The following is a prose adaptation of the Batman: Arkham Origins cinematic trailer. This is part of an exercise in how to write effective prose action scenes without over reliance on visual descriptions. The exercise was inspired by my reading of what I considered to be little more than a transcription of the very cool Star Wars: The Old Republic cinematic trailer titled “Deceived” in the novel by Paul S. Kemp of the same name. It is my opinion that the strengths of prose are very different than the strengths of visual media like film or comics and therefore an adaptation of a visual media should not solely rely upon a by the numbers description of the events in the inspiring work.
Here is my attempt to create a prose version of such a primarily visually arresting action sequence.
From across the bay, Gotham City on a winter’s night appears civilized, almost serene. It’s concrete and glass towers twinkle with reflected Christmas lights from the streets below and a layer of pure white snow lays over the city’s ugliness like a shroud over a corpse. Closer in, along the waterfront where the empty docks and abandoned warehouses decay, the snow is just another layer of makeup on a whore long past her prime.
The Suburban — black, of course — came in hot, smearing that make-up like a slap across the face as it skidded to a halt. Jay B was driving and he was mad. Driver pay was half what muscle pay was. Later, he would realize what he bought with that lost cash and he would know he made out on the deal.
Before the SUV was completely stopped, Freddy D stepped out of the back driver side door and slammed it behind him. When his feet touched the pavement he could feel the layer of grit and grime covered up by the snow. It made him feel at home. The Bushmaster slung over his shoulder made him feel safe. He opened the rear door of the Suburban. He reached in and grabbed one handle on the big, green box they had been hired to deliver. His brother Billy D was already out of the SUV, too, and grabbed the other side of the box. They lugged it quickly toward the warehouse.
Donnie X sneered after the D brothers. Carrying heavy things and breaking weak bones were about all the two were good for. He pushed the back of the Suburban closed and pounded on the door, telling Jay to get lost. The kid did not hesitate and stood on the gas. He had potential, Donnie thought.
Inside, the warehouse was not so abandoned. Donnie and his crew had been working out of it for weeks, in fact, marking off the days until finally, on Christmas, tomorrow, the job would be done and their pay would come in. All they had to do was wait, and not screw this up.
Freddy and Billy apparently tired of lugging the box and dropped it. The crass echo sent a shiver up Donnie’s spine and a rush of heat to his face. He jerked off the mask, the hard plastic skull face that had come with the job instructions, and tossed it onto the table where his calendar and last nights lo mein sat. He did not dare take off the ski mask, though: If The Ds were not taking off theirs, he sure as hell was not taking off his. In a city where one boss could end up in Arkham Asylum and you had to find work with a rival boss, anonymity mattered.
The warehouse was dark except for the moonlight streaming in through the windows. Donnie flipped the switch to bring up the coils of Christmas lights wrapped around the rafters — in Gotham, it paid to illuminate all the dark corners. They sputtered slowly to life, bathing the place in a mockery of cheer, before one popped and darkness swallowed the corners again. The heat in Donnie intensified and he grumbled a curse.
He let the D brothers stand there stupidly for a three count before he barked, “Check the breaker!” at Freddy — or Billy. He couldn’t tell the difference, nor care.
It was Billy. Donnie should have known because of the two simpletons, Billy was the dumber one, which he illustrated by unslinging his submachine gun and tossing it to Freddy. Billy walked into the darkness away from the windows, armed only with a small Maglight.
He found the breaker box, opened it and stared at it. He thought to admit he had no idea what he was doing, to call out to Freddy for advice, but decided he did not want to appear an idiot. Instead, he put the Maglight between his teeth and stared harder at the open breaker box. It is possible that given a few minutes he might have figured out which breaker had flipped. He did not have the time, however, as the box suddenly rushed at him — then nothingness.
The crunching of bone against metal and the crackling of electricity against skin propagated from shadow to shadow until it hit Donnie and Freddy. They looked at each other, Freddy’s eyes dull and questioning, Donnie’s narrow and commanding. With a jerk of his head, Donnie ordered Freddy to investigate and Freddy, SMG in hand and ready, complied.
Freddy had never given much thought to what was beneath the wooden warehouse floor. If you had asked him, he might have guessed a basement or a mechanical room. A few seconds after he left Donnie’s side, he found out. He was more confused than frightened when the floor broke upward. The terror did not take him until he realized he was being dragged down not by gravity but by an iron grip around each ankle.
The steadily growing frustration finally boiled over. Donnie pointed his weapon at the hole and sprayed the gaping darkness with lead. He told himself it was rage, not fear, but in either case he held the trigger for two full seconds after the last bullet left the barrel. The void in the floor seemed to sigh at him and he retreated as he reloaded. He backed up one step, then two and three.
Later, Donnie would have just a brief moment to reflect on how it happened. Had he seen him out of the corner of his eye? Had he felt his presence behind him? Had his soul shivered against the night-creature that inhabited that armored suit? In any case, Donnie spun and fired but to no avail. The bullets landed harmlessly in floor, beam and wall. A powerful grip wrapped around his throat as his body strained against the steel cable strong muscles. He looked into the face of his attacker and he knew it was over. Square jaw. Black cowl. Pointed ears that were really devilish horns. Batman had him and there was no escape but inevitable unconsciousness, which Donnie accepted graciously.
Batman dropped the nameless thug. Sweat and splinters irritated where his cowl met his skin. He ignored the discomfort; that was his motif, after all. He scanned the room quickly to ensure no other enemies lurked. Satisfied, he approached the green Queen Industries lockbox dropped so unceremoniously on the floor. They did not know what was in it, he deduced. Nor did they care. This was a paycheck, a wad of cash to be burned on drugs, women, overdue rent, sick grandmothers, whatever — the motivations of the enemy only mattered insofar as it exposed their crimes.
Queen Industries was a strange choice for a target. Was Oliver hiding something — producing weapons, perhaps, or over reaching in his efforts to save people from themselves? Eager to find out, Batman kicked the strongbox open.
His first thought was to chastise himself for being so naive. His second thought was to move. The blocks of C-4 explosives and the chunks of concrete made for a perfect anti-personnel bomb. Whoever planted it wanted death — his death, no doubt — not property damage.
He forced his way through the wooden warehouse doors with one powerful, futile leap. Outrunning the shockwave was impossible. When the blast hit him, his armored cape absorbed the fire and the chunks of shrapnel. It was the concussion that slammed him hard against the snowy pavement. Like Freddy D, he felt the grit and the grim under the snow, and like Freddy it made him feel at home.
For just a moment, for a brief second of human weakness, the suit — the full utility belt, the armored undersuit, the heavily plated breastplate and arm greaves — felt too heavy. For just a flash, an imperceptibly short instant, he thought, “Stay down.”
It passed so quickly it might have never been at all. Batman pushed himself to his feet.
“Looks like you got my invitation.” The voice echoed from above, atop the stacked shipping containers. It was mocking and challenging and arrogant.
Batman allowed himself a half second to recover from the blast. For that very brief moment he felt every aching muscle and every bruise beneath the armor that had saved his life. He let his ears and head ring and tasted the blood in his mouth where the shockwave had loosened his teeth. Years before, thousands of miles away, he had learned to feel everything, just briefly, to accept it because it was true, but then move beyond it.
On the wall of containers, dressed in his blue and gold costume and bristling with weapons, the assassin known as Deathstroke the Terminator — aka Slade Wilson, enhanced super-soldier for the U.S. government gone rogue — said, “It’s just you and me. Come on!” and bolted. Batman’s half second meditation was over and he let loose with batarangs as he ran parallel to Deathstroke.
Batman might have worn the totem, but it was Deathstroke that seemed the avatar of animalistic power. He channeled nothing if not the leopard: powerful, fast, relentless. Batman’s blades sunk harmlessly into a container while Deathstroke sprinted, leaped and kicked his way along. He had trained for as many years as had Batman, and had also been given powerful, experimental drugs that made him equal to the greatest athletes and academics in the world.
Batman considered himself the best of both. This night would be the test.
Batman fired his line and flew. He was on Deathstroke, poised to strike like a bird of prey, but the assassin seemed to command gravity itself as he twisted and spun and knocked Batman aside with his quarter staff in mid turn. Batman hit hard and slid on the snow covered container He laid there longer than he wanted to too. His body still ached from the explosion. He was used to fighting thugs and common criminals, the superstitious and cowardly types that he defeated with his costume and voice before the first shot was fired or first punch was thrown. Deathstroke was different. He was not afraid.
Deathstroke leaped down and the butt of his staff dented the top of the container where Batman’s head had been.Batman came up swinging but was slow and weak. Deathstroke was a predator; e revelled in that weakness. Like a cat, he toyed with Batman, knocking aside one, two, three strikes before kicking Batman in the chest and sending him reeling ntil he slammed into a container wall.
What Batman needed was a moment, just a split second to regain the advantage. The truth was, despite the endless training and relentless self punishment, Matman relied mostly upon providence With luck or divine guidance or whatever one might call it, Batman would have bled out in an unmarked alley, killed by an unnamed thug, a hundred times in the year since he started his crusade. This night made it one hundred and one.
When Batman hit the container, the one above, obviously stacked lazily and hanging precariously, let go and slid at Deathstroke.The assassin dodge the container easily but the minor distraction was enough for Batman who leaped and kicked. Deathstroke flew off the top of the container. Batman allowed himself a singular hopeful thought, but it was quashed. Again, Deathstroke commanded his body, and this time his staff, so perfectly that he caught himself and used his staff like an acrobat’s bar and flew back out of the gap between containers.
His feet came first. Batman knew they were coming and let them, allowing the force of the flying kick to send him bouncing down to the next level of containers. Had he been unawares, the hit and the subsequent falls would have been bone shattering. As it was, Batman rolled with both kick and fall and ended up precisely where he wanted to be.
the fight had gone on long enough for Batman to analyze his foe. Deathstroke was faster and stronger than he, but he was also arrogant and unsubtle. In a direct fight he helf sure to win, Deathstroke was actually weaker than in a congested arena with what he considered an inferior fighter. Batman stood there and challenged him with a grimace. Behind his one-eyed mask, Deathstroke smiled and acceptance of that challenge.
Where before they had met as rams launching themselves at one another, this time Batman and Deathstroke came together in a fluid dance. Deathstroke drew one of his two priceless swords. Batman fought with his fists and the armored, bladed greaves on his forearms. Deathstroke’s feeling of inevitable victory faded a little each time Batman blocked his sword strike, then collapsed as Batman caught the weapon in his greave-blades and jerked. The sword, forged by Japanese masters who were afterward killed to preserve the secret of the weapon and its twin’s construction, shattered.
Deathstroke fought on with broken blade, fists and feet. Their dance became a brawl as they kicked and punched and drove each other into containers walls. With each successful hit, Batman asserted his power. With each failed slice, Deathstroke grew more frustrated and less focused. By that time, the assassin was easy to fool. Batman allowed Deathstroke to grab his throat, only to reverse it by walking the wall of the adjacent container and then sending Deathstroke flying across the container on which they stood.
Deathstroke drew his sword. The pleasure of the hunt had disappeared. He only had murder in his heart.
Batman moved into a defensive stance. He had already won.
Suddenly, inexplicably, Deathstroke’s sword snapped in half. A moment later it was cut down to barely longer than a dagger. Fury consumed Deathstroke for just long enough for Batman to take advantage. While Deathstroke peered over the bay, searching the tall bridge piers for the shooter — it was the only logical conclusion — Batman upholstered his bat-line and fired. The grapnel caught Deathstroke’s shoulder and Batman jerked it in.
Deathstroke’s enhanced intellect and perception assessed the situation halfway through his tumbling crash against the container after Batman clotheslined him. Without missing a beat, Deathstroke changed strategies and was firing the .45 as he stood.
Batman was ready. That Deathstroke carried firearms at all meant he was ready to use them. That he had not yet meant that he reserved them for particularly dangerous foes. Batman had actively worked to put himself in that category. Against an equally skilled and medicinally enhanced opponent, Batman was fated to lose a martial contest. But he had trained every day of his life since he first saw the shattered corpses of his parents leaking their lives onto the broken pavement of Crime Alley to combat gun wielding scum. It did not matter whether it was a gang banger trained on the street or an assassin trained by the government, an enemy that relied on a gun was no match for Batman.
Batman disarmed Deathstroke with a sweep and moved in.
Batman and Deathstroke fought, punching and kicking and jumping and flipping. Deadshot shook his head with distaste. Fighting close, fighting fair, these were things that got one killed.
Deadshot pulled back the action on the .50 caliber rifle and peered through the scope. His cybernetic eye prosthesis, courtesy of the same government that had given Deathstroke mind and body enhancing drugs, calculated all the options. As the two warriors threw each other down into the snow and against cold steel walls, Deadshot found the perfect target.
When he squeezed the trigger, he felt like a child on Christmas morning, opening a present. The kid knew that it was almost certainly the thing for which he had asked, but he could not be sure. Deadshot was the same way. It was almost certain that his shot would hit is mark, but there was the tiniest possibility that it would fail and surprise him. That was really what he longed for every time he pulled the trigger: a surprise.
There were no surprises this time. The bullet cleaved the chain that held a container aloft above the battlefield. The container crashed down and Batman disappeared in a flash of steel and snow.
I had watched all of this from afar, by turns amused and disgusted. I needed to see for myself how skilled this Batman was, not to mention those assassins I hired. All had performed precisely as expected.
“Did you find a body?” I asked Deathstroke.
“No,” he answered. Of course he had not. Batman was far better than that. “And next time, keep your other assassins out of my way.” Such possessive bravado.
“You had your shot Deathstroke,” I replied, testing him. “But you’re not the only assassin. And the night is young.” When hunting Batman, a little motivation by competition could not hurt.
I left Deathstroke to his frustration then. He was as likely to go after Deadshot as he was Batman, but that hardly mattered. There were others waiting in the wings. Besides, I had more pressing matters: failures.
Donnie X was dragging himself away from the burning ruin of the warehouse when I found him. Billy had died in the explosion. Freddy was dead before that, sprayed full of bullets by the terrified Donnie. He was working very hard to get away. I admired that, in a way.
The reason I wear a mask, the reason I call myself Black Mask, is because I know Death. He and I are the best of friends. He has been with me since I took my first breath. I wear his face as my face and I move my hand as his hand. So when I picked up that burning two-by-four and used in to collapse in Donnie’s skull, I was not acting out of rage or psychosis. I was merely acting in my nature.
He is out there somewhere. Batman, I mean, He is probably testing ballistics from the shell casings Deadshot was too stupid or too arrogant to eliminate from her perch atop the Gotham River Bridge. It doesn’t matter. He is the World’s Greatest Detective. I expect him to find me.
How else am I supposed to kill him?