons!”

We cut to the dungeons, panning past two cells that had held Diana and Zatanna but are not open, stopping on one occupied by a crowned nobleman with an orange and green color scheme to his attire. In the immediate foreground, a black-gloved hand inserts a key- the same stolen from the Sheriff earlier. Arthur sits up, and turns towards his rescuer. It’s Lord Wayne. “You may find this peculiar, but a school of fish passed a message by code to me this morning, by a method I learned in my travels through Arabia. The message stated that there would be a distraction at this hour, affording you an opportunity to bloodlessly escape.” Wayne unfurls a green cloak with an Arabic influence to it, perhaps even letters around the hood in Cyrillic reciting a period/culture-appropriate variation of the Green Lantern oath. “If anyone questions, you are my Moorish servant, mute to the English tongue, and ill-tempered from a bout of disease his physicians are nearly certain isn’t leprosy.”

Arthur smiles, telling him that, “Lord Wayne, the rumors did not do you justice.”

Wayne is impatient. “Come. My carriage awaits.” We cut to the exterior, as they rush into the carriage. It is, for all intents and purposes, the Batmobile as a carriage, black, gothic, and bat-winged. It is driven by Wayne’s squire, Gareth.

Hood and John arrive back at his place in Sherwood. There’s an awkward moment, as, seeing there’s only the one bed, the assumption Hood has brought them back to be, er, bedded, is obvious. Until a woman in a black cloak with blond hair arrives, laying down her lute (she is, roughly, a bard). “I ride to the next town, and you can’t help yourself but bring home other women.”

“They were going to be burned at the stake by Nottingham,” Hood complains.

Diana intervenes. “I assure you, madame, that we have no designs on your gentleman’s attentions.” This Wonder Woman is openly sapphic- and only has eyes for Zatanna. Even though they only just met.

Canary reacts with frustration, that Nottingham is increasing his aggression, that they need to do something, and quickly. It is then that a Moor, dressed in the same robe that Arthur was given in the previous scene, enters into the already crowded hut. “I’m here to extend an invitation from a gentleman who is very much of the same sentiment.” They react with fear; they believed themselves secreted away in the forest, but he found them. While his presence is intriguing, they fear he’s leading them into a trap. He is the Green Lamp, even if he does not introduce himself as such.

“From what I saw this afternoon, I don’t imagine there’s a martial force, including the Sheriff’s, that could stand against those in this room. However, to take on Nottingham in a fair conflict would see him threaten the peasantry- he holds the entire citizenry hostage to his ambitions. If, like my ‘master’, you would not only see Nottingham removed, but removed with as little damage to those least prepared to weather his wrath, I would bid you follow me. I assure you my master’s secrets are equal, at least, to your own, and when all is revealed you will be equally at one another’s mercy.” They’re conflicted. It’s John who reads the Moor; when he does, the lamp he clutches to his chest glows with green flame, and he tells John he knows he’s trying to read him, and he’ll permit it, and the flame extinguishes. John tells them he recognizes his master (he doesn’t tell them that he’s Batman, or this world’s Batman), but he says that he trusts him with his life. That he will go, and if the others would stay they can stay. But he knows the man by reputation, and they will need his mettle before the end. This cascades, with Hood not being comfortable letting his simple friend take the risk alone, Canary resolving to keep her own simple ‘friend’ safe, Zatanna casting some bones to verify that she should trust them, and Diana following her.

As they leave the hut, there’s a gust of wind, and a man in red robes and chain mail with a rapier stands in front of them. “Sorry I’m late,” Flash says with a grin.

“I heard no horses,” Hood says.

“I walked,” he beams.

“How?” Canary asks. “It’s a day’s ride. And you said you had business to attend to before you could follow me.”

“I did. I’m quite swift.”

“Very well. This is Sir Jareth, a swordsman said to be the equal of a thousand men.”

“A mercenary?” Hood asks, indignant. He liked having the most swash in his buckle and is hurt Canary brought home someone else.

“No, sir,” Jareth says. “I heft my sword when justice demands it of me.”

“Sir Jareth,” Green Lamp says, putting out his hand, “You’ve spared me a ride. It’s a pleasure, your reputation as a man of honor precedes you, despite your speed.” Jareth shakes his hand. This is actually a pretty big moment, as a nobleman taking a Moor’s hand as an equal is a pretty big deal- but we don’t make a big deal out of it, because that’s not the kind of guy Jareth is.

“Well met, sir.”

“Ah, yes, if you’ll permit me,” the Green Lamp holds his lamp out, and forms a glowing coach with horses out of the ground. The door pops open.

“What witchcraft is this?” Hood asks, walking around the coach and kicking one of its wheels to see that it’s solid.

“You quarrel with witchcraft?” Zatanna asks, with an edge of menace to it.

“Quarrel? No. Trust entirely with my person, not entirely.”

“You’re more than welcome to ride with us, Sir Jareth. No need to run alongside us,” the Green Lamp offers.

“I suppose I could do for the company.” They all get inside, with GL sitting outside to drive, to keep up appearance. The glow dissipates, to draw less attention as they begin.

“I do have one last stop to make. It’s along the way. I’m afraid he insisted I permit him to provide one last service before I collected him.” The pull up to a small parish.

“Ah, a church, if anyone has sins to confess, or needs to use the Lady’s facilities,” Hood says.

A friar exits the parish. His robes are overlarge and ill-fitting, very plain, very bare; he lives as a pauper, because he puts every penny he scrapes together to help the poor. We likely get flashes of what he wears beneath it, chainmail colored like his classic suit, with the red and yellow symbol on his chest. It arrived with him from the far-flung land of his parents birth, and is the only clothing in existence strong enough to withstand the same damage as him. He addresses the Green Lamp as “Alihan,” and shakes his hand warmly, and objects when he stands on ceremony to refer to him as Friar Kent, and insists that he call him Clark. Hood asks after it, and the friar tells him that the name means “Hand of God,” and that they get along very well, because he lives up to it.

They ride off, as the world becomes dark. They see the castle, roughly in the shape of the top half of the bat symbol as it cuts across the moon. Hood recognizes it. “This is Wayne Manor. My family visited once, when I was a child. Young Bruce was churlish and stuffy, even for a nobleman’s son- even for a physician’s son.”

“And he would know from stuffy,” Canary adds. Lamp drives their coach beyond the manor, into a series of caves. Depending on budget, it can be quite a harrowing ride over caverns and jumps, or it can simply be through a waterfall. 

Lamp opens the coach door for them, and tells them, “Welcome to Lord Wayne’s world.” Referencing a Mike Meyer’s movie isn’t the only reason I’m writing this pitch. It’s just a perk. The cave is wonderous, filled with falling water and lit by torches. It takes the breath away. Wayne, in his Dark Knight plate armor, descends a spiral staircase carved into the rock. He bids them join him at a rounded table with a bat symbol (and also the Wayne family’s crest) carved into it.

Wayne relates that he has a spy on the inside of Lexington’s circle, a courtesan named Lady Kyle, who has been watching Luthor. She informs him that Lexington moves against Arthur and Diana are part of a larger thirst for power, that Nottingham plans to seize nearby lands for his own, under the pretext that he will protect them. If he can grab up enough new land before King Richard’s return, from the crusades, the gentry will be forced to decide if they would accept a smaller slice of a lesser pie, or to serve under Lexington.

Lady Diana interrupts, to explain what her ambassadorial mission was- to pass a message, and express condolences: that Lexington’s man within Richard’s circle, the Yellow Knight, had succeeded in killing Richard, and laying blame for it at the feet of the Amazons. She came with proof of his ill-deeds, but it was seized along with her- and not through martial means. She believes Lexington is involved with sorcery. Flash relates that the business he concluded before arriving likely relates- that he scuttled a group of sellswords hired by Eobard Thawn, at what he now believes was Lexington’s bidding, to attack the township, in order to press them to request the protection of Nottingham.

Wayne tells them Lexington is setting about creating reasons to expand their territory, first within and then beyond England, that his game is already afoot, and they have only one chance to depose him. They talk about who should replace Lexington. Some think it should be Wayne, and while he believes himself a capable commander in the field, he is not a ruler. Arthur, however, is. King Arthur is of course reluctant, because he’s already lost one kingdom. Eventually it’s Wayne who interrupts them to say, “We storm a castle held by superior forces, with sorcery and corruption at their command. Those of us who survive can bicker over who must take the reigns after.” They agree to table the question of who will sit the throne until such time as it is won, and agree to depose Lexington.

Most of them pile back into Lamp’s coach, which expands to accommodate them- including Lamp himself, as Wayne’s squire takes the reigns. Wayne himself climbs atop a black steed (named Ace) with black armor of its own, resembling his, including its own billowing cape. “I believe the party is on, Lord Wayne,” Wayne’s squire says.

“The party is on, Squire Gareth.” Shut up. Don’t judge me.

They ride to the square where Diana and Zatanna were nearly burned earlier in the day. On the scaffolding, Lady Kyle is bound at the wrists, hanging from the ropes. The Squire leaps from his seat, and starts towards her. Wayne stops him. “Wait,” he says, then “Hood, if you’d be so kind as to free her.” Clear of the coach, he looses an arrow, that slices through her bonds, and she lands gracefully. At the same moment, Sir Slade, in his trademark orange and black armor, fires an arrow at Wayne, who deflects it with his cloak (I’m going to say its slats of armor, and so can be used somewhat like a shield).

Other members of Lexington’s council emerge, now revealing their gimmicks that identify them as analogs to supervillains: Deathstroke, Zoom, Sinestro, Circe, Cheetah and Harley Quinn. Also there is Black Manta, who was not part of the council, but is in this incarnation, an Atlantean assassin, garbed mostly in black, tasked by Arthur’s brother to kill him and end the threat to his rule. Cheetah, while dressed in cheetah-skin robes (I might consider making her of African descent, and patterning the cheetah skins to traditional garb from the region, both to explain how it’s there and increase the diversity a bit) is actually a werewolf (werecat, if we really must). Lexington’s jester is, for all intents and purposes, a bawdy-joke-telling Harley Quinn. If it doesn’t overstuff things, she’s got her own agenda, to avenge the death of Lexington’s previous jester, her Joker, who Lex just couldn’t find the humor in- which is why she face turns towards the end. The heroes and villains face off.

Superman Lexington
Flash Eobard Thawn
Green Lantern The Yellow Knight
Wonder Woman Lady Circe
Batman Sir Slade
Aquaman Black Manta
Martian Manhunter Savage
Green Arrow Deadshot
Black Canary Harley Quinn
Lady Kyle Lady Minerva

About the midway point, we reveal that Thawn is from the future, and brought back advanced tech with him, which Lex took to like a fish to water (“Arthur knows precisely what I mean about that”) giving the villains an even further advantage. But the heroes persevere, overcoming even these long odds, only for Lex to hit them with a blast of arcane energy, maybe stating that magic and science are separated only by one’s own rational understanding, that the idea of a separate “witchcraft” is therefore the province of small minds. Now, if you want to keep it to the relatively cheaper model I described, Lex just gets slightly powered up by magic before being defeated with an assist from Harley. But if you want some bombast, Lexington demonstrates the ability to resurrect Solomon Grundy to fight them. John catches Savage trying to sneak away, and they’re both sucked into another portal.

It’s Arthur who lands the final blow on his assassin, who makes one final attempt as Lexington is defeated. Arthur, pleased with himself asks, “So, King Wayne, what will your first decree be,” realizing as he turns that the rest of them are already kneeling before him, Wayne included.

Wayne smiles beneath his helmet. “I believe you’ve misspoken, sire, for as you can plainly see, your subjects humbly await your command.”

“Oh, bother,” Arthur says, and we roll credits. We only do the main cast, before we do a mid-credits scene:

The League of Justice sits around the round table in the Batcave. Lord Wayne addresses them. “I’ve asked you to come here to answer a question, one I cannot answer for all of you. We united, to provide justice within Nottingham, to right that single wrong. But were we a League of Justice once, or are we a League of Justice for all?” They all stand together, as the music stirs.

One does not. It’s Arthur, and as he rises, he explains why, that while he has reluctantly accepted a crown in England, he refuses one here.

That suits Wayne just fine, who continues. ”One among us has had his kingdom stolen, usurped by a brother who believes right can be usurped by a will to power. I ask you not to stand for a divine right to rule, but on the cause Atlantis is a kingdom on the brink, because this usurper has proved unfit to wield the power he has stolen. I have it on authority that this self-proclaimed Master of the Ocean would rather sink Atlantis than relinquish his grasp.” On the one hand, maybe it’s cruel to set up a sequel we won’t actually make… on the other, you could totally make those sequels.

Mid-credits Scene

It’s quiet, as we pan through Lexington’s dungeon, past the cells that housed Diana, Arthur and Zatanna. Only this time we pan down, through the floor, into an underground workshop; it is one-half Dr. Frankenstein, one-half necromancer’s laboratory. But we stop on an iron-gated doorway with metal barbs carved into the bars.

We hear quiet, anxious laughter, and the single tinkle of the last remaining bell on a jester’s collar. Then a voice, first timid, asking, “Lex?” Peppered laughter, now louder, more assertive. “Oh Lexy-pooh? Sheriff of Rottingham?” An unhinged, gleeful, aggressive, angry fit of uncontrollable laughter bursts forward, until a man with white skin, wearing a green and purple jester’s costume, lunges into the door, the barbs cutting into his hands, but not making him grip the door any less firmly. “While the sheriff’s away, the jester will play,” he says, and whistles a version of the animated Joker theme song as he traces a rune onto the lock, which opens it with a sizzle. The door swings open as he walks out, continuing to whistle. This Joker is both the result of Lex’s occult and chemical experimentation, and also his apprentice (not that Lex intended to teach those kinds of secrets to such a madman- but he could see enough from his cell to become truly deadly).

End Credits Scene It’s a dark and stormy night on the seas during the golden age of piracy, a family (boy, mother and father) acrobatically jump amongst the rigging, so acrobatic and graceful you forget for a moment it isn’t a performance. The rigging Richard is on breaks, and he grabs another piece, which breaks. Mary swings to save him and for an instant they share a smile, before that rope, too, breaks. Their son, young Dick, swings on another rope to save them, but he’s too late- and while his rope, too, breaks, it breaks at the end of his arc, and he’s able to land on some rigging opposite, and climbs down to where his parents fell. The men gather around as the boy weeps beside his dead parents. We hear murmurs from them not to wake the Captain. We see a wooden door swing open, and hear a shudder go through the crowd as offscreen the Captain says, “He’s up.” All we see of him is a black boot coming to rest just behind a boy, next to a rat that is subtly green and whose eyes glow red. The Captain’s black glove lights on the boy’s shoulder where he weeps. We pan up but also out, climbing the mast as we show more of the ship. In a flash of lightning we see a black pirate’s flag, but the skull is incorporated into a bat symbol.

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