Comicbook script: The Man Behind the Bat

I wrote a short script for a 14 page comic, just for fun really, because the copyrights involved would mean I couldn’t really do anything with it. It’s just a very dark alternate take on Batman. The general concept I’m sure has been thought of before but I’ve never seen it properly executed and written down as a script.

All copyrights to the characters and world belong to DC, of course. This isn’t for money but just a fan thing (although I’d LOVE to see it done with artwork). Needless to say it’s absolutely not canon nor pretending to be anything it isn’t.

For those who haven’t read comicbook scripts before, the numbers on each page are for each separate panel of art, CAP means caption (usually a thought/narration box), and dialogue would appear as speech bubbles. The rest is a guide addressing the (sadly no longer on board) artist as to what might appear in the panels.

Hope you enjoy (and don’t take it so serious).

 

BATMAN: THE MAN BEHIND THE BAT script

By Set Sytes

 

ART IDEAS

 

Black and white. Except for the laughs of the Joker, the green wig and red lipstick. Maybe the blue and red of the police sirens. These colours should be bold and vivid, standing out strongly against the black and white. It’s up to you if you use the blood that occurs later in greyscale or red. In general, colour in the panels should be rare.

Everything drenched in shadows. Bold, simple, striking. Maybe rough heavy line drawings (like the art from From Hell) or thick, blotty use of blacks, like Mike Mignola’s art. Or both. Backgrounds could be simple or nearly non-existent – block blacks and shading, with essential props and architecture. Up to you how much detail you put in, but the panels should remain bold, stark and striking, never cluttered, and always a focus on the characters over backgrounds.

Panel layout is an outline, if you want to change how many panels appear on each page (Average of 6, no more than 8 for the odd page, maybe also pages with fewer but bigger panels), up to you of course. Add more pages if you need to fit in all the panels. There’s no page limit.

PAGE 1

 

1 – GOTHAM CITY

Batman narrates as he looks out from a rooftop over Gotham city. His figure is a grim, impressive, imposing and even scary one – feel free to be a little bit surreal and abstract with his look, almost mythic, a figure of menace. All black, huge sprawling cape, etc. Little detail – maybe all you see is cowl and cape? White eyes as usual. I’ll send some sample ideas if you want.

CAP: The city is diseased. I’ve known it ever since my parents were murdered in front of me.

CAP: Shadows cut and slash at every source of light, every source of hope. Tumours bubble up out of the depths and threaten to swallow the city whole.

2 –

CAP: When the wind carries just right, you can smell the cancer eating the city. You can smell Gotham’s rotting flesh.

CAP: I’m Gotham’s own chemotherapy. I destroy just to keep it alive. A necessary sickness.

3 –

Batman turns, hearing a scream coming up from below and to the side, out of shot.

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

4 & 5 –

Jumps or soars down into the alley.

CAP: To every criminal that preys on the innocent, I am more than just a knight of justice. I am the wings of havoc.

5 –

Runs through the alleys.

CAP: And I always win.

6 –

Batman races forward down an alley, towards two common criminals threatening a terrified woman.

WOMAN: Please don’t!

 

PAGE 2

 

1 & 2 –

Batman fights the criminals.

CAP: Common thugs. A walk in the park.

3 –

A SNAP as he breaks a criminal’s arm. The man’s face is contorted in pain.

CAP: I call this a warm-up.

4 –

The criminals are on the floor unconscious. Don’t show blood. Batman looks around, the woman is gone.

BATMAN: Guess she must have run off.

5 – BATCAVE

Batman standing in the Batcave. Alfred standing in the corner, stiff, in the shadows. Obscured by shadow. Something scary about him. No movement or facial expressions shown at any point, maybe his whole face is in shadow. He should look identical in every appearance in the comic – because he is an effigy.

ALFRED CAP (a speech balloon, but an independent one, not attributed to Alfred): Any word on the Joker, sir?

BATMAN: Not yet, Alfred. My lead turned out to be a dead end.

6 –

ALFRED CAP: Escaping from Arkham Asylum yet again. It beggars belief.

BATMAN: Arkham wasn’t built to hold minds such as his.

ALFRED CAP: Even with the increased security, sir?

BATMAN: He must have had help. Someone on the inside.

ALFRED CAP: Again, sir?

 

PAGE 3

 

1 & 2 –

Bruce is asleep in his bedroom. Face cast in shadow. Tossing and turning, pained expression. He is having bad dreams.

3 – 5 –

Dreams of Joe Chill killing his parents. Dark alley, a figure coming, a gunshot. You know the scene. Use your imagination for these panels, as long as it’s dark, stylised and creepy! Green Joker laughter starts off small in panel 4, coming from off-panel, and gets bigger and more ‘aggressive’ in panel 5.

6 –

Bruce sits on his knees at the feet of his dead parents. Head down. Camera to the back of him. Joker’s green HAHAHAHAHA   coming in from the edges and fully into the panel, larger than before, unavoidable.

 

PAGE 4

 

1 –

Next day, in the Batcave. Batman sitting at his Batcomputer. Alfred standing in the corner, stiff, in the shadows as before.

BATMAN: Get Lucius Fox on the line. I’m going to need some upgrades, if I’m going to track down the Joker.

ALFRED CAP: Right away, Master Bruce. And perhaps you could also say something about the Joker breaking into his house again last night? Some words of comfort, perhaps. The poor man is in fear for his life.

BATMAN: Of course I will, Alfred.

2 –

ALFRED CAP: Patched you through now, sir.

BATMAN: Lucius, are you there? Lucius? Alfred, I’m not getting any –

3 –

All these panels still of Batman at the computer. Don’t show Lucius. If you show Batman’s face, it’s standard Batman expression, stern, authoritative, impatient but in control.

LUCIUS (independent jagged transmission balloon): I know it’s you Bruce. What’s happening in the streets. At first I denied it, I denied it for so long, as the evidence mounted . . .

LUCIUS: But then . . . I put a tracker on you. I followed you. I saw what it is that you do . . . That’s when I knew . . .

BATMAN: Lucius, calm down.

4 –

LUCIUS: I’m not doing it anymore Bruce! I’m not going to be your – your enabler any more. God, I’m part of this . . . I’m an accomplice. I’ve been drinking so much lately, drinking myself half to death, drinking to forget . . . I’ve been so scared. Scared of you.

LUCIUS: And then – and then I was scared of going to the cops, telling them what I know. I knew they’d put me away, separate me from my family. It took me so long to gather the strength for this call. My hands were shaking. They still are.

5 –

BATMAN: Lucius, control yourself. You know the Joker knows where you live now. He’ll come for you, you know that, come for your family. And I’m the only one who can protect you from him.

LUCIUS: I’ve sent my family away! They’ll be . . . They’ll be safe.

6 –

BATMAN: Where have you sent them? If you don’t tell me, I can’t protect them.

LUCIUS: I’m not telling you! Please Bruce, please. You’re not well. You need to turn yourself in. I’m begging you.

7 –

BATMAN: I can’t quit. Gotham needs me. It seems I’ll have to go on without you, old friend.

BATMAN: Goodbye, Lucius.

*CLICK*

 

PAGE 5 – LUCIUS FOX’S APARTMENT

 

1 –

Lucius Fox in his apartment alone at night, sitting, staring at nothing, maybe a TV turned off. Bottle of beer in his hand, beer bottles all around him. Gun on the seat next to him.

2 –

CREEEAAAAK

He hears a creak at the door, turns his head. Startled.

3 –

Trains his gun on it, sweating in the shadows.

4 –

Behind him, a figure creeps in through the window. Green hair, red smile. The rest in shadows. It’s a freaky image.

5 –

Lucius starts to spin around as the Joker speaks (still mostly in shadow apart from the colours, the smile – a scary figure).

JOKER: Luuuciieeee, I’ve got a boooonnne to pick with you!

6 –

The Joker knocks the gun out of his hand. Lucius falls to the floor.

7 –

Joker stands over him. Lucius is terrified, holding hand up as though it will protect him.

JOKER: Which bone would you like me to pick, Lucie? Hehehehehhehe (this laughter starts in the balloon and then comes out of it, going green and bigger into the rest of the panel.)

 

PAGE 6

 

1 – GOTHAM CITY

Batman stares into the darkness. Out of which come the red and blue lights of police cars. It’s all in shadow (sorry if that word gets repeated a lot here!). All you see is lights, darkness, perhaps vague shapes. Slashing rain. A sense of confusion.

CAP: I blink. I don’t know how I got here.

CAP: My short-term memory is a network of shadows. Deep within me, the tumour with the clown grin pulsates, and grows. Something is very wrong.

2 –

The scene comes into more clarity, although still somewhat shrouded. You can see police cars and police officers pointing guns through the rain at Batman. Including Commissioner Gordon.

CAP: I feel like I’ve been drugged. What is going on?

3 –

Close-up on Jim Gordon. His hair, coat and gun dripping wet in the rain. His glasses are opaque white – you never see his eyes. He looks angry, determined, but also a man carrying a huge burden.

GORDON: Drop it, Bruce! We know it’s you!

4 –

GORDON: All this time, it was you. I had my suspicions before, but who would question the head of Wayne Enterprises? The company that always gave so very generously to the GCPD.

GORDON: You were our bread and butter, Bruce. We had it all, with you lining the department’s pockets. But it’s over now. We’re not taking your money anymore.

BATMAN (balloon coming from out of panel, or the bottom of the panel – focus still on Gordon): Jim, you’re making a mistake.

CAP: I have to get out of here.

5 –

GORDON: The only mistake I made was in not doing this sooner. We got a phone call from Lucius Fox. He told us everything.

GORDON: This whole time. Dammit Bruce, how could you do this? How could you do this to them, to me?’

6 –

Batman throws smoke pellets.

7 –

The police officers are coughing in the smoke. See Gordon through the smoke, arm over his mouth.

GORDON: <koff> Nobody is to stop, nobody is to take a break, <koff> nobody is to do anything until Bruce Wayne is behind bars!

 

PAGE 7

 

1 –

Batman sat back to a chimney, on a rooftop. Joker’s green HEHEHEHE comes in very small, from off-panel. It appears in every panel hence, sneaking in. It’s there, but it’s unobtrusive. Always HEHEHEHE instead of HAHAHAHA, for now.

CAP: Everything’s unravelling. A tumbling of bricks.

CAP: They act like I’m a monster. I’m just a man.

2 –

CAP: I’m losing myself in the shadows. Darkness tugs at me, like pulling teeth from their roots. It’s trying to take it all away from me. The cancer is trying to win.

CAP: Someone’s behind this. but who? Or what?

3 –

Catwoman appears, a long sleek black figure, hands on hips.

CATWOMAN: Miaow.

4 –

BATMAN (not looking at her): Not now Catwoman. This isn’t a good time. I have to get back to the Batcave.

5 – BATCAVE

Batman with Alfred, as earlier. Batman standing, looking away.

BATMAN: First Lucius, now Jim. Everyone’s turning against me.

BATMAN: Something bad has happened, but I can’t . . . I can’t think straight. I feel like I’m being swallowed up from the inside.

6 –

Batman turns to Alfred, motionless as before.

BATMAN: Alfred?

 

PAGE 8

 

1 –

Batman, confused, puts his hand on Alfred’s shoulder. Shadows obscure Batman’s white eyes. Alfred leans lightly to one side with the pressure.

BATMAN: Alfred?

2 –

Alfred falls over. Batman is shocked, aghast in horror. You can see his real eyes, they are no longer whited out as usual.

BATMAN: ALFRED!

3 –

Batman stands over the fallen Alfred.

CAP: Taxidermy.

BATMAN: No . . . No, it can’t be . . .

4 –

Batman is looking pretty unhinged right now. His eyes look increasingly bloodshot and frenzied from now on. His chin looks more and more weathered, dirty and unshaven. His Batman outfit shifting from sleek, armoured well-crafted perfection (or the surreal, mythic wrapped-in-blackness style), to a slowly more real, tattered, home-made look . Make it all –outfit and face – a subtle change over a number of panels. You are gradually heading towards: simple, rough, torn, all-black, head to toe outfit, with a stitched on black-on-white bat symbol on the chest, and a grey utility belt. A crappy hand-made looking cowl, looks stitched together. This is Batman as he really looks – a deranged man. He cannot look after himself. He still looks dangerous, but in a different, unstable way. He’s a person you do not want to bump into.

The green Joker HEHEHEHE’s are getting larger in these panels, intruding slightly on the scenes.

CAP: Is it real? Is it really –

CAP: You know the answer to that.

BATMAN: Oh god.

5 –

Batman, on his hands and knees. Looks like he’s trying but failing to keep control. Desperately gritted teeth, but wide open eyes. Maybe flecks of spit coming from his teeth.

CAP: No.

6 –

Focus on Batman’s mad, grizzled face.

CAP: He’s dead. They’re all dead.

CAP: Falling . . .

7 –

Focus on Batman’s eyes. They’re sliding up, completely insane.

CAP: What have I done?

 

PAGE 9

 

1 –

Recreation of scenes where Batman fought the “criminals” at the beginning. Except he looks like he does in the prior panels (i.e. home-made, dishevelled, mad). He is charging at two innocent homeless men and one woman. They are terrified. Remember the Joker laughter in all these panels. Keep as much else the same as you can, from the original panels.

WOMAN: Please don’t!

2 –

Batman beats up the defenceless men as the woman runs off. They are shown in pain and bloodied by Batman.

3 –

Batman breaks one of their arms with a SNAP. The man is screaming in pain.

MAN: AAAARRHGHHH!

4 –

Batman stands over their two dead bodies. Make a distinction from the previous interpretation of this scene, that now they appear dead and battered/bloodied, and not just unconscious as before.

BATMAN: Guess she must have run off.

5 & 6 –

Two shots of the Joker’s face coming out of pitch darkness. Just a face. Green hair, lipstick, grin. Make it as scary as possible. Maybe no eyes – skin stretched over them? Whichever looks freakier. Bear in mind this is also Bruce’s face – but given the art style of the comic, it might not be obvious. As long as it’s not obvious that it’s not.

 

PAGE 10

 

A full page of various panels of Batman beating up/killing people, or launching himself at them from out of the darkness – maybe some are lowlifes, maybe some are homeless, or street kids – none of them deserve his punishment. Use your imagination with these panels. Just show Batman as he really is (in the context of this story): wild, unhinged and scary. Don’t show any knives or guns. His opponents are unarmed, and he’s doing it all with his fists. Possibly homemade batarangs that stick in people like knives – up to you.

Green laughter dominates these panels more than any previous ones. They’re all over the scenes, covering the page. Both HEHEHEHEHE and HAHAHAHAHA this time.

In the middle of all these panels (or place it/stylise it how best you feel fits) is a laughing shot, like before of the Joker, except this time it has a cowl on, and white eyes. It’s Batman meets the Joker. Think Batman with red lipstick and a crazy grin. Green hair coming out from under the cowl, maybe. I can show you a sample like that if you want.

The final panel on this page is a recreation of the panel earlier where Catwoman appears. Except this time it’s just a black cat.

CAT: Miaow.

BATMAN: Not now Catwoman.

 

PAGE 11

 

1 –

We’re away from flashbacks and back to the Batcave with insane Batman. He’s a state. During these panels he’s having a breakdown. Fingers clawing at hair and at face, wild, unbelieving, despairing eyes etc. Or, alternatively, maybe you want it more understated and sad – an utterly, utterly defeated Batman. Disconsolate, unable to take on the enormity of it all. Maybe you don’t even see his face, just a hunched body, head down. Your call.

If you show any of the Batcave – and you don’t need to – don’t make it anything really. It’s just a cave. Maybe it has a laptop in it where the Batcomputer is. Maybe you don’t want to show anything. Keep the focus on Batman. If you want to show him small and with a crushed spirit, maybe zoom out to his small broken black figure in a big dark empty cave. Make us as distant from him as he is from himself. Give us the feeling he’s all alone. This all might work better than the close-up crazy-breakdown Batman, given he’s finally accepting the truth.

CAP: All of them. All of them. My rogues, my villains . . . they were all me. Elements of my psyche I manifested into enemies to defeat – but they never could be defeated, could they? Not permanently. They rose up, again and again.

CAP: They always escaped. They always had their fun.

2 –

In these panels, as well as the previous shot, add drawings of the villains as referenced in the captions. Maybe they’re standing by him, maybe you’re just drawing their face in the corner of the panel, in the shadows. They are imagined by Batman. Here’s a chance to draw some of the other rogues in a disturbing way! Be a bit surreal with them if you like.

CAP: Two-Face . . . My multiple personality disorder. My psyche split in two. Good man and psychopath.

3 –

CAP: The Scarecrow. My fear of the truth.

4 –

CAP: Clayface, my malleability, my ability to deceive, to present myself as something other than what I am.  My mask of human skin hides the monster within.

5 –

CAP: The Penguin, my mental deformity, my corruption. The crooked tumour of my mind.

6 –

Draw the Joker here however you think best, as long as it fits with previous times. Make him the craziest and scariest. It’s demented Bruce Wayne in a wig, white-face and lipstick, and it should look horrible.

CAP: And, of course, the Joker. The real me, the psychopathic serial killer I try to bury inside. Never deep enough. He always gets out.

 

PAGE 12

 

1 –

The alley murder scene, except this time it’s young Bruce Wayne killing his parents and laughing. Of course, the green HAHAHAHA (sorry to keep mentioning it, it’s non-stop – unless you feel it interferes with the art in panels. As long as it’s on each page quite a bit). It’s moved on from HEHEHEHE like it was before.

CAP: The Joker killed my parents.

CAP: I killed my parents.

2 –

Bruce with a green wig on doing his lipstick in the mirror . . . Yeah, it’ll look very wrong. Think Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill!

3 –

Back to defeated alone Batman.

CAP: My no-kill rule. What a joke, what a farce. When, in reality, the reverse was true. So many dead. By my hand.

CAP: How many bones did I think I could break? How many piles of garbage were there to break someone’s fall?

4 –

CAP: There is no Arkham Asylum. Only the morgue. The graveyard.

CAP: There might not even be a Gotham. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

5 –

Panels of hollow-eyed Batman staring blankly into the darkness.

CAP: All this, this self-delusion, to cover up my own guilt. I looked for an unnamed killer, I sought vengeance on shadows, on nothing, on nobodies . . . Joe Chill . . . a nobody.

6 –

CAP: It wasn’t enough, in the end. My own guilt threatened to surface. I had to have a single person take the fall, a person I could touch, could smell. I gave him a name, a name inspired by the pulp noir novels I read as a child.

CAP: Where is Joe Chill now? I know where he is. A man whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

PAGE 13

 

1 –

If you hadn’t drawn it this way before, right now Batman is definitely on his knees, head sunk. These panels are quite repetitive, but should enforce the captions. If you want to repeat ones you’ve already drawn, do so. Don’t let any of the Joker laughter detract from the detachment and loneliness of Batman. It should be all about him in these panels, him in the empty cave. Maybe the laughter is just floating around the edges of the panels. Maybe you don’t want them there at all.

CAP: I got away with so much. I remember . . . I remember Gotham as a lovely city. It’s just me. I’m the only danger here. The only darkness.

2 –

CAP: The rich elite, they get away with everything. They always have, throughout history. Get away with murder. Nobody questioned me, not really. I was untouchable. It was only when it was staring them in the face that they had to act.

CAP: I bet some of them would have just kept on taking the money, for an easier life.

3 –

Batman has raised his head. Whether we see his eyes or not, he’s looking up. Something has occurred to him. He’s speaking out loud now.

BATMAN: Did I imagine Robin too? The things I made him do . . . Some of the time, he must have been in my head. The rest . . .

BATMAN: He’s still here, somewhere. Maybe he’s still crying. Maybe he’s finally gone quiet.

4 –

The Joker laughter here is smaller, edging away.

BATMAN: No . . . It’s not . . . This isn’t . . .

5 –

Just a solid black panel. No laughter.

6 –

Shows only Batman’s torn gloved hand, reaching up desperately into the darkness, as though there’s something out there that can save him. In this panel the HAHAHAHA is fading away, diminishing out the panel.

BATMAN: No . . .

7 –

Same shot of the hand, except it now looks more like the Batman suit as he imagined it – like a Batsuit gauntlet. Look it up if you want an idea. Doesn’t need detail though – as long as it looks different to before, better-made and not torn. Or darker, more surreal? In this and later panels there is no more Joker laughter.

CAP: No, it can’t end like this. It doesn’t make any sense.

CAP: It’s not true.

8 –

Shot of Batman’s narrowed eyes. The eyes are white, like before. The old mask is back. Maybe it’s just two white eyes in blackness.

CAP: Mind manipulation coupled with a new strain of fear toxin. Mad Hatter and the Scarecrow must be working together. Seeking to destroy my identity . . . make me believe in the impossible.

 

PAGE 14

 

1 –

Batman’s arm again, now in a clenched fist. It looks stronger and more muscular than before.

CAP: Fight it, Bruce. You can beat them. You’re stronger than this.

2 –

Another arm shot, looking even stronger and more imposing than before, even crueller – more dangerous. Or maybe you can show it in a more surreal way – darkness flowing out of it, the hand more of something inhuman than a man.

CAP: You’re more than Bruce Wayne.

CAP: You are –

3 –

A big panel, taking up the rest of the page. Batman is standing up. He looks like the original panels of how Batman looked, but more so. Unreal-looking, no face – just the white eyes of the cowl, his cape billowing out, jagged, the ends like tendrils reaching to ensnare. Maybe he’s floating off the ground – the whole effect is of Batman not as a human but as a dark myth, as demon, as terror of the night.

BATMAN: I’m Batman.

 

 

I don't own the rights to this artwork and could not find the name for the original artist. Will amend or remove as appropriate.
I don’t own the rights to this artwork and could not find the name for the original artist. Will amend or remove as appropriate.

WULF sequel SLADE now available!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the next Fifth Place book, the sequel to the weird science fantasy western WULF, is finished and available HERE!

It’s called SLADE – it’s more irreverent, darker, crazier, more complex and twice as epic! This is where things really get going in the series. And if you want answers to all the questions raised in WULF, here is where you’ll find them!

 

SLADE cover med-small

SLADE (The Fifth Place Book 2) finished!

I’ve been working on the crazy sci-fi adventure SLADE, the sequel to WULF, for god knows how long, but I’m so pleased to say that as of today I finally finished it! Well, sort-of. It still needs a careful read through and editing away issues and mistakes – and fervent praying that there’s no gaping plotholes… but still!

It’s currently 123,353 words long, making it longer than its predecessor WULF by 50,000 words, and longer than the longest novel I’ve written by 40,000 words. It just kept getting longer!

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written for numerous reasons. I really hope fans of WULF will enjoy this epic.  It answers just about all the main questions raised by WULF while still setting up the pieces for a future installment.

Can’t wait for you to read it!

Oh, and here’s the cover!

SLADE cover med-small

 

WULF #9

Following on from Part 8. You can find it in full on Amazon.

There was a rumble behind him, and he stepped out of the way of a carriage drawn by two huge yellow horses with long muzzles. The cart was roughly spherical, of a silver dulled long in the desert. In the centre was an opening covered by rich purple curtains. Only a hand was visible, clutching the fabric, as though the owner was undecided about pulling the curtain back. Jay heard raised voices coming from within, as it rolled past with spoked wheels the size of uppity mole-eyed clerks. A woman’s voice and a man’s; it was the woman’s hand, and it withdrew.

Jay saw he was back on the thoroughfare. He could just make out the rest house and the bar – Buha’s Tap & Griller – up ahead. That was another interesting thing: just like spoken words that immediately translated themselves into his thoughts, the words written on these signs were not any language he could recognise, nor alphabet, and yet . . . there they were, in plain English in his brain.

Griller. That meant meat, and meat meant food. He might only have four jackals to his name (his mind seemed unwilling or unable to call up an exchange rate, but then he supposed one would have little purpose here), but maybe Sav would lend him some money, at least for one half-decent meal. He figured that even though she might have been a . . . mercenary kind of girl, if you tried often enough the mercurial sometimes granted you boons, and surely a wilderness woman like her would know what it was like to go hungry.

Hungry? I’m starving. He suddenly felt lightheaded, feeling himself sway. He put out a hand on the side of a building to catch himself. When had he last eaten? A lifetime ago? When had Old Jay (as he had started to name the last owner of this body, and the imprints and voices left behind) last eaten?

He entered Buha’s. Sal was there, and she scowled at him when she saw him approach. ‘Yes?’ she said.

‘Hello again. You work here too, huh? Is Sav about?’

‘No.’

He sighed and sat down on a bar stool. ‘What can I get to eat, for four jackals?’

Sal turned her back on him. When she turned again, she had a wooden bowl that she placed in front of him. He looked in it. It was empty.

‘What’s this?’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘Ah.’

Sal dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Better than nothing, in fact. Nothing is what you deserve. For four jackals. Instead, you get a good bowl full of clean hearty air.’ She dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Eat up your air. Don’t let it go to waste.’

Jay looked forlornly down at the bowl. He stirred the spoon, while Sal shook her head slowly at him. He got to his feet. ‘I need to find Sav. It’s an emergency.’

‘You need her to buy you some food.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Well, she’s not here.’

‘Any idea where she might be?’

‘No. She left town.’

‘What? What do you mean she left town?’

‘She left town,’ Sal repeated.

‘Where to?’

Sal shrugged.

‘But . . . she said she’d be here today.’

‘And you believed her?’ Sal arched her brow. ‘She’s not much interested in keeping pets, not if they need looking after. And not if they’re always trying to hump her leg.’

‘Great,’ Jay said. ‘Just great.’ Sal looked at him without pity, folding her arms. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘I mean . . . I’m sorry. For how I was with you, that time. Times? I don’t remem- I mean, I’m just sorry.’

Sal sniffed and took the bowl from him. ‘Savvi was right, you have changed.’

‘For the better, I hope?’

‘That remains to be seen. Could hardly have got much worse.’

Jay smiled. ‘Fair enough. I’m gonna go and see what I can get in this town for four jackals.’

‘Right.’

He left the bar and headed further along the thoroughfare. The fruit of the stalls he had passed earlier did not encourage him; too much of that and he’d get the runs. He needed something substantial – bread or meat, ideally. There was a whole host of smells on the breeze, familiar and foreign, but after a hundred yards his nose picked up on the right one, and he followed it.

A stall selling what looked like bread. The loaves were cut into ovals and cylinders, and even spheres, and it looked rather soft and spongey, but the smell was good. The vendor – male or female? Or both? Neither? – had four breasts like shelves on the chest, and a black-and-white beard that was forked in all directions. The eyes were big and lidless and without irises.

‘Good morning, Rathian!’ the vendor said, in a high, squirrely voice, clasping two four-fingered hands together. ‘What good crust can I offer such a warrior like yourself on this fine hour?’

‘Um,’ Jay said, taking his hand out his pocket. ‘What can I get for four jackals?’

‘A host of loaf, Rathian!’ the vendor cried, arms sweeping the assortment of breads.

‘Oh, good. What do you recommend?’

The vendor picked up a big ball of bread, spotted orange. ‘A sunbursted loaf for a sunbursted man! A handsome Rathian, with such beautiful patterns! Four jackals, just for you!’

‘Thank you,’ Jay said, raising his eyes and handing over the coins. The vendor placed the bread in his hands as though it were the sword of Excalibur.

‘Treat it well, eat it well!’ called the vendor as Jay, thanking him once more, hurried off, munching into it as he left. It was soft, but it was very good, and with a bit of a . . . kick, too. It was bread-and-not-bread, just like so much else he had encountered: both known and not known.

He stopped at the side of the street, leaning against a wall, his mouth full, his jaw working avidly away. On the other side of the thoroughfare a grey-whiskered man in a tall black hat and red cravat was inspecting some trinkets from a stall. They flashed in the light of the sun as the man turned them over in his hands. Beside him was an attractive younger woman, in her early twenties perhaps. Her back was against the stall, and she looked around as she talked off-and-on with the man. By the age differences, and the familiarity and manner that existed between the two, Jay guessed that the older man was her father.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Truth be told, she wasn’t another Sav. With Sav he always felt like he shouldn’t be looking at her, that her appearance drew the male (and any other) gaze, much against its will, and it turned men like him – not me, Old Jay – no, you too fella, don’t kid yourself, you too – into, well, walking in dumb reverie: you had to make sure you kept your lips closed so as not to drool. Sav commanded attention from everybody, and rode all over anybody who gave it. Hmm, ridden by Savvi, now there’s a happy thought . . .

This girl was another matter. She wasn’t classically beautiful, not in that statuesque, instantly stunning way. But to Jay she was pretty, that kind of pretty where it wasn’t clear how others saw her, and who knew if she might only affect a handful, or him and him alone. Her hair was the colour of sand and sunset; a beach blonde kissed by ruddy swathes that seemed to move as she did. Her skin the colour of pinkened milk. She had a loose green dress on, wrapped around a body that was short and just shy of festively plump. Jay mentally slapped himself for the phrase.

Her eyes roamed the street, seeming to float all over before quickly darting to him. He looked away, but couldn’t help but look back up a few seconds later. She still had eyes on him. He was relieved to see she was smiling, in that quizzical do-I-know-you?-not-that-I-much-mind-you-looking way. He grinned back, really trying to avoid looking sleazy. She turned and gave her father a big hug, and then –

Oh god, she’s walking over. Finish your mouthful finish your mouthful.

Good for you, now fuck her and be done with it.

What?!

‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I saw you staring.’

Jay swallowed. ‘I’m sorry. I . . . couldn’t . . . didn’t mean to . . . I mean, hello.’

She laughed, and Jay couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard such a lovely sound. She had blue-green eyes like a tropical lagoon and they creased at the corners when she smiled. Old Jay was busy making being-sick noises.

‘Relax,’ she said. ‘For someone who looks the way you do, you’re awfully . . .’ She hesitated.

‘Awkward?’

‘You said it, not me!’ She looks so happy when she talks. Why didn’t I ever look that happy? She seemed to be waiting for him to say something, and when a couple of seconds of silence had passed, they both laughed.

‘Good, is it?’ she said, nodding to the loaf of bread Jay was holding with a series of big bite marks in it.

‘Aha, yeah. I was starving. I only had four jackals on me.’

‘Well, that won’t do.’ She gave him that curious look again. ‘Tell you what, if you throw that thing away, I’ll buy you a proper meal and a drink.’

‘Oh, no, I couldn’t accept that. Besides, I can’t just throw away good food!’

‘Of course you can. Plus, I insist. My father is boring me to tears, and most of the people in this town . . .’ She trailed off with an ominous tone. ‘But you. Well, I’m not sure about you. How you look and how you act are at odds.’

‘I’m not sure about me either. But you don’t need to spend money on me.’

‘Oh, stop talking.’ She smiled again, and he felt another sense of weight, another burst of warmth in him – higher up this time. ‘You can either gnaw on your loaf in the street like a beggar, or we can both go for a meal and a drink. Besides, you’re not putting me out one bit. Check this out.’ She reached into her dress and pulled out a wad of red-and-white notes from her cleavage.

‘That’s a lot of money,’ Jay said.

‘It’s a nice amount.’ She fanned her face with it.

‘Ain’t you afraid of getting robbed?’

‘My father wouldn’t like that. He’s quite the shot with his pistol, and he has some tough friends. Besides,’ she patted the top line of her dress. ‘It was hidden.’

‘First place I’d look,’ Jay said, immediately regretting it. I’d never have said something like that. It’s this body. It’s Old Jay making himself known.

No. Old Jay doesn’t live here anymore. It’s just you shaping yourself. Filling out in a new environment. A room, a house, catacombs . . . Swords and guns on the walls, bloodstains on the floorboards, and naked women on furs.

He hadn’t apologised, as he should have; he’d punctuated the line with a grin, and it must have worked, for the girl was laughing. With him or at him, it didn’t really matter.

‘I’m sure it would be,’ she said, still smiling, her eyes so perfectly creased. Part of him wanted to tickle her, just to keep it going, to push her smiles and laughter further and further.

‘Alright,’ he said at last. ‘Thank you. It would be my pleasure. I’ll owe you.’

‘The pleasure will be all mine,’ she replied. ‘And yes, yes you will.’

They started walking. ‘Do you need to tell your father you’re heading off with a stranger?’

‘I’m a big girl,’ she said simply.

‘Let’s go here,’ Jay said, as they approached Buha’s Bar & Griller.

‘You read my mind.’

‘I haven’t asked you your name.’

‘That’s right, you haven’t. It’s -’

‘Alexia!’ The man in the tall hat had run after them, panting slightly. ‘Alexia, my dear, I have been robbed!’

The girl clapped her hands to her face. ‘Father, no! Are you sure?’

‘It is as I have said. I am short changed, considerably so.’

‘Can you remember when you last had it?’

‘In the carriage, my dear. I swear, if that scoundrel Jerrens took it -’

‘Jerrens is a good man, father. You know he wouldn’t. Perhaps you should ask around everywhere you were from leaving the carriage up to now. Start with the rest house. Maybe you dropped it and somebody has handed it in.’

‘Perhaps. I will do that now, I think. If I have lost it for good then . . . no harm done.’ He sighed. ‘It is just vexing. I seem to have been losing money as of late. I fear I am growing old.’ The man seemed to only just notice Jay, and he raised his brow. ‘And who is your friend?’

‘Do not judge on looks, father. He is a close friend of Cam, and I have met him before, back in Stoneswell.’

‘Then I say how do you do to him,’ the man bowed stiffly. ‘And now I must busy myself accounting for fallen money. Likely the wind has it now, if not ruffians. I will see you back at the rest house.’ He tipped his hat to Jay and departed, his long legs carrying him briskly along the thoroughfare.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ Jay said.

‘It is, isn’t it,’ Alexia said, fanning herself with the money once more, which had magically slipped away during the conversation.

Jay’s eyes widened. ‘You stole it.’

Alexia yawned. ‘Oh, come on. He’s got far too much money for one man.’

‘But he’s your father.’

‘And you’re not. Don’t be boring. Let’s go eat until we’re sick.’ She pushed open the door to Buha’s. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘What’s your name?’

‘I’m Jay. Jay Wulf.’ The name came naturally to his lips, without hesitation.

‘Pleased to meet you Jay.’

‘Likewise, Alexia.’

 

 

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Justice League movie thoughts

I meant to post this a while ago, but I got distracted. Seems a little late now, but oh well.

I’d loved Batman v Superman (Ultimate Edition especially) despite it being critically mauled and many people hating it (the movie appears to be like marmite), so despite the bad reviews for JL I still wanted to see it. Maybe some of you still wonder ‘what would somebody who liked Batman v Superman think about Justice League?’

So here are my thoughts… Mild spoilers (assuming you know about Superman).

I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. That *quite* is the operative word, because it’s been the movie I was most hyped for this year and by all rights I should be worshipping the movie. It IS entertaining, more entertaining in an obvious manner than BvS which many found glum and plodding. It does have significant flaws though, that should never have been the case and mar the movie’s potential.

First, the positives. More Battfleck. His look is perfect, he’s the living embodiment of the Arkham Asylum/City Batman, right down to the gold utility belt and armour plating. And his performance I still love. He’s still my favourite Batman.

Character interactions. It’s great to see a DCEU movie with these characters I love interacting with each other. Honestly those are the best bits of the movie, better than the action scenes.

Colour and general cinematography. It’s more colourful than BvS which is generally a positive when it comes to my preference – I love vibrant colour. When the CGI isn’t heavy (see flaws), the movie looks gorgeous. Like the scene with WW and Cyborg in the street in what I think was Gotham (always and forever the best looking comicbook city).

The credits sequences. The first is okay, a classic comicbook scene/piece of fan service that isn’t executed that well. The second is pretty good, and gives a much more positive direction for the Justice League movies after this (if they make more) – without spoilers, it’s seriously just the way they need to go now. My only criticism is you have to wait literally the entire length of the credits, which is ages. I can’t remember the last time I had to wait that long for a scene.

Flaws! The Flash while often funny and a nice character, sometimes was played a little TOO awkward. Also, Joss Whedon, we really don’t need that many interjected jokes, this isn’t Marvel. I hope the Flash continues to be funny but less in an awkward way, and he gains more confidence and charisma.

The runtime. Warner Bros forced the movie to be under 2 hours which is utter bollocks for a huge teamup movie, especially one that introduces three entirely new main characters. The movie moves too fast at times and so doesn’t give enough weight to its story. It’s not a huge deal but with movies like this they need to take their time and flesh it out. There is one bit in particular that really seems like there was a missing scene. There are also numerous scenes in the trailers that aren’t present. Seriously, fuck WB for not learning their lesson from BvS theatrical edition.

The villain. Yay another CGI villain. It’s not as awful as in Suicide Squad but he’s just not interesting. What CGI villains are? He has no presence. Probably because he’s literally not there.

The plot… isn’t that bad if you know the essentials of things like Motherboxes, Steppenwolf, Darkseid etc. If not (like most of the audience), you won’t really know what it’s all about. Darkseid’s name is mentioned literally once without context and that’s all the confusing reference you’ll get. Steppenwolf keeps addressing ‘Mother’, but Darkseid is not a mother.

While this isn’t ideal especially for people not versed in the comicbook lore, the plot to me and general shape of the entire movie, action included, felt like a full length live-action version of one of the classic Justice League animated episodes. It’s just that kinda thing. I love that show so I was pleased but that kind of thing doesn’t translate so well into ‘mindblowing movie’, and especially not one that gives you much to think about after.

Superman. He’s always been a problem in Justice League things, because he’s so powerful that you often feel like the rest of JL are superfluous. Hence the need for good writing to get around this. No such thing in this movie – when he shows up all tension drops and you wonder why the rest of JL don’t just go home. He’s the permanent top trump card and once that is out the game might as well be over.

Now, the most glaring issue. The CGI. At times, when it’s not excessive (which isn’t that often), it’s fine, or at least not distracting. But there are many times when it looks like it’s a decade old, or even older. Times are just plain bad. Those purple tendrils. Water scenes and speedforce scenes just seem blurry and foggy, like you’re watching on VHS. All Superman scenes especially near the end when he’s fighting are the worst. It’s just inexcusable to have poor CGI for such a huge movie now. Such a shame.

Connecting to this, special mention goes to Cavill’s face. I know the dumb-as-hell reason for it, but I didn’t really notice too much about his upper lip when I was concentrating on it. It was his whole face that just looked wrong. Like there was something off you couldn’t quite put your finger on. It just about ruined every Superman scene, especially when he was smiling, which he did a number of times. That itself is fine, but not when you have an uncanny valley face.

One more flaw is that the soundtrack was simply forgettable for the most part. Hans Zimmer MADE Batman v Superman. His score was brilliant. Here the Danny Elfman score just isn’t engaging. Another great Zimmer score was sorely needed to elevate the action parts of this movie.

All in all, it was an entertaining movie and if you love these characters and want to see them on a big screen doing what they see, then go and see it at the cinema. It won’t be as good off the cinema for sure. That will be when the flaws are more obvious.

While I still want to watch it again and I got a lot of a kick out of much of it, it was disappointing and frustrating that movie execs, director/studio-pandering reshoots (I actually think it’d have been better without Joss Whedon stamping his mark all over it), a poor villain and cheap looking CGI, and an unworthy soundtrack stopped this movie from being amazing. It could have also much benefitted from one more DCEU movie before this one. A solo Aquaman movie would have been the best fit, given he had less of any kind of arc/development than Cyborg or Flash. That would have meant only two new main characters introduced instead of three.

Well, there you have it. An enjoyable disappointment. Like many things in life.

 

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How Not to Kill Yourself paperback!

One of the few times waking up to a terrific banging is worthwhile. Author copies! Excited to recieve it, after waiting for what has seemed like half a century. I hope everyone else who were part of the Kickstarter enjoys their copy!

Official release date… not till March! Back I go into hibernation.

 

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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead now on Amazon!

It’s been quite a while since I wrote India Bones and the Ship of the Dead – a year maybe? – but I’m happy to say it’s finally available as an ebook on Amazon! It seems that it’s more than likely Microcosm (publishers for How Not to Kill Yourself) will be printing it too!

If you love original fantasy, YA/NA fantasy, pirates, and adventure stories, or all of them together, you could do a lot worse than check it out here.

 

INDIA BONES AND THE SHIP OF THE DEAD is the first book in a thrilling new pirate fantasy series for teenagers and adults, featuring the adventurous exploits of the young India Bones in an exotic yet dangerous world as different from our own as it is similar.

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(Cover not final version)

 

HNTKY Kickstarter success!

Sorry for the lateness of this post. I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks, and then been trying to catch up with various things.

During this time my Kickstarter for my non-fiction anti-suicide/depression book How Not to Kill Yourself came to a close. I’m pleased to report it was a resounding success, making more than double what it was trying to raise!

I owe many thanks to Microcosm for making this happen. And I can only look forward now, both to the fulfillment of the many pledges by backers, to the official release date of the book in March.

Keep on chooglin’.

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Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down review

Okay, more just some informal thoughts on the album rather than a professional review. Manson is my favourite artist and has been pretty much since I first truly got into music, the soundtrack to my later teenage years and a great and lasting creative inspiration to me, so it’d be remiss of me not to post my thoughts on his new work.

As a friend of mine has said, there are three tiers of Mansons’ works. Top tier – the triptych, second – GAOG and POAAF, and third tier everything after. Which while good, maybe even great in parts, has never matched up to the previous tiers, but that’s okay. This new work has naturally not transcended third tier, but it is still great.

After the Pale Emperor I said, with some hesitance, that it was his best work since GAOG. Now I say that it has been replaced by this album, and with a bit more confidence.

You’d be forgiven for having doubts. My first spin of the first single We Know Where You Fucking Live did not impress me. Thankfully it’s a definite grower (and the music video, while not great, does somehow make the song better), and is definitely better when listened to as part of the fuller album. That said, it is most assuredly one of the weakest songs of the album.

The first song of the album, Revelation 12, I find the weakest (read: least catchy), but it isn’t *bad*. There are no stinkers on the album (although I’m biased – however I’ll admit to never liking Heart Shaped Glasses). Once you’ve gotten past Revelation 12 you’re immediately in for some treats.

None of the songs released yet – WKWYFL, Kill4Me, snippet of Say10 – are the best the album can offer, and they shouldn’t have been offered up as representative (just like the single Heart Shaped Glasses was the worst song of EMDM and maybe on any of his LPs). I had a feeling from what I’d heard that the record was going to be closest to Born Villain meets The Pale Emperor. The truth is it’s a lot harder to pin down – there’s definite elements of these, but also of Holy Wood, EMDM/HEOL, GAOG and possibly even a little Mechanical Animals. Or maybe I’m just trying to work out where these sounds are coming from, rather than someplace new. You see, for a number of songs, this is the most goth-electronica Manson’s ever been. Really, the style is all over the place, and yet still feels cohesive.

In my opinion, after the few spins I’ve given it, there are three main highlights. The second track, Tattooed in Reverse is possibly the biggest surprise of the lot. I’m not sure I can define it. It’s weird, sparse and filthy industrial rock put to sort-of modern pop vocal hooks (and I mean actual mainstream pop of today, the sort that confuses me). And yet it’s also odder than that sounds – not something that sounds like it’d fit on the radio. It’s as peculiar as it is confusingly-catchy. I instantly loved it but I can see that some really won’t.

Another highlight is Jesus Crisis. For much of the album the verses, prechoruses and bridges are better than the choruses – this has been true of him for the majority of songs on the last few albums. And another complaint I’ve had for last couple of albums is Manson shying away from rhyming even more than normal. There’s a REASON people rhyme on songs, Mazza.

Thankfully on this song the opposite is true. The chorus is the catchiest thing Manson has done in AGES, maybe even since GAOG, and that’s probably because it rhymes. It’d be perfect in a rock club and I hope it comes to them rather than them still playing his hits from over a decade ago.

The song, however does have a bridge that, while good, just seems to come out of nowhere. It’s the song’s namesake, and yet it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, especially not lyrically. The rest of the song has nothing to do with ‘JESUS CRI$I$’. There’s also this ‘ah-ah-ah’ bit that comes after the chorus that lets the song down and I’d rather it wasn’t there. Still, the chorus is irresistible enough to make up for it. It’s full of the kind of dumb bravado and swagger that has been missing from Manson’s work since GAOG.

A third highlight and maybe the best song on the album is Saturnalia. So – did you ever want Manson to be more goth again? Here you are. This song sounds like somebody asked Manson to make a song that’d play well on a goth night. And then some. It’s the most industrial, electronica, and processed song on the album, and all the better for it. If there’s a flaw at all to be found it’s that it doesn’t sound completely like Manson – it’s SO club-goth-band-you-can’t-remember-the-name-of. Still, it’s a great track, dense and atmospheric and interesting as it is danceable (and pleasingly long). I guess it can’t be more of a surprise and ‘this doesn’t sound like Manson’ than Mechanical Animals was at the time it came out.

In general, the album is really Tyler Bates’s success. It was clear from watching a recent interview with Zane Lowe that Manson knows how much he owes Tyler. This is the most carefully constructed, densest, layered album since Holy Wood. There is so much texture and it always seems like there’s new bits of sound to listen to each time you play it – something I’ve sorely missed. This album needs good speakers.

Manson is sporadically a weak link – sometimes he sounds almost as bad as he did on Born Villain, whereas other times he sounds great. And honestly, that’s probably when his voice is processed or doing something different, and not so great when it’s his raw unfiltered wail he’s been doing last couple albums that I’d rather he stopped. Thankfully that’s less of a problem this album than before.

The album isn’t perfect. A number of the choruses don’t live up to the strength of the verses, but then there’s a usually a good bridge to look forward to. Some of the songs – like Revelation 12, WKWYFL, and Say10, fall a little flat.

But it’s the most interestingly instrumentally since GAOG and arguably Holy Wood. The lyrics are better, and less repetitive. It’s got some great catchy moments. It’s got songs like Tattooed in Reverse and Saturnalia that make you realise Manson still can surprise you with direction. And it’s got a mixture of filthy and bordering on gorgeous guitar licks (such as on the EMDM/HEOL-but-better closer of Threats of Romance that only lacks for a better chorus).

In short, if you like Manson, get this album. It’s not a masterpiece but it pleasingly has surpassed my expectations, and it is one more step up for him since his fall.

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How Not to Kill Yourself Kickstarter launch!

Howdy.

In advance of the official Microcosm release of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide for Imaginative Pessimists, it’s just been launched on Kickstarter, for anyone who wants to get preorders in and any of the other goodies that come with it.

Here’s the Kickstarter link. Have a looksee before time runs out (October 26th end date)!

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Author and purveyor of all things dark and weird