Author of all things dark and weird.
"I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited." - Sylvia Plath.
"When you've fallen on the highway and you're lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you're doing, of course you'll say you can't complain.
If you're squeezed for information, that's when you've got to play it dumb:
You just say you're out there waiting for the miracle, for the miracle to come."
- Leonard Cohen
I’ve just (yesterday) finished writing the spiritual sequel (I mean, linked somewhat in category and theme, not that it’s actually spiritual) to How Not to Kill Yourself, entitled How to be Nice to People.
I’ll let a blurb do the explaining:
Set Sytes flicks between fervent positivity, sardonic cynicism and self-admonishment as he tackles our social and anti-social behaviours in our online and offline worlds. Battling his own nature as much as the divisive forces around him, he attempts to answer the most perennial of questions: How – and why – should we be nice to each other?
I’ve submitted it to Microcosm Publishing (who published HNTKY), and now – well, now I’m looking forward to concentrating on my fiction again! I hear there’s another Fifth Place book that might need writing…
I didn’t know what to put as a picture for this post, so here’s a tigerpuppy.
Forgive me, I am weak, and thoughts of what occurred next rob me of my strength of mind. To recollect such a thing is like . . . I do not know what it is like. It is something I cannot block out, but to relive it, to speak of it is like inviting that stygian darkness to take its hold on me and not let go.
Huh. Why do I ask your forgiveness? Truly I have become a fragile, pitiful specimen. I do not recognise myself anymore. Nor would you, if you had met me before all this. Things between us would have gone very differently, of that I am . . . No. I am wrong, things would have not gone so differently. Such is the cruel will of the gods.
What can I tell you of the battle? I can tell you that it was not a battle. Death incarnate was before us, and like fools we marched towards it with spears and bows. What surprise is it that we were no different to a sacrifice? Our very finest, walking of our own will into the slaughter pit. A tragedy only outmatched by our folly.
He had begun moving when we reached him – have you ever seen or heard a god move? It is as though the whole world is being picked up and flung. Many times we were thrown to the ground, but we kept after him, running as fast as we could after those ponderous yet enormous strides. To our shame it took a long time before he even noticed us. But he finally stopped on the edges of Lake Texcoco, and that is where our attack began in earnest.
You want details? I have details. They are only disconnected flashes in my mind, but for a second it is like I am still there amid the carnage, and I tell you, the sounds, by the gods, the sounds . . .
It must have been after the initial frenzy of blood; I remember Quetzacthulhu turning to those who had reached the water, those desperately trying to swim to boats in the distance. I do not know what eldritch powers he exacted on us. The shoreline began to steam and then bubble, and the screams of those in the waves were the most terrible yet, pinkening as they were boiled alive.
I remember Quetzacthulhu reaching down with one arboreal arm and collecting a horde of my brethren, opening his gaping maw and tossing them in.
I remember . . . I don’t know when it happened, how much later, but I remember Quetzacthulhu had sat down – all the better to play with us, perhaps – and suddenly there came a host of sickly tearing sounds, and his soft belly began rupturing in half a dozen small places. Who should come out head to toe in yellow filth but my swallowed brethren?
Quetzacthulhu roared then, I hoped in pain, and his arms crashed into us, killing who knows how many. We clutched our fists to our ears, trying to block out the unearthly noise he emitted. I saw my brothers pound their fists into their head again and again, turning their temples bloody, desperate to do anything to make it stop, even if it meant unconsciousness or the mercy of death.
The sound stopped, and I . . . I had fallen to my knees, drained beyond imagining, my head feeling as though it had been scooped out. I turned to see the warriors who were still escaping from Quetzacthulhu’s stomach; they were only a fraction of those thrown down that tongueless chasm. They slid and slithered down his loathsome belly and after a heady drop – they were in too severe shock to wail – hit the earth with a series of thumps. Their eyes were those of the utterly lost and I knew that should by some miracle they survive, they would never recover. Those men were forever gone. Glancing at the spots where they had cut themselves out, I saw a glimpse of slick, wet things, and I saw their sickening movements, and I knew that unspeakable things lived within the god’s innards. I turned immediately away lest I should follow my brothers into madness.
It pained me immeasurably to see Quetzacthulhu now seemingly untroubled by the cuts, and I saw with weary shoulders that just like our spears thrown into his monstrous hide, the wounds were minute to him. It was then that I knew we could not defeat him. Hundreds had by now died at his hand.
Another off-the-cuff idea for something that could go further… or not.
I’m a lanky, bristle-haired daeman from New Africa, and I made a career of dissecting time. It started, as did many things of this nature, with drugs.
In the early days of the Second Enlightenment (the world had perilously skimmed a Second Dark Age, like a nosediving plane pulling up from the sea at the last second, its wings dripping with dumbfuckery), as the leading powers shifted gradually into technocracies (New Africa among them), the political ballast of drug repression thinned, and science began to take as much of as an interest in psychedelic brain expanders as they had in the hippie culture of the 1960s, and then doubly and triply so.
Scientists took inspiration from the hallucinogenic and dissassociative drugs of old, and went into overdrive creating new, synthetic ones. After 83,721 (at least, those were the ones listed publicly) synthetic creations of mind-altering substances, they finally reached a zenith. It was called LDX43iv, although was quickly referred to by all and sundry as ‘Slug’. The adopted name was an in-joke; far from making one’s mind slow, it rocketed it up to unprecedented speeds. To be ‘slugged out’ might hold some truth physically, but it meant the exact opposite mentally. Creative and extremely left-field and out-of-box thinking was enhanced beyond what were initially perceived to be rational levels, at the expense of more straightforward tasks like figuring out how to eat.
I remember the first time I tried Slug. The new textures, new colours, new wavelengths. The giraffes made from felt, in the shape of that old-fashioned written style of the number four. The terrible genius of it all. My mind had raced so goddamn fast I thought I was going to be sick from the sheer mental strain. It was like drinking too much, lolling back in the chair and feeling that void pulling you down, willing you to unconsciousness; but you resist, because it’s scary, and because you know, you just know, that you’ll start vomiting uncontrollably.
It was like that, but with the mind.
The great thing about Slug – once you’d locked it down, and adapted to its speed – was how much your mind opened. For the first time I – and countless others – had viewed their own mind, that is, understood it on a quasi-physical level, an actual perceived dimension. Three dimensions, to be exact. Your thoughts existed not in 2D but across a space stretched without horizon in three absolute directions. The Z axis in particular boggled the inexperienced mind by allowing you, with eyes closed, to go backwards through your own head. The mind-expanse existed where my head was, but without barriers; you simply kept on going, as though your inner eye was also legs and you could walk it or fly it at undefinable speeds.
An increasing number of scientists involved in this field began to take Slug, at first using it to inform their own work, and better understand their experiments on others, but eventually because, for the inquiring mind, there was no way back. Slug opened up scientific possibilities previously thought only theoretical, and delivered new theoretical ideas where previously nothing existed, bar perhaps mad ravings. Scientists also took Slug to understand other scientists whose otherwise unintelligible, yet ground-breaking work had been scribbled whilst on Slug.
As the field continued to expand its sphere of influence, scientists took more and more Slug, for wilder and wilder results. It was still by-and-large in-house at this stage, not technically available to the public (although it was starting to make a dent in the black market). Health consultants were brought in by concerned overseers, and they determined – shocked by the state of some of the scientists, who had been living on high doses of Slug non-stop for months and appeared to be in advanced stages of delirium – that regular ‘complete breaks’ from the drug were now mandatory.
This did not go well. At first, in a case of classic incompetence of bureaucracy, the first scientists were forced to quit cold-turkey. When the last vestiges of the drug wore off, they slipped quietly into something resembling, though not actually, comas.
After that, the weaning-off approach was tried, steadily lowering the dosage until it was negligible. This worked better, although that wasn’t saying much. At best, the scientists became profoundly bored, listless and depressed, showing no motivation or interest towards anything, especially anything based in mundane reality. Their minds, though operating at the same speed as pre-Slug, now felt to them interminably slow and dull beyond belief.
At worst, the scientists lost so much motivation and spark that they had to be cared for 24/7. They had to be helped to eat, bathe, go to the toilet, and so forth. They displayed zero energy or affection for anything around them, existing in a total stupor. They could not even summon the mental will to kill themselves, as was briefly a concern. It wasn’t anything physical, you understand, rather it was a sort of extreme psychological deprivation. The awesome majesty of the universe they had come to understand, and the near-divine sensation of their own minds working, creating, inventing, sorting, imagining at a pace once unimaginable – I’m talking at least several fantastic ideas a second, every second – was now robbed from them, leaving them with a comparable wasteland of sensation in return.
At some point, some of the scientists got together and wrote to be reinstated with the drug permanently, and the new ruling to be stricken. The mental effort to create this petition-of-sorts must have been immense for them, and no doubt they had help from concerned colleagues who either never touched the stuff or only took it sparingly, so as to stay ‘in the loop’ with the cutting edges of scientific theory.
Thankfully, it worked, and the mandatory breaks were removed, it being finally accepted by medical professionals that being off the drugs was more harmful than being on them. If not actually physically harmful, the drug’s absence nonetheless made complete wastes of space of great thinkers. Whether they were on or off the drug, they were no longer fit for regular human society, so society might as well at least let them trip, was the general consensus (although probably not phrased as such).
There was a new ruling, or should I say guideline, that from now on no more academics were to take significant quantities of Slug, for fear of its pressing psychological demands. However, nobody ever bothered to define ‘significant quantities’ (one wonders if those drafting this ruling were partaking in Slug themselves), and so the ruling was at first lax, and then essentially forgotten.
After all, by this point it was hopeless to restrict access to the drug; Slug had now blossomed out of the black market and made its way into the wider public sphere, where it caused as much joy and innovation as it did chaos. Thankfully, the consistently high price of the drug stopped too much regular-use apart from by the rich (who were layabouts anyway and hardly necessary to the common production required to turn society’s gears), and after a troubling splurge, where there were many heavy-handed but ultimately meaningless talks about ‘what to do’, things settled down, and while it remained the psychedelic drug of choice, it dipped far below worldly levels of alcohol and caffeine consumption among the working class.
It also helped that a lot of people just simply couldn’t take it. Or didn’t want to. It boosted the imagination, you see, boosted it beyond the recognisable. Those with little to no imagination saw little interest in the drug; it merely confused the shit out of them. They were much happier with a beer.
Where am I going with this? you ask. How does Slug apply to me? Well, eventually, thanks to many months-long explorations of the deepest mindscape, and new spatial conceptions of reality, we finally unlocked the secrets of the fourth dimension: time. Those taking the highest doses began to break its esoteric workings apart; they passed the secrets to progressively lower-dosed levels of others, until it could go no further without sinking into total non-comprehension. Even now, so many years after those initial manic discoveries (which first took root in New Africa, I’m proud to say), few people in this world understand the mechanics. Even I, whose very job it is to dissect time, barely understands it, and I can hardly be expected to explain it to a thoroughly sober individual like yourself.
So, yes. The discoveries became actionable, and the brightest – and most fucked up – minds of our generation learnt (through concepts once laughably insane, and then theoretical bizzaros, and then veritable eurekas) how to literally make time, how to divide it, how to mathematically add and subtract it, shorten it or lengthen it, alter its intrinsic properties, shape it, cast it in a bubble, grind it into pieces and feed it to things.
Naturally time became a commodity, in the very real sense. You could buy and sell it. And people did, in droves. And it wasn’t cheap.
For single-use it usually comes in capsules; some you press a button to activate, some you break in the middle like glowsticks, some you just throw at something. A bubble forms – a bubble of time. Things can slow down or speed up within this bubble.
It was an oddity at first, something exciting and silly and novel. Little things, at first. Slow down the rate at which your pizza cools (at the expense of it taking longer to reach your mouth), or get more sleep (it was arguable if you actually were getting more, of it was just psychological), or play a trick on someone: a popular, cheap and harmless early one was to cast it on a flicked-on kettle, so the old adage of a watched pot never boils became true.
Then there was “speeding up” ordinary tasks (i.e. making them take less time), like vacuuming the house, although then again we already had robots for that kind of thing and it wasn’t worth the price to attach a time-tube to free labour.
Of course, small bubbles soon weren’t enough. I blame business folk for that. The bubbles became bigger (speed limits had to be redefined after people started attaching time-tubes to their car so they could beat – or outright ignore – the traffic), they took on different shapes, you could have them run only on one or two axis, you could make time go sideways (don’t ask), you could change clocks with them (everybody’s time-tubed and synchronised up to the national Timegrid, except for when it was hacked, which caused a full day of problems), you could manipulate the production of goods, shorten essential tasks, you could use them on robots, on people. . .
It was when people started straying perilously close to paradoxes (such as Amazon, eager for best-delivery-service-in-the-world-status, began delivering parcels before they had technically been ordered), that governments were forced to take some control. This is why the international governmental watchdog and action force TimeGuard exist. To stop people doing dumb shit just because they can.
They could have tried to stamp out Time Co. entirely, but the operative word there is tried, for they’d have failed pretty spectacularly if they had. Time made up more of our respective economies now than it ever had before it had been bottled up and merchandised. Just about every powerful hand was greased by Time Co. and its bought-out partner Slug4U, and the benefits from both of these things were just too great, both in personal fortunes and the general advancement of humanity (working class excepted, naturally).
Time Co. recently bought out TimeGuard, anyway, so that’s that.
Some of the world’s lesser powers and single-states I think were doing okay without it, or with minimal use; they’d observed its effects on us first, and so had strapped in a bunch of new, hard-and-fast laws ready to receive it. The big guns, however, especially New Africa, were in too deep to pull out.
I don’t want them to rub that shit out, anyway. Not yet, at least. Not before all is broken and irreparable. My job depends on it. I’m rare, like a precious bird the world can’t do without. I’m the one who cuts the lines of time. I’m the product man. But I’m more than that, I’m more than just a glorified dealer. I take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. I cut them open and I take my peek.
I might not know exactly how time works, but I know more about what’s inside it every day. In a way, I’m a scientist myself.
Just wrote this off the cuff. Similarities with Constantine, I guess. Although in truth it just came from my dislike of magic (and general high-fantasy) in most books, and my attempt to reclaim it. Actually to begin with it just came from a desire to write about weird and crazy monsters.
It’s set in the same world as my story The School of Necromancy. Could become something more! Who knows…
My name is Jonathan Dark. Johnny, if you wish to be casual, which you should never be. I hate John.
People will tell you I do magic. I hate that term. Magic goes hand in hand with robes and pointy hats, and then it’s only a small step to elves and gnomes and football on broomsticks. Elves don’t exist. Gnomes do, but they’re black little creeps and I can’t stand them. Not because they’re black, but because they’re unreasonably small. Call me a racist or a speciesist if you like, I don’t care. Why would anyone care about gnomes?
No, I’m not a magician and I don’t do magic. I’m not a wizard, or a conjurer of cheap tricks, I’m not a warlock or a male witch, or a sorcerer or a mystic, I’m not an illusionist or an enchanter and I have never owned a wand, nor will I, useless things that they are.
I’m a shadowmancer and I do shadowmancy. Go on, smirk. Call me pretentious, say I made it up. I did it as a masters at the School, I’ll have you know, before it was stricken from the curriculum for being too avant-garde, too unscientific. Too dangerous. These days, they deny the discipline even exists, say it’s all nonsense, that there is no Shadow-World. They wanted to take my masters off me ex post facto, but I wouldn’t give it up. I’d received high marks, and I never would for anything again.
All this artsy waving hands in the air, showing off, I won’t hold for it. I don’t know, maybe it holds card in exuberant America, but not in Britain, not in my York. You shouldn’t draw attention to yourself, or if you are, at least have the decency and respect for your environment to have a grounded sense of style. This isn’t the Middle Ages, for god’s sake. Keep it low-key, keep it smart and cool, scratch it out in the air by your pockets where it’s unobtrusive and easy to miss, carve the air quick and technical into thin, jagged lines of the relevant colours or just paint it black, then flick it out like a cigarette. It’s an intricate hand sign, not a side show. At most it should look like you’re writing on air, or playing with an invisible deck; best of all just twitching your fingers thoughtfully to yourself, some strange tick, maybe just mad enough to be ignored by strangers, but not mad enough to cause a scene. Only those with Twilight Sight see the colours, see the design temporarily etched into thin air. But then they already have enough to worry about.
Like me, you should learn to draw all your mances with a single hand; that way the other is free to hold a gun.
You wonder what I can do with my mances. I can create things, and I can change things. Why am I not rich? you ask. Can I not just create money out of thin air?
I can do just that, but it’s not that easy. Money is one of those things that, even in real-terms, disappears as quickly as it arrives. It’s easily lost, easily squandered, easily forgotten or transmogrified into something completely different. That’s real money, in all its elusiveness. Now, make that shadow-money, a transient material at the best of times, and your problems are only compounded. The more you make the harder it is to hold onto. I’d say I can make about minimum wage. After that, it slips through my fingers – literally as well as metaphorically. Although I usually only need the money to continue existing up until the point I’ve left the shop.
And yet sometimes you desire more than theft-by-mance of penny-sweets and top-shelf magazines, you want something a little more permanent and sizeable, something that’ll last.
That’s when I have to earn my keep.
I’m not a particularly good man, and I’m okay with that, because I stop much worse things. I’m the one who fights the monster under your bed, and the thing in your cupboard, the creature at your window, the thin, silent figure in the corner. Be glad you don’t see them, but don’t mistake not seeing for assuming they are not there. They are most definitely there. They exist in an adjoining dimension, the Twilight, the Shadow-World, which overlaps ours, lying on top of it like a murky filter.
Come far enough in studying shadowmancy (not that anyone’s teaching it anymore) and you will see them. Close to people, sometimes only millimetres apart, watching them, sniffing them, licking the air. Most are mostly harmless. Some are not. It’s those that are not where I come in.
It’s those that are not which make up all those unexplained cases that baffle the constabulary and the public at large. Indeed, many of the explained cases are in fact mistaken, and should have been attributed to more, dare I voice it, supernatural means. No, no, the word sticks in my throat. More monstrous means, I will say in its stead. More Twilight means.
Racks, dragores, slip-men, lupo-vamps, rag zombi, corpus mortem, fleshers, skin ghouls, dogspawn, red babies, straggle lamps, cocoon beards, phallocs, heavers, cracklers, howlers, ectofucks and wet dennises (don’t ask) – these Twilighters are some of the ones to watch. And, sometimes, they get a lot bigger.
I wish I could explain shadowmancy to you in scientific terms. But I can’t. I mean, I could explain around it, explain some of the mechanisms in place, and so forth, but I suppose I can’t be bothered. It’s so far different from what you know, and even from what they teach in the School, that we have simply no ground on which to lay our common foundations. It’s just. . . well, it’s just fucking magic, okay? I’ll allow it this time, much as I already feel like I need to be painting stars on a hat and babbling ‘abracadabra’. Look, you either accept what it is or you don’t, I don’t care.
Actually no, sorry, I’m not giving you the choice. You accept what it is, end of. It’s shadowmancy and it exists, and my entire life is its living proof.
‘Where is that?’ India asked, spyglass trained on the land mass that passed slowly before them. He saw bright forests and white beaches, and in the centre, with trees marched up its slopes, a single mountain peak that in the light seemed capped with silver.
‘West Indigo,’ Hairless said. ‘Just you wait honey, you’re soon to see something even better.’
A while later, separated by only a turquoise channel whose lush beauty betrayed its shallowness (India wondered if you could wade through it without even needing a boat), East Indigo floated into view.
‘What the shank is that?’ India gasped.
‘Nice, ain’t it?’ rumbled Big Cage.
‘That’s the East Indigo Palace,’ Hairless said. ‘Abode of Hong Kong Silver.’
‘I’ve heard of him.’
‘You’d be hard pressed not to, sugar. Biggest merchant trader in the Caribbean. And I mean biggest.’
‘That’s sure a nice way of putting it,’ Dessica chimed in, joining them at the rail and leaning over, the sun turning her skull gold. ‘Silver might be as rich as an Aztec, but he’s also the most disreputable man in the Caribbean. The man’s got to where he is by being a double-crossing crook. Would sell his own grandmother if it added another inch to his piles of gold. You’d call him a pirate if he ever set sail.’
‘I never said he was an honest merchant trader,’ Hairless said. ‘If there’s any such thing.’
‘Nice, ain’t it?’ Big Cage said again.
‘It sure is,’ India said. A path of golden sand, somehow hardened and set like stone, wound from the beach and carved up a hill, flanked on both sides by the tallest palm trees he’d ever seen. Away from the path, vibrant greenery gave way to tangled jungle, which clustered in, eager to get closer to the palace, and steal its photosynthetic radiance. Huge white domes burst like soap bubbles from the island’s centre at the top of the hill, only matched in shining dominance by two gold-and-white minarets that stabbed into the blue sky.
‘He must be swimming in coin,’ India murmured. He looked at where the path broadened and met the palace, huge gates that glowed in the sunlight – and perhaps they too were made of gold.
‘Oh, he is,’ Hairless said. ‘Don’t get jealous now.’
‘Too late,’ India said. He imagined what it would be like to live in such a place, a place fit for an emperor. When East Indigo was finally lost to his vision, he retired quietly to his cabin and closed his eyes, basking in the idea that he did indeed live and rule there, waking up every morning on a shifting bed of Aztec coins.
India was roused from his bed one morning by Spares mumbling at him and shaking his arm. India felt a flash of fear; it was only the second time he’d been woken up to the face of a skeleton staring down at him, and this one was a lot closer, far too close. Whilst they no longer troubled him when he was up and about (with the possible exception of Blackbone), it was different when you were surprised out of the dull confusion and uncertainties of sleep into confronting a grinning visage of the dead.
Spares must have noticed the shock that passed briefly across his face, for he took a step back. ‘Begging your pardon, mate,’ he said. ‘Didn’t mean to shock you or nothing.’
‘Spares,’ India said, letting his heart rate slow back down. ‘What’s going on?’
‘We’re here, that’s what,’ Spares said. ‘Grimmer told me to fetch you.’
‘Here, where’s here?’ India sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
‘We’re anchored at Lonely Carib. Dropping the boats now.’
Spares left and India got up and dressed, pausing before putting on the coat Hairless had found him. It felt heavier than usual. He looked out the porthole and saw a sliver of beach, grey in the dawn light.
He ran a hand through his hair, rough and shaggy from all the sea spray. Mrs Wayles would have held him down and forced a brush through it, he thought with a small smile. Not that it would have helped; he’d only have been straight back out tumbling in the muddy alleys of Rug, or pushing through the jungle, raked by bad-tempered undergrowth on the way to the Aztec Tomb.
‘Is that a boy under there?’ Mrs Wayles used to say. ‘Or is it a bush? Has part of the jungle just uprooted and walked in? For the life of me I just can’t tell.’
India felt a strange, uncomfortable pang as they rowed towards the beach. He hadn’t said anything since he’d got in the boat. Grimmer too was especially quiet. Ahead of them the beach looked cold and sad.
Two of the skeletons got out into the water and pulled it up onto the shore. India got out and walked up the beach a short way. The hard sand crunched under his boots. It was the first time his feet had touched anything other than Mexico Island. It was a surreal and unsettling experience. He looked back at the ship, but saw only a thick, dark mist. He squinted and tried to envisage the ship there, knowing it was there, and bit by bit he saw the sails, the grey hull . . . but as soon as he relaxed the mist crawled in once more.
The skeletons were sitting about on the beach. A couple had wandered into the jungle. Some were speaking in couples or small groups, others like Grimmer were looking back out at the sea, or drawing idle patterns in the sand. Perhaps it was all in his head, but there seemed a melancholy air over everything. He sensed this was a different kind of escape for these ‘jolly rogers’, a different kind of relief than the drinking and dancing that had formed their last landing.
‘This is it,’ Dessica said as she approached him, her head low. ‘We’re all sorry to see you go.’
‘I don’t want to go,’ India said. A few of the other skeletons were standing up and coming over. Big Cage. Hairless. Spares.
Dessica shook her head, smiling. ‘Don’t be silly. The dead are no company for the living.’
‘You’ve got your whole life to live, honey,’ Hairless said.
‘Sorry you gotta go, mate,’ Spares said. ‘We’ve all enjoyed, uh, having you on board. It’s been lively.’
‘I have to?’
‘You know you do,’ Hairless said, gently.
‘Never meant to capture you in the first place,’ Spares said, kicking the sand with his feet. ‘Gotta watch the drinking.’
Big Cage came forward, and reached out with his arms. India awkwardly opened his own arms and Big Cage hugged him, almost crushing him.
‘Leave off him you big oaf,’ Spares said. ‘You’ll crush the lad.’ He shook his head as though annoyed, and wandered off.
‘Miss you,’ Big Cage said, and turned and followed Spares.
‘You too,’ India said, too quiet for Big Cage to hear.
‘Go and say your farewells to Grimmer,’ Dessica said. She touched her skull, and Hairless blew him a kiss, and the two of them walked away.
India saw a few of the other skeletons on the beach give him nods and waves, and he waved back. He pinched his eyes and approached Grimmer, who was still sat on the sand.
‘Come with me,’ India said.
‘No,’ Grimmer said, not looking at him. ‘I can’t.’
‘Don’t be naïve. Look, go on.’
‘I don’t want to.’
‘I don’t want to be by myself.’
‘You’ll be fine,’ Grimmer said. When India still hadn’t moved, he picked up a pebble, tightened his bone fingers around it and then turned and threw it at him. India dodged it; he didn’t know if it was supposed to hit him or not.
‘Go away!’ Grimmer said. ‘Leave me be. Go and join the land of the damned living.’
India looked at him with hurt, angry eyes, and then turned and walked away. When he’d reached the edge of the beach he glanced back. Grimmer was sat in the same spot, not moving, staring down at the sand.
India stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and disappeared into the jungle.
Okay, so there was a “Save Gotham” petition about when all the fans were in a tizzy about whether it’d be cancelled or renewed, and I wrote a thing for it that turned out rather long. As SOON AS I WAS DONE, like I’m talking about 3 minutes later, the word came out that it was renewed for one final season.
I was a mix of emotions from the news that translated as, well, blankness. Awesome, new season, boo, last season (and possible only 13 episodes according to rumour). Also really quite irritating that I’d just written this big piece that now was pointless..
So I’m posting it here. It’s about why Gotham deserves a future, me trying to express just why it means so much to me and others and why it’s, essentially, a great, unique show. Maybe I can still make use of the piece when Season 5 comes to an end, or maybe that’ll just be it for Gotham.
Hope you enjoy the read, despite it already being somewhat irrelevant.
“You take the thing that is the worst thing that could have happened to you, the worst challenge in your life, and you turn it into fuel. You don’t give up. And that’s what Gotham is about.”
– Scott Snyder
Gotham is a show unlike any other that is, or has been on television.
Gotham is a great many things, things great and absurd, and I want you to help save it. I’m about to explain why, at length, and I hope that my passion for the show might prove at least a little infectious.
I was very much looking forward to Gotham when I first saw it promoted, and took eagerly to Season 1. I was invested throughout, especially appreciative of the superlative and novel Penguin performance of Robin Lord Taylor, which has throughout the show redefined and deepened the stalwart 1941 character like no other interpretation before, or likely since.
I read up about Season 2 and became more engaged at the talk of all the major changes they would make for the better (such as turning from villain of the week to a more serialised format). It was around the back half of Season 2 that my great enjoyment of the show turned into love. That was about the point that some viewers may have felt Gotham jumped the shark; I understood the criticism, but I see it instead as Gotham throwing off its shackles and truly embracing the craziness of its source material, as well as fully committing to being its own madcap thing.
To those whose appreciation of Batman might have only extended to the Nolan films, and expected a more grounded approach than what Gotham ended up, I can see how this could have been off-putting. Likewise, the grounded, mature and procedural state of Season 1 might have put off those seeking more of the varied insanity of the comics.
Gotham has since straddled the line (sometimes jumping over to dance about madly), and I think I speak for many people when I say no other show comes closer to delivering the look, feel and performances of a live-action comicbook.
The fact Gotham is not canon, but its own universe, an “Elseworld”, might also have put people off – but every adaptation ever has been Elseworlds. The beloved Nolan and Burton movies were Elseworlds. The Arkham games, even the classic Animated Series. To be beholden to some ambiguous notion of “canon” (what about reboots, retcons, comicbook Ages, different timelines, different Earths, hell, even different writers?) would have only held the show back. It is to the show’s credit that it allowed itself to be its own thing. It enabled it to draw from nearly 80 years of Batman history, clear inspirations and more subtle touches evident throughout the show’s episodes, whilst also constantly surprising and exciting us with its own unique take.
In taking on such a grand smorgasbord of influences, influences spread across multiple mediums and multiple generations, Gotham became a great many things, Gotham is dark and gritty. Gotham is high camp in blacked-out windows. Gotham is bloody and twisted. Gotham is loud and ugly. Gotham is quiet and beautiful. Gotham is fantastical. Gotham is an emotional drama. Gotham is a comedy. Gotham is science fiction. Gotham is a police procedural. Gotham is magic. Gotham is a character study. Gotham is sullen and brooding. Gotham is madcap exploits. Gotham is blockbuster entertainment on the small screen. Gotham is twirling dresses and 50’s hairdos one day, black leather and PVC the next.
The quality most immediately evident upon watching an episode of Gotham is the cinematography. If a criticism could be made against the Nolan moves in comparison to other adaptations, it would be the lack of vibrancy and colour of the city. People wonder why anybody would want to live in Gotham, given all its crime (forgetting a number of real world examples of crime-ridden but consistently highly-populated cities; after all, these are still people’s homes). But Gotham, in its element, is a gorgeous, exciting city, full of colour and life, zany and strange to the point that just picturing yourself standing amongst those grand neon signs shrouded in darkness, looking up at those monolithic Art Deco buildings like black cathedrals of some foreboding yet superheroic New Age, would be enough to make you tremble in awe (and a little fear).
Gotham is a world that stands at the forefront of real life, looking out over the edge at the landscape of fantasy and science fiction. It is just enough to feel like it could be something real, somewhere we could live, while enticing of us of things new and incredible, a city of tremendous contrast, a city of endless pictures in the mind.
If it sounds like I’m talking about it as though it’s a place that I’ve actually been to, that’s because I have. On Mondays, and then on Thursdays I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. And like its other millions of passionate, crazy (in the best way) fans, I want to keep on visiting.
We are living in a Golden Age of television, there’s no denying it. Fantastic shows with production qualities previously unheard of are reaching us, show by show by show, too many to keep track of. You might wonder how Gotham could compare to these, how I can still call it special.
By the time season 3 of Gotham had come to its close, with its fantastic finisher, I had accepted to myself that, no matter how many superb quality shows I’d watched (and it was a lot), Gotham was my favourite. In fact, I realised that, despite loving many shows, Gotham was my first favourite. Nothing before had touched me quite how Gotham did. I had not known what it was like to have a favourite show before Gotham showed me. No other show have I been so entirely invested in, spoiling things for myself, reading all the rumours between (and during) seasons about what might happen, about what character might appear. Joining communities and talking to fellow fans, discussing the show’s episodes and all our thoughts of what might come next.
You might think this silly, considering all the shows that have come before, that I have only become this energised and impassioned (not to mention social) from Gotham. You might even point to flaws within the show, and ask how could I possibly rank it first? I tell you that I am fully aware of its flaws; in fact I think only clear-headed fans who come to it from a position of love can do the most effective job of criticising its missteps. But nonetheless, even if another show might have more consistent writing, Gotham still wins hands down.
Why, you ask? Because Gotham is Gotham. There is nothing else out there to match it. It is hard to explain to someone who may not be a huge fan, but I will try to sum up a few things about what there is to love about the show, before touching on a more general note:
The casting. Robin Lord Taylor, Cory Michael Smith, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz, Cameron Monaghan, Camren Bicondova, Donal Logue, Ben McKenzie. . . I must stop before I feel conscious of leaving any out. The casting has been superb, each playing their roles excellently: David as a brooding teenage Bruce, showing acting chops from the very beginning that promise a bright future ahead of him (or a very Dark one). . . Camren like a young Catwoman from Batman Returns. . . Robin Lord Taylor of course, whose every single facial movement and incredulous exultation is like sheer eye-candy – never before have I been so unwilling to even blink when a character is on screen.
The acting. Effortlessly mixing quiet emotional beats, loud and dramatic emotional beats, tragedy and comedy, action-orientated moments, pathos and playfulness, the acting range on display across the board is a perfect fit for the show. Ever since the years when EVERY! LINE! WAS! EXCLAIMED! FOR! EMPHASIS! the comicbook world has always had its silly, bombastic and hyperreal side, whether consciously referenced or not, and it is to Gotham’s absolute credit that it fully indulges in this, giving us the campy dramatic dialogue while at the same time never making you feel like it is cheesy or substandard acting. It takes a lot of skill to convey multiple moods at once, both dark and light, dangerous and whimsical, and the line between high camp and cheesy is a thin one, but Gotham always stays quite expertly on the right side, while still more than able to commit to heartbreaking moments of tragedy and sorrow, or sadistic moments of pure villainy.
The tone. What may seem jarring to some critics, is only a natural reflection of the world of comics. Shifting frequently between tones both dark and light (and somewhere in-between) is not a criticism, but a testament to the show to deliver on its extensive source material in all its different tones and styles. As good writers, directors and actors know, comedy, pathos, horror, drama and action are all great bedfellows, and including humour in even a show’s darkest moments encourages only ever greater investment in both the situation and its characters. Gotham is a dark tragicomedy, because that is what the world of superheroes and supervillains is.
The villains. Everyone loves a good villain, and Gotham has them in spades. While other shows and movies could be faulted for their lack of depth to their villains, Gotham exists in entirely the opposite field. Gotham’s villains are its highlight, its central nervous system; rarely in television or movies have villains (who grow up to be super awful people) been so humanised, so easy to empathise with. Villains are always better when you can connect with them on some level, when you can understand them. And by showing us the slow burn evolution of characters like Penguin and the Riddler into the supervillains they will one day be, by giving them just as much attention and care as given to our heroes (perhaps even more), we have seen a level of commitment to “villainous” characters like never before, thus giving the viewer the perfect battle within themselves as to who they truly want to come out on top, seeing as they are now, as suits this manner of show perfectly, invested in characters on all sides.
The cinematography. As already mentioned, Gotham has an ability to make you feel like you are living in the gloriously technicolour pages of a comicbook. The look of the show is perfect. It perhaps exceeds the style even of the movies, both in its deliberately timeless design (incorporating aspects of eras from the 1930s all the way to 2010s, that remain without jarring anachronism due to their creative blend), and its use of evocative colour juxtaposed against darkness; the sky is always overcast, the night lights up with colour, dark interiors are filled with glowing greens and reds and purples. Every shot is beautiful, as though lavishly crafted with a movie in mind – but without the constant distracting and weightless green-screens that pepper most modern blockbusters.
I will stop before this becomes even more of a huge essay, even though I have still not mentioned the heroes, the music, the interpersonal relationships between characters, the costume design (Penguin’s frankly gorgeous suits, however, deserve a special shoutout – and indeed have highly influenced my own clothing!), the set design, the storylines, the action scenes. . .
If I could tell you why Gotham means so much in one word, it is atmosphere. Even if we separate ourselves from the script and the plotlines, Gotham has a feel about it that I do not believe is reflected in any other show. A large part of this is due to the cinematography, but truthfully it is all its elements coming together into a cohesive whole.
Unlike other shows that might concentrate entirely on characters and the immediate plot, Gotham allows itself to exist as a place; it becomes something, somewhere real, where characters continue to live out their lives while we are not watching, a place self-evidently lived-in, where bystanders, innocents and common crooks can come in and out of the show naturally, before going back to their lives (unless they wind up dead, of course). The ongoing status of the show is the ongoing status of Gotham as a city. When the show ends, the city ends. Suddenly, these people have nowhere to go, nowhere to exist; the places disappear: the bars, the side-streets, the Narrows, Arkham Asylum, the GCPD, the Wayne Manor are lost.
I will not sit here and write to you that Gotham has ever been a perfect show. I think a lot of it has been to do with the fear of cancellation, and thus the need to rush things for ratings. There are things I, and I’m sure many other fans, would have preferred handled differently.
No, Gotham is a flawed show based on a flawed state of network television. But Gotham is our show. It is ours. The fans now, by the end of Season 4, are as loyal and committed as they are passionate, and they will not go quiet into the night. They too know that Gotham must continue. Not by any means necessary, not if it means sacrificing what makes Gotham great, but by the means it needs. The means it deserves.
Gotham needs a future, and not an uncertain one, where it can continue to disturb its own natural storytelling in a desperation to not be cancelled because of an outdated ratings system that does not reflect the many ways we consume our media nowadays, but a steadfast future, committed to by a network or streaming service dedicated to understanding why Gotham must continue.
Gotham is a show that takes risks, a show in which the sheer love for its characters and its world jumps out at us from every scene. Gotham is a show that gives us live-action pre-Batman characters that we have never ever seen before. It reaches across countless comicbook arcs and adaptations to time and time again enthral us with new and fascinating renditions of characters great and small. A-listers command our attention, but so do D-list rogues pulled to new heights, villains we could never have expected to see now reinvented and put on our screen to co-exist with all these others, in a grand and bizarre and scary and hilarious carnival of freaks and monsters, friendly sociopaths and jaw-gritting antiheroes.
We want only the best for these characters, these places, this world. This is no show that has been-and-done-it, that has come to its natural conclusion or run out of stories to tell. This is a show with endless possibilities, a show of crazy vision and ambition, a show filled with passion and desire for more, more, more. And that more is not the banal retreads of other shows, the predictability, the tired and rote drama. Gotham only ever reinvents, surprises us, excites us, gives us what we’ve never seen before. Gotham looks to the future.
But more than that, Gotham wants to tell us stories. And there is SO much left to tell.
Do what you can, reach out to whoever we can who can do Gotham justice. FOX, other networks, Netflix, DC Universe – whoever feels impassioned enough about the project to give Gotham a future. You can read words all over the internet from people for whom Gotham has been their hope in the darkness, their light, their answer to mundanity and apathy, disillusionment and depression and the common struggles and anxieties of life. For Gotham is a bright, brilliant candle, burning all the lucid and acidic colours of the rainbow.
And it’s not ready to go out.
Thank you for reading.
A Gotham Citizen
“Whatever you do, remember that. You’re going to make a difference. A lot of times it won’t be huge, it won’t be visible even. But it will matter just the same. Don’t do it for praise or money, that’s what I want to tell you. Do it because it needs to be done. Do it to make your world better.”
— Ed Brubaker (Gotham Central, Book One: In the Line of Duty)
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
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.
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.
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.
Batman turns, hearing a scream coming up from below and to the side, out of shot.
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.
Runs through the alleys.
CAP: And I always win.
Batman races forward down an alley, towards two common criminals threatening a terrified woman.
WOMAN: Please don’t!
1 & 2 –
Batman fights the criminals.
CAP: Common thugs. A walk in the park.
A SNAP as he breaks a criminal’s arm. The man’s face is contorted in pain.
CAP: I call this a warm-up.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
ALFRED CAP: Patched you through now, sir.
BATMAN: Lucius, are you there? Lucius? Alfred, I’m not getting any –
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.
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.
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.
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.
BATMAN: I can’t quit. Gotham needs me. It seems I’ll have to go on without you, old friend.
BATMAN: Goodbye, Lucius.
PAGE 5 – LUCIUS FOX’S APARTMENT
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.
He hears a creak at the door, turns his head. Startled.
Trains his gun on it, sweating in the shadows.
Behind him, a figure creeps in through the window. Green hair, red smile. The rest in shadows. It’s a freaky image.
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!
The Joker knocks the gun out of his hand. Lucius falls to the floor.
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.)
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.
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?
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!
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.
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?’
Batman throws smoke pellets.
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!
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.
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?
Catwoman appears, a long sleek black figure, hands on hips.
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.
Batman turns to Alfred, motionless as before.
Batman, confused, puts his hand on Alfred’s shoulder. Shadows obscure Batman’s white eyes. Alfred leans lightly to one side with the pressure.
Alfred falls over. Batman is shocked, aghast in horror. You can see his real eyes, they are no longer whited out as usual.
Batman stands over the fallen Alfred.
BATMAN: No . . . No, it can’t be . . .
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.
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.
Focus on Batman’s mad, grizzled face.
CAP: He’s dead. They’re all dead.
CAP: Falling . . .
Focus on Batman’s eyes. They’re sliding up, completely insane.
CAP: What have I done?
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!
Batman beats up the defenceless men as the woman runs off. They are shown in pain and bloodied by Batman.
Batman breaks one of their arms with a SNAP. The man is screaming in pain.
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.
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.
BATMAN: Not now Catwoman.
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.
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.
CAP: The Scarecrow. My fear of the truth.
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.
CAP: The Penguin, my mental deformity, my corruption. The crooked tumour of my mind.
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.
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.
Bruce with a green wig on doing his lipstick in the mirror . . . Yeah, it’ll look very wrong. Think Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Joker laughter here is smaller, edging away.
BATMAN: No . . . It’s not . . . This isn’t . . .
Just a solid black panel. No laughter.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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!
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!
Please go to www.setyoursytes.com for the current website.