The Mystery of the Dark Knight (Part 1)

Okay, right, here’s the deal. I really rather liked the Dark Knight Rises (although I don’t think it’s the best of the trilogy), but like all entitled scumbags I had my own idea of what I would have done for the third film.

I decided to write an outline of said third film, as envisaged by me, and then a few thousand words into it realised it was doing things and was going to take ages. Considering I’d like you to read it, I’m going to split it up into manageable chunks throughout spacetime, rather than giving you a trillion page document to sift through and cry at.

So here is the first part of my outline (not a short story, just an outline) of the Batman film I would have made.

Despite all his success in cleaning out the scum of Gotham, James Gordon has failed to bring in the Batman. It’s been a year since the death of Harvey Dent, and Gordon’s inability to bring the perpetrator to justice is causing some dangerous questions to be asked. He’s becoming a victim of his own success; he has single-handedly crushed Gotham’s culture of crime and cleaned up an entire police force, yet he hasn’t managed to make any headway on the man now seen as the greatest traitor Gotham has ever known.

There are whispers in the corridors of power that perhaps Gordon isn’t even trying. Perhaps, some say, the once incorruptible commissioner has finally surrendered his halo. Idle musings, not really taken seriously, but they linger. They have lingered since Batman’s disappearance, and the longer they linger the louder they get.

The mayor has never wavered in his trust for Gordon, however. He knows the difficulties Gordon has faced turning the city around, and unlike others he recognises that tracking the Batman is an almost impossible task. He doesn’t suspect the commissioner, but election season is coming. The Batman problem is affecting the polls and he knows actions speak louder than words.

One night he comes to Gordon, standing as he does on the roof by the demolished bat-signal, and informs him of his plans. He has to fire Gordon, it’s the only way to get the people back on side, to get them to believe in his capabilities as a leader. The people will only remember Gordon for his greatest failure, not his litany of successes, but it’s the only way to keep his office.

Gordon is not very understanding, but there is little he can do. The mayor has already picked his replacement, someone with a resume a mile wide and his own measure of celebrity: a renowned FBI profiler called Edward Nash. An unorthodox appointment, but then he has unorthodox issues to deal with.

There is a moment where Gordon looks like he’s going to respond, that he’s going to fight for his job, but then he remembers Dent. He remembers everything he had to sacrifice to keep that monster as a hero, the pain it brought upon his family, the need to have them lie on a daily basis, to forsake the loyalty to truth that he had fought so hard for. He had already given too much for the city, perhaps it was time to let someone else take on the burden. He couldn’t be who they wanted him to be.

The bat-signal, rusted and broken, flickers gently, what’s left of the bulb sparking. The mayor seems shocked but Gordon, his back to him as he leaves, explains: ‘It does that. It’s not an easy thing to destroy.’

Bruce Wayne is still living the high life, attending parties with a girl on each arm, spending money like nobody’s business and generally making sure the people of Gotham know he’s still around. And he hates it. Alfred has been urging him to leave, perhaps to oversee one of the satellite offices in Metropolis or Keystone or Star City, anything to get him out of Gotham. But he won’t leave, he can’t leave, Gotham is his.

He hasn’t been Batman since that night, but neither has he been Bruce Wayne. He’s been playing the part, but there’s nothing behind the eyes, he’s simply existing and waiting, hoping something comes along to give him purpose again. Besides, with Batman as the arch-enemy of all of Gotham the police finally have the powers they need to crackdown on crime. There have been no more Jokers, no Scarecrows or Leagues of Shadows, the world doesn’t need Batman as anything but a symbol. But Bruce Wayne does.

He keeps his hand in, of course. He doles out donations to the police force, holds charity functions that let him hobnob with the toast of the town, the police, the mayor, anyone that could let slip something of interest just in case. He never did learn how to relax. His various charitable foundations have even given him loose lines of intelligence into various homes, his scholarship programme, for instance, paying for Jim Gordon’s daughter to go to college, complete with regular interviews about her studies, her family life. Any information is good, as far as Bruce Wayne is concerned.

But nothing requires Batman. He listens and spies and gathers as much knowledge as he can get, but he has no use for it. It’s his own little obsession to pass the time so that he doesn’t have to think about what he’s lost. It doesn’t work.

Alfred does his best to provide him with distractions, but there’s only so much a butler can do. He’s resigned himself to bring his master the morning paper, talking at him awkwardly for a few moments, then retiring to another room for the rest of the day. Wayne manor is an unwelcoming place right now.

Today’s paper catches Bruce’s eye, however. Gordon’s replacement arrives today and a huge party is being held to welcome him. The mayor wants every influential person in the city to see how far he will go to protect them and their money, and by extension the little people. Naturally Bruce is invited.

He puts on his disguise, the face of a man who wants to be there, and attends. There’s a speech, proclaiming Nash to be the new saviour of Gotham, the mayor reeling off the man’s achievements to the stunned silence of the guests. He’s brought down serial killers across the country, practically run the bureau for the last couple of years, and is particularly good at getting inside the heads of the criminals he searches for. That, the mayor believes, is the key to finally catching the Batman and finally getting some justice for Harvey Dent.

Bruce is unimpressed. Gordon had been forced to bring in consulting detectives before and not one of them had even come close. Lucius Fox had hidden everything too well, there was no way to trace any of it back to him, and without further outings from the Batman he would be impossible to find. It was a cynical attempt to curry favour with the electorate. Nash would be gone within a month of the election.

Alfred doesn’t agree. He’d seen men like Nash before. Determined men, ones with an unwavering commitment to their goals. They had a way of getting things done purely because they believed there was no other way. They always got things done, it was impossible for them not to succeed, so giving up was no option. Nash would hound the Batman to the ends of the Earth if he had to, but he would never stop once he had the scent.

That Nash looked so respectable and young was perhaps his biggest advantage. You could sing the man’s praises as much as you liked, detail his every violent and ingenious case closed, but that wouldn’t make it any easier to look beyond his disarming smile and shock of red hair. He had the look of a poster boy about him, the perfect face but one that didn’t really portray how dangerous he could be. No-one expected a poster boy to actually be exceptional – no-one expects anything of that sort from the attractive, not really – and if it wasn’t for his smile there would be no clue that he was anything but a pretty face, his record notwithstanding. The two didn’t match up.

But the smile was one Alfred had seen before too. You can’t disguise a smile, it works your whole face, and as such always betrays the truth. Nash was a ruthless predator, but Bruce refused to see it.

Nash wasted no time. He kept the majority of the police working on cleaning up the streets as per his predecessor’s designs – it was a competent and cost-effective strategy, changing it would be unwise in his opinion – but took the best and brightest into his inner circle and created a special task force. People who had worked with Dent on a regular basis, a handful of the younger and more idealistic cops, people who had not been Jim Gordon’s most trusted men. If Gordon was dirty, it stood to reason that the people closest to him would be loyal too. So you took the people he didn’t get on with, the insubordinate bulldogs. You took their muzzles off and see what they sunk their teeth into.

Together they started to search for the Batman.

Meanwhile, Jim Gordon enjoyed his retirement. To the world at large it was sold as the pressures of the job having had an adverse effect on his health, and he needed to spend time with his family. The usual excuse, but one he could hardly argue with. Things had been different at home since the Dent incident, and the need for secrecy had made things difficult. But now he had the time to fix it, he could try and be a good man again.

Barbara was back from college to help celebrate his retirement, although more out of duty than actual love for her father. She did love him, of course, but right now she couldn’t look at him. What the family had been through because of him, from Dent to the lying, all while she had been away at college, it all made it very hard for her to look him in the eye. But she was there, and for today at least, she wouldn’t argue with him. As much as she wanted to, she would not make a scene.

Things had been simpler before she had gone away. Her parents had their problems, but what couple didn’t? They had rows, but they were born of love. Now they barely talked to each other, and when they did there was a look of pain in her father’s eyes that she couldn’t stand to see. It made her angry to see him like that.

In the old days, before she went away, even when he was the only honest cop on the force, there was a fire inside him. If you got him talking about it, he could go on for hours about justice and truth and the right way to get things done. That had been what had driven her at school, the need to live up to the “hero” she had at home, and she was damned if she was going to let all that be for nothing. She had gone to the Wayne Foundation for a scholarship to prove give her a symbolic freedom from her father in his current state, and they didn’t take on just anybody. Maybe her name had given her a foot in the door, but they were diligent and strict when it came to continuing to support students – you had to prove you were worth it, and Barbara was doing that.

She took herself away from the party. Watching him pretend to be happy was too painful. Everything he may have been, she knew that he wasn’t ready for retirement. That her mother refused to see it only made it worse.

Gotham never really changed. The streets were safer, but they would never feel it. She looked out in to the night, and still she could hear the distant scream of someone in trouble, felt the oppressive grip of fear of what might exist in the night. Knowing that is was largely safe did nothing, you could never rid Gotham’s night of the fear it produced.

But she would try anyway.

She would teach herself to see the night differently. She had done the same at Metropolis U, although it was easier in a city that had not been built seemingly entirely out of solidified shadows. Still, the theory was sound.

The longer she walked, the safer she felt. The darkness had a way of binding itself to her, if she let it. It was possible to learn a lot more from the city at night than you could during the day, and Barbara wanted to know everything about this new Gotham, more-so than staying at her father’s party at any rate.

Gotham was safer, it was true. There weren’t the leering faces that she remembered from her youth, and the general sensation of being followed was barely there any more. But was this the true Gotham, or had the scum just relocated? She had to go deeper.

And going deeper would be the mistake. Every city has the bad places nobody goes, and purposefully striding into them as Barbara was about to do was just asking for trouble, but she didn’t care. She had to know the true Gotham. It wasn’t long before it found her.

Three men, armed with knives and faces like broken windows approached her in the dark threatening the sort of things that are often levelled at teenage girls. But you don’t grow up in the same house as a cop and not learn how to defend yourself. Defend being the operative word.

Barbara was lean but not especially tall, agile but not strong, so she waited for the men to make the first move. They came at her one at a time, which helped, and as she pivoted and weaved around their strikes she shifted their weights, using their own momentum against them. She never even had to hit them, a gentle push was enough to cause them to take each other out. Before long, the three men were down and screaming, incapacitated. There was the true face of Gotham, same as it had always been.

She hadn’t seen the fourth man. He had been in the shadows watching, firmer friends with the night than Barbara, and he had his blade at her throat before she realised.

Barbara held her breath. Foolish, she thought, should have made sure to check the surroundings more thoroughly. Before she had time to get down to the business of fretting, however, the knife was gone.

She turned around straight into the face of Edward Nash, splintered cane in one hand and an unconscious thug in the other.


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