Saturday, April 30, 2011

Boy Wonder (3 of 5): Two Face

Van Halen, covering a classic. Robin costume: boots, tunic, cape, gloves, and mask. Eddie Van Halen lets it rip and I'm stretching, crouching, punching the air. Mouthing along to the mirror, watching Robin mouth back, "You got me so I don't know what I'm doin'." My arms are huge, rested, ready. My air guitar is great. I wish Lori could see this, but then again, probably not. I face the mirror like a gunfighter. Robin and Robin. "I only want to be by your side." Punches. I'm very ready. Lori, wow, long blonde hair, gorgeous. "You really got me. You really got me. You really got me. Oh, yeahhhh." I'm out the door, in Wayne Manor's crazy wealthy hallway, walking past Impressionist masterpieces, and still nobody can see me, punching the air out, "You really got me. You really got me." The hard rock behind me getting thin and quiet as I walk.

I walk through a big clock and down the stairs into the cave. Bruce is all suited up. He's Batman. Holy cow. He's tinkering with some tiny video camera. My heart is loud enough to hear. He's not going to look up. "Dick," he says.

"Deeck? Who ees… theese… Deeck? I am Bonaparte." I roll my neck through a stretch, and kung fu punch the air several times. He's not even looking. Oh, well, that was for me. "Robin," he says, still not looking. Hey, that was funny.

For my benefit, Batman spreads out the blueprint of the building. Batman's all black, of the night. He points out how we'll enter from the roof and where Dent's gang is going to be.

Alfred brings us drinks and I tease, "Ah, Alfred?" I point to the table. "Tic Tacs." Alfred smiles, but this time Bruce doesn't. Bruce isn't even here. I pick up Batman's mood, real quick, right now. Tactics. He goes over our route and what will happen. Twice. Then I repeat it back to him twice. Then he says it two more times and ends with, "There will be no deviating from this." Couldn't Two Face's gang make us deviate from the plan? I don't ask. It became night outside because Batman wanted it to become night. I keep that thought to myself.

I wish there were music in the car, but there isn't, so there must be a good reason why not.

The doors of the car slam shut, sounding expensive and perfect. We're standing in a dark alley and it's history just that we're standing here, but no one is here to see. Batman and Robin. I catch myself staring at the car, Batman's car. We'll climb the closer building, go across its roof, and then enter Dent's building from its roof and move down. Dent's headquarters, Batman calls "The Target." The building we climb before going to The Target is called The Stage. That's Batman's language. This kind of thing is obvious to Batman. He's been doing it for years and he always wins. My hands are sweating inside the gloves as we climb The Stage. My feet are sweating. If I had a mustache, it would be sweaty. I'm actually really good at climbing buildings. But this is combat, action, live performance. I'm a superhero, or I will be in about one minute. I've seen the best gymnasts in the world, but the way Batman glides from the rope to his feet is a symphony. He's better at this than I am. Even this.

On The Stage's roof, we share eye contact before he turns and takes a few steps forward. He pauses to turns back and spin his index finger in a circle. That's a hand sign that means "Stay sharp." Then he moves like lightning, smooth like a walk, but fast like a run. He looks huge, bigger than ever, and supernaturally smooth, like a mountain on ice skates. I can't keep up. I want him to stop and take it easy, but he speeds up and jumps through the air, landing on The Target. I'm already in the air behind him when he lands noiselessly. And that moment in the air is the greatest moment in my life, and in the history of Gotham City. They should put a plaque here. "On this spot, Batman and Robin first went into action. May 6, blah blah blah." One day, when I have Bruce's money, I'll buy this building so that they can never tear it down. I land and make a little noise. I rise into my walk and he's already picked the lock to the staircase, way faster than could possibly make sense. Maybe I misunderstood the plan. Maybe he came here earlier so that it was already picked. Even he couldn't be that fast. His fingertip repeats, "Stay sharp," and he disappears inside. I go in next. Batman and Robin.

Walking down a dark hallway is the new greatest moment of my life. Somewhere ahead in the black is Batman. We could run into anyone, anybody, and win the fight. He'd win the fight, so we'd win the fight. Two Face's gang, a lion, the Russian Army, anybody. He'd win. At this moment, I am the safest person in the world: Robin, following Batman. I think about all of the things that we do in training, all of the things that he's perfect at, and in this darkness I smile thinking about what's about to happen. To them. Crooks. I don't care if it ever ends, this walk in the shadows. Because he's there, leading me through the darkness.

Then he's out in the light, and then I am, up a level above Dent and his henchmen. They could see us, but they don't look up. We make no noise – even I don't. Batman makes bullhorns of one hand to point to my mark. I have the noisemaker in my hand and hope that I don't mess up. My heart is going wild, and so is time. I imagine I can see myself, and I think I probably look cool. Blazer to superhero. Dress-up. Don't mess up.

This level is a catwalk over the floor below, where Dent and three tough guys are standing, talking. I'm right in the open, near the rail, looking at them. They would have to notice me pretty soon, except that the plan is about to happen to them. Batman runs around to the right, going into motion that won't stop until these guys are on the floor. He jumps the railing, which would be crazy if absolutely anybody else were doing it. I squeeze the noisemaker, which makes one loud metallic pop, and my job is done. Dent looks right up at me, the world's new number one smart-aleck. I'm smiling in my superhero costume while Batman is grabbing the steel pole, ten feet into a sixteen-foot drop, swinging by his left arm, at crazy velocity through a one-eighty in the air, right into the two guys who were just starting to look at me. And in zero time, those two are done. I have no idea what Batman did to them. He only has two hands; I guess he used both of them. Those guys are falling. Batman turns to make two fencing lunges at the third guy, then lets loose a big left hook. Three down. I want to enjoy this but it's happening way too fast. I wish Dent would look up to see me still smiling at his half-ugly face.

It's almost scary how much time Dent has to reach for his sidearm. If it weren't Batman, Dent would get the shot off. Batman walks just slowly enough to make it seem like Dent will get the shot off, but of course, Dent doesn't get the shot off. "Harvey…" Batman says with fake tenderness, like they're old friends, which they are, and then a right hook slams Dent, and that makes four.

Batman said there would be five, and I start to think that he was wrong when Batman cocks his head and hears the fifth guy who is just now walking in, below where I'm standing. The fifth guy is now one-on-one with Batman, which is neither smart of him nor lucky for him. This is the first time in the fight that I see Batman's face, the first time I see that evil demon scowl anywhere outside of a nightmare. It's one of a zillion things that Batman knows how to do to make his unfair advantage unfairer. The fifth guy has to know that he has no chance before he absorbs two punches to the face. So that was five. Gotham City has a lot of problems, but Batman winning fist-fights is not one of them.

Batman's the only one left awake downstairs now. He cocks his head again, and listens, and when he knows that there's no sixth man, he looks up at me and surprises me by grinning, a big stupid kid grin. That was Bruce, Bruce is here now, but I didn't know that he had that in him. The only surprise of the, oh, ten seconds that it took us (him, us, him) to defeat the Dent gang. It'd be pretty cool if Lori could have seen how I did that, how I clicked that noisemaker. Dress up, no mess up.

I jump the railing and land on my feet. Batman is showing me how to collect evidence when the police show up to take Dent's people away. Batman talks and the cops listen. I figure someone will ask Batman who I am, but people don't ask him obvious-seeming questions. Batman doesn't say the word "Robin." He refers to us as "we", then "we" jog up the stairs and disappear back into the dark hallway. His fingertip says "Stay sharp." Why?

On the roof of The Stage, we debrief.

"Robin. Who was the most dangerous person in the room?"
"Who else?"
He laughs. This is the best life anyone could possibly have. The answer is Dent, because he wasn't scared, because Dent's warped. But the important thing is that I said "Me" and Bruce laughed. And at no point did I mess up.

"Batman. Was that five nines?"
"Fifty nines."
"They had no chance?"
"No chance."
"What's the most guys you've ever beaten up at once?"
"Eighteen." Not bragging, it's just got to be true.
"Was that five nines?"
I thought everything that he did had to be five nines. I don't understand, but his tone cut it off. There must be something better for us to do with the rest of the night. Batman will lead me to it.

We rope down The Stage back to Batman's car, and when he's on the rope, I feel what nagged at me before, how it stings that Batman has replaced dad and how I enjoy that he's invincible. He's not going to die from this rope breaking, or from five guys with guns. Or from eighteen guys with guns. He's as big as Mount Everest and moves like a panther and paints Renaissance masterpieces with his left hand while defusing nuclear bombs with his right hand and solves riddles in his mind. He's everything that would have saved dad's life, mom's and dad's. And I'm so proud of Bruce's invincibility that it hurts that dad wasn't what he is. It hurts that I have to think about this. But that's not Bruce's fault, and it wasn't dad's fault. Now I'm on Bruce's rope, following him up, down, anywhere.

His feet hit the alley, and then mine do. Batman sits in the driver's seat again, reads something on the computer and says gravely, like we're in immediate danger, "Robin. Get in the car." He's actually upset. Something is more important than Dent. I'm in the car, which peels out and turns, pinning me against the door before I can get the seatbelt on. Batman's an extremely dangerous driver. Or maybe a really good one.

Boy Wonder, Part 4: The Second Girl


  1. Awesome story. I can fully see it leading right into the Batman: The Gauntlet tale from a few years back.
    -Dr. Sonic

  2. Damn, I love this stuff. Your characterizations of Batman and Robin are so great. I feel like you're answering the question of "What would Batman be like in real life?" a lot better than most people have, including most writers of Batman comics - he wouldn't be a total jerk, for starters. He would be an incredible genius, someone who constantly pushes the limits of human achievement, and you really do a great job of emphasizing that if this person existed, he would totally be cartwheeling around bullets like it was nothing. And he has fun! This chapter might be my favorite so far, just for that moment where, after being ultra-serious during the mission, Batman has a big grin on his face. Because he LOVES crimefighting. It's not just a grim sacrifice performed out of duty, it's something he genuinely enjoys doing. That's perfect.

    I also like how our big flamboyant supercriminal, Two-Face, doesn't get to make a villainous speech or even say a word, because he gets taken down just that fast. That sort of storytelling is very well-suited to the text medium.

    (Had trouble posting this earlier :P)

  3. Thanks, Spangle!

    Writers and fans alike develop their favorite takes on what the characters should be like, and there will always be different versions with different supporters for them; I'm glad that the way I've depicted Batman and Robin has some fans. Part Five goes into the characterization and says something about why Batman is the way he is, and I hope that is compelling.

    I'm glad the way I depicted the Batman-Two Face confrontation is also compelling. To me, the whole idea of Superman and Batman is that they are ultimate winners. So it never made that much sense to me to tell a lot of stories where their preeminence is brought down a notch. In my opinion, that just puts us back to the kind of protagonist who notches losses along with the wins, and the whole idea of Superman and Batman was to show something different. So to me, it's just about automatic that Batman is going to win the fight; the story should be interesting for a different reason than how the fight comes out. Those are the stories I've enjoyed most over the years.

    Part Five is in the works.

  4. Rikdad,

    I was just wondering if you are still following Batman Inc. and if you have any concrete theories or analysis on it. I know you were banned from the boards but we miss you. I was theonetruebatman and I know that hellblazerraiser and I really acted immaturely which resulted in getting you banned.

    I really apologize for that. It was something you simply didn't deserve. I hope you take my apology in earnest and everything is going well well with you.

  5. TOTB,

    I am following Inc, and it's one of three things I would post about in the near-term. It would have been next, but I have to say that the news about the big DC-wide transition -- more to the point, the pause being inserted into Inc -- makes it feel less urgent to post. The topic somewhat shifts from what Morrison's plan was to how the plan will be altered (if at all) by the changes. For example, it seems feasible that someone could be killed in the last issue before the reboot and then suddenly be alive again after the reboot. And/or that editorial mandates could alter the plan. In any event, now that there are only four issues before the reboot somewhat defuses my interest.

    That said, as I re-read the six existing issues, I'm struck by how much Leviathan seems like something that Doctor Hurt might have started. Is there any chance at all that Morrison would use Hurt as the shadowy villain behind THREE consecutive mega-story-arcs?! It almost seems like the best reason for thinking otherwise is, "Morrison wouldn't do that." I don't see any hard evidence on this point either way, but overall Leviathan seems enough like Hurt (or the larger Hurt-related circle of the Hyperadapter / Boss Dark Side) that it would almost seem odd if the two weren't related. One more tidbit: The red-robed gang seen on the last page of Inc #6 is right out of Morrison's first Batman panel in "52" #30.

    I honestly have no certain conclusion regarding why I was banned, and I wouldn't guess that any thread with a lot of you/HBR was the reason, but whatever the mess was, it's water under the bridge.

    I was planning on starting some message-board capacity for Inc. here, but I may postpone that now. The two posts I am most committed to now involve The Sopranos (which I've dragged out for over a year) and Superman (which I've planned for over a year but particularly would like to make soon BECAUSE of the big changes at DC). I don't know in which order I will make those two posts, but they're coming soon.