A long while back when I was still in High School I went through a brief spell in which I wanted to write a comic book story. I didn’t want to actually make a comic book, but rather just construct the narrative for it. Batman was chosen since he is my favourite superhero with only Spider-Man coming close. This dream pretty much went away once I saw that DC Comics ceased to take in story idea submissions, but today I realise that was the wrong approach. I wrote this story out of love for Batman and because I enjoy writing – and that should be the primary reason.
This particular idea I envisioned to be a short story set in Batman’s first year. Similarly to the comic Year One, I wanted to create a story that did not rely on the awesomeness of The Joker to thrive on its own. More significantly, I wanted to reinvigorate and offer fresh takes on two characters I love from the Batman world, but who aren’t always appealing in their portrayals. The central villains of this story were to be Scarecrow and Riddler. I always feel that Batman villains are especially spectacular because they often relate to him on a personal level, and can be seen as a reflection of the darker sides of his own attributes – based on interpretation.
For instance, my idea for Scarecrow stemmed from the idea that both he and Batman are messengers of fear – they thrive on inducing it and thus they are alike. Simple, but complex. It was interesting to me regarding why Scarecrow would take such a keen interest in Batman. Secondly, The Riddler can almost be viewed as a dark manifestation – or potential downwards route – of Batman’s intelligence and possible superiority complex.
Now, I thought it may be interesting to provide you with the prologue to this story. I haven’t finished writing it, as it’s in my backlogged pile right now. Nevertheless, I wrote the prologue for a creative writing essay in High School and to my surprise and happiness I received an A, despite the fact that I did it just for the fun and to see what my teacher would think. Bear in mind I wrote this in High School, so it’s rather raw.
Anyway, I now present to you the prologue of my short story: Batman: Endless Beginning.
Batman: Endless Beginning
One last job.
I reassured myself of that fact and embraced the finality of it, but the empty night’s silence was no comfort to me. It had been so long since I had last seen the sun. Men like us lived by night – the day’s warmth brought no relief; only a penniless struggle. I could feel my heart pounding with nerves. My mind was restless as I desperately held onto the idea of tonight being over, and the thrill of success that would meet me once it was. At the same time my thoughts were contaminated with fear at the idea of getting caught. Every second dragged with daunting uncertainty. Every moment we remained here felt like another one in which everything would go to hell. I was terrified. But I was awake. An endless contradiction: fear and the liveliness associated with it. It was little more than a parasitical relationship.
Two years and the struggle had not changed. The struggle to survive, the pain of being desperate – it remained. There was no getting used to it; no way to make it any easier.
My name is Markus Kane, and I am a criminal.
I was what many would call one of the bad guys. But I felt no guilt. All that I had was a wife and kid, and a raw, aching hunger to escape this life of struggle and fall into wealth and comfort the likes of which the rich in Gotham City did not appreciate. For that I had given up doing what I wanted to, and now I did what I had to. My wife, Rachael, deserved whatever these sacrifices brought me. She was pregnant now with my second child, and I couldn’t allow our children to grow up counting coins like we did. If I had to make things worse in this apathetic dump of a city and sell my soul to ensure a better future for my family, then it was a small price to pay.
“Mickey, help me out here, will ya?” my ‘friend’ called out to me, indicating to a heavy box on the ground he was trying to load into our van.
All the guys called me Mickey. After Mickey Mouse of course, because apparently I still had a soft side. The guys who went with me on jobs like these were animals. They were rapists, arsonists, drug dealers, murderers – the whole works. I wasn’t like them, but I was no saint. This wasn’t about being good or bad. It was about survival.
I complied, grunting with the effort of lifting the box. Tonight we were weapon laundering. The merchandise we had gotten our hands on was the real deal. It was all worth buckets of cash – money that would set my family up for a better tomorrow. The man who had requested this job was planning a small-scale war inside Gotham – a complete takeover of the criminal underworld. And we all knew that he was powerful enough to do it. We knew him only as the Penguin. I was afraid of him. He wasn’t like the mobsters of old. He wasn’t like Falcone – a once feared crime lord. He was something else entirely.
And yet, despite the rise of the Penguin, strong leaders and mob bosses were becoming an increasing minority in Gotham with each passing day. Ever since strange rumours of the Night Demon began to spread. Allegedly, it was a monstrous creature that stalked criminals in the darkest hours of the night and left them in a fit of terror and a heap of broken bones. But I didn’t believe the ridiculous stories. They grew more far-fetched each time, with more variations of the Demon’s supernatural powers cropping up with each new tale.
People would believe in anything – they were gullible. The whole thing sounded like a case of broken telephone and over-exaggeration. Over the last couple of months I had heard that the Night Demon could fly, that it could disappear in an instant – that it was like a ghost. Hell, I had even heard that it could stand in fire without getting burnt, and that it was entirely unharmed by bullets – that it didn’t even bleed. Based on word of mouth the creature was supposedly like a black shadow with glowing white eyes and hardened-grey skin.
Load of shit if you asked me.
Rumours and housewives’ tales passed around to get men like us worried. I enjoyed a private smile. The cops would do anything these days to reduce the massive amounts of crime – the few cops who weren’t corrupt themselves anyway. Making up scary stories was simply the ridiculous next step. I likened it to when people went crazy over alleged UFO sightings. It just takes the seed of an idea and a few desperate enough to believe in the magical, and just like that you had the impossible become believable. There was obviously some other explanation.
I stood idly around waiting for the leader of our group, Mad Jack, to signal to us that the job was done. I tried to pass the time by listening to the chatter amongst my accomplices while they worked. That proved to be a mistake. I shivered as I listened to Psycho brag about how he had raped and murdered his girlfriend after she had filed a restraining order against him. His story was countered with equal smugness by Slasher, who blew his mouth off about killing two cops before they could arrest him. My cue to stop listening was when Critter chipped in and told the group of how he had a bunch of kids hooked on his cocaine, and he was making a small fortune from the ‘dumb shits’ without even having to touch a hair on their ‘stupid little heads’.
I shook my head to myself and gritted my teeth. I hated these guys. I hated what we did. But it was necessary. For Rachael, and for my children. Of course we didn’t use any real names when on the job. Names gave us an identity; it made us vulnerable. Names brought emotion into it. The absence of names – of personal detail – created a fear. Any smart man would know that people feared most what they didn’t know or understand – they feared the unknown; the enigmatic. Like the Night Demon, I thought. But I dismissed the thought before my mind could even process it. There was no such thing, and those who believed otherwise were fools.
I sighed to myself as I wondered how I had ended up here for the hundredth time. I was educated. I wasn’t a criminal. My life should have gone a different way. But the world out there had let me down, and I had let my family down. My thoughts were interrupted then as Mad Jack finally gave us the thumbs up. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, feeling as though a gigantic weight had been lifted from my shoulders. At last, I could leave behind all of this. It was over.
I was the last one to get into the van. Call me sentimental, but I wanted to look over and remember the place where I completed my final job – the one that would allow me to provide for my family and live in comfort for as far as I could see ahead. I smiled to myself. Maybe after this I’d finally be able to get an honest job. If I could find one. Money talked after all. From the moment I had begun this life of crime, I had saved every cent that I could. I had spent none of it bar necessities. I knew from the beginning that I would only do this until I had enough money for my family. It felt like as though two lifetimes had passed since I had first started.
“You’re quiet tonight, Mickey. Things going okay with your wife?” Mad Jack asked me suddenly.
He was the only one in our group who had some humanity in him, but he was as ruthless and cold as the rest of them. He just had a sense of honour about him. At least, he gave off that impression sometimes. He was the only one that I liked, even though I knew better than that and knew absolutely nothing about him. No one did. That’s what made him strong.
“You already know that this is my last job. I guess I’m just feeling nostalgic,” I lied.
Mad Jack narrowed his eyes. I got the feeling that he didn’t buy my story. He had eyes that seemingly missed nothing. He most likely had always known that I was no criminal; that this was for my family alone. It would have been an easy conclusion to draw. But he didn’t question further after my explanation. I appreciated his respect. I climbed into the passenger seat alongside him and closed my eyes, resting against the seat. Mad Jack started up the van and began to accelerate.
I jerked violently in my seat as our van suddenly lurched and a loud bang erupted in the night. We all jumped, looking around in every direction for the source. Mad Jack hissed at the guys to check it out, and within moments they were scrambling out of the van. It didn’t take them long to find that one of our tires had busted. I climbed out of the van with Mad Jack and we all gathered around the ruined tire, staring at it, and all wondering how in the hell it had happened.
“Don’t just stand there, fix it!” Mad Jack barked.
The guys immediately scattered to fetch the tools and the extra tire from the back of the van. I bent down to examine the damage. My eye immediately caught broken pieces of silver.
“What is this?” I wondered aloud.
The pieces seemed to form some weirdly shaped object. Its edges were extremely sharp to the touch. I nearly cut myself. The object was ruined now, but it had caused our tire to burst. My eyes could make out the tiniest bit of smoke in the air. I suddenly felt exposed, and I looked around worriedly. The other guys didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
Where’s the wrench?” Psycho asked.
Critter scratched his head, “I must have left it back in the warehouse where we took the guns from. I did all the work in there, so I ain’t going back to get it.”
Slasher smiled, “Fine, I’ll go if you’re too chicken shit to go alone.”
The rest of us waited in the black and the silence while Slasher hurried back to the warehouse. The night was pitch black. We could not see very far. The relentless cold of Gotham was as unforgiving as ever. I wrapped my jacket tightly around myself. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, why this, why now, when it was about to be over?
Suddenly there was a loud shriek from the warehouse. I swore and turned to it, grouping up with the rest of my accomplices as we all slowly advanced towards it. Critter held out his flashlight and aimed the beam into the darkness. There was no sign of Slasher. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and the wild pounding of my heart.
“If this is some kind of joke, I swear I’ll kill him,” muttered Psycho.
I jogged back to the van to retrieve another flashlight. As I grabbed it the window next to me shattered, and I staggered back. I stared like a confused fool. Mad Jack stepped towards it and reached through the window. He picked something up from the seat. It was a sharp, long silver object – made of the same material as whatever had hit our tire. Looking at it now it appeared to be a strange sort of throwing star.
“Slasher isn’t fooling around,” Mad Jack began, “We have to assume he’s been taken out. Stay alert. We’re dealing with someone highly skilled. Stick together-”
I heard it then. A rush of wind. Panicked screams as a great big shadow engulfed us all and a colossal figure descended down upon us as though it were the wrath sent forth from God. My entire body froze. The fear became a paralytic. My mind failed to process what my eyes saw. The figure landed with an impact that seemed to send a tremor through the earth. And I stared, in a crazed awe, at the hulking black-cloaked entity before me.
It had glowing white eyes.
It was impossible. The sight of it was something out of a haunting nightmare. It was wrapped in its massive cloak; a creature of the darkness. I could see glimpses of grey, hardened skin beneath the fabric. It wore a demonic black mask with two horns on top. Its blank white eyes were those of a devil. Its wraith-like claws extended toward us, thirsting for our souls.
Nothing moved. For a fleeting moment, all stood still. The boundaries of rationality began to crumble into dust. Something like this could not exist in the real world. This was simply not possible. I began to shake. My heart hammered. I choked up, struggling to draw breath. I felt a terror within me that I did not believe I was capable of, and right then I knew that my life was a mercy that I was never going to get. We had decayed the soul of Gotham City, and in response this monster had risen from the ashes we had left behind.
The moment of stillness ended.
I watched the Demon move with a blinding speed, subduing Critter with a vicious palm strike. With an unholy thirst for blood it descended upon him, striking his head again and again until the blood made him unrecognisable. In a blur it grabbed his leg and snapped it as easily as a child would a twig. The sound was sickening. Critter’s screams were ghastly. Panic erupted. The Demon left Critter’s body behind as if it was nothing.
Someone got hold of a gun. Psycho. He fired off three shots at the Demon, but it threw out its cloak and glided forward. The bullets only managed to pass through the fabric of its cloak as if it were a ghost. A sharp hook shot out of the Demon’s hand and wrapped around Psycho’s arm. The Demon wrenched its hand back, and Psycho screamed as he jerked forward and rammed into it his arm, his collarbone shattering with a vicious crack. Psycho tumbled wildly to the ground and twitched, his head at an odd angle and his body in spasm.
And then the Demon vanished into thin air.
I didn’t move from the ground. I stared in all directions, looking for it. It wasn’t human. Nothing from this world could do what it did. It was evil – a monster. We were all dead.
“Where are you?” Mad Jack screamed, waving his gun around.
There was a chilling moment of silence.
I heard a flapping noise; its cloak whispering from the darkness. Mad Jack cried out and whipped around. The Demon had somehow appeared behind him, and rose to its full height. It towered over Mad Jack despite his muscular build. I had never seen him look so pathetic. He was shaking, unable to hold the gun steady. The Demon did not move. It stood motionless, unaffected by the weapon aimed at its heart. It was a statue then, watching us with calculated patience.
“I’ll find out what the hell you are after you’re dead,” Mad Jack spat.
An explosion swept through the air as he pulled the trigger, and the bullet burst from the gun in a flash of fire. The Demon moved with a vengeance, gliding out of the way and throwing out its arm. A spinning silver projectile flew towards Mad Jack and sliced his hand open. He screamed, dropping the gun and clutched at himself. His hand was instantly wet with blood.
The Demon dashed forward and grabbed Mad Jack with a venom unlike anything I had ever witnessed. I could see its rage. I could see its hatred. I could see its power. It slammed his head into the window of the van, and the glass blew apart. The Demon followed it up with a violent strike to Mad Jack’s midsection that I was sure broke ribs. It lifted him from the ground with one hand as effortlessly as I breathed, and with tremendous force brought him down to the earth with a thunderous crash. I could hear Mad Jack’s spine give in.
The Demon turned to me.
It slowly began to advance, its heavy boots thudding eerily on the ground with each step. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a picture of my wife and child. I dropped to my knees and made a silent prayer. I went into a wild, frenzied panic then as the Demon removed its hands from beneath its cloak and closed the distance to me. And then I was begging. I told it all about my pregnant wife and child, stammering out my story pathetically and pleading for mercy. It said nothing. It did nothing. There was only cruel silence. I went into shock. I was dead.
“You’re done. Go home,” the Demon said. Its voice was cold, lifeless and inhuman.
It wasn’t going to hurt me…? I somehow found the will to speak, against all better judgment.
“What are you?”
The Demon reached down and grabbed the front of my shirt in its claws. It lifted me up from the ground and only then did I realise the true depths of its strength. I was nothing compared to it. It brought me level with its terrifying, ghostly white eyes.
Then it was gone.
It had vanished into the night as silently as it had come, leaving me alone and appraising a higher power. All I could think about then was my family. I realised, as I shivered in the darkness and my heart raced in fear, that I had been given a second chance. I did not know why. I laid on the ground, hugging myself and trying to still my breathing. I knew that now with the arrival of the Demon, Gotham City had a semblance of hope. Men like us were done. The creature was beyond us. A far greater power than we had ever possessed. I knew then. The criminal empire would fall before it; a weeping child clamouring for its mother’s embrace.
As for me, I would honour the mercy that the Demon had given me. I was officially retired. I was done with this. This life was behind me. My family was ahead.