Pitchgiving 2021, part 13: Birds of Prey 3: Birds of a Feather

This follows directly after the Batwomen pitch, and while all my DCEU pitches are in continuity, it really builds off my Birds of Prey 2 pitch from last year.

The Birds of Prey (along with the balance of the Batwomen) have to team up with the Gotham City Sirens, because the male crime-lords in town partnered with Jason Woodrue to use Ivy’s pheromones against all the men in the city (I’m thinking at least Penguin, Two-Face and the Ventriloquist will be our fodder villains for this one). To complicate things, before the Sirens sit down with the Birds of Prey, Ivy made a desperate plea to Alec Holland to try and stop Woodrue… only for him to fall under the spell of her purloined pheromones. We probably start the story en media res, with Harley, Catwoman and Black Bat managing to break Ivy out of the clutches of Woodrue. This leads Woodrue to unleash his altered pheromone into the city, where all of the men turn incredibly hostile- basically normal men on the street attack them. The crime bosses use this chaos to their advantage; Batman is able to quarantine Gotham’s male heroes in the cave while he works on an antidote… all while being a pretty demented bastard all the same on their video link. This leaves things up to the ladies to fix. I think the way we first introduce this, is Harley is sneaking off from Ivy to meet with Jason Todd. Black Bat knows that, because she also knows the context: Harley feels terrible for her part in kidnapping and torturing him. She’s trying to make amends, and at the same time there’s really no one else who understands what she went through like Jason does. It starts as a two-person support group, but will grow from there.

Harley is nervous being in the back of a plane again. The last time she was in one, everybody died, and she’s having flashbacks. It’s mostly an excuse to show a montage of moments from the Suicide Squad (I figure if we build it into our mythos eventually people will watch it enough for it to become profitable- and it is a fun movie- which is why next year I’ll pitch a follow-up… but shhh). The montage ends with Flag, and we cut back to Harley in the back of the plane, a tear sliding down her cheek, “I miss Milton.”

Black Bat notices, and sits beside her in the plane, and takes her hand, “Harley, it’s going to be okay.”

“Is it?” she asks, trauma clearly having taken the wheel. “At any second Waller might kick in the door and decide to try to kill me again. And this plant dick took Ivy… I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to her.”

“I know,” Black Bat soothes, “we’re getting her back.”

“How’s our mental patient?” Catwoman asks, emerging from the cockpit.

“Still crazy after all these years,” Black Bat says. “But she’s good. Because she has to be.”

“She’s your responsibility. I’m getting Ivy out, because I don’t like owing favors. But the headcase is yours to babysit. If she goes to pieces, we may not have the space to put her back together.”

“I trust her. She’s just… her last time in a plane didn’t go so great.”

“We don’t have time for trauma. We need to jump in fifteen seconds.” Catwoman flings a parachute at Harley, and it flies past, before she raises her hand. Catwoman looks at Black Bat.

“She’s good,” Cassandra insists. “She’s rallying.”

Catwoman runs out of the plane and leaps gracefully past camera. Black Bat helps Harley into her parachute. “What if I can’t do this?” Harley asks.

“I’m pretty sure,” Black Bat glances at the cockpit, to see the stick is tied in place with a whip, “yeah, by engaging the autopilot Selena meant this stolen plane is going to crash as a distraction, so we don’t have much choice. Come on.” Black Bat takes her hand and pulls her to the door and jumps with her.

They’re buffeted by a bad wind, and separated, and Black Bat gets caught up in a tree as a patrol arrives. For a moment it looks bad. Then Harley pops up out of the grass and takes the patrol apart with swift, acrobatic efficiency. Catwoman’s already up in the tree and slices Black Bat out of her chute, and she falls with a somewhat comedic thud, before standing and brushing herself off.

“Jumping out of a perfectly functional plane is just crazy enough to be in my wheelhouse. What I meant was what if I’m not functional enough to save Ivy, to infiltrate this ‘compound,’ to be the kind of partner I’ve always wanted…”

“Harley,” Black Bat interrupts, “I love the brilliant, fucked up way your head works. But the reason I trust you, even now, with my life, is that when you follow your heart, I’ve never seen it steer you wrong. So when I say you can do this, I mean that you will, if you can just stay out of your own way. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Harley says.

“You two ever consider motivational speaking?” Catwoman asks, slinking down the tree. “Or getting your own Lifetime movie? Or maybe just starting a nationwide hug tour?”

“Ignore her,” Harley says, “she deflects genuine emotion because she’s worried if she doesn’t immediately bat it away people will understand how desperately she craves it, and to belong.”

Catwoman is not happy being analyzed; Black Bat puts up her hands. “You poked that bear.”

“Doing this for Ivy,” Catwoman says, annoyed. “Silver lining: maybe the two of you will get shot in the process.”

I’m assuming, since this is a big, ambitious swing already, that we should just montage them breaking in, taking out some guards, and rescuing Ivy, where we slow down again, because Harley wraps her arms around Ivy and kisses her. It needs to be a moment… but afterwards, it needs to not be a big deal, too (because I want them together, and happy, but if we make it too much of a thing then it’s like there’s something atypical about women finding love together… and there isn’t).

“What took you?” Ivy asks gently; she’s trying to keep it light, bantery, and not let on how scared she’s been, how much being used by Jason Woodrue has psychologically or physically taxed her, because she knows Harley has been merciless with herself, so she has to compensate by being kind.

“Traffic,” Harley says, half a laugh, half a sob.

“No crying,” Catwoman says, almost accusatory, but we can tell, too, it’s because it’s affecting her.

“In baseball?” Harley asks, raising her bat. The Sirens stomp together, as we do another quick montage (because we have so much story to get through on this one).

They get free, and we’re going to do a quick little flashback. Again, I don’t want to make a thing about them, like there’s anything odd about their pairing… but I like this moment. This is the moment it all comes out in the open.

“I didn’t look for you because you were probably the only person at Arkham who tried to understand me. I knew the tendency for a patient to put their doctor on a pedestal; I told myself you were doing a job, and doing it well, and that can be sexy, in its own right. I knew not to assume it meant anything, either about how I felt about you, or about how you felt about me.

“But then I saw you, with Cassie, and out in the world, as yourself, strong, confident, but with a heart so big and open that of course it flashed like a giant kick me sign to a monster like the Joker, but also… that showed just how warm, loving, and compassionate you were, how much you wanted for someone to love you like you love everyone. And that you could see people like us as… people. That’s a damning statement, to be sure, about our society, and the mental health profession, but you’ve always been a diamond,” she touches the diamond pattern on her right wrist, “and you’ve always deserved someone who saw that,” she kisses her.

Black Bat interrupts the story, and we reveal that Harley and Ivy are cuddling on a loveseat, while the other two are sitting in the same room. “I’m out. It’s like listening to 2 out of my 3 moms talk about making out. I’m out,” she reiterates as she leaves the room.

Catwoman sits quietly in her chair and stares.

“I had a cat like you,” Harley says. “Would just sit in the corner of my room and stair. Until I brought a guy home. Or a girl home. Or anyone else. And then, she’d lock eyes with me, and only then, she’d start to bathe.” Catwoman frowns, trying to figure out her meaning, before just leaving the room.

“I don’t mind an audience, but a part of me did want you just for myself.” I want her to have that, too, so we’re going to fade to black.

We fade back in the next morning. I don’t care who wants what, but I really want to emphasize the humanity in this moment, the normalcy; one of them is snoring buzzsaw loud, and the other has just left a puddle of drool on the other. And even this, I know, could be filmed with the male gaze in mind- but it shoudn’t. They should look like the room got hit with a hurricane, their hair should be mussed, as little makeup as possible (I mean, the characters are usually caked in it, so I’m genuinely not sure what’s supposed to be their skin and what’s makeup), but they are frumped to a degree that even Margot Robbie (and presumably Lake Bell, because that’s great casting I suggested in the last one) look like normal human beings. Black Bat knocks on the door, and comes in, keeping her arm over her eyes. “I really, really, hate to intrude on your love nest- like, I don’t know the words in English to express how much I don’t want to intrude,” (I like the idea of her spouting something in Mandarin or whatever to prove that the words exist, at least somewhere).

Harley wakes up, and feels self-conscious, picking up that Cass expects a sexed-up Adventureland, “Yep, the air is thick with the smells of sex and sensual oils and lubricants and just,” and tries to mop up the drool, wake up Ivy, all while making the both of them look a little more put together than they were (this should be silly and fun, not for gratification).

“Okay, whoa, already way more information than I would have ever wanted to know. But before I exit, you should know… it’s spreading. Ivy’s pheromones, Woodrue had enough of them that he’s blanketing the entire city. It isn’t just our neighborhood that’s a nightmare. It’s the entire city.”

“Let us get dressed.”

“Oh, God, no more,” Cassandra moans.

“We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Ivy asks.

“What, that I took a beautiful woman to bed and then proceeded to drool all over her stomach? That I was snoring so loud it bugged me even in my own dreams. That despite my days being consumed with thoughts of sex and death the entire time you were missing, once you were back, all I could do was pass out next to you?”

Ivy, again, is gentle with her, recognizing Harley’s spiraling. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I just needed you to hold me.”

“And I couldn’t even do that right.”

“The drooling wasn’t exactly what I expected. But I slept like a baby. I felt safe with you. It was exactly what I needed.”

“Yeah?” Harley asked.

“Being with someone isn’t just about rocking their world sexually. You also want to be comfortable just being with them. Feeling safe, and secure and, and loved.”

“Yeah,” Harley says, realizing how much she needed to hear that, and cuddling up against her. “I love you, Ivy.”

“I love you, too, Harls.”

Damnit. Okay. That’s on me. I promise I’m going to try and stop being so damned enamored of the two of them together that I can get back to pitching. I think the best way to get this story moving again is to take a peek at the other side of the aisle, namely the ‘good’ guys.

We watch Barbara walk by her suit in the Clocktower; she’s wearing clothes for a run. She tells Oracle that she needs to pick up an assignment from school, but then she’ll be back, and asks if Oracle needs anything. She asks for a Yoohoo (or other product placement to be paid for later).

There’s something on the air as she puts in her earbuds and puts on some music. We’re going to leave the music on for most of her run, at least until the insanity gets to be so much she silences it, and suddenly is forced to confront exactly how screwed up the few blocks she’s ran are. I figure this is one long take (but possibly with some hidden cuts, if need be). First she runs by a man who is clearly screaming at her, partially dodging to avoid specks of spittle flying through the air. Unfortunately, this is Gotham, so angry men yelling at random women on the street is a thing, and doesn’t phase her. At a hot dog cart, a man and a woman with a baby in a stroller seem to be altercating, when the man raises his hand. Barbara grabs the hook of his elbow and uses it to roll him over her back without stopping. She runs a little further, and a man takes a swing at her. She puts him down without any problem, only for another man to attack her. And a third. She puts them all down with ease, but we pull back, to reveal that this has all happened on the same block. Barbara turns down her music and calls Oracle. “Oracle, what the hell is going on?”

“You know that weird fog on the waterfront that turned any man who came into contact into a woman-hating troll? Yeah, well, it’s spread across the whole city. It’s chaos. Figured you knew.”

“I slept in. I’m going to head back to the Clocktower. Something tells me we’re going to need to handle this.”

We cut to Batgirl arriving. Oracle is clearly phased by what she tells Barbara. “So I called Batman, like you asked. He’s aware, by the way. Um… I’m struggling. I know this isn’t a typical workplace or… anything approaching a normal situation. I guess I just never imagined I’d ever hear Batman call me a c-word.”

“What?”

“And he called you, uh, B-girl.”

“Well, that is my-” she realizes Oracle means the other B-girl.

Oh. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“It was more, comically surreal. But… he’s terrifying. Most of the time I don’t breathe when he calls. And I even noticed he noticed, and has tried to emote more, which should make me feel more comfortable, that he’s trying, but it’s like watching the Tin Man try to be more emotional by wearing Totos face. But it’s only right now, when I actually saw what he’s like when he’s threatening. And the idea that he could stay like this…”

“We’ll fix it.

“Almost makes me feel sorry for criminals. Not because of what he does do, but because… because of what he could do, what I now realize he might do. Gives me the feeling he is one day where they give him a shot of espresso instead of decaf from being Joker in a cowl.”

“Maybe that’s why he doesn’t drink caffeine at all- just doesn’t trust himself.”

“Really? Does he even sleep? And he still doesn’t touch caffeine? How does he stay up?”

“Obsession.”

“The Calvin Klein cologne? Does he chug it?”

“Will. Same way he’s still remaining functional, if a bit… jerkier than usual.”

“Feels like an understatement, but yeah, he’s still working, with all the other Robins, Nightwings, Red Hoods and whatevers in the cave with him. He’s isolated the compounds. Definitely bears some signatures worth being concerned over. Three names, at least trying to read between the lines; he was editorializing some, especially when it came to Ivy. But it was her pheromones. But they seemed altered, in a way that makes him suspect Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue are involved.”

“That’s bad,” Batgirl reacts. “Really bad. Ivy on her own is trouble. Ivy and Woodrue are extinction level trouble. Swamp Thing would have been our go-to guy to help with it, but if he’s working with them, or they have him… call everybody.”

Everybody?”

“Let me rephrase. Everyone without a y chromosome. Anyone who can help, we need on standby, or here if they can swing it”

“What about Batwing?” Batgirl doesn’t follow. “They’re nonbinary.”

Barbara sighs. “I’ll text Batman. If this goes down to the chromosomal level, it might make sense to have Batwing sequester with the rest in the cave. But if not, it’s all hands on deck.”

We’re back in Ivy and Harley’s apartment. Ivy is wearing a shirt from Arkham (yeah, like she did in the first Arkham game), and is drinking coffee. “So… I’ve been talking to some of the houseplants.”

“You, too? They only seem to want to talk to me about celebrity butts. You?”

“That’s not them, hon, it’s a voice in your head. No, the plants tell me Alec was here.”

“Alec, Alec… why doesn’t that name ring a bell?”

“He was my ex. Is sort of dead. And a plant elemental.”

“You used to bang the plant guy?” Harley asks, amused, horrified, intrigued, confused. “I mean, there’s bumping uglies and then there’s bumping uglies.”

Harley.”

“I swear, I did not know, or I would have at least straightened up before he grew out of a few bags of fertilizer in the tub- we may have to replace the tub. He said it was the fastest way to get here from ‘the Swamp,’ which I really hadn’t expected to be all so literal. One of the bat people owed me a favor, got me his number, when you went missing. I thought plant guy, wearing a trench coat, he must be some kind of plant dick, and, not you know, your old plant d-”

“It was his friend who wore the trench coat. But it worked, I guess. You found me.”

“We did… just not at first. He led us into a trap. A trap for him, I think, or at least a trap for if he came looking for you.”

“Oh, no. A couple nights ago? When Woodrue’s experiments got a lot worse.”

“Yeah,” Harley says meekly. “But he did get us the lead that got you back.”

“For which I am grateful, but… do you understand what Alec Holland is?” Harley shrugs. “He is basically a plant god. Meaning, he could take my pheromones, and increase their potency. He could probably even reproduce them. That’s why Woodrue didn’t put up much of a fight when you came for me- because I was redundant-maybe even a distraction at that point. And now it’s a race against time, and we’re starting from behind.” She finishes her coffee and turns around. “How much pull do you have with these bat people?”

“Like I asked for a tour of the Batcave or for them to drive us around in the Batmobile while we made out in the back seat.”

“And they said ‘no?’”

“No back seat. The rest all depends. Are we asking to work with them, or trying to scam ‘em?”

“If you don’t at least leave the possibility of the latter open I’m never talking to either of you again,” Catwoman says, pouring herself a bowl of milk.

Ivy’s prepared. “I spoke with the city’s Economy Development Corporation, and they estimate there are half a million cats in Gotham City. I know cats are survivors and all, but what happens if jilted men decide to take their anger out on women’s cats, or worse, if my pheromones end up working just as well on male cats.”

Catwoman stops lapping at the bowl. “Can I at least steal something, when this is all over, so I don’t feel like a complete sap?”

“Sure,” they both say with a shrug.

The Birds of Prey/Batwomen assemble at the tower, with the promise that the rest of the women heroes are dealing with a bigger threat outside of Gotham, but will be there as soon as they can wrap it up. Then they get the call from the Sirens, all agreeing to work together.

Oracle has been able to put together the records from all of their Woodrue-related locations so far. And it seems he’s been using places, money and resources from three separate crime families. Analysis of recent police surveillance has proven that the three seem to be working together, and that they need to hit all three crime bosses at once, to mop up as much of their men and resources as possible. They split into three teams, with Ivy’s team going to where they think Swamp Thing is/Penguin, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey going after Woodrue/Two-Face, and Batwoman and the other Batwomen going after the location where the pheromones are all stored to destroy them/Ventriloquist (he’s squatting on old Joker territory; he lost clout after fallout from BoP2, especially with his willingness to sacrifice his henchmen for a joke, nobody really wanted to work for him)- that meant the Ventriloquist had a lot of territory with abandoned chemical storage/disposal, perfect for the pheromones they pumped out of Ivy.  

The Batwomen easily deal with the Ventriloquist, Scarface and his vanilla mooks. Then they realize there was a lot more pheromone than they realized- acres of it. Batwoman calls her father. The base is still observing chemical weapons protocols, so they’re fine, if somewhat understaffed. He agrees to help her bomb the pheromone storage (I think he loads a plane with explosives and arranges for Kate to steal it, having learned since the last movie how to fly a plane… ish- the main sticking point being her landings are still mostly crashes in the simulator).

Ivy leads the Sirens to rescue Alec. Penguin, slightly impacted by the pheromones (but having always been a dick) gets the snot kicked out of him, and realizing how ridiculously powerful Ivy is, decide not to screw with them and leave without much of a fight. The true brawl, though, is with the Swamp Thing himself. He’s still under the influence of Ivy’s pheromones, only a stronger, more robust variant he helped concoct. Thankfully, midway through the fight Ivy realizes that the Swamp Thing they’re fighting isn’t Alec at all, that he essentially grew himself a bodyguard, so while the others fight him off (badly), Ivy reasons with Alec, that he’s a good man, the man she admired, the one she fell for. She kisses him, and it brings him out of his stupor, and then some. The bodyguard keeps fighting, but some of the life has gone out of it; this is amplified by the fact that Harley, seeing the kiss, goes berserk, and will hit him in the twig and berries frequently with her big-ass mallet. Alec’s still a little influenced by the pheromones, and clingy; Ivy says she thought he got engaged, and he says that’s complicated. Ivy tells him things are a lot less complicated for her- that she found someone who makes her happy, and looks over at Harley, practically glowing. Ivy uses the Swamp Thing’s arm to pull Harley to her, and kisses her. Harley stammers that she thought… before Ivy tells her she thinks too much, and kisses her. “I do.” And they kiss again.

Finally, Two-Face’s place is where the real fight happens. One half of his mansion is overgrown. The Birds of Prey split up, Batgirl leading one segment into the overgrown side, since she’s got all the weedkilling toys, and Question leading the other up the pristine side. Question and Huntress make short work of Two-Face, before wondering where all his goons are. Both Harveys smile. Woodrue knocks Batgirl and Canary through a door, rolling into the room. Harvey tells them the reason he didn’t see a point in putting his men in harm’s way tonight was that it was going to be a bloodbath- that they were just waiting for all the guests to arrive.

At that moment, the Sirens and the Batwomen arrive. Two-Face brags to Woodrue that his timing is impeccable. As you can see, we’ve got a ridiculous cast of women here already… but things are about to go just completely nuts. I wasn’t screwing with you when I said that this was Endgame for DC’s women. Well, here it goes.

I think for the ending we bring in a big Big Bad; personally, I’d swing for the fences and have it be Granny Goodness with a team of male furies; Granny Goodness has basically been taken to task by Darkseid. He thinks her Furies need to open up to male members, that she’s been artificially holding her elite soldiers back. So she’s testing his hypothesis, by recruiting a team of men. She explains that there’s a part of her rooting for the women, because they’ll prove her right if they win, not that she could ever gloat to Darkseid. But she wants her ladies back; she was the one who gave Woodrue the necessary upgrade to be able to adapt Ivy’s pheromones.

At first, the combined Birds of Prey are outmatched. But then… those other heroines we teased earlier on, who would show as soon as they wrapped up the bigger threat… they arrive. This loops in all of the most powerful of DC’s women for a fireworks finish as they beat a team of men under Granny’s control, before all of the rest of the women show up. This list is in no way all-inclusive, and will likely swell. But it should give you an idea of who’s punching who.

Wonder Woman Lobo
Big Barda Scott Free
Supergirl Granny Goodness
Power Girl Superboy
Zatanna Jason Blood/The Demon
Ivy Jason Woodrue
Catwoman/Black Bat (snatches Granny’s control rod)
Harley Quinn (souped up) Joker, like from the first Arkham game (can really be Clayface, if that’s too silly)
Batgirl Nightwing
Mary Marvel Black Adam
Fire  
Ice  
Huntress  
Mera  
Jesse Quick  
Natasha Irons  
Artemis  

Wherever possible/necessary, we can replace the menfolk with their CGI counterparts (having the Demon in a fight wouldn’t necessarily require paying Jason Blood to show; I’m all for paying him to show, mind, but I know some actors really hate showing up to film what is essentially a cameo, and it’s possible the budget on this will also be insane, so building in places where we can cut costs might be helpful).

But the women are winning. Granny is conflicted; she’s winning the moral argument even as she loses the fight. But she also knows that Darkseid doesn’t brook failure… she sees an opportunity to slink away, taking Jason Woodrue with her.

And, personally, I’d bring in at least 3 men, here: Batman, Superman, and whatever other male Justice Leaguer would be most impactful (could be Aquaman, given current box office). We start with whichever of them has the most recognizable voice, calling from offscreen. Camera pans, and we see those three, and think this is round 2 and it’s about to get brutal…. Only the men aren’t attacking. Or cursing. Batman explains that he’s synthesized an antidote, that he’s got Flashes spreading across the city administering doses.

Harley asks Wonder Woman if this means she’s in the Avengers- “I mean the Justice League, clearly you weren’t my safety squad.” Wonder Woman pretends not to have heard, and walks away. Harley is, for a moment, disappointed. But Batgirl is behind her. She tells her some people might look at them as minor league, but if Harley, Ivy, or Catwoman want, they always have a place in the, and before she says Birds of Prey, we go to black, and smash in the Birds of Prey logo. We quickly do the cast credits, before cutting back, immediately to the same scene.

Catwoman runs up to Harley and Ivy. “That thing I needed to do, it’s done, and we should go. Now.” She turns, and we can see she has a utility belt slung over her shoulder. It literally doesn’t matter which of the Batmen she took it from, but it’s slightly funnier if it’s a Robin and he has to hold his pants up. Batman bellows after Selena, and we cut again to black.

More credits. Then we’re on Apokalips. Jason Woodrue has seen better days. Clearly, he’s been tortured for a while. Desaad is overseeing that, but Darkseid is working with Woodrue’s figures. Desaad is becoming more concerned, that he’s been working with Woodrue’s information tirelessly, without speaking. Desaad is trying to get an answer from him, if the Antilife Equation is complete, if he’ll be able to mold the minds of men to his will. He’s not going to reply, but I would like to have him turn to camera, similar to Thanos at the end of the very first Avengers, and smile. But while that CGI Thanos looked a little cartoony, this one should be horrifying- and his smile should be a thing of nightmares. That Darkseid is happy at all should be something we’re all worried about.

Note: That puts an end to Pitchgiving 2021. Because I’m at least as crazy as Harley, I’ll be rolling right into Pitchmas, with 12-ish MCU pitches, building off the last several years of pitches.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 12: Batwomen

Prologue

White text tells us this happened fifteen years ago.

Batwoman, recognizable because of her bright red hair, as a child, is sitting in the backseat of a car with her identical twin, Beth. Gabi Kane, their mother, is driving, dressed in military clothing. Side-pitch: since this is a women-focused story, but also just because it plays against type and I think it would add to the diversity of the DCmovieU, I’d suggest gender-swapping the parents. For the pitch I’ll assume we keep it as it has been, but I strongly feel that would be the better story.

“You need to tell them, Jacob,” Gabi insists to Kate’s father, who is in the passenger seat. “It’s the only way they can protect themselves.” He unbuckles his seatbelt, to lean back and talk to them. He hesitates, not knowing where to begin. Gabi intercedes. “Your father is doing important work. Bad people have been infiltrating the military, people who don’t think our country should be for all kinds of people, regardless of color, creed, or who they are.”

“Right,” Jacob takes over. “I’m heading up an investigation into those people. And because of the duty I’ve agreed to carry out, those bad people and their friends have been making threats. Against me, against your mother,” he has trouble forcing himself to say the next words, until Gabi takes his hand, “and against the two of you. And I didn’t, I haven’t known how to tell you. Because you’re too young to have to know how awful the world can be. But my first duty is to protect you, and the best way to do that is to tell you to be careful. These bad people can look just like you or me. They might come dressed in BDUs. They might talk the talk, they might even have a life of military service under their belt. But if you ever have a question, whether or not someone is safe, you ask me, you ask your mother, and we’ll tell you straight, even if the answer is we don’t know, and you need to be wary. Can I trust you girls to be on overwatch for me?”

The girls stiffen up, and tell them, “Yes, sir.” They barely get time to recognize his smile, because Gabi shoves him  back into his seat, and we now see a large dump truck barreling down on them before it hits. We see broken images, as Kate goes in and out of consciousness. Gunmen in black paramilitary gear violently open the car doors. One shoots Gabi Kane in the head as she resists (feebly, because she’s groggy from the airbag). On the other side, one of them tells Jacob he was told what would happen if he persisted, and Jacob is smacked in the face with the butt of a rifle. A bag is shoved over Kate’s head, and we cut to black, and modern day.  

It’s a dark, stormy night. Commissioner Gordon is speaking to the Mayor, trying to convince her that she’s going to be safe, that his men can handle, “a little weasel like Jervis Tetch.” He’s got half the S.W.A.T. team on the mansion grounds, anything short of Batman wouldn’t be able to- he stops, because two of the S.W.A.T. officers are suddenly there, deserting their posts on the perimeter. Gordon prepares to give them a dressing down, when he notices the vacant look in their eyes, and tells the Mayor to get behind him, as he pulls his gun.

We cut to the aftermath, as Batgirl and Batwoman patrol the scene, one-upping one another as they reconstruct the events from the evidence. There’s an added layer, as Batgirl is concerned about her missing father; the rivalry is mostly a distraction from that worry for her; for Batwoman, it’s very much that while she’s trained, and older, she’s also green, looking to prove herself. But we start at the point that Gordon put a bullet into the door frame. Batwoman insists he missed. Batgirl assumes, correctly, that the first was a warning shot, an attempt to roust them from their stupor. When it didn’t work, he gave each man a flesh wound. But there were more of them, other officers flooded into the room. Gordon put up a fight, trying to protect the Mayor long enough for her to get away, but that’s when Mad Hatter himself showed up (casting suggestion: Jack McBreyer, Kenneth from 30 Rock; watch him in the ’21 season of Nailed It, he’s a manic little chaos gremlin who would be perfect for the role and also kind of looks the part). Gordon was attacked by a new player, a woman, judging by the height difference, and the hole left in the drywall by her heel. Gordon was overwhelmed; blood on the scene is his type, but there’s not much of it- they were clearly trying to keep from hurting him there. He was carried off by two of the officers, along with the Mayor.

Batwoman is distracted, and she’s clearly thinking back to a different night, a different kidnapping. Text, fifteen years ago. We don’t see this flashback from Kate’s POV. Instead we’re focused on her father. He’s riding along with a police team, including Gordon, at that point a Sergeant. He’s wearing black, not his military uniform. Gordon notices Jacob is armed. “I was asked to let you ride along, but there is no way in hell I’m letting you inside with that firearm.”

“All respect due, Sergeant, if it were your little girl in there, would anything short of someone putting a bullet in you stop you?” We think it’s going to be a pissing contest, but Kane sees Gordon’s hand at his cuffs, and relents. “I’ll stay out of your way, scout’s honor. But the second I see my girls I’m getting between them and danger. I’m not failing them again.” It’s the pain in his voice that stops Gordon.

“That sidearm stays in its holster, unless and until it’s a matter of life and death. I don’t want them walking on a technicality.”

“I don’t want them walking, period- but it’s your rodeo.”

Gordon’s team kick in the doors. Kate is tied, blindfolded, propped against a wall. There’s another body, definitely dead, obscured by a hood but with a bloodied bullet hole in the head that everyone is going to assume is Beth. Gunfire erupts, with Kate caught in the middle of it, exposed out in the open. True to his word Jacob runs through the gunfire, and covers Kate with his body, taking a shot meant for her head in the meat of his arm.

Gordon hesitates for a moment, his team at a severe disadvantage with two civilians out in the open, before demanding the team deploy smoke and lay cover fire. It buys Jacob a window to lift Kate up. Her hood falls, and he begs her not to look as he runs back towards Gordon. We see one of the gunman has the police flanked, and is drawing on Gordon, when a shot rings out, and he drops. Gordon sees that Jacob is holding his daughter in one arm, and his sidearm in the other. Gordon tells Kane to get his daughter outside. For a moment, from Kate’s POV, we watch as she sees what she thinks is her sister’s body on the floor.

They return to the Clocktower, and consult with Batman over a video link. Also in the room with them are Black Bat, Oracle, Spoiler and Question (the Renee Montoya version from Birds of Prey). Batgirl thinks she’s in charge, having been at this longer and with less support. Batwoman, by dint of being former military and older, thinks she’s in charge. Spoiler’s just happy to be there- she’s only filled in for Robin a handful of times when they needed someone to double so Tim could be in the same place as Robin. Cassandra feels like she’s just thrilled to finally be on the team; she still loves Harley, but she’s crazy. A great friend, and if you can only have one person in your corner she would do literally insane things to protect you, but she’s not a role model, either. And Question is really just there because of Batwoman; they haven’t started dating, but each suspects the other is interested and they’re at that point of mutual interest.

Batman tells them they’re going to have to handle Jervis- that he and the other Batmen have been infected by the Fluoronic Man, that while he works on an antidote, he can’t trust any of them to leave the cave, so they’ll have to handle Mad Hatter. Oracle is able to hack the security cameras at the Mayor’s mansion, and from that they realize that ‘Alice’ is the one assisting the Mad Hatter. She looks, initially, like another of Mad Hatter’s automatons, until it comes to fighting Gordon- then she comes alive, and the results are brutal. They place a heart-shaped crown on the Mayor and on Gordon, before carrying them out.

Batwoman reasons that if they’re assembling the most powerful people in Gotham, there are some obvious next victims: Bruce Wayne might make the top 10, but next up is definitely going to be the Colonel in charge of the nearby military base. After forcefully making her case, Batwoman breaks away from the rest of them, to make a phone call, trying to raise her father. We start in on his phone, panning over his desk, including his name tag, including his rank. She whispers, “Pick up, dad.”

We cut to earlier, Kate, with her hair cut military-short, is wearing BDUs. She opens a door into a military office, a nice one, for the colonel in charge of her base. We flash white text that says “Ten years earlier” (though we’ll have to update that; the policy essentially changed in July 2011, on paper in September, so this needs to be set before that). She’s been summoned. Her father is sitting in the CO’s chair, and spins around. Kate says he’s not her CO. “Nope, kiddo. I’m here as a favor.” Kate assumes he means to the CO. “No. To you. Your CO isn’t supposed to ask. But the problem is, you aren’t leaving her room for plausible deniability that policy runs on.”

“It’s bad policy, dad.”

“No question. Impacts morale. Forces men and women of honor to live duplicitously. Creates fractured loyalty. But even a full-bird Colonel can’t change it- can’t even question it. I’m here, as  proud father, as a man who loves you more than any other ever will, asking, please, for your sake, to be discreet.”

“I can’t. Because my dad, and my mother, raised me better. To be proud. To be honest. And I can’t be both while following that policy. So maybe I can’t be here anymore.”

“I didn’t want it to go this way,” he says.

“But still, you knew it would.” She stands next to him, and puts her head on his shoulder. “Thanks for being here,” she says, as a tear rolls off her cheek and onto his collar. 

We pan across a similar office, to see some blood pooled on the corner of the desk. A hand grabs the blood, and a man pulls himself up. It’s the Colonel, wearing his military hat with a blank look on his face. He snaps to when Mad Hatter enters the room. Hatter snaps off a half-assed salute, and says he doesn’t stand on ceremony; he only cares that the military has access to the kinds of chemicals he needs. 

The Batwomen infiltrate the military base. Batgirl is a taskmaster, insisting that the military can’t know they’re there, that the bats essentially have a détente with the American government, including its shadier operators like Amanda Waller- and those shadier elements in particular are just looking for an excuse to put Gotham under martial law. Depending on where we are in the President Luthor storyline, we might well mention that part of why he got so much support from the military was his tendency to elevate them as the preferred alternative to superheroes. Batwoman bristles at a lot of this, instinctively feeling like she belongs on the other side of that line- even though she’s clearly on the vigilante side, now.

They manage to arrive at the worst possible moment, as the villains make off with a stolen plane, full of chemical weapons. The Batwomen end up stealing a plane of their own to hide their identities as the military swoop in. Batwoman is able to baffle them with bullshit over the radio- with just enough military and Colonel Kane knowledge to talk them out of shooting down the plane, calling it a military requisition, one tacitly approved by Colonel Kane himself, telling the officer to call him and ask- which he should be doing before shooting down a military plane as it stands. Kate insists Barbara land the bird, now, because it bought them seconds, not minutes, and the military will shoot them down.

They scatter, and meet back up at the Clocktower later. Oracle managed to trace the tracker on the other plane; eventually it lost its mind, after it was hacked, because the tracker started flying in the opposite direction mid-air. Batwoman argues it wasn’t hacked; simpler explanation is that it’s Gotham, where impossible things just require doing a favor for the wrong kind of man. Oracle agrees to chase the box with a drone, and we’ll eventually see she was right, that it was Man-Bat who carried the tracker out of the plane mid-air. But it was already beginning a descent for a landing at a small airport outside the city. The Batwomen depart to intercept.

I think they manage to rescue all of Hatter’s kidnapped victims, but Alice has already abandoned him, having gotten what she came for, including chemical weapons and a plane. To get any useful intel, they have to deprogram Mad Hatter; see, they captured him, but they didn’t just want his cooperation, they encouraged obsession, obedience- Alice wrapped him so thoroughly around his little finger that he thought he was the one in charge, not her. Batwoman and the Colonel do the deprogramming, this not being his first rodeo with this kind of thing- in fact, he suspects and his theory is proven out that these are the same people he’s been fighting his whole career. That was why he got stationed in Gotham all these years, and why he’s resisted promotion or anything else that might take him away from the epicenter of their activity. He tells them it was easier, during the War on Terror, because the Church of Crime were basically Fundamentalist Terrorist, if their only religious precept was to do crimes. He also admits to Kate that he’s been trying to figure out for years how to apologize to her- that they contacted him before she was outed. They were the ones putting pressure on the Department of Defense to discipline her- that he was the reason she was forced out.

But there’s more to it than that. We get a montage, Batgirl followed a hunch, or really, Oracle followed Man-Bat back to his belfry, which turned out to be a Church of Crime stronghold. Batgirl drops a big, illustrated Bible down on the table. Man-Bat, when she dosed him with Batman’s curative agent, was similarly brain-washed. We get a quickie action scene flashback, the other Batwomen kicking their way through some lower-level churchies, before they take on Man-Bat. In close-quarters he’s at a disadvantage, and can’t fly, and Black Bat is able to sneak up on him and dose him before he can escape. Batgirl relates that Lykos wasn’t making any kind of sense, but he was pretty sure Batwoman had been on their radar for a lot longer than any of them realized. Batgirl opens to a page painted with a rendering of Batwoman. It’s more gothic, more theatric, also old. Batgirl, at least preliminarily, has tested the pages, and the chemicals react like it was painted more than a hundred years ago- they’ve been waiting for her, and if half of what Lykos said is accurate, they got tired of waiting, and decided to create her, instead.

Alice runs the Church of Crime (but outsiders call it the Cult of Crime). She’s essentially David Koresh, if he wanted Waco, but also if he expected to win Waco. That’s why she’s been gathering her army of cops and military men, and has been training others using them to be even more badass.

The Colonel breaks in to discuss his findings, that the Church began with white supremacists and other far-right groups, because it was where vulnerable, disaffected men were congregating. It was looking for a certain kind of moral flexibility, and encouraged those men to become police, military, anyone who could be of influence in their coming campaign.

So the finale is going to be showstopping, the Batwomen having to infiltrate, all while keeping the Batman rule in effect (no killing), because at least half of the military/police at the compound were abducted into it. Once they’ve secured the facility, the Colonel rides in with the full army, and secures them, but Alice has already gone, taken the chemical weapons she stole up in the plane for the next part of her plan. See, fully 2/3 of her agents have been returned to their former lives, and re-embedded in the military and police. She plans to activate them when the fighting starts. That’s how she plans to win. But the opening salvo is unleashing chemical death on Gotham, killing millions and making sure that the forces of order show up in force. The Batwomen take a plane up, one that Barbara can fly, so it’s Kate and Alice and the other bats on the plane. Eventually, Oracle is able to get the plane to return ‘home’ automatically, so Barbara can join the fight.

But the part that’s really a kick in the berries is Alice herself. See, she locks her and Batwoman in the hold of the plane, where the chemical weapons are, while her hench-people fight the others. She reveals to Kate that yes, they created her. They knew that a Bat needs a tragedy, but even losing her mother, losing her sister, wasn’t enough. Kate was too resilient, took too well to military discipline. She needed to be a rogue operator- so she had to be cut lose. She tells her it took years, a hundred little stumbles, a phone call here, a temptation there, a roadblock there, all to keep Kate pliable, self-destructive, angry. If they’d only known that her father lied to her all these years, it might have been easier; they had laid out her quest so carefully, and yet, Jacob refused to start her on her journey. Her sister wasn’t dead. The girl was just some collateral damage. But they had her sister for fifteen years, a lifetime, really. For years they wondered why Kate didn’t come looking for her… it was only when Alice took the Colonel that she finally learned the truth- that Kate didn’t know. This entire time they’re fighting, Kate becoming more unhinged, more angry, more brutal, closer to using lethal force. “All this time, I’ve been trying to twist the knife, without realizing I’d missed the mark.”

Kate stumbles back, Alice’s knife sticking out of her chest. “I’d started to think there was something about me, that maybe you just didn’t care enough to rescue me. Sins of the father, huh?” It’s Batgirl who manages to get the compartment open. Alice is convinced she’s won, that their prophecies state that after she cuts out the Batwoman’s heart, she’s unstoppable. It doesn’t matter what they do next- she’s already won.

“How’s our girl?” Batgirl asks.

“Woman,” Batwoman croaks.

Black Bat, who after getting shot in BoP2 has taken first aid really seriously, is seeing to her. “Stable. Heart rate’s steady, and from the sonagram it looks like the knife missed the heart.”

“Seems like trying to force your prophecy backfired.” Batgirl tosses a pair of cuffs at her feet. “You stabbed my friend. You put those on, and I’ll try to remember which side of the line I’m on.”

Spoiler, who is, still, pretty much just happy to be included, “I’m just happy for a chance to kick you.”

“Two on one doesn’t seem all that ‘right side of the line to me,’ Alice says, drawing two ornate pistols from under a large skirt. Batarangs hit her hands before she can aim them, and she drops them.

“You can still choose the cuffs; they’ll just hurt more now,” Batgirl tells her. Alice chooses instead to hit the button opening the rear of the plane.

Batgirl glances at the poison, and the two lines trailed from it to the open door.. “It’s a gravity feed,” she says. Pilot tilts this plane even a few more degrees and we’re going to start spraying poison.”

“But I wanted to kick her,” Spoiler groans. She runs out of the room. We follow her, through the body, with lots of henchpeople, a few of whom stir and she kicks back down. Then she gets to the cockpit door, which she wires with plastique and blows. Then she puts the sharpened edge of a batarang into the pilot’s throat, and tells him to keep it steady, or he’s drinking what’s left of the poison. He tells her he’d rather die than betray his mistress. She says he says that, but if she has to slit his throat, she’s pretty sure even she can keep a plane steady. Only difference is he’d be dead and Batman would scowl at her, and probably never let her be a Robin again- which she’s not sure she’s got the legs for anyway, frankly.

In the rear, Black Bat is trying to hurry Barbara along, because a few hour class from the Red Cross really doesn’t cover nearly-stabbed hearts. Batgirl fights, but what she doesn’t realize, initially, is that Alice isn’t focused on her, or the poison, but on Kate. She tears the batarangs from her hands and flings them at Kate, sticking Black Bat to the wall with one. She proves to have one more knife, and manages to get the upper hand with Barbara, preparing to stab her and saying idly that perhaps it will make a woman out of her- hoping that maybe killing Batgirl will count towards the prophecy, instead. Kate shoves her, knocking her to the lip of the plane. Kate is immediately, with a knife still in her chest, trying to help her up. “Beth. Please. Take my hand. We can fix this. We can be a family again. We can be whole.”

“The only way I can be whole,” Alice says, letting go of the door and reaching for the knife even as Kate tries to take her hand. Alice twists the knife, and Kate drops her, and she falls towards the harbor below. The plane lurches, and we watch poison start down the tube, before the plane rights itself, and our characters rush to the cockpit. Spoiler is sitting in the pilot seat, with the old pilot sprawled.

“I’m not really sure I can keep us level without hitting a building, so…”

Black Bat arrives. “Yeah, I closed the back door so the poison wouldn’t, you know, kill everyone.” Batgirl takes over flying. The Colonel calls them over the radio, and Batwoman discusses returning the plane. The military police want to take the bats into custody. The Colonel insists that they were never there at all, that it would wound morale to have it exposed that they lost chemical weapons to one of Gotham’s garden-variety crazies. Batwoman is extra cold to the Colonel as she leaves.

Later, the Colonel shows at her cave. “Best divers at the base couldn’t find her.”

“You told me she was dead.” Kate says, opening her door. He doesn’t play coy.

“That’s what I thought, at the time. The girl they mutilated, at least with her head missing, was a ringer for Beth. They fudged the blood work; fudged the DNA, too. But somehow… I still knew. I stole a sample myself, and paid to have it tested blind, at an independent lab. I tried to tell you, a hundred different times. But you found a way to be happy. I couldn’t snatch that way from you again- I couldn’t drag you back down into the hell I was trapped in.”

“We could have been there together,” she says. “And I will be blisteringly furious with you, for longer than may seem fair. But we’ll get through this like a family, too.” They rest their heads against one another. “I miss them.”

“Me, too, kiddo.”

Credits

Mid-credits scene: The Colonel pulls away from Batwoman. “But, uh, this wasn’t a social call. That, gas… I know some of your people were exposed, whether or not Batman wanted me to. But it’s spreading. I don’t know if it’s just a change in the wind, or they’re pumping more of it out into the streets. Gordon’s been trying to keep his men out of it; he lost a couple teams before they figured out how noxious it is, that it can enter through skin, air, water. We were lucky, the other day it was raining it stopped shy of the East Side, or it would be in the drinking water by now. That luck won’t hold. We have to do something.”

End-credits scene: Barbara is listening to a voicemail from her dad. “This has been a long-time coming, Barbara. I’ve turned a blind eye, pretended I wasn’t a cop, or a father.  And don’t get me wrong, the city owes you and your friends a debt, a dozen times over… but we need to talk.” She hangs up the message as she enters the Clocktower. Oracle tells her the caller waited to speak to her directly.

I’m largely agnostic as to which Siren we get. Marketing would dictate we get whoever is most popular (likely Harley). Budget would likely dictate we use whoever’s cheapest, and I’d say pinch those pennies, because we’re going to need every single one of them for the next one, because it’s basically Endgame for the ladies of the DCU (and we really should spend accordingly). So our Siren (I’m just going to assume that it’s Ivy) tells Batgirl they screwed up. They thought they could stop the Fluoronic Man themselves. But now it’s clear he’s working at the behest (or at least to the benefit) of the city’s male crime lords, turning anyone who is exposed to Ivy’s altered pheromones into a violent misogynist.

Bonus: Birds of Prey 3: Birds of a Feather

The Birds of Prey (along with the balance of the Batwomen) have to team up with the Gotham City Sirens, because the male crime-lords in town partnered with Jason Woodrue to use Ivy’s pheromones against all the men in the city (I’m thinking at least Penguin, Two-Face and the Ventriloquist will be our fodder villains for this one). To complicate things, before the Sirens sit down with the Birds of Prey, Ivy made a desperate plea to Alec Holland to try and stop Woodrue… only for him to fall under the spell of her purloined pheromones. We probably start the story en media res, with Harley, Catwoman and Black Bat managing to break Ivy out of the clutches of Woodrue. This leads Woodrue to unleash his altered pheromone into the city, where all of the men turn incredibly hostile- basically normal men on the street attack them. The crime bosses use this chaos to their advantage; Batman is able to quarantine Gotham’s male heroes in the cave while he works on an antidote… all while being a pretty demented bastard all the same on their video link. This leaves things up to the ladies to fix. I think the way we first introduce this, is Harley is sneaking off from Ivy to meet with Jason Todd. Black Bat knows that, because she also knows the context: Harley feels terrible for her part in kidnapping and torturing him. She’s trying to make amends, and at the same time there’s really no one else who understands what she went through like Jason does. It starts as a two-person support group, but will grow from there.

Harley is nervous being in the back of a plane again. The last time she was in one, everybody died, and she’s having flashbacks. It’s mostly an excuse to show a montage of moments from the Suicide Squad (I figure if we build it into our mythos eventually people will watch it enough for it to become profitable- and it is a fun movie- which is why next year I’ll pitch a follow-up… but shhh). The montage ends with Flag, and we cut back to Harley in the back of the plane, a tear sliding down her cheek, “I miss Milton.”

Black Bat notices, and sits beside her in the plane, and takes her hand, “Harley, it’s going to be okay.”

“Is it?” she asks, trauma clearly having taken the wheel. “At any second Waller might kick in the door and decide to try to kill me again. And this plant dick took Ivy… I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to her.”

“I know,” Black Bat soothes, “we’re getting her back.”

“How’s our mental patient?” Catwoman asks, emerging from the cockpit.

“Still crazy after all these years,” Black Bat says. “But she’s good. Because she has to be.”

“She’s your responsibility. I’m getting Ivy out, because I don’t like owing favors. But the headcase is yours to babysit. If she goes to pieces, we may not have the space to put her back together.”

“I trust her. She’s just… her last time in a plane didn’t go so great.”

“We don’t have time for trauma. We need to jump in fifteen seconds.” Catwoman flings a parachute at Harley, and it flies past, before she raises her hand. Catwoman looks at Black Bat.

“She’s good,” Cassandra insists. “She’s rallying.”

Catwoman runs out of the plan and leaps gracefully into a leap past camera. Black Bat helps Harley into her parachute. “What if I can’t do this?” Harley asks.

“I’m pretty sure,” Black Bat glances at the cockpit, to see the stick is tied in place with a whip, “yeah, by engaging the autopilot Selena meant this stolen plane is going to crash as a distraction, so we don’t have much choice. Come on.” Black Bat takes her hand and pulls her to the door and jumps with her.

They’re buffeted by a bad wind, and separated, and Black Bat gets caught up in a tree as a patrol arrives. For a moment it looks bad. Then Harley pops up out of the grass and takes the patrol apart with swift, acrobatic efficiency. Catwoman’s already up in the tree and slices Black Bat out of her chute, and she falls with a somewhat comedic thud, before standing and brushing herself off.

“Jumping out of a perfectly functional plane is just crazy enough to be in my wheelhouse. What I meant was what if I’m not functional enough to save Ivy, to infiltrate this ‘compound,’ to be the kind of partner I’ve always wanted…”

“Harley,” Black Bat interrupts, “I love the brilliant, fucked up way your head works. But the reason I trust you, even now, with my life, is that when you follow your heart, I’ve never seen it steer you wrong. So when I say you can do this, I mean that you will, if you can just stay out of your own way. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Harley says.

“You two ever consider motivational speaking?” Catwoman asks, slinking down the tree. “Or getting your own Lifetime movie? Or maybe just starting a nationwide hug tour?”

“Ignore her,” Harley says, “she deflects genuine emotion because she’s worried if she doesn’t immediately bat it away people will understand how desperately she craves it, and to belong.”

Catwoman is not happy being analyzed; Black Bat puts up her hands. “You poked that bear.”

“Doing this for Ivy,” Catwoman says, annoyed. “Silver lining: maybe the two of you will get shot in the process.”

I’m assuming, since this is a big, ambitious swing already, that we should just montage them breaking in, taking out some guards, and rescuing Ivy, where we slow down again, because Harley wraps her arms around Ivy and kisses her. It needs to be a moment… but afterwards, it needs to not be a big deal, too (because I want them together, and happy, but if we make it too much of a thing then it’s like there’s something atypical about women finding love together… and there isn’t).

“What took you?” Ivy asks gently; she’s trying to keep it light, bantery, and not let on how scared she’s been, how much being used by Jason Woodrue has psychologically or physically taxed her, because she knows Harley has been merciless with herself, so she has to compensate by being kind.

“Traffic,” Harley says, half a laugh, half a sob.

“No crying,” Catwoman says, almost accusatory, but we can tell, too, it’s because it’s affecting her.

“In baseball?” Harley asks, raising her bat. The Sirens stomp together, as we do another quick montage (because we have so much story to get through on this one).

They get free, and we’re going to do a quick little flashback. Again, I don’t want to make a thing about them, like there’s anything odd about their pairing… but I like this moment. This is the moment it all comes out in the open.

“I didn’t look for you because you were probably the only person at Arkham who tried to understand me. I knew the tendency for a patient to put their doctor on a pedestal; I told myself you were doing a job, and doing it well, and that can be sexy, in its own right. I knew not to assume it meant anything, either about how I felt about you, or about how you felt about me.

“But then I saw you, with Cassie, and out in the world, as yourself, strong, confident, but with a heart so big and open that of course it flashed like a giant kick me sign to a monster like the Joker, but also… that showed just how warm, loving, and compassionate you were, how much you wanted for someone to love you like you love everyone. And that you could see people like us as… people. That’s a damning statement, to be sure, about our society, and the mental health profession, but you’ve always been a diamond,” she touches the diamond pattern on her right wrist, “and you’ve always deserved someone who saw that,” she kisses her.

Black Bat interrupts the story, and we reveal that Harley and Ivy are cuddling on a loveseat, while the other two are sitting in the same room. “I’m out. It’s like listening to 2 out of my 3 moms talk about making out. I’m out,” she reiterates as she leaves the room.

Catwoman sits quietly in her chair and stares.

“I had a cat like you,” Harley says. “Would just sit in the corner of my room and stair. Until I brought a guy home. Or a girl home. Or anyone else. And then, she’d lock eyes with me, and only then, she’d start to bathe.” Catwoman frowns, trying to  figure out her meaning, before just leaving the room.

“I don’t mind an audience, but a part of me did want you just for myself.” I want her to have that, too, so we’re going to fade to black.

We fade back in the next morning. I don’t care who wants what, but I really want to emphasize the humanity in this moment, the normalcy; one of them is snoring just buzzsaw loud, and the other has just left a puddle of drool on the other. And even this, I know, could be filmed with the male gaze in mind- but it shoudn’t. They should look like the room got hit with a hurricane, their hair should be mussed, as little makeup as possible (I mean, the characters are usually caked in it, so I’m genuinely not sure what’s supposed to be their skin and what’s makeup), but they are frumped to a degree that even Margot Robbie (and presumably Lake Bell, because that’s great casting) look like normal human beings. Black Bat knocks on the door, and comes in, keeping her arm over her eyes. “I really, really, hate to intrude on your love nest- like, I don’t know the words in English to express how much I don’t want to intrude,” (I like the idea of her spouting something in Mandarin or whatever to prove that the words exist, at least somewhere).

Harley wakes up, and feels self-conscious, picking up that Cass expects a sexed-up Adventureland, “Yep, the air is thick with the smells of sex and sensual oils and lubricants and just,” and tries to mop up the drool, wake up Ivy, all while making the both of them look a little more put together than they were (this should be silly and fun, not for gratification).

“Okay, whoa, already way more information than I would have ever wanted to know. But before I exit, you should know… it’s spreading. Ivy’s pheromones, Woodrue had enough of them that he’s blanketing the entire city. It isn’t just our neighborhood that’s a nightmare. It’s the entire city.”

“Let us get dressed.”

“Oh, God, no more,” Cassandra moans.

“We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Ivy asks.

“What, that I took a beautiful woman to bed and then proceeded to drool all over her stomach? That I was snoring so loud it bugged me even in my own dreams. That despite my days being consumed with thoughts of sex and death the entire time you were missing, once you were back, all I could do was pass out next to you?”

Ivy, again, is gentle with her, recognizing Harley’s spiraling. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I just needed you to hold me.”

“And I couldn’t even do that right.”

“The drooling wasn’t exactly what I expected. But I slept like a baby. I felt safe with you. It was exactly what I needed.”

“Yeah?” Harley asked.

“Being with someone isn’t just about rocking their world sexually. You also want to be comfortable just being with them. Feeling safe, and secure and, and loved.”

“Yeah,” Harley says, realizing how much she needed to hear that, and cuddling up against her. “I love you, Ivy.”

“I love you, too, Harls.”

Damnit. Okay. That’s on me. I promise I’m going to try and stop being so damned enamored of the two of them together that I can get back to pitching. I think the best way to get this story moving again is to take a peek at the other side of the aisle, namely the ‘good’ guys.

We watch Barbara walk by her suit in the Clocktower; she’s wearing clothes for a run. She tells Oracle that she needs to pick up an assignment from school, but then she’ll be back, and asks if Oracle needs anything. She asks for a Yoohoo (or other product placement to be paid for later).

There’s something on the air as she puts in her earbuds and puts on some music. We’re going to leave the music on for most of her run, at least until the insanity gets to be so much she silences it, and suddenly is faced to confront exactly how screwed up the few blocks she’s ran are. I figure this is one long take (but possibly with some hidden cuts, if need be). First she runs by a man who is clearly screaming at her, partially dodging to avoid specks of spittle flying through the air. Unfortunately, this is Gotham, so angry men yelling at random women on the street is a thing, and doesn’t phase her. At a hot dog cart, a man and a woman with a baby in a stroller seem to be altercating, when the man raises his hand. Barbara grabs the hook of his elbow and uses it to roll him over her back without stopping. She runs a little further, and a man takes a swing at her. She puts him down without any problem, only for another man to attack her. And a third. She puts them all down with ease, but we pull back, to reveal that this has all happened on the same block. Barbara turns down her music and calls Oracle. “Oracle, what the hell is going on?”

“You know that weird fog on the waterfront that turned any man who came into contact into a woman-hating troll? Yeah, well, it’s spread across the whole city. It’s chaos. Figured you knew.”

“I slept in. I’m going to head back to the Clocktower. Something tells me we’re going to need to handle this.”

We cut to Batgirl arriving. “So I called Batman, like you asked. He’s aware, by the way. Um… I’m struggling. I know this isn’t a typical workplace or… anything approaching a normal situation. I guess I just never imagined I’d ever hear Batman call me a c-word.”

“What?”

“And he called you, uh, B-girl.”

“Well, that is my-” she realizes Oracle means the other B-girl.

Oh. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“It was more, comically surreal. But… he’s terrifying. Most of the time I don’t breathe when he calls. And I even noticed he noticed, and has tried to emote more, which should make me feel more comfortable, that he’s trying, but it’s like watching the Tin Man try to be more emotional by wearing Totos face. But it’s only right now, when I actually saw what he’s like when he’s threatening. And the idea that he could stay like this…”

“We’ll fix it.

“Almost makes me feel sorry for criminals. Not because of what he does do, but because… because of what he could do, what I now realize he might do. Gives me the feeling he is one day where they give him a shot of espresso instead of decaf from being Joker in a cowl.”

“Maybe that’s why he doesn’t drink caffeine at all- just doesn’t trust himself.”

“Really? Does he even sleep? And he still doesn’t touch caffeine? How does he stay up.”

“Obsession.”

“The Calvin Klein cologne? Does he chug it?”

“Will. Same way he’s still remaining functional, if a bit… jerkier than usual.”

“Feels like an understatement, but yeah, he’s still working, with all the other Robins, Nightwings, Red Hoods and whatevers in the cave with him. He’s isolated the compounds. Definitely bears some signatures worth being concerned over. Three names, at least trying to read between the lines; he was editorializing some, especially when it came to Ivy. But it was her pheromones. But they seemed altered, in a way that makes him suspect Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue are involved.”

“That’s bad,” Batgirl reacts. “Really bad. Ivy on her own is trouble. Ivy and Woodrue are extinction level trouble. Swamp Thing would have been our go-to guy to help with it, but if he’s working with them, or they have him… call everybody.”

Everybody?”

“Let me rephrase. Everyone without a y chromosome. Anyone who can help, we need on standby, or here if they can swing it”

“What about Batwing?” Batgirl doesn’t follow. “They’re nonbinary.”

Barbara sighs. “I’ll text Batman. If this goes down to the chromosomal level, it might make sense to have Batwing sequester with the rest in the cave. But if not, it’s all hands on deck.”

We’re back in Ivy and Harley’s apartment. Ivy is wearing a shirt from Arkham (yeah, like she did in the first Arkham game), and is drinking coffee. “So… I’ve been talking to some of the houseplants.”

“You, too? They only seem to want to talk to me about celebrity butts. You?”

“That’s not them, hon, it’s a voice in your head. No, the plants tell me Alec was here.”

“Alec, Alec… why doesn’t that name ring a bell?”

“He was my ex. Is sort of dead. And a plant elemental.”

“You used to bang the plant guy?” Harley asks, amused, horrified, intrigued, confused. “I mean, there’s bumping uglies and then there’s bumping uglies.”

Harley.”

“I swear, I did not know, or I would have at least straightened up before he grew out of a few bags of fertilizer in the tub. He said it was the fastest way to get here from ‘the Swamp,’ which I really hadn’t expected to be all so literal. One of the bat people owed me a favor, got me his number, when you went missing. I thought plant guy, wearing a trench coat, he must be some kind of plant dick, and, not you know, your old plant d-”

“It was his friend who wore the trench coat. But it worked, I guess. You found me.”

“We did… just not at first. He led us into a trap. A trap for him, I think, or at least a trap for if he came looking for you.”

“Oh, no. A couple nights ago? When Woodrue’s experiments got a lot worse.”

“Yeah,” Harley says meekly. “But he did get us the lead that got you back.”

“For which I am grateful, but… do you understand what Alec Holland is?” Harley shrugs. “He is basically a plant god. Meaning, he could take my pheromones, and increase their potency. He could probably even reproduce them. That’s why Woodrue didn’t put up much of a fight when you came for me- because I was redundant. And now it’s a race against time, and we’re starting from behind.” She finishes her coffee and turns around. “How much pull do you have with these bat people?”

“Like I asked for a tour of the Batcave or for them to drive us around in the Batmobile while we made out in the back seat.”

“And they said ‘no?’”

“No back seat. The rest all depends. Are we asking to work with them, or trying to scam ‘em?”

“If you don’t at least leave the possibility of the latter open I’m never talking to either of you again,” Catwoman says, pouring herself a bowl of milk.

Ivy’s prepared. “I spoke with the city’s Economy Development Corporation, and they estimate there are half a million cats in Gotham City. I know cats are survivors and all, but what happens if jilted men decide to take their anger out on women’s cats, or worse, if my pheromones end up working just as well on male cats.”

Catwoman stops lapping at the bowl. “Can I at least steal something, when this is all over, so I don’t feel like a complete sap?”

“Sure,” they both say with a shrug.

Birds of Prey/Batwomen assemble at the tower, with the promise that the rest are dealing with a bigger threat outside of Gotham, but will be there as soon as they can wrap it up. Then they get the call from the Sirens, all agreeing to work together.

Oracle has been able to put together the records from all of their Woodrue-related locations so far. And it seems he’s been using places, money and resources from three separate crime families. Analysis of recent police surveillance has proven that the three seem to be working together, and that they need to hit all three crime bosses at once, to mop up as much of their men and resources as possible. They split into three teams, with Ivy’s team going to where they think Swamp Thing is/Penguin, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey going after Woodrue/Two-Face, and Batwoman and the other Batwomen going after the location where the pheromones are all stored to destroy them/Ventriloquist (he’s squatting on old Joker territory; he lost clout after fallout from BoP2, especially with his willingness to sacrifice his henchmen for a joke)- that meant the Ventriloquist had a lot of territory with abandoned chemical storage/disposal, perfect for the pheromones they pumped out of Ivy.  

The Batwomen easily deal with the Ventriloquist, Scarface and his vanilla mooks. Then they realize there was a lot more pheromone than they realized- acres of it. Batwoman calls her father. The base is still observing chemical weapons protocols, so they’re fine, if somewhat understaffed. He agrees to help her bomb the pheromone storage (I think he loads a plane with explosives and arranges for Kate to steal it, having learned since the last movie how to fly a plane… ish- the main sticking point being her landings are still mostly crashes in the simulator).

Ivy leads the Sirens to rescue Alec. Penguin, slightly impacted by the pheromones (but having always been a dick) gets the snot kicked out of him, and realizing how ridiculously powerful Ivy is, decide not to screw with them and leave without much of a fight. The true brawl, though, is with the Swamp Thing himself. He’s still under the influence of Ivy’s pheromones, only a stronger, more robust variant he helped concoct. Thankfully, midway through the fight Ivy realizes that the Swamp Thing they’re fighting isn’t Alec at all, that he essentially grew himself a bodyguard, so while the others fight him off (badly), Ivy reasons with Alec, that he’s a good man, the man she admired, the one she fell for. She kisses him, and it brings him out of his stupor, and then some. The bodyguard keeps fighting, but some of the life has gone out of it; this is amplified by the fact that Harley, seeing the kiss, goes berserk, and will hit him in the twig and berries frequently with her big-ass mallet. Alec’s still a little influenced by the pheromones, and clingy; Ivy says she thought he got engaged, and he says that’s complicated. Ivy tells him things are a lot less complicated for her- that she found someone who makes her happy, and looks over at Harley, practically glowing. Ivy uses the Swamp Thing’s arm to pull Harley to her, and kisses her. Harley stammers that she thought… before Ivy tells her she thinks too much, and kisses her. “I do.” And they kiss again.

Finally, Two-Face’s place is where the real fight happens. One half of his mansion is overgrown. The Birds of Prey split up, Batgirl leading one segment into the overgrown side, since she’s got all the weedkilling toys, and Question leading the other up the pristine side. Question and Huntress make short work of Two-Face, before wondering where all his goons are. Both Harveys smile. Woodrue knocks Batgirl and Canary through a door, rolling into the room. Harvey tells them the reason he didn’t see a point in putting his men in harm’s way tonight was that it was going to be a bloodbath- that they were just waiting for all the guests to arrive.

At that moment, the Sirens and the Batwomen arrive. Two-Face brags to Woodrue that his timing is impeccable. As you can see, we’ve got a ridiculous cast of women here already… but things are about to go just completely nuts. I wasn’t screwing with you when I said that this was Endgame for DC’s women. Well, here it goes.

I think for the ending we bring in a big Big Bad; personally, I’d swing for the fences and have it be Granny Goodness with a team of male furies; Granny Goodness has basically been taken to task by Darkseid. He thinks her Furies need to open up to male members, that she’s been artificially holding her elite soldiers back. So she’s testing his hypothesis, by recruiting a team of men. She explains that there’s a part of her rooting for the women, because they’ll prove her right if they win, not that she could ever gloat to Darkseid. But she wants her ladies back; she was the one who gave Woodrue the necessary upgrade to be able to adapt Ivy’s pheromones.

At first, the combined Birds of Prey are outmatched. But then… those other heroines we teased earlier on, who would show as soon as they wrapped up the bigger threat… they arrive. This loops in all of the most powerful of DC’s women for a fireworks finish as they beat a team of men under Granny’s control, before all of the rest of the women show up. This list is in no way all-inclusive, and will likely swell. But it should give you an idea of who’s punching who.

Wonder Woman Lobo
Big Barda Scott Free
Supergirl Granny Goodness
Power Girl Superboy
Zatanna Jason Blood/The Demon
Ivy Jason Woodrue
Catwoman/Black Bat (snatches Granny’s control rod)
Harley Quinn (souped up) Joker, like from the first Arkham game (can really be Clayface, if that’s too silly)
Batgirl Nightwing
Mary Marvel Black Adam
Fire  
Ice  
Huntress  
Mera  
Jesse Quick  
Natasha Irons  
Artemis  

Wherever possible/necessary, we can replace the menfolk with their CGI counterparts (having the Demon in a fight wouldn’t necessarily require paying Jason Blood to show; I’m all for paying him to show, mind, but I know some actors really hate showing up to film what is essentially a cameo, and it’s possible the budget on this will also be insane, so building in places where we can cut costs might be helpful).

But the women are winning. Granny is conflicted; she’s winning the moral argument even as she loses the fight. But she also knows that Darkseid doesn’t brook failure… she sees an opportunity to slink away, taking Jason Woodrue with her.

And, personally, I’d bring in at least 3 men, here: Batman, Superman, and whatever other male Justice Leaguer would be most impactful (could be Aquaman, given current box office). We start with whichever of them has the most recognizable voice, calling from offscreen. Camera pans, and we see those three, and think this is round 2 and it’s about to get brutal…. Only the men aren’t attacking. Or cursing. Batman explains that he’s synthesized an antidote, that he’s got Flashes spreading across the city administering doses.

Harley asks Wonder Woman if this means she’s in the Avengers- “I mean the Justice League, clearly you weren’t my safety squad.” Could be cute to have Ratcatcher 2 cameo, and Harley waves her off. Wonder Woman pretends not to have heard, and walks away. Harley is, for a moment, disappointed. But Batgirl is behind her. She tells her some people might look at them as minor league, but if Harley, Ivy, or Catwoman want, they always have a place in the, and before she says Birds of Prey, we go to black, and smash in the Birds of Prey logo. We quickly do the cast credits, before cutting back, immediately to the same scene.

Catwoman runs up to Harley and Ivy. “That thing I needed to do, it’s done, and we should go. Now.” She turns, and we can see she has a utility belt slung over her shoulder. It literally doesn’t matter which of the Batmen she took it from, but it’s slightly funnier if it’s a Robin and he has to hold his pants up. Batman bellows after Selena, and we cut again to black.

More credits. Then we’re on Apokalips. Jason Woodrue has seen better days. Clearly, he’s been tortured for a while. Desaad is overseeing that, but Darkseid is working with Woodrue’s figures. Desaad is becoming more concerned, that he’s been working with Woodrue’s information tirelessly, without speaking. Desaad is trying to get an answer from him, if the Antilife Equation is complete, if he’ll be able to mold the minds of men to his will. He’s not going to reply, but I would like to have him turn to camera, similar to Thanos at the end of the very first Avengers, and smile. But while that CGI Thanos looked a little cartoony, this one should be horrifying- and his smile should be a thing of nightmares. That Darkseid is happy at all should be something we’re all worried about.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 11: Outsiders: Hard-Traveling Heroes

The Outsiders are traveling in a Winnebago. Nightwing is grousing about how when Ollie offered to sponsor the team, this isn’t exactly what he envisioned. Ollie gives a variation of the Schindler speech, that he wishes he could spend extravagantly on the team, but he looks at the cost of retrofitting a spy plane, or even economy class plane tickets, and compares that to spending the money to vaccinate the poor in underdeveloped countries… he says it took him a long time to get his priorities straight, but he’s not about to go back to being profligate Ollie again, and ribs Nightwing that they could always ask for funding from his father, which gets Dick to stop smiling, for a moment.

It doesn’t last, as Dick’s good nature is one of his defining traits. He also takes a moment to rib Oliver about looking forward to seeing Black Canary again. Ollie admits she’s easy enough on the eyes, but we see how he really thinks of her, as we zoom into his eye, and see in soft focus, her punching bad guys and otherwise being effortlessly bad ass while beautiful. We zoom out, to see an oncoming semi, with Nightwing grabbing the wheel and swerving them out of the way. Dick offers to take a turn at the wheel, and Ollie and stands up, leaving the Winnebago coasting as Dick dives into the seat.

They arrive on the strip, and Dick asks where they’re staying. Oliver tells him to keep going. They drive past the strip. Past the casinos off the strip. They’re in a fleabag motel, with an overly boisterous neon sign declaring it the “Above Reproach Motel,” with “above” and “rep” entirely unlit. Black Lightning gets out and says that seems about right as they unpack. Arrow tells them that he rented out the entire hotel, so they have the run of the place- that Dick had emphasized to him that they needed space and privacy to plan out their caper.

“I also asked him to stop calling it a caper. But it’s been a long drive, everybody. I suggest you get some shut eye. We’ll have a briefing at 6:30.”

Huntress gives him crap about the late start. “I though all of you bat boys were up all night.”

“I probably will be. I was hoping you and I could get in some reconnaisance.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it?” At first it seems like witty reparte, but she’s actually asking (awkwardly and adorably).

“It’s been a while since anybody accused me of being a bat boy.”

“No one wears that much leather without being a bat boy.”

“I legitimately don’t know if we’re confused or flirting.”

“That’s where I live,” she says, and he stares at her a moment, before laughing.

“You had me going.” She’s confused by that. But she likes the attention, and that he’s confident enough to push past her awkwardness. Plus, she really likes patrolling.

“Wait,” she says. “Are we actually patrolling, or sneaking off to have sex… I just want to make sure I wear the right top.” He laughs, and they walk off screen.

We cut to Black Lightning, poking at Lo Mein noodles in a takeout container, sitting on the hotel couch, while talking on his cell. He zaps the TV to change channels. He’s talking to his significant other, concerned that the rest of the team are screwing off in Vegas, and he’s trying to decide between Lifetime movies. She tells him either he can zap his ass home, or they can watch a movie together. He tells her someone has to be an example to all these kids, show them how to act like a professional.

We cut to Canary and Arrow kissing, passionately, slamming against the inside of the door to her dressing room. “Not that I’m complaining, but what happened to waiting?” he asks.

“Oh, you’re still waiting,” she says, and pushes him against the door, “I just want your attention focused on what you’re waiting for.”

“Might have to change my name to Blue Arrow, you keep this up.”

“Ooh, Black Canary and Blue Arrow, I like that alliteration; and there’s the double-meaning of leaving the bad guys black and blue.”

“That is pretty good, but I’d have to sew a whole new set of tights.”

“I’m worth it.”

“Plus those Blue Beetles are very proprietary about their color- and quite litigious.”

“Tell me about it,” Ray Palmer appears, growing from a place sitting on Canary’s counter.

“Dad,” Canary says, snatching flowers from him and throwing them on the counter, “we talked about this: boundaries.”

“I didn’t mean to walk in on a Cinemax movie. I was trying to do one of my, ‘Hey, where did he come from?’ entrances.”

“Yeah, and when you pulled that on me, you got yourself a brand new set of tinitis. You’re just lucky he didn’t have his bow or he might have… bowed you.”

“Et tu, Canary?” Green Arrow asks.

“Et me,” she says. “But at least you learned to throw a proper punch, so there’s still hope for you.”

“Had a hell of a teacher.” She gives him a peck. “Who knows a thing or two about motivation.”

“You’re punishing me, aren’t you?” Ray asks.

“Pretending you’re not here- because you shouldn’t be,” she says.

“It’s about, your mother.”

“Crap,” Green Arrow says.

“I thought the trail went cold in Gotham,” Canary says, spinning to face him.

“It had. Or rather… it didn’t get cold, the GCPD kept it on ice all these years. And that’s why I could find… this.” He shows them an image on his phone of human tissue through a microscope, subtly including a footprint.

“What am I looking at?” Green Arrow asks.

“A slide from Canary’s autopsy. This is the aftermath of an aneurism. She was too good to just catch a bullet in some back alley. I never believed… she was dead before she was shot. This proves it.”

“How?” Arrow asks.

He pinches and zooms in on it, to more specifically focus on the footprint. “It’s a footprint. Given the size, and depth, it’s a woman’s size 6, she weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 125 lbs. Either she was the killer, or an eyewitness. Either way, the odds of someone standing in her brain at the same time of a spontaneous aneurism in a healthy, middle-aged woman… the odds are astronomical.”

“And what are the odds someone would kill my mother with shrinking tech, dad?”

“Not good,” he admits. “Shrinking tech is expensive to make, and mostly gets used by people on our side. I think I was the only one, at the time, operating it.”

“And who had access to your tech?” Arrow asks.

“Anyone with access to the JSA headquarters. Or a storehouse I kept in Jersey, in case that was ever compromised. I had some personal storage for a stretch in the seventies, too, in Gotham.”

“But you’re here,” Canary says, “because you’ve already run down those leads. So why are you here?”

“Because my tech runs on very specific isotopes. Specific, and rare. There aren’t a lot of places to buy them. And the people who supply them, there isn’t a one of them who doesn’t owe me a favor; I taught some of them, helped the rest, in costume or out. And there’s one in Vegas, who sold, just a day ago, to an older woman, fits the rough description, with some allowance for passage of time.”

“Older enough?” Canary asks.

“She thinks so- presuming she’s well preserved.”

“How big a favor did she owe you?” Arrow asks.

“Pretty big. She put a radioactive isotope impurity we can trace in the package.”

“I’m uncomfortable that this conversation began with a package and is ending with one.” Arrow says.

“You’re just sad that the package we’re talking about now isn’t yours,” Canary teases. “But we’ll come back to it,” she says, grabbing her jacket.

“Don’t you have a show?” Arrows asks, pointing to the star on her door.

“Not tonight. I only do an afternoon show today.”

They leave.

We do a little homage to the Batman origin, a wealthy looking couple, woman in furs and pearls, man in a nice suit, with their young son, cutting through an alley. A gunman steps out, threatening them. Nightwing drops down on him like a ton of bricks, the gun clattering noisily to the ground. Nightwing bows with a flourish, and assures the boy it’s all part of the show. A second gunman steps out from behind a dumpster. A bolt pins him to the brick wall, and Huntress lands, kicking him in the face; he remains pinned to the wall by the bolt.

They climb to a rooftop. Huntress looks like she’s pouting.

“You okay?”

“You’re asking me? You were the one who nearly got shot in the back.”

“I’ve learned that part of being a good partner is trusting people to have your back. I knew you’d be there for me.” She’s uncomfortable, physically if nothing else. “So I want you to know I’m here for you, starting with asking if you’re okay.”

“I’m okay,” she says, half-heartedly, and through it we see she’s disappointed.

So does Nightwing. “I know things didn’t happen with Mandragora like you wanted. But taking him in alive, there are a lot of families who are sleeping better tonight, maybe sleeping at all, because you did the right thing.”

“You kind of made me,” she says, her disappointment on the verge of pouting.

“Not what I meant. I know you were there, at the handoff, when the Sheriff’s Department gave him over to the Federal Marshals. You had a shot, and you were far enough away I wouldn’t have been able to stop you. Mandragora may not have killed my parents, but as someone who knows that loss as well as you do, and because the other families don’t know how hard doing the right thing was like I do, I wanted to say ,’Thank you.’”

“Oh,” she says.

“Not what you wanted to hear?” he asks.

“No, it’s not that, it’s… I think I might have worn the wrong top.”

“No,” Nightwing says, and he spins her, so she lands with her back against a wall as he leans into her and says, “You’re not.” But her instincts kick in, and she has her crossbow pressed into his throat. “Unless I’ve misread things.”

“No,” she says, and for a moment she’s embarassed, before rolling him, so he lands painfully on his back. She jumps onto his lap, and says, “I just like to be on top.”

We cut back to Arrow, Canary and Atom. They’re following Atom’s tracker, but it leads them to an arena. The bouncer is definitely powered (we could do a cameo from someone like Killer Croc; Clayface might be even more fun, since Canary could get suspicious and he could tell her to call his parole officer) or just have it be a generic mook who insists “No capes on the ticket. Bids only accepted through a proxy.”

Atom says, “Look, over there, it’s a distraction!” and for a moment they all look where he pointed, but not long enough for him to do anything. Then Arrow realizes that’s his cue, notches a napalm arrow, and sets fire to a car where Atom pointed. The bouncer’s annoyed, but tells them the street is outside his purview- and if they call the fire department he won’t even call the cops on them. Then he realizes Atom’s gone.

Arrow and Canary grab something to eat at a little cafe nearby. “My fries are cold,” Arrow says, “want to make out?”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Canary says, “but knew the moment I vocalized it,”

“Think that’s my cue,” Atom grows.

“I was beginning to think you paused in the middle of the heist to take an old man nap.”

“I could nap… but no. One, I found out that they pawned my gear. I couldn’t get close enough to check the control numbers. They bought the isotope because they had to prove it was authentic for it to go on the slab, which meant shrinking with it. Two, I talked to management. Roulette. She runs the gladiator games and the auction house. She’s usually pretty strictly all about discretion, but,”

We cut to her office, where Roulette is talking to Ray. “I’m a capitalist, first. And I recognize an opportunity when I see one.” She brings up several images of Arrow and Canary together, lingering touches, maybe pecks, typical tabloid fodder, on her row of monitors, even a live feed of them at the café across the street. “I have a reality show apartment I bought, wired up with cameras. Nothing hinky; not toilet or shower cameras.” The couple stay in the apartment one night, and she can sell the hell out of access to the house cams. “They don’t have to do anything but be themselves. They do that, and I’ll give you what you need to find your mystery woman.”

Ray doesn’t trust her, but Roulette made it clear that if they don’t play ball, she’ll sell the gear to an anonymous bidder, and pay the owner in untraceable crypto, and the trail dies there. Their only other option is to try to have Atom intercept the wire transfer and trace it; last time that happened he spent a week crawling through the bowels of a crypto farm in the Philipines- not exactly a ringing endorsement of that strategy.

Canary agrees. Arrow is reluctant (maybe because he was wealthy playboy enough to have been tabloid fodder before). Atom has an idea- he can shrink down and be their guardian angel. Arrow mentions that it’s probably too late, because the sun is coming up. Atom says the deal is for the next night. As they exit the cafe, they see digital billboards are already touting Green Arrow and Black Canary sharing a romantic evening in the Snoop House. “That’s not ominous at all,” Arrow says.

The next morning they’re all gathered for Nightwing’s briefing. He glances at the clock. “We waiting for something, boss?” Black Lightning asks.

“Yeah,” Green Arrow and Nightwing say at the same time, and Dick yields, letting Green Arrow continue. “We’re waiting for Dick to start.”

“We’re waiting for the other members of the team,” Nightwing says. “And I think that’s her.” He sees a woman’s silhouette emerging out of the sun, and as she gets closer we can see it’s Donna Troy. Her iconic star pattern costume doesn’t really sell her as being a Wonder Girl before Cassie Sandmark; it might make sense to go with something like the red jumpsuit; a good mid-point might be to mix that with the Jim Lee DCNu version with the dark pants (so it’s basically a jumpsuit version of Wonder Woman’s costume). Maybe you could go for a gold-accented variant to Wonder Woman’s, kind of like her usual costume intermingled with the golden hawk armor from 1984.

“Sorry I’m late,” she says. “I’ve been in a holding pattern for fifteen minutes. Wally made me promise I wouldn’t land without him; the other Flashes would never let him live it down if he was the last one to arrive.”

“Foolishly, I didn’t swear her to secrecy on that point,” Wally says, suddenly beside her.

“There’s doughnuts and coffee, and bagels and just a ten pound bag of sugar for Wally,” Nightwing says. Wally runs by the spread, and half of it disappears in a blur.

“Suddenly the spread makes sense,” Canary says.

Nightwing gives his briefing. It’s very low-tech, all things considered, as far as what Nightwing is presenting… we can cut away and montage the hell out of it like the whole thing was being done by Soderbergh (alternate pitch: GET SODERBERGH- how freaking cool would that be? I imagine he’d be curious about doing that thing he do but with a much crazier budget and FX).

Nightwing tells them that three casinos off the strip have been taken over by supervillains. Ostensibly, they’ve been hired to have their likeness exploited by the casinos, and to make celebrity appearances, on the floor and at their shows. But really, they’re holding the casinos hostage. At Joker’s Wild, the Joker has rigged the air vents with his Joker toxin- if the casino doesn’t keep giving him his cut, he’ll turn everyone inside (including the held-hostage family of the casino’s owner) into homicidal maniacs, most of whom won’t survive the transformation. At the Double Trouble, Two-Face has wired up every hotel room with explosives corresponding to red or black- and that if the hotel operators cross him he’ll spin his roulette wheel, and blow half the rooms- either red or black based on chance. At The Royal Flush, The Royal Flush Gang aren’t just taking a cut- they’re taking everything, pocketing even the paychecks of the employees, and forbidding anyone with any remaining cash from leaving- if you fail a credit check they’ll let you go, but otherwise no one leaves.

Finally, the problems started when a superpowered mobster named Blockbuster collected a casino in lieu of a debt. He’s been washing the supervillain underworld’s dirty cash through the casino since. He’s also the mastermind behind the takeover of neighboring casinos- he wants to buy them, outright, but first needs the current owners desperate- so he helped organize the attacks to both drive down the price and also take a cut to help him buy at the reduced price. This is because he wants to expand, beyond the relatively respectable among the villain set, to the real monsters, the terrorists, the sex traffickers, but for that he needs more casinos to be able to launder more money. Blockbuster’s casino is a tougher nut to crack, because it’s legit- but it’s also sitting on several times as much cash as it can legitimately claim, enough that it will be bankrupt if it has to make good on what it owes to the underworld figures if it disappears. 

The jobs are all complicated enough that they’re going to need all of them for each– and because if they tip off any one of the villains the others are likely to carry out their threats, they all have to happen concurrently, with all of them dropping in and out of each heist with the precision of a tightly-wound Swiss watch. Nightwing tells them he’s given Wally plans for each of the casino vaults, and has take-out from every delivering restaurant in a mile radius piling up at the reception desk to feed him while he constructs them to scale.

Wally disappears, then reappers, holding a hammer, and with some ketchup on his cheek. Donna tells him about the ketchup. “Oh, I’ve got ketchup everywhere. Moving at that speed, it’s like walking through a condiment tornado.” Nightwing tells them they have a few days, that Catwoman’s been doing some recon for him on the inside, and that’s as much time as they can safely delay before Joker’s likely to get bored and just start killing people to amuse himself.

Montage of them working through the heist stuff. Canary’s phone goes off. She’s got a show at Two-Face’s casino. Arrow goes with her, in civilian clothes. While there, they get a formal invite from Roulette, telling them a car will pick them up, in costume, after her show.

Two-Face is aggressive with Canary, and she flashes back to Black Mask from Birds of Prey, clearly still traumatized by their relationship. But Arrow is there, and comforts her enough that she puts on a brave face (pun!). Canary gets a musical number; Arrow watches Two-Face to see if there’s anything he can apply to their heist, later.

Arrow and Canary grab their ride and arrive at the Snoop House. She’s tired, and is looking forward to sleeping. “Sleeping?” Green Arrow asks, pretending he’s disappointed. She says she doesn’t trust this place enough to break wind in the bathroom, she’s not letting him as much as give her a courtly peck on the cheek. He agrees. But… there’s an expensive bottle of wine on the table. Arrow doesn’t trust it, but Canary uses a sonic cry to test the seal- the bottle is still sealed. Atom climbs through the cork, and tells Canary through an earpiece that he checked it on the atomic level- it’s clean, and it’s nowhere near enough alcohol to get three adults even tipsy- or two, yeah, he meant two, because he’s not here. Arrow is still uncertain, but Canary says she’s going to open it, and cries at the perfect pitch to pop the cork, then tells him either he’ll help her drink it or he won’t.

We cut to a bar, as the last of five bottles of beer are opened up. “This feels weird,” Wally says. “Doing this. When the last time we did this, we weren’t even old enough to do this. You know what I mean.” Donna relates that they were Teen Titans, then- or 3/5 of them were. Nightwing is apologetic to Black Lightning, for not inviting him to join the team. He tells them he’s older than them, he was like nineteen and a half by the time their team ‘debuted,’ that even if he’d wanted to join a team, he would have had only a few months before he was no longer a teen. Plus, he wasn’t much of a joiner, back then, so it’s cool.

“I was living in Italy with assassins,” Huntress adds. “Not, uh, really eligible.” Things are a little awkward, since the group haven’t been a group long, and even those that were haven’t seen each other in a while. So they decide to play some have you ever. Wally starts with he’s never made out with Nightwing, and Donna and Huntress drink. Huntress, either stewing or not quite getting the game, says she’s never made out with Donna. Wally and Nightwing drink, and they explain that the Teen Titans were basically one of those high school parties where everyone paired off and made out with everyone else- only kinkier because everyone was wearing masks, but still, pretty chaste, all things considered- since no one wanted to screw up the team by really pairing off. Which only makes things more awkward with Huntress.

Wally suggest they spin one “or several” of the bottles they’ve emptied, Black Lightning says he’s too old for “this shit,” and bounces. Nightwing realizes they all probably are, but it just means the rapport they build will be built of stronger stuff. He suggests they call it a night.

We cut to Arrow, still wearing his mask, rolling over in bed, curling into Canary. She’s wearing a wedding dress, which causes him to stir, and realize he’s wearing a tux. And they have matching wedding rings. Strewn across the very messy bed are rose petals and Polaroids of their drunken night of debauchery, including a stop off at an instant wedding chapel. Some of the Polaroids would seem to imply they’ve consummated their relationship. Arrow wakes Canary, frantic.

They freak out together, each blaming the other for things getting out of hand, as they spiral further out of hand, and they start pushing each other. Green Arrow tries to stop her early in, saying, “I don’t understand everything that’s going on here, Di, but I’m not going to raise a hand to the woman I love- I won’t be that guy.”

She has no such compunction, saying something like, ”I’m not going to let another man terrorize me ever again,” before belting him. She’s having trouble keeping him and Black Mask separate in her head. We cut to the gladiator arena, where a crapload of spectators, including some of the villains from this movie, bidding on the victor, as expensive looking fight graphics play on the Jumbotron: Green Arrow vs. Black Canary.

Canary throws him through a dresser, and out of it spill his bow and lots of green arrows. He spends a moment searching for something nonlethal, “My fortune for a taser arrow, or a knock-out gas arrow, or even a damned net,” she kicks him in the stomach. He finally picks up a regular arrow (they’re all regular arrows) and notches it. She punches the arrow in half, before punching him in the throat. “Thought you said I was getting better,” he strains.

“Better don’t mean good,” she says, knocking him out. She takes a few steps, realizing she doesn’t feel right. She tries raising her dad, saying they definitely were dosed with something- she’s not hungover, she knows what that feels like. He doesn’t respond, which confirms her concern.

The phone rings. It’s Roulette. Canary’s pissed off that Roulette dosed them and made them think they got married and had sex. She confronts her about putting steroids in the air, maybe something else, too. She cops to it, and tells Canary that Atom’s gear disappeared. But she’s pretty sure the owner took it back, and Ray into the bargain, and Roulette has another way she can find him- when he was in her office, Roulette placed a tracker on him. In her nightstand is the tracker.  

We cut to Atom. He comes to, tied to a chair. He tries to shrink, but his equipment won’t work. “Oh, Ray,” she says, “equipment not working? Funny, that was how I found out about you and Black Canary, back in the day. You were a naughty boy, then, Ray. Have you been naughty now?”

“You? What the hell’s going on?” Ray asks.

The next day, Canary and Arrow talk to Nightwing. He originally was confronting them about sneaking out- and how the team need them focused. Canary bursts like a dam, telling him that her father’s in town, helping look for her mother’s killer, but he’s been taken. Nightwing turns on a dime, no longer concerned about their heists; his family were killed, and clearly he was raised in a family that is motivated by hunting family-killers. He’s laser-focused on hunting the killer with her; it is the most like Batman we will ever see him, though he’s warmer, and more personally supportive at the same time, to the degree that Arrow is a little concerned about Nightwing horning in; no one else validates his insecurity (which only makes it funnier).

Nightwing goes to the others, and brings them up to speed, how this is about saving Canary’s father and avenging her mother. “Avenging?” Huntress asks, perking up. He reiterates they want nonlethal capture; Canary wants to know what happened with her mother, not a corpse. Huntress is hurt; not just disappointed, but hurt.

They cancel the day’s practice, in favor of riding out immediately. They roll up on the safehouse Atom’s being held in.

We cut inside. Atom’s still captive. His captor tries to give him something to eat, even as we see on security feeds that the Outsiders have arrived. Atom’s preoccupied with talking to his kidnapper. “Jean? Honey, what’s going on.” She’s standoffish, but gets close enough for him to grab her, only for him to gently take her hand. “Please,” he pleads, his voice rife with emotion, “Jean, talk to me.” We see Nightwing finish picking the lock on the front door even as Black Lightning electrocutes the cameras, shorting the feed.

She gasps. Wanting him to play cops and robbers with her was the only thing that was keeping her going. “Ray, I…” She crumbles.

She’ll narrate some of a flashback. Jean loved Ray Palmer from the moment they first met. She played hard to get, before letting him woo her; part of her was worried he’d be like other men who gave up after the conquest, and the rest because she was truly worried about how much she wanted him. And for a moment, it was magical, everything she’d imagined. And then Ray joined the Justice Society, and started working with Black Canary. She was beautiful, and fit, and always walking around in those fishnets and that tight, revealing little outfit. She couldn’t compete, especially not with the endorphins of fighting for their lives. And when half their team disappeared, she especially couldn’t compete with their shared grief. Ray left her a long time before he left her. And she never stopped wanting him back. She followed him, figuring out where he kept his surplus equipment. She snagged one of his older suits- not the oldest, which he kept for nostalgia, or the newest, which he was always tinkering on, but one of the surplus ones, one he might not be sure really was missing at all.

She tried to scare Canary off several times. She gave her a handful of close calls. She leaked her identity to the police, to the papers, even to villains. Finally, she thought, maybe she could make Canary forget Ray. She went inside her mind, and started screwing with linkages, and accidentally caused an aneurism. She called Canary an ambulance, but it was Gotham, in one of the neighborhoods where the cops can take hours to show, and where an ambulance won’t come without the cops. Long before anybody came, Canary was gone. Jean panicked, and to cover her tracks, she shot Canary in the head.

It screwed her up. She and Canary had been friendly. They were rivals, sure, she was even willing to hurt Canary to take her place at Ray’s side, but did not want to harm her, not seriously or permanently. She was a broken woman when Ray, hurting over what happened to Canary, reached out. She hadn’t wanted that, but in that moment they truly, desperately needed each other. Their love, their years together, were genuine and heartfelt, even though they were built on a despicable act.

As she finishes telling her story, we realize that Black Canary has been in the room basically since the story started. Jean throws herself at Canary’s feet, seeing how much she looks like her mother, and that blurring the lines enough for her that for an instant she thinks she’s Canary’s ghost, and not her daughter. She pleads with her to forgive her- that she wanted Canary to forget Ray- she didn’t want to hurt her. Canary asks Atom, who Nightwing has cut free, what’s going on. He’s a ghost, himself, telling her that he didn’t want to introduce her under these circumstances, but this is his wife, Jean Loring. They married a year after Canary died; he just lost the will to play superhero after that; even seeing his old costumes made him weep.

“All I wanted was to be the love of your life,” Jean whimpers, collapsing to the floor.

“Instead, you killed her,” Ray says, hollowed out. “This is all my fault.”

“No,” Canary says, hugging him, “it’s not.”

“This, uh, isn’t usually the way this goes,” Nightwing says. “There’s usually more punching.”

“Yeah,” Black Lightning says, “bet that hurts a lot less.”

“So what do we do with her?” Donna asks.

“I just looked it up,” Green Arrow says, “and statute of limitations on any kind of negligent homicide is long since past.”

“Dad?” Canary asks.

“She needs help,” Atom says. “I haven’t always been the best partner; God knows, I’ll always have to wonder if any of this would have happened if I were a better man, but I won’t abandon her again. I’m going to make sure she gets the help she needs.”

This is a perhaps overly somber moment, and we need to transition out of it, but not without letting the characters heal. I think Nightwing does a little wrap-up, back at the hotel. “I think today was a good reminder, for me. Sometimes, with the Titans, we could get wrapped up in the silly, fun aspects of being us. There were times I didn’t take it seriously enough, where I wasn’t able to stop and see the human cost underneath. I’m not saying,” (and here he does his Batman voice), “We should all be more like Batman. Because we shouldn’t. I’m not even sure he should be. We all have to learn to be the best Donna, the best Wally, the best Helena-“

“I prefer ‘Huntress.'”

“The best Huntress, then. Because we still have a job to do. There’s a lot of dirty money flowing through these casinos, funding a lot of the kinds of human misery we often don’t see up close like this. And more than ever, we need to shut it down, because we know how much it’s going to hurt people if we don’t.”

We cut to Arrow and Canary’s room. He’s holding her, when there’s a knock at the door. Atom comes in, and takes over, and father and daughter hold one another. Later, Arrow brings them coffee, where they sit looking out of the balcony. She’s holding her dad’s hand, and rests her head on Arrow’s shoulder as the sun begins to set.

Montage of more prepping for the heists. Included are little moments for each of them, like this one: “Are you sure you can make the shot?” Nightwing asks. We speed through the air as Arrow fires again. There are several arrows stuck to the middle ring of a target, but none in the center, which would allow the shot to slip through the slit between the barely opened faux vaultdoor.

We do the heist montages, with just enough moments spent with each villain and their pairings to feel like they’re not just generic villains from the Oceans movies. Nightwing and Huntress take on the Joker. This one will likely be the most fraught, because Joker’s figured them out, and re-masks them amongst his henchpeople, with masks he cut from the cloth napkins used in the restaurant inside the casino. Joker gets to monolog and threaten, wondering aloud which of the ways he could murder them would hurt Batman the most, intercut with the other heists. Eventually, Joker says he’s bored, and will just transform all of them into homicidal Jokers, and tries to blow the explosives. Nightwing leans into Huntress and tells her that’s why they stopped at the Wild their first night in town, that Joker was bound to do something like this. They fight their way out, leaving Joker knocked out. 

Two-Face likewise figures them out, because the Joker got a lot less morose a few days before. So he captures Green Arrow and tells him that he’s going to put his ideals on trial- that he can choose to be the new man he’s promised through his press agent, more focused on the group, or the selfish man who is going to save the woman he loves, and can walk out scott free. He’s about to answer when Wally, panting in the middle of the desert, standing on top of a large pile of explosives, calls over an earpiece to Arrow that he’s finished. Canary tells him if he doesn’t answer the question first she will collapse his lungs. He offers to let Two-Face shoot him; that losing her he would never be a whole man, but he couldn’t be either, if he let all those people die. He’d rather take a bullet himself. Two-Face flips his coin, tells him that wasn’t an option, but he’ll gladly shoot him and Canary both- that he’s always been a sucker for a tragic love story. That’s when Nightwing and Huntress arrive, and help finish off Two-Face.

The Royal Flush is the most bombastic of the three. When King tries to call the other casinos to tell them that they’ve been compromised, Donna tells him he can’t be weak in front of the other villains. Black Lightning appears, and tells her their communications are fried, and she tells King he can be as weak as he wants, then. Troy and Lightning have trouble with all five members… until the rest of the Outsiders arrive, and help them mop up. 

Finally, there’s the Blockbuster. This one is a lot more straightforward, since the heroes all have to show as civilians. They manage, with Green Arrow’s shot, to block the vault open with an arrow. Then they empty the vault. Blockbuster himself, not believing they could have thwarted his security or his plans, ends up in the empty vault. He tells his assistant to liquidate everything, and get him a charter to Santa Prisca. He needs to buy sanctuary with the King Snakes, because they never cleaned their money through the casino, and therefore are the only ones who might help hide him.

Pre-Credits scene: Arrow and Canary wake up in a hotel room.

“Oliver, why am I in a wedding dress?”

“Because it looked so elegant on you I insisted we take it.”

“And why am I wearing a ring that’s heavy enough I actually feel the weight of it?”

“Ring?” he sits up, bleary-eyed. “Oh,” he says, furrowing his brow, “I suspect because it’s the match to mine.”

“This can’t be legal.”

“I believe the important question is do you want it to be?”

“Not today.”‘

“Fair enough. Though I imagine we keep landing in this position because on some level it’s where we want to end up.”

“Also because you bought some ridiculously good champagne.”

“Ridiculously good champagne notwithstanding.”

“You asking, or telling?”

“You want me to ask, I’m going to need to borrow that rock,” he says, and gets down on one knee. She pulls him up to his feet and kisses him, and we cut away.

Green Arrow is discussing with Nightwing the possibility of hiring on a Green Lantern to up their game as they’re packing up their hotel rooms. He tells Ollie that great minds think alike as John Stewart lands. “I know just the guy,” he says, since then it’s a fun mislead.

Jason Todd calls Dick Grayson, wishing he’d had a crack at the Joker. “Wouldn’t that have been two-cracks? I hear you’re all about the art of the double-tap these days.”

“You can stick to playing touch football with these psychopaths, if you want, but I’ll tell you, brother from another mother, they aren’t playing the same game of patty-cake with you.”

“I’m not usually one to cast the first stone, but there’s plenty of people who’ve used the ‘P’ word to describe you.”

“Pussy.”

“No, the other one.”

“No, I was calling you one for pussy-footing around the word: psychopaths. That’s what they are. Deranged. Unstable. And yeah, I’m on a lot less even of a keel since their Clown Prince tortured me for months. I get about thirteen solid minutes of sleep between nightmares that the bastard still has me chained up in his basement. But we’re not talking about your garden variety mental health patients, here; these are people who revel in it. Who get off on the pain they cause. Believe me, no one looks forward to the day I can hang up my guns for good more than me.” He sighs. “Look, all I really want to know is whether or not you hit him extra hard for me.”

Dick hesitates a moment. “Always. And I know I give you crap. It’s not because I want to, or-“

“To prove you’re teacher’s pet?”

“We both know that’s Barbara.”

“I think you know Barbara a lot more thoroughly than I do.”

“Boundaries, man. And I want to know you’re okay. I can’t even imagine what you went through.”

“You? Probably not. But Dad? I was the one who had to talk him down. I didn’t need that, you know, but seeing it, it almost made the whole thing worth it. To know how much we matter to him, if only for a moment. That’s screwed up, isn’t it?”

“It is. Whole family’s screwed up like that. But you don’t dress like we do and have our kind of nightlife if you had a healthy childhood.”

“Barb kinda did.”

“Yeah…”

“And from the way you’ve talked about the circus it doesn’t sound like such a bad way to grow up… you know, until the tragedy.”

“Yeah. Tragedy does always kind of screw things up.”

“It’s weird, how many of us there are, now. I remember when it was just the three of us, and you and dad were barely talking…”

“It’s still weird to me to think of him as ‘dad.'”

“It helps being tortured by a maniac. Sort of peels away the emotional detachment. But my point was we were a weird little family. A dad. And an older brother slash dirty uncle who didn’t get along with him. And now there’s I’ve lost count how many Robins. Batwoman. At least one Batgirl, with a bunch of Birds of Prey hanging around her. And most of us join or even lead teams of our own.”

“Makes sense,” Dick said. “Just a bunch of orphans trying to figure out where we belong.”

“Yeah.” Jason pauses a beat. “You hit him really damn hard, right?”

“Thought I broke my jaw, his hand, or both, for a second there.”

“You think dad would ever forgive me, if I put a bullet in him?”

“I’ve known Bruce a really long time, and I don’t think it’s about what you’ve done, Jason. I think it’s about what you’re going to do. We all make mistakes, you know? But trying to be better than you were- I think that’s what matters most.”

“Doesn’t sound like a yes, though.”

“I don’t know, man. If I had to guess, if he felt like you couldn’t help it, like you had no choice, he’d forgive you. I think if you did it because you want to, on the hope he’d forgive you anyway… then I really don’t know. What he’s built, it’s bigger than any one of us. You killing someone you could take in, that might bring the whole thing crumbling down. And even then, I think he’d want to forgive you. But this thing he built, he built it so we didn’t have to be alone. You take that from him- from all of us, and I just don’t know, man.” We cut away.

I think at the end, Ollie decides to spend a little more on the team. This is revealed from him ‘souping up’ their Winnebago, which he demonstrate by blowing the horn, which now plays ‘La Cucaracha.’ The Outsiders give him crap for this, then he says that it also does this, and flicks a switch, and the exterior transforms into a sleek, green “Arrow car.” After a moment, the inside increases, morphing to show a state of the art mobile headquarters inside, as well. Ollie plays this off as having used the ill-gotten gains from the criminal’s portions of the heists… but Dick knows how much this kind of Batman-tech costs, and Ollie cops to using some of his fortune on it. Turns out, selectively leasing tech from Wayne Enterprises and Kord Industries, given what those companies do with their profits, is another way to do good with his fortune.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 10: Justice Society 2: Marvelous

We start slice of life. We follow Billy Batson on a typical day as a young orphan. At one point, he daydreams, as he touches an invitation, embossed, fancy, old-fashioned, from the Justice Society inviting Captain Marvel to attend. After school, he talks with whichever of the other orphans it makes sense to bring along, mostly because I love Adam Brody, I’d make it Freddy. They start, as kids, discussing the opportunity/responsibility of being called by the Justice Society, then walk past a tree, and out of the other side stroll their superhero counterparts, continuing the conversation seamlessly.

Billy’s reluctant, but Freddy is excited, that these are the big leagues, and this isn’t like Mary hanging out with those Justice Losers, the society have been around for ages- and the old Shazam was one of them, there’s a legacy here.

We cut to the Justice Society’s hall, now returned to its former glory. Shazam strolls in, and before any of them can say anything else asks why they called his predecessor the Big Red Cheese. One of the old-timers explains, “Chuck was a kid in a man’s body, just as naïve as you’d imagine that would be. Smart, you know, wisdom of Solomon and all, but without the life experience. He spent a good ten years emulating heroes from radio serials, catch-phrases and all, squinting so he’d look like the old Fleischer heroes. I remember one time he pulled Power Girl out of the way of a falling building and she kissed him, and he turned beet red for a week; he was as red as his suit.”

Shazam, growing concerned, asks about references to him in the past tense. “Like I said. Chuck was a kid. He spent years transformed, because that was what the world needed. Then we lost half our team, dumped into the modern era, we know now, but back then… we thought they were gone. It broke him. For the first time in years he changed back. And he was still just a kid, a kid who could not handle that kind of personal tragedy; I wouldn’t be playing straight with you if I said any of us handled it well. And half of it was that we needed him, sure, but the other was he was too damned scared to change back, to have to face that world as an innocent little kid. Anyways, he decided to grow up. He still helped us, time and again, when the needs got big enough. But he got married. Think he had a couple girls. Been a long time since he said the magic word, kid. I imagine that’s why the wizard chose himself another champion. And it’s been too long since the Justice Society had a Captain Marvel knocking around.”

Billy frowns. He doesn’t like that name. He prefers “Shazam.”

Which leads to murmuring. “Like the Shaquille O’Neal genie movie?” One asks, while another says, “That was Kazaam.” And another asks if it’s like the app for recognizing a song.

Mister Terrific butts in. We’ll use this as an excuse to introduce at least the characters he mentions, with a title in the bottom of the screen for them when he mentions them. “Give the kid a break. We can’t all be named after a roller coaster (Wildcat), a 1970s prog-rock band (Flash), European folklore (Sandman), a semi-precious stone (Obsidian), or another semi-precious stone (Jade), or a color and a semi-random light-emitting object (Green Lantern). Or taking a vague descriptor and a quaintly old-fashioned gendered label (Power Girl), I guess we could suggest he go by Lightning Lad.” Stargirl makes a disapproving face (and we get to label her, too).

“I do like the rhyme-scheme of Mister Terrific,” Shazam says, “even if it does make you sound like a pro wrestler.”

“Oh yeah!” Terrific bellows in his best Macho Man voice; if Slim Jim are willing to pony up for the product placement, it would go here. Shazam says they’re all a bunch of lunatics, aren’t they, to which Terrific, again in his best Macho Man, says, “Oh yeah!” One of the ones who would have been around in the 80s asks if he’s doing Kool Aid Man. One that wasn’t, says they aren’t familiar with that superhero.

Terrific and Stargirl (because I still like the idea of the pair of them as a couple- plus I like them passing the torch of the wide-eyed POV character on to Shazam for this one) give him the tour. Terrific tells them the Society is just that, a society, one meant to last generations, carrying on the group’s ideals and legacies. The Hawks, for example, aren’t the same as the ones who were part of the team with his predecessor; they’re a pair of star-crossed lovers who reincarnate, find one another, die tragically and heroically, then reincarnate all over again- like if Romeo and Juliet could fly and had a penchant for smashing monsters with magic hammers. How even though Atom’s retired, he and his daughter, the current Black Canary, are always willing to lend a hand should anyone need it. Shazam asks how often they end up needing to call in all the reserves (with a hint that he has a few he can call in- oh yeah, for 3 we’re definitely calling in all the Marvels, er, Shazams).

Hanging around is a character related to someone wearing a costume similar to the Al Pratt Atom/Damage. The idea, here, is that Ray Palmer was the 2nd Atom, after Al, learning from him first as a physics student, before taking after him as a hero. It was Ray who pioneered the Atom’s shrinking gimmick, though. After the disruption of the Justice Society, Ray would work with Pratt’s grandson, who became Atom Smasher, as well as his son, the original Damage, as a mentor. While Damage died in the line of duty, it was always believed he had a son, and that son eventually emerges, and is here, largely in the background as we start. He is named David Reid. He focuses his powers through a lance, but he’s also had military training, rising to the position of Lance Corporal. He’s also got a glowing eye and a robot arm; so I’m not hiding the pea, here, David Reid will eventually become Magog over the course of the next two movies, even if right now he largely hasn’t adopted the Egyptian theming quite as much (it’s a process, owing to his near-death that led to his cybernetics)

I think there are already factions forming. Terrific plays coy, because Stargirl is there… because she’s leaning towards the more extremist faction, while he feels more constrained because he’s one of the leaders, towards the more compassionate side. But the tensions are palpable, and when David asks her to spar, she gladly joins him for some pretty brutal combat, also freeing Terrific to be candid with Shazam.

“To be honest, I’m glad you’re here. The old Marvel, he, they talk about him like he was the best of us. Our moral compass, that ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ thing wasn’t just marketing copy, he knew the right thing to do, not just for him, but for all of us. He was Superman, before he ever came to the planet.”

“And why do you need that? Isn’t Superman enough?”

“Lot of these people remember a world without a Superman- and I’m not just talking that siesta he took. The big blue boyscout’s a fine example for younger, less jaded recruits, but the old timers, or the hard-cases? He’s too ideal. When you’ve got that much power, you can spare some to show mercy. When you’re just an old kickboxer past his prime,”

“I heard that,” Wildcat grumbles.

“The reason we need you more than ever, is we’ve taken a lot of hits lately. Guy out there with the robot arm? Lost it a week ago. We were lucky he’s on loan from the Army; they had an in with LexCorp. on some experimental bionics. Some of ours have fared a hell of a lot worse. Some among us, they’re starting to wonder if the best defense isn’t a good offense. Might work to a point in basketball, but you start applying that to vigilante work and you’re attacking citizens before they commit a crime, you’re shooting people because you think they’re guilty, not because you have no other choice.” Terrific is tense enough he unconsciously calls those little floating balls to him.

Shazam is amused. “Phantasm, right?” Billy asks.

Terrific is puzzled. “I’ve heard of a fan-gasm before…”

“I don’t believe I want to know the context of that.”

Suddenly the lights go out. Terrific says it’ll only be a moment before they turn over to the solar-back-ups. They get power for a moment before it blacks out again. Terrific says the back-up batteries should kick on in a moment. Red emergency lights come on, and warnings start going off, as the Hall of Justice’s residents start chattering excited. Green Lantern starts barking orders, getting them to assemble into their emergency teams.  Terrific pulls Shazam aside and asks how he is with radiation. He says he got a sunburn once putting out fires in Brazil. He assigns Shazam to go with Power Girl, who will take point. There’s something wrong with the city’s nuclear plant.

Next Terrific starts talking to Green Lantern. He tells him they lost solar because the entire city has been covered by a canopy of fast-growing trees, showing him video of his surveillance being overgrown from several points across the city. Blotting out the sun is causing panic, so their first order of business is to cut down the trees, or at least arrest their growth. Green Lantern admits that he can’t handle that, because his magic doesn’t work on wood. Terrific is flabbergasted. “So a child with a miniature baseball bat is your kryptonite?” Green Lantern explains he could still stop the child directly. “Okay, but if he were wearing armor he whittled with a tiny little child pocket knife, then you would be powerless to stop him?” Green Lantern tries to pantomime as he explains he could pick up two cars, and try to pick up the child with them, like chopsticks. Terrific interrupts, “But if I got you some real sawblades, you could put those in some lantern contraption to then indirectly effect the wood, right? Flash. Stop by a hardware store.”

“Done,” Jay Garrick says, as a stack of sawblades appear next to him.

Terrific assigns Jay to lead the rest of their forces on clean up, crowd control, etc., just making sure things don’t get worse, and that Terrific will be on overwatch, just as soon as Jay gets the trees cleared enough for him to actually see anything.

Power Girl manages to get the power plant shut down; to make it slightly more dramatic, she’s exposed to enough nuclear radiation she passes out (her Kryptonian physiology will eventually convert the radiation to energy, she’s just temporarily overwhelmed), and Shazam has to carry her out. Terrific tests him to see if it’s done any damage- which, it had, but not so much that he’s worried.

Green Lantern gets the trees trimmed back, only to discover that the wood from them is alive, and starts attacking the citizens (think the brooms in Fantasia). Green Lantern’s team is in danger of being overrun, until Jay’s team arrive, and they’re able to handle the fighting.

However, there seem to be positive impacts of the growth, too; a cancer ward in the local hospital is overgrown with a rare plant specimen originally from the depths of the Amazon (and thusfar undiscovered by man). It halts the spread of the patients’ cancer, even puts some of them into remission. I think there’s a lush field outside of the hospital, on which Woodrue has the grass selectively brown to write a note, explaining he is a plant elemental and wants to help, even if his powers are… difficult to acclimiate to.

Terrific asks Specter and Dr. Fate to consult. They confirm that Woodrue isn’t a god, nor is he a true plant elemental like the Swamp Thing. He’s kind of an artificial version. Where Swamp Thing taps into the Green, and is both empowered by and entrusted as an emissary for all plantlife, and by extension, essentially the entire planet, Woodrue has basically hacked into and corrupted this power. Terrific asks if they can get Swamp Thing to help. Fate says they’ve been trying, but Justice League Dark seem to be indisposed at the moment, the Swamp Thing included, but he’ll keep trying to raise him.

Terrific puts out an offer to Woodrue, to help him with his outreach, to help channel his knowledge and skill into solutions for the greater good. Woodrue rebuffs the offer. This proves a fracture point. Magog, Power Girl and Stargirl want to deal with Woodrue now, when he’s clearly learning the ropes of nearly infinite power- that a wait and see approach may well leave them all exposed to a power they can’t stop. Battle lines get drawn, but Terrific maneuvers for all of them to slow down- that he’s taking a trust but verify approach to Woodrue- basically assuming that he is up to something, but that they need to understand what, so they can know how to stop him without losing all the benefits he brings. It’s a speech from Shazam that gets them all to agree to give Terrific space to let his plan play out.

Solomon Grundy gets reanimated. This largely distracts the Society, while forcing them to work together to stop him. It looks like Terrific is being naïve, but he secretly consults with Fate to confirm that Grundy’s revival was down to Woodrue’s dark magics, and that he’s getting stronger- really, they both are- that Woodrue made this new Grundy even stronger. Fate and Terrific together prove Woodrue’s plot, that he tainted the drinking water with algae, itself a relatively benign thing. But everyone in the city drinking tap water, showering, etc., now has that algae growing invasively inside of them. His goal is to make them into an extension of the Green, a power source that can’t be removed by the plant realm, and also functions like taking the entire city hostage, to prevent heroes from interfering with him, too. By the end of the day, his spell will be complete, and irreversible.

Even as the citizens laud Woodrue for the benefits his plants have given the city, the Society is forced to wage a very public assault on his citadel. Some of the first people to have come into contact with Woodrue (in particular patients from the cancer ward) have basically become plant/human hybrids, and savagely attack the society, proving to have some light, Swamp Thing-esque abilities.

The Society fight their way to the heart of the citadel. I think the movie ends, basically, with Terrific executing Woodrue. At the time he tells Power Girl the line was always stopping Woodrue without killing him if possible, and he didn’t see any other possible way, so he did what he had to. He admits in a mid-credits scene to Courtney that he really can’t be sure it was the right call, or whether he did it to preserve the Justice Society. She says she’s not sure that would be such a bad thing- but he recognizes the truth- that if he’s forced to compromise himself to keep the Society whole, it’s already in peril. I imagine Woodrue’s ‘death’ is pretty cool, Terrific injecting him with slightly-larger than nano scale versions of his orbs, that shred him from the inside out.

“He isn’t dead,” we hear in Swamp Thing’s rasp even before we cut away from black to see him standing where Woodrue ‘died.’ “Woodrue has become like me, no longer a physicial being, but a consciousness. I am sustained by the Green, at the behest of the Parliament of Trees. Woodrue is a contagion, a pollution, stealing strength from the plants around him. He has redoubts, wherever there is an attack on the natural; oil spills, dumped chemicals, radioactive waste. There I cannot follow; there he is safe.” “Not from us,” Power Girl says. She’s standing in front of Magog and Stargirl. Her eyes glow red when she says, “You tell us where this infection is and we’ll burn it out.” We cut to black.

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.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 8: The New Gods

I think we start with Granny Goodness. I’ve already said it really should be Kathy Bates playing her, because that would be perfect. But imagine her sitting down with some children, telling them a bedtime story in one of her orphanages, and it starting like any normal bedtime story, but slowly layering in horrors the like of which would give the Brothers Grimm nightmares. She tells the story of two warring peoples, the gods of New Genesis and Apokalips, and how their war scarred the cosmos, destroying planets, entire solar systems, until a fragile peace was declared, commenced with the exchange of two heirs to either ruling family- Scott Free, and Darkseid’s son, Orion. Once this fairy tale becomes too scary, we cut away from the dungeonous orphanage, to a balcony atop one of the spires of New Genesis.

We see some of the cruelty of New Genesis, as children mock Orion for being the son of the Devi; his temper flares, even if he keeps it under wraps until after the children leave. That’s when he’s found by the Highfather. Orion asks if his dad really is the Devil. “Darkseid isn’t the Devil, but yes, you are his heir.” Orion, clearly hurting, asks if his father loved him, how could he give him away. “Our children are our hope and prayer for a better tomorrow. But a prayer muttered alone will not build a better world; the best thing a parent can do for their children is also the hardest: letting them soar on the open wind.”

The story follows three children. Orion, raised in relative luxury on New Genesis. Scott, languishing in Granny’s orphanage. And Barda… okay, so Barda is also raised at Granny’s orphanage, but for the sake of contrast, I’m going to have her be, essentially, one of the popular kids, Granny’s favorite, groomed for a special place. Scott is her lowliest charge, essentially singled out by Darkseid and Granny to be ground into nothing- but not through violence, through his own insignificance- they put him into what is, essentially, parademon basic training, which, like all life on Apokalips but the most privileged, is to have all life, all hope, all will, pressed out of you. Barda and Scott aren’t really aware of each other. They tangentially run into each other; Barda is responsible for thwarting one of his escape attempts by chucking a weapon at his back as he flees. But increasingly the orphanage becomes bifurcated, with Scott’s section becoming more dungeonous, filled with traps and torture equipment, but also increasingly more dreary and cold. And increasingly, Scott becomes the face of the rebellious movement against Granny. He escapes, causes havoc, maybe does a little organizing, before getting put away again. Orion finds acceptance, at least temporarily, by helping save some children on New Genesis. All while Barda becomes more and more engrained in the upper echelons. But I think, at least at the beginning, we’re going to have three narrations, but also, that they’re going to kind of be the same, at least in their goals.

We start with Scott, because he’s the face of this thing, both its most fun and interesting character, but also its most tragic (at least in the beginning). “From the time I was a child, all I wanted to do was escape this hell.” I think we show a classroom, and for a moment it could be any science fiction story starting in an advanced school, albeit cold and alien-looking. Young Scott Free, as his adult self narrates, is answering a very simple, one-question test. Granny reads it aloud, to prevent there from being any question what the question is: As a citizen of Apokalips, I live only for… which Scott has answered, in an exotic kind of crayon, in a child’s unsteady hand, he’s written the word “escape.”

Granny’s shadow eclipses his paper, and Scott, a little intimidated, looks up at her. “Oh, Scott,” she begins, and for a moment we’re lulled into the possibility that she’s going to be kind, and gently correct him, that despite her space-fascist outfit and cape, there’s a glint of softness in her eyes, but we show her reeling back with her weapon as she says, “you really never learn.” I imagine violence against a child will be too much to depict in too great a detail, but we can have him off-screen, receiving the attack, as energy flashes light Granny’s face. Still on her face, but she’s now angry. She blasts with her weapon, as a slightly older Scott dodges overhead on his signature discs, the blast weakening the one window in the classroom enough that, as we cut outside to see the crack form, Scott flies out the window. “Thankfully, I always had a talent for escape.” In the next moment, Scott, a little beaten up, is thrust back into his seat in front of Granny. “Unfortunately for me, on Apokalips there really isn’t anywhere to escape to.”

We cut back to the previous scene. Adult Barda narrates: “From the time I was a child, all I wanted was to escape this life.” Granny finishes her attack on Scott and spins on her heels, lurking over Barda, who is sitting with her hands neatly folded. On her page, in surprisingly clean and crisp letters, she’s written the correct answer: Darkseid. Granny practically glows (at least insofar as she’s capable).

“Very good, Barda. Young Mr. Free could learn much from you- if he weren’t such a dunce. I think it’s time we sent you to the advanced course.” Barda is shown to be special. She was Granny’s favorite, shown as a child to have an exceptional talent for combat, even besting a parademon before puberty, and clearly enjoying the warrior’s life. She’s shown the closest thing Granny shows to affection (it is fleeting and superficial, but in an entire world that is basically a high-tech concentration camp, it’s a tiny flash of humanity). Granny pins a cape to a still quite young Barda, a signal of her rank. Below is a procession of dregs, in dirty, blackened rags, marching but with no fanfare at all, from their barracks to the factories. “It’s better to rule in hell, than to live among its offal.” We see Scott escape below, flying on his discs, this time narrowly avoiding large blocks that shift to try to contain his escape. Barda raises her weapon (similar to Granny’s; in fact, she’s starting to look like a young Granny) and fires, knocking Scott from the sky. He crashes on the shifting block, and is snatched by parademons. “Unfortunately, sometimes rulers have to be cruel to be kind.”

Now we show New Genesis again. A young Orion is held down by kids his own age, who smear handfuls of paint along his face to make him more closely resemble Darkseid, as they taunt him that he should be back on Apokalips with his own kind. Orion punches one of them, bloodying his knuckles, and the children flee. We cut to him, looking in the mirror at the greasy paint smeared into his hair and across his face, interrupted by streaky tears running down his face. An older Orion narrates as we also intercut his bloodied hands as he looks at his reflection in the mirror, seeing overlaid his father’s face, “From the time I was a child, all I wanted was to escape this devil,” (part of that, is wanting to escape his own rage, which he recognizes is the first step to his truly becoming Darkseid’s heir).

Izaya helps the boy wash his face, and comforts him. “Your rage is understandable, Orion,” the Highfather says. “Only children can be so cruel- and those who never outgrow a child’s outlook. They hate what they fear, and fear what they don’t understand. But what I know, my son, is that you are not the devil they see, nor are you the monster you fear. You are merely a boy, bravely hopeful that he can be better than his forebears. And you can.”

Orion, simply crushed under the weight of all of this, holds up his hand, still bloodied. “I struck one of them.”

Highfather is patient. “You did. But remember the time before? You struck several. And before that, you struck all of them, several repeatedly. And today, you did so with great reluctance. I know that our Eden is held as idyllic, our ways peaceful. They are neither. We are the counter to Apokalips. While the day may seem overly kind beside the dark, it is only through persevering over the night that we maintain life in the universe, growth. Without the day’s light, nothing could sustain life.” Orion asks about mushrooms, and Highfather smiles. “Mushrooms are merely a different kind of life, persevering even through the dark; they are a testament to the strength and will of life…”

We follow inside Granny’s orphanage as the Highfather’s words seep in, “but they are not enough to sustain it.” Scott anticipates returning to his classroom again, but a thin man in robes stops him. “Darkseid grows impatient with your lack of progress; Granny’s compassion has spoiled you, child, but I will not spare the rod.” The robed figure clings to his staff eagerly. Scott becomes more and more concerned as he is led into increasingly more dungeonous territory. A parademon brings a prisoner to the robed figure. The prisoner addresses him as “DeSaad,” and begs him for mercy, that he wasn’t trying to escape. DeSaad says he was hoping for a chance to test the enhancements to his rod. It bathes the man in fire, and he collapses to the ground, mewling. DeSaad is very proud of his handywork. “It takes an artists eye to get the balance right. Too much heat, and you’ll cook the meat and kill the body; too much force and you peel away the flesh, and they die. No, the key is just enough of both to make the pain exquisitely unbearable. He’ll beg to die, when he regains his strength, but in time he will heal, and we can start the progress over again.”

“You’re a monster,” Scott says.

“Unlucky for you, the real monster’s taken a personal interest in you, now. Normally, I like watching the systemic demolition of hope from a young man’s eyes. But the sheer hate he holds for you- if you want to jump, I’ll let you. I promise you, it’s the last kindness you’ll ever know.” Scott follows his gaze down into a chasm, its black depths punctuated by pools of molten rock at the bottom. During their gazing, the other prisoner manages to roll himself over the edge. He crumples as he lands, before the boiling rock envelopes him. But it doesn’t swallow. It just roils around him as he wriggles in agony. 

DeSaad is just tickled pink by this; it might be too much to have him howl in delight. “Takes a genius, to devise a trap like this one, and so few Apokaliptians are up to appreciating it. The fall is calculated, to the millimeter, to smash the bones, but not to kill. And the boiling rock, it’s not so hot to kill- just to sear- and to cauterize any wounds he sustained.” Water is poured down into the chasm. “We keep them moist, so they don’t dry out. They’d starve, before succumbing, but we pluck them out before it happens. Sometimes we set their bones, only to throw them back in. Sometimes we let all their burns heal. I’m a technologist by trade, but my passion is the science of suffering. You and I, Scott, you’re going to be my masterpiece of pain. And if you’re lucky, I’ll make some stumble and end you, because if I don’t, Darkseid’s wroth will render my research quaint. To him, I am not even an apprentice; he is the true master of agony.”

We cut to Darkseid, sitting in a throne over a gladiatorial pit. Goddfrey introduces the combatants: Lashina and Barda will fight two captured New Genesis weaponsmiths. Goddfrey tells them they have a chance to prove their worth by using their designed weapons to defeat Darkseid’s Furies… unless they’ve been sandbagging. At first the weapons don’t work (that’s the reason they’re in this pickle to begin with), but they manage to stay alive long enough to fix them, and turn them on the Furies. But Lashina and Barda have only been toying with them. Even with their fancy New God tech, the two Furies easily disarm them. Darkseid holds up his hand and both promise to live for Darkseid. He puts his thumb down, and Lashina executes them both as Barda watches, bidding they die for Darkseid.

On New Genesis, Orion is dressed in sentinel garb (his usual costume), essentially a peacekeeping force. However, one of his fellow soldiers mocks him as “the Little Dictator.” Orion tries to hold his temper, until the guy shoves him out of line, which turns his drill instructor’s attentions to him. Orion attacks. We cut to later, as Highfather arrives as Orion is being dressed down by the officer, who questions both his loyalty and bravery, attacking a fellow sentinel. Highfather chastises the instructor, saying his son is every bit as loyal as any of New Genesis’ citizens, and twice as brave, perhaps too brave, to where he’d fight his own for his honor. Highfather stares down the one who started it, saying Orion has a temper, but he’s no provocateur. Orion intercedes, and says to leave it- that he doesn’t want his father- either of them- to lord his position over someone, and storms off. After a moment, Highfather smiles, and follows.

Back on Apokalips, in a tight corridor, a child holds its parents’ hand, clinging desparately. A parademon strikes the parent, and the hand goes limp, even as the child clings more tightly, and  Scott Free, flying on his discs, bursts in, light streaming, now in his full Mr. Miracle garb. He stops the parademon assault, and whisks parent and child away. I’m assuming this is still a young Scott, so built like Spider-Man moreso than an adult. He sets the parent and child down safely, but they’re angry at exposing them to potentially more danger; they’re being kind of a jerk, but I want it to be reasonable, too, that we understand that they are simply reacting to Apokalips, where fighting back is far more dangerous than being crushed slowly to death- especially in the lessons it teaches an already frightened child (side note: their crime was trying to keep and raise their child- all children are supposed to be surrendered to Granny’s orphanages, so they really are a revolutionary in the making). Scott offers them an entertainment, a temporary escape from the violence and danger of Apokaliptian life, pulling back a curtain, inviting them, as a sign proclaims, to see Mr. Miracle’s escape. Oberon works as the hype man, as Scott performs death-defying feats. It’s a small, underground audience (Apokalips really doesn’t have space for theater- that’s also why his garb is so unusual; the world is mostly black and gray, the sole exception being officers in Darkseid’s army, for whom color is a sign of rank). After the show, Scott convinces parent and child to stick around. Then he convinces Oberon to help him smuggle them out, to the resistance. Oberon’s reluctant; the kid said the last time was the last time, that if they keep taking risks they get caught, and if they get caught the resistance gets exposed. Scott reluctantly agrees, that of course Oberon’s right, they can’t be careless, he just needs Oberon to do one thing and he’ll go along: he has to tell the kid they can’t help.

And Oberon tries, gets down on the kid’s level, and can see they’re just scared. Oberon melts, “Aw, kid, I’m no good at giving bad news.” He stands up, huffily. “Fine, fine, we’ll take em. You know the kid’s got that same dangerous glint in their eyes.” Scott asks if it’s charm. “Worse. Hope. We give too many of these people hope, and we’re just setting them up for this world to crush em even worse.”

Scott has a genuine offection for Oberon, and tells him he appreciates how he “keeps him grounded.” Oberon, seeing the kid from a distance, says Scott keeps him doing the right thing, despite himself.

We cut to New Genesis, basically modern day. He flies through the air in what is essentially an airborne segue. Orion’s wearing a helmet, and through that he’s radioed. “Orion, we have an airborne radar contact, trajectory would suggest an Apokaliptian origin. Flight pattern suggests a parademon, though whether its a scout or one of them escaped the pens we don’t know.” Orion says he’ll check it out. It’s a parademon, all right, and gives him a run for his money (I’m going to say we should upgrade parademons from the ones Steppenwolf brought to Earth in Justice League; since he was on the outs, his army consisted of the crummiest of the parademons- they should be more formidable than his were then, at least in general.

Orion talks to himself a bit, so we understand he’s following the typical protocol, that they usually just fire warning shots to chase the parademons back home. But this one is persistent, refusing; it wants something. Orion’s given the order to shoot it down to prevent it from completing whatever its mission is. He does, but it barrels down onto one of the trams (think a monorail, but the track is a pair of flimsy golden pipes- really elegant looking but the parademon smashes through it. And that juncture point is for a school- and Orion can see that there is basically a bus full of school children barreling towards the end of the line without an end point. Orion lands roughly to beat the kids to the end of the line and hold up the broken rail so the bus comes to a relatively smooth stop.

One of the teachers runs to the bus, but is surprised to see Orion. She’s somewhat shamed by her behavior as a kid, but also recognizes she’s beautiful and has a wellspring of confidence from that. “I used to pick on you,” she says, “when we were kids.” Orion, barely able to meet her gaze, tells her he remembers. She tells him she was wrong- they all were. She’s felt awful about it- but never enough to contact him- “I had no right to force an apology on you to salve my guilt. But I see it on your face, even now, how I hurt you. I had no right to do that, either. I’m sorry.” He asks if she teaches. She does, but also, her daughter was on that bus, she tells him, as her little girl gets clear and runs to her. She says she doesn’t know, after losing her child’s father last year, how she could have withstood losing her, too. “There are no words to express my sorrow for the pain I caused you, and an equal degree for the sorrow you spared me today.” She tells him he’s a better citizen of New Genesis than most of them could ever hope to be. She smiles at him and leaves.

“So why do I feel so angry?” Orion asks, as he limps his flying frame away. Izaya is talking to him through his helmet. He tells him that the wounds she caused him run deep, that she exposed a nerve, and while over the long term her words might touch him, even sooth him, in that moment, all they can do is deepen his hurts. Orion asks if those wounds ever heal, if he’ll ever feel like he’s earned his place on New Genesis. Highfather assures him he has, a hundred fold; he is, in the humble opinion of his father, one of their finest citizens. But he is also his father’s son, a creature of deep longing.

“But where Darkseid needs to control, all thought, all will, all life, you, Orion, need to belong, to feel loved and needed and cared for. The people of New Genesis have not always lived up to our ideals and provided for that need.”

Orion tells him he thinks he’s right- that, like his father, he needs too much. Izaya tells him that wasn’t the lesson he wanted him to take from what he said, and Orion tells him that doesn’t make it any less true. He says that his has not always been the easiest life, but he remembers his earliest days on Apokalips, that his worst day on New Genesis paled to his best moment on Apokalips, and even there he had been the favored son of its despot. He worries over Scott, the son the Highfather traded for him.  

The resistance leader, Himon, thanks Scott for turning in another refugee. Their campaign is going well, all things considered, and it’s only with the help of those like him that they’re able to continue to work to free even some of Apokalips from the tyrant’s grasp.

“Why him?” Barda asks, looking at a hologram of Mr. Miracle. We’re now in Granny Goodness’ war room, where she tasks her furies on their most secretive missions.

“Why him?” Granny asks. “Because Scott Free is the lowliest of the low. He has always been a worm, but the worst kind- the kind who refuses to be trod under foot.” She explains that Goddfrey’s spies have found dozens of resistance agents who could be used to destroy their movement. But it needs to be Scott. When we break his rebel friends, when the last dying ember of hope is stamped out, Scott Free needs to know that it was his failure that led to so much loss, and pain. “Why him? Because he has always refused to live for Darkseid, and I want his breaking to be the triumph they recall for millenia after me.”

“But why me?” Barda asks, suddenly anxious.

As Granny narrates, the hologram shifts, showing Barda at various points in her rise. “Because you, Barda, are my finest success. A brutal warrior, a brilliant student, the ruthless leader of my Furies. If anyone can remove the black stain of Scott Free’s smile from my record, it’s you, dear. Break him for me, Big Barda, and your reward will stir envy in your peers the like of which you’ve never seen.”

We cut to a transport. Barda seems anxious. Some of that is she’s dressed in the same rags as the rest of the underclass. Some of it is, it’s really her first experience among them. She’s been told, from childhood, that they are deserving of their status, they are dregs for a reason, capable only of corruption if not for the careful guidance of Darkseid, who yolks their unruly, wanton cruelty to provide some measure of prosperity. At first she feels naked without her armor or her weapon- after all, her entire life she’s been told how desperate the dregs are, clawing at their betters for any purchase to pull themselves up- or pull their betters down. But these people aren’t her enemy; they aren’t even capable of presenting a threat, they’re so beaten down and broken. One of the workers stumbles, and a parademon spins on him with a cat o’ nine tails like weapon. Barda catches his elbow. That gets her more attention from other guards, and eventually she’s beating the hell out of a handful of parademons on her own, caught up in the moment. The laborer she saved helps her escape, bidding her slide into a low-lying window.

Barda is surprised at herself. She wants to be upset- she could well have ruined her subterfuge, but the thrill of battle has her blood up. The laborer is terrified, of and for her, but reason they owe her help, since they’ll be looking for her. They can get her to the resistance. “To fight?” Barda asks, still exhilirated by the fight. They tell her it’s to flee- that they’re the only way she can get out of the city alive. The laborer leads them through some underground tunnels, which eventually open up into a gray market. The laborer explains to Barda where she needs to go, when a parademon notices them. She tells the laborer to run, that she’ll lead it off. She runs a squadron of them a merry chase, before being bottled in an alley. She’s about to fight, when Mr. Miracle descends from the sky on his flying discs. He’s almost as formidable as she is (though now she’s playing damsel a bit- helping when his back is turned so as not to arouse suspicion). Barda flips the rescue, preventing Scott from being shot in the back by a parademon. He whisks her away, and takes her to the rebellion’s secret base.

She meets our important players for this portion of the movie, who want to funnel Barda out of town. But she wants to stay and fight. Scott intercedes, telling them she saved his life, and seems more than capable of handling herself. Himon doesn’t like it, but one of their number got swept up by a patrol, so they’re short a hand; he warns her it’ll be sink or swim, “But if you do need a hand, I have been known to function as a floatation device,” Scott says. The leader plays the heavy, each time trying to convince her that they will cut her loose if she threatens any of their safety, or their mission, each time undercut by Scott. Scott is defiant, chivalrous and charming; despite herself, Barda begins to warm to him.

The mission is breaking into one of Darkseid’s research pens. Darkseid’s search for the Anti-Life equation is one half a spiritual quest, one half super unethical research. The fruits of his labors so far are the parademons, essentially mindless, feral husks that were once living people just like those on New Genesis.

The plan had not been for Barda to rough up a dozen parademons, so Granny, concerned, sends the other furies to arrest the rebel leaders. They snatch Barda in the night, give Barda her uniform, and tell her arrests happen at dawn. Barda can’t sleep. Eventually she bursts in on Scott, who tries to play it cool, at first not getting that this isn’t a booty call. She warns Scott, tells him to save himself- that they can’t save the resistance, but he doesn’t deserve whatever Darkseid has planned for him.

Scott tells her that he trusts her with his life, his happiness, his hope, that “none of it is worth saving from Darkseid if we think it’s so fragile we can never share it,” and he kisses her, and for a moment she’s lost in the kiss, in for once feeling something good and vital and life-affirming, but the crushing reality of Apokalips comes rushing back to her and she pulls away from him. She tells him, angrily, she already tried to save him, by warning him off; he answers with a smile, and tells her, “I know. Now I’m trying to save you.”

Barda comes with the other Furies, conflicted as all get out. But when Lashina sets upon Scott, she isn’t conflicted, and she doesn’t hesitate. She blasts Lashina, and she, Scott, and Oberon, flee. Only this time, they’ve got a Motherbox, so they can make it off world, arriving on New Genesis.

They tell Highfather what happened, Scott relating the degradation he suffered in the name of peace. Highfather weeps, “Would that I could have taken your place, son, I would have; would that I could take your sorrows as mine to erase them from your soul.”

Orion, hearing all this, is pissed. He’s worked so hard to be accepted, so hard to be loved, so hard to feel he deserves to be Highfather’s son, only for Darkseid’s castoff to waltz in and be granted the title merely for being born. “Son?” He roars. “You call this wretched beast son.”

“I do, son; I have learned great affection for beasts, no matter their wretchedness,” he says, and tenderly strokes Orion’s cheek. But Highfather’s (and Avia’s) love is no match for Orion’s pain, and he continues advancing, his steps heavy with anger. But just as tragedy seems fit to strike, Scott scoops Orion up, joy in his voice as he exclaims that he has a brother. Scott hugs him fiercely; he knew, in his heart, on Apokalips that he had parents, but for the first time, in this space, with all of those he loves, does he feel like he truly has a family. And, despite himself, so, too, does Orion, caught up (as much as the curmudgeonly New God can be) in Scott’s joy, admiting with some strain, and indeed surprise that he has a brother.

The fragile peace is ended, however, by Scott’s successful escape, giving Darkseid the pretext he required to reignite the war.

Only Darkseid has been busy. During the war that split Genesis, their original planet, in half, New Genesis was technologically superior. Think Russia during World War II, Darkseid’s gains in territory came at the cost of immense expenditures of life; it was possible that Darkseid would lose his first war because their technology was so inferior, but not guaranteed. Highfather so feared Darkseid might triumph that he agreed to unleash the unmitigated power of the Source, cracking the planet in two (why yes, clever reader, this is a metaphor for atomic warfare). Apokalips, including the industrial heart of Darkseid’s territory, which soon spread over his entire planet, and New Genesis, Highfather’s idyllic homeworld, including the floating metropolis, New Eden.

Their gravity remains intertwined, as the two spheres rotate around one another. It was thought that Highfather could end the threat of Apokalips by once again harnessing the power of the Source, but at the cost of a terrible genocide; it was to prevent such a senseless loss of life that Highfather accepted the trading of their heirs. Darkseid agreed, because it bought him time to rebuild, to regrow his armies, and to use the technologists stolen from Highfather (and thought lost in the cracking of the planet) to close the technology gap almost entirely.

Apokalips’ first assault is on the Source itself, capturing the weapon Highfather used to split the planet, and had used to enforce the peace with Apokalips. They cause a huge amount of damage, making it clear that Darkseid’s forces are now far more deadly than in their last war. Highfather holds a war council, splitting his forces to cover certain strategic areas, the most important being New Eden. Scott offers to return to Apokalips, but both Highfather and Orion refuse to let him- he was merely the pretext, a story that let Apokalips pretend to have won their earlier conflict, but also a seed for the next. Even if he did go back, Darkseid could see to it that no one believed that he did. Highfather places Orion, his most trusted lieutenant, in charge of a contingent with Mr. Miracle and Barda to retake the weapon’ without it, Apokalips will be unstoppable.

They’re able to insert Orion inside, but find too late it was a honey-pot, that the surrounding hills are choked with parademons. Miracle and Barda lead the forces fighting to buy Orion time, the idea being that if they can fire the weapon on Apokalips, the mere demonstration that it’s back in New Genesis’ control should be enough to force a ceasefire. And while they fight a battle they know they will lose to buy Orion time, Orion finds that the weapon has already been disassembled. He tries for a moment to fix it, before realizing it isn’t just that they disabled it- they were altering the weapon, so it could be fired into the heart of New Genesis itself. Orion calls up the security satellites, to watch as Scott and Barda are being overwhelmed. He calls his Highfather, who is bloodied, but still fighting, even if it’s clear he won’t be fighting for much longer.

“Father,” Orion says, “I’m sorry for what I must do.” Then we watch as Orion broadcasts a message across New Genesis and Apokalips, both. “I, Orion, son of Darkseid, hold the beating heart of New Genesis’ greatest weapon in my hands. For Darkseid, for Apokalips, I close my fist.” Orion turns his floating conveyence on the weapon, and fires.

Outside, the spire housing the weapon combusts impressively. Scott screams for Orion, even as Barda points to his shape flying from the tower, that he’s alive. They both pause, as they hear Orion broadcast across all channels. “I have struck a blow to our hated enemies. Apokalips, it has been too long since I stood in the halls of my father. I’m coming home, triumphant.”

The parademons stop fighting, and watch as he flies towards Apokalips. After a moment of eerie silence, they follow suit, abandoning their conquest and flying after Orion. I imagine I should seed it so that Orion was part of an Apokaliptian stab in the back myth, that he was stolen by the treacherous Highfather in a raid, a raid in which he callously left his own son behind. Darkseid saw to the wayward child as he did all Apokaliptians, caring for them by tempering them in the fires of his industrial furnace. The return of Orion is thus complicated. On the surface, Apokalips rejoices at the victorious return of its lost prince, as well as the crippling of New Genesis’ great weapon.

New Genesis is somber. With Orion gone, their forces are weaker than ever. And while Highfather publically puts a brave face on it- that Orion surrendered to end the assualt- he recognizes that it’s a blow to morale, regardless. He feels the sting of the loss of a child, but also, some small part of him nags that his son rejected years of teachings to return to his ‘real’ father.

Scott isnt ready to give up on his brother just yet. He talks with Barda, telling her he has to to go. He doesn’t know if he can escape Apokalips a second time, but he has to try. He asks her to watch over his father, and Oberon, if anything happens to him. She tells him she can’t, to which he brokenly says, “Oh,” taking it to mean that now that she’s free of Apokalips, she wants to be free of him, as well, and we linger on that moment, Scott’s heart breaking even as he prepares to face his likely demise. She tells him the reason she can’t watch them is she’ll be with him, in their home in New Eden, or in DeSaad’s dungeon on Apokalips- wherever he is is where she’ll be.

I think that’s where we go to credits. Yeah, we’re not even pretending there won’t be a sequel. Darkseid IS DC’s big bad. It’s worth at least a couple of movies, maybe three, to set him up- and I think you can make some damn fine movies out of these.

Mid-credits scene: Darkseid is pissed. Orion is chained to a pillar, clearly having been beaten, bloodied, bruised, but also angry, and for the first time he feels like he’s got a worthy recipient for his anger.

Darkseid slaps him, the blow enough to bloody even the mighty Orion further. But Darkseid’s anger is cold. “You revoked my pretext for war; I’ll invent another.” DeSaad hands him a rag to wipe away the blood from his fist. “You’ve bought them hours. Perhaps days.”

“”Is that all you have to say to me, ‘father?’ I’m your heir,” Orion cries out. “You’re an heir to an immortal, a surplus in a world that can only ever know hunger; you are useless to me. DeSaad? Break the welp. If any pieces of value remain when you’ve finished, bring them to me. If not, dispose of them in the furnace.”

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.