Superman vs Cthulhu: Super Heroes and Cosmic Horror


A new project has me thinking about how Super Heroes and Cosmic Horror interact with one another. At first blush, these two genres would seem to be mutually exclusive.

Super Heroes are ultimately symbols of optimism. Their stories are generally about normal people who, when granted powers far greater than those of their peers, seek to bring justice and peace rather than bring war or ruin. Some modern interpretations disagree, of course, but these kinds of deconstructionist views act as the exceptions that prove the rule: you would not have an Authority, for example, without Superman and Batman engaged in the neverending battles and crusades.

On the other side of the genre coin, you have the kind of existential horror exemplified by the work of H.P. Lovecraft and his many collaborators and imitators. Here, heroism is, at best, a naive notion that is quickly dispelled by despair and madness. In cosmic horror, there is no justice or peace, and even war and ruin don’t matter, for the real terror comes not from the amorphous things living just outside of our vision, but from the unfeeling and uncaring universe. Everything is sliding toward entropy and nothingness. Even the monsters are doomed. It is the ultimate expression of pessimism and nihilism.

So how do we bring these two genres together? And, more importantly, why? What can we hope to create from mixing these reagents, and how do we avoid blowing ourselves up in the process?

Is that a deep one?


Comic book super heroes and undulating weird horrors have cross paths many time before, of course. super heroes emerged out of the same primordial pre-pulp fiction as did Lovecraft’s work, who was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Algernon Blackwood. The violent, criminal yet essentially “good” masked heroes of the pulp era gave rise to the earliest Super Heroes (the Man of Steel owed much to the Man of Bronze, and Bat-Man was heavily inspired by The Shadow). The pulps were waning just as comics started to rise, but many of the young men (and a few women) creating those early costumed heroes had cut their genre teeth on pulp magazines like Weird Tales. Characters like Dr Fate and The Specter appeared very early on and considered great cosmic powers and elements of horror in their stories.

Super hero stories have always mined horror for villains and plots, embracing whatever monstrosities sit atop the cultural consciousness. Vampires and werewolves have always been popular, usually inspired by the Universal movie versions of those creatures, and there are a number of Frankenstein’s monster analogs and even outright uses. Zombies, the current favorite of pop culture horror, are everywhere and have devoured both the Marvel and DC universes within the last few years. And there are many comics and heroes that site squarely in a place of horror, from Marvel’s Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire to Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn to DC’s Swamp Things and more recently Justice League Dark.

From the Official Dark Horse Hellboy website.

One book in particular, though, really embraces the Lovecraftian side of horror (mixed with just everything else as well). Mike Mignola’s Hellboy — the titular character is a demon, but also a super hero — is a horror comic that does super heroics, or a super hero comic that does horror. In either case, it represents probably the most perfect marriage between the genres, and Mignola’s evocative art and tight scripting do not hurt. However, as good as Hellboy is at mixing these oil-and-water genres, in doing so it pulls the Hellboy character out of the lofty clouds of primary colors, capes and cowls and grounds him with the guns and the ever-present gritty cape analogue of the trench coat. So while we can use Hellboy as a way to start thinking about Super Heroes versus Cosmic Horror, it is just a point of beginning (but a damn entertaining one).


You don’t get much Super Hero vs Cosmic Horror than Starro


What would Superman do in the face of Cthulhu? How would Batman react upon discovering the Shadow Over Innsmouth? Could Captain America maintain his sanity when confronted by vast uncaring cosmos via the Color Out of Space?

Although the trappings vary, all super heroes essentially punch things for justice: they use direct intervention against enemies that can be beaten, captured and otherwise negated. In short, super heroes can win. By definition, the terrors of cosmic horror cannot be beaten — their victory is inevitable and the only succor against that knowledge is to retreat into madness. This seems at first to be an insurmountable problem in marrying the genres.

What I think allows the super hero to continue to not only exist but to operate and even succeed after a fashion in the context of cosmic horror is their inherent optimism. Super heroes fact insurmountable odds daily — or at least monthly. A meteor rocketing toward the Earth, a virus transforming people into mindless drones, an army of hyper intelligent gorillas invading from two universes over, these are all familiar threats to the super hero, and they all threaten the very existence of mankind. Yet, the super hero soldiers on and preservers.

The only difference between those typical comic book threats and the threat posed by cosmic horror is that the latter cannot be overcome. But that is knowledge reserved for the audience. As far as the super hero is concerned, that elder thing spreadings its dark influence throughout the world and threatening to wake is just another villain to be defeated. That heroic optimism provides the hero with not only the will to face these eldritch horrors, but also at least a modicum of protection against the mind rending, soul shattering truths at the heart of cosmic horror: that we are insignificant in the fact of the enormity of time and space and that we are no more than insects to the vast and incalculable minds of the monstrosities that exist in the dark between the stars.

Moreover, even for the hero that has accepted the inevitability of the ultimate end, the true motivation of most super heroes remains: protect the innocent. In this case, it means saving potential sacrifices from cultists who would hasten the rise of the elder thing, destroying the weird alien creatures that wander aimlessly into our reality, and, occasionally, push back the timeline of that waking just a little longer. It may also mean something else, often outside the usual purview of the super hero: protecting people by hiding the truth from them, sparing them the madness that invariably comes with recognizing the futility of it all.

As different as the genres seem, I think the combination of super heroes and cosmic horror provides a lot of potentially compelling stories, without needing to tarnish or deconstruct the heroes or water down the existential threat of the cosmic horror.


75 Years of Solemn Heroism


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Batman. Last year, it was the 75th anniversary of Superman and while that hero enjoyed broad coverage in the media, I think the Dark Knight is going to be more difficult to celebrate. Not, certainly, because Batman is less well known than Superman — if he is, it is only by the slimmest of margins. Rather, the problem lies with the very nature of the two characters, their inherent differences and their opposite but equivalent places on the spectrum of iconic heroism.


Superman is a messianic figure, a savior on par with Mithras or Moses. He represents, in short, hope. Superman fights bad guys, of course, but he is as likely to save innocent lives from earthquakes and meteor showers. His powers are so great that he can halt a tidal wave, extinguish a raging inferno or even turn back time itself. He is a god-like being whose primary interest is in protecting humanity and helping humanity succeed. Superman could end war by enforcing peace, and often writers will have Superman or analogs do just that, but he does not. A favorite trope in Superman stories, when writers are too lazy to create compelling narratives with the so-called “boyscout” Superman, is to cast him in the villain’s role, corrupted by power or despair or rage. But those depictions of Superman serve only to reinforce his fundamental nature as the goodest of the good guys.


Batman, however, is different. If Superman represents our desire for a savior, then Batman is a symbol of our desire to act, our need to sometimes get our hands dirty in order to bring about justice. Where Superman is a being of light whose depictions sometimes swing into dark places, Batman is the opposite. His time in the light is a parody of himself; he is most at home in the darkness. Where Clark Kent is the ultimate adoptive child, raised by loving parents to see the good in all people, Bruce Wayne is the ultimate orphan, a victim who is constantly reliving his tragic loss. This is not to imply weakness on the character’s part — some writers depict it as such, an obsession that paralyzes Batman into inaction, while most depict it as the source of Batman’s unending dedication to his his quest for justice. Rather, it is an exquisitely human motivation, one that we can understand, embrace and even, in our darker moods, imagine for ourselves.


Both Batman and Superman are adolescent male power fantasies; I do not refer to them in that way to as a pejorative, but as a fact. The men who created both characters were, in fact, adolescent males and they were powerless in a world of depressed economy, crime and corruption. Their heroes had the power to confront these issues, Superman and Batman each in their own ways. Their careers would run parallel from then on, Superman always in the light while Batman would emerge from his shadows to combat alien menaces and laughable villains, only to be drawn back into the shadows where he belonged.


This story from CNN illustrates the difficulty with which the modern popular media will have in trying to do stories about Batman at this anniversary. While the people interviewed were certainly inspired by Batman, one feels the need for quiet reflection on them rather than the parades and ballyhoo that Superman’s anniversary engendered.


If we imagine for a moment that Batman were real, that Brice Wayne was real, we imagine a hero who is equal part victim. We imagine a man who has spent three quarters of a century trying to come to grips with the worst tragedy a child could possibly suffer, the worst images a child could possibly witness. We imagine a man who has dedicated everything he has, everything he is, to the singular goal of ensuring no child ever suffers like he did, that no person ever suffers like he continues to suffer every day. Batman does not stop earthquakes or alien invasions, he stops killers. Batman does not turn back tidal waves, he turns back tragedy. Batman does not fly in to save our lives, he swoops in to save our hearts and minds. It is heroism, but it is a solemn, dark heroism that asks us to feel dark and solemn things as we consider it.

On Being Batman

I have to admit to spending too much time playing the games in the Batman: Arkham series over the past week or so and not nearly enough time writing. With the arrival of the newest game in the series, Arkham Origins, I knew that I had to force myself to put ass to chair and fingers to keyboard lest another day disappear in the murky dark of Gotham City. While I can congratulate myself for managing to do that much at least, my mind is still focused on the superstitious and cowardly lot that so desperately deserve the swift boot of justice.


The Arkham games are unique in a couple of ways, not least being they are super-hero video games that are actually good. Despite being a  genre defined by larger than life characters and huge science-fantasy action, super-heroes have not often translated well to the video game medium. Of course, the genre had the same difficulty with motion pictures for many years, with only a few diamonds (Donner’s Superman, Burton’s Batman) among a great deal of coal. I think the same elements that allowed comic book heroes to make a successful transition to the big screen — advances in technology, creators who took the stories seriously (but not too seriously), and a cultural zeitgeist amicable to heroism — are in place to do the same in the video game medium.  The Arkham games have been consistently strong and there are some other examples like the various recent (non-movie tie-in) Spiderman games. If developers start applying the super-hero genre to other video game genres — that is, not assuming that every super-hero game has to be a third person open world actioner — we’ll likely see a lot more good super-hero games.


But more than just being good super-hero games (and good games in general) the Arkham games do something else that few games manage to do: they make you, the player, feel like Batman. Not only are all of Batman’s skills and tools at your disposal in play — not just batarangs and grappling hooks, but smoke pellets and CSI -like evidence analysis — but the look, sound and atmosphere of the game is everything you would imagine from living as the Dark Knight. This is important because when it comes to combining games and storytelling, long the province of table-top RPGs and point-and-click adventure games, immersion is key. When you are attempting to do so with a character like Batman who is well known, beloved and has had many different successful iterations over the decades, it is doubly important. Each element of the overall product is bent toward enhancing and enforcing that sense of being Batman on behalf of the player. All the player has to do is relent and psychologically put on the cowl.


From a storyteller’s perspective, this achievement in immersion is worth examining. An immersed audience is, by definition, invested, and an invested audience buys into whatever stakes the storyteller has presented. When that happens, the outcome of the story suddenly matters, at least for the time that the audience is immersed. Whether a film or novel or comic or video game, a work that draws (or drags) the audience in is more successful (for certain definitions of success). Certainly there are times when we want the audience to experience a story or part of a story from a detached perspective. You see this a lot when storytellers shift points of view from the protagonist to that of either the villain, who is supposed to remain mysterious and/or inscrutable, or a hapless victim. The creator pulls back, bringing the audience along, to get an aerial view instead of an internal one. The opposite is true sometimes, too, when what the storyteller wants is a visceral but uncertain experience on the part of the audience, Suddenly, we are seeing through another’s eyes and only getting limited information filtered through pain, fear, desperation or what-have-you. But both of these shifts in immersion are temporary, where the kind of immersion experienced in being Batman must be carried through the entire storytelling experience.


The next time you sit down to write for writings sake, try creating a truly immersive narrative based on a well established character. Let your reader become Sherlock Holmes or Superman or Richard Nixon. Without the benefit of music and high resolution digital imagery, you’ll have to rely on the key components of what makes the character iconic and then transfer those not just to but into the reader via prose. Good luck.


And now, I think I see the Bat Signal alight in the sky…

Non-Visual action Description 3: Arkham Origins Trailer Adaptation

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?


Non-Visual Description, Part 2

For my “non visual combat” exercise, I chose the Batman: Arkham Origins trailer to translate into prose. I did not want to re-write the Deceived trailer, but I wanted something a) equally geek credible, b) equally focused on visual action and c) equally awesome. The following is the play by play of the trailer, without expansion or editorializing, that I will use to craft the finished scene.


Gotham city skyline from across the bay. It’s snowing.


Gotham city street in a warehouse/industrial neighborhood. Street is covered in snow, unplowed. A black SUV speeds into the scene and skids to a halt. A thug armed with an assault rifle jumps out the rear passenger side and opens the back. With another thug he grabs a foot locker type box from the back. A third thug closes the back and pounds on the SUV. SUV speeds off. The two carry the box and the third follows them.


Inside a warehouse, the two thugs carry the box in and the third walks in front, apparently the leader. They put the box down and he walks to a table. He pulls off his mask which is hard black plastic and looks like a face/skull (Note — he is wearing a ski mask underneath and keeps it on). He tosses the mask onto a table, on which is a calendar open to December with every day through the 24th X’ed out and the 25th is circled.


Leader Thug1 turns on a light switch which causes a bulb on the christmas lights to blow. He orders Thug2 to check the breaker. (Note — Thug2 and Thug3 are wearing ski masks too, with their plastic skull face masks pulled up onto their heads.)


Thug2 walks up to the breaker box with a flashlight in hand. he puts the flashlight in his mouth before he opens the box. As he opens the box and hand comes from behind and smashes his face into the panel of breakers. Other thugs have heard something. Thug2 is down, bloody. The flashlight is still in his mouth but lit end in so his cheek glows red.


Thug3 readies his submachine gun and moves toward the noice. The floor opens up beneath him and hands drag him down. He scrambles for a grip but is pulled in.


Thug1 steps up to the hole and sprays bullets into it. He stops firing and backs away. he does not notice the looming figure of Batman behind him. When he does, he turns and fires. Batman blocks the gun and grabs Thug1 by the throat. Batman lets him choke for breath for a moment before headbutting Thug1 into unconsciousness.


Note — Batman’s costume is black with a grey breastplate, on which is a black bat symbol. No apparent yellow or other colors.


Batman throws Thug1 to the ground. he looks and sees the strongbox. It is green and marked “Queen” (apparently for Queen Industries/Enterprises/Incorporated).


Batman kicks open the box and hears beeping and sees red flashing. Inside the box is a bomb: lots of chunks of concrete plus 3 wired up squares of C4, one of which bears a timer starting at 4:95 (seconds). It counts down to 3:79.


Cut to exterior. Wooden sliding warehouse doors. Parked forklift. Snow. Batman (in slow mo) crashes through the doors, followed fast by a fiery explosion. The shockwave of wood and smoke slams Batman to the ground. Batman shows minor pain and fatigue as he picks himself up.


“I see you got my invitation,” says Deathstroke from on top of a stack of shipping containers. “It’s just you and me. Comeon!” he taunts and then sprints. batman throws three batarangs which just miss and stick in a container, then sprints on the ground after Deathstroke. Deathstroke parkours his way up higher on the container stack. Running after, Batman fires his bat-line and “flies” up to intercept a twisting-flipping Deathstroke. In slo mo, deathstroke draws his collapsable staff as Batman closes in and gets turned around enough to knock Batman off course with it.


Batman slams into the side of one container then slides down the snow covered top of another. He drops down another container level and hits hard on his back. Deathstrokes leaps off the same container and brings his staff down butt first but Batman dodges and comes to his feet. Deathstroke attacks with the staff and Batman blocks with his armored greaves.  Batman ducks to get around him, and Deathstroke attacks again. Batman blocks but leaves himself open and Deathstroke side kicks him. Batman flies back against a container which dislodges one above.


Deathstroke is forced to dodge the container which slides out of place at him, opening him up for a kick by Batman. Deathstroke is knocked off the container. As he falls between two containers, he twists his body and wedges his staff so it gets stuck like a high bar. He flips around it and flies up. Batman is looking over the edge and gets both Deathstroke’s feet in his face. Batman is thrown backward and down another level on to another container. Deathstroke jumps down and Batman drags himself to his feet.


Batman grimaces/scowls. Deathstrokes stares him down (with his one eye).


Deathstroke steps forward, draws his sword from his back and charges. Deathstroke attacks repeatedly and Batman blocks with his greaves. They step over a gap in the containers. Deathstroke goes for a jumping spin chop. When Batman blocks it his is able to lock it down and hit Deathstroke with a forearm across the face. They trade a couple more blows and Batman is able to catch the sword blade in his greave blades (arms up in an “X”) and break the sword. Batman punches. Deathstroke attacks with the broken sword. Batman leans back to dodge then comes forward and grabs. They grapple for a moment. Batman slams Deathstroke’s head against a container. Deathstroke comes back with a head butt and then bends Batman down backward and with his broken sword to Batman’s throat. Batman “walks” up the container side and flips over to a reversal and uses his momentum to throw Deathstroke ten feet or more (still on top of a container).


Deathstroke slides to a stop. He stands and draws a second sword but its blade is shot off. Deathstroke (without missing a beat) turns away from the fight and points the broken blade to the skyline across the river.


We see him through a high power, high tech scope. A figure in a nondescript green ski mask crouched behind what looks like a .50 cal sniper rifle chuckles. He moves his head away from the scope revealing a glowing red eye prosthesis and says, “Not so fast, Deathstroke. He’s my kill.”


Batman suddenly fires his bat-line at Deathstroke and grapples him by the neck. He jerks Deathstroke in and clotheslines him. After he hits the ground, Deathstroke draws his pistol and turns and fires. Batman knocks the gun away just in time which allows Deathstroke to stand as Batman goes for another kick. Deathstroke catches his leg and elbow drops Batman’s thigh/hip.


The two continue to fight in the now red hued sniper sight. Batman is behind a column or girder so the targeting reticle moves up to a coupling holding a hanging container. (Note — an electronic finder of some sort locks on the coupling before the reticle follows.)


Batman throws Deathstroke onto his back. Deathstroke kicks up with both feet and sends Batman flying back. The sniper fires his rifle and the bullet flies out in slo mo. The bullet severs the chain holding the coupling (again in slow mo) and the container lets go. Batman looks up to see it descending. We see the container hit and crash but there is no indication of Batman’s fate.




Deathstroke is standing and an out of focus figure is walking up behind him. The figure asks, “Find a body?” Deathstroke answers, “No.” He turns and tosses his broken sword toward the feet of the approaching figure. “And next time,” he says, “keep your other assassins out of my way.”


The figure is revealed to be Black Mask (white suit, shiny black skull mask). He says, “You had your shot, Deathstroke. But you’re not the only assassin.” Then he adds menacingly, “And the night is young.”


Black mask walks over to where Thug2 or Thug3 is crawling away from the flaming wreckage of the warehouse. He squats down next to the thug, considers him, and stands back up holding a smoldering two-by-four. Very deliberately he comes down hard on the head of the thug with the two-by-four.




The bottom of a shell casing in a black gloved hand. It reads “AMERTEK”. Hand drops it and it falls into black water.


Batman is kneeling a snowy bridge abutment top. He stands and looks heroic. Music plays. Titles.




My final post in this series will be the prose I come up with to tell the above in a way that doesn’t feel like a transcript of a visual medium.