Relative to other superheroes, Batman is probably in the news the most, because he’s BATMAN. But these last few weeks have been particularly noteworthy for the Caped Crusader: Ben Affleck stepped down from the directorship of his upcoming Batman movie (and might be out entirely?!?), Matt Reeves was going to direct it but then he wasn’t but now he is, and the whole time most people were too busy raving about The Lego Batman Movie to even care about the live action stuff.
The Lego Batman Movie is tons of fun, and gave us the first funny Batman depiction since Adam West was doing this half a century ago. I’m not here to talk about that, though. With today’s news that Matt Reeves will definitely be writing the next Batman movie, one entitled The Batman, it’s time to think about what we want to see out of Bruce Wayne’s next big-screen epic. I didn’t have to think too hard: there’s only one Batman story I really want to see. Let me set a fantastical scene for you:
EXT. WAYNE MANOR – NIGHT
Darkness. (No parents.) The stately Wayne Manor is silhouetted by the light of a full moon. Bats flutter across the foreground the way they do in the Scooby Doo intro, but the Gang doesn’t show up in the Mystery Machine because this is not Scooby Doo, it’s Batman. Instead, a white van labeled “CORONER” pulls into the driveway. A MAN gets out, looks around furtively, then rings the doorbell. He’s let in by ALFRED.
INT. WAYNE MANOR – CONTINUOUS
Alfred is clearly out of sorts. What’s left of his hair (Alfred should properly be bald, Michael Caine and Michael Gough be damned) is all askew, his bow tie is crooked and his cheeks are streaked with tears. He leads the coroner through a hidden door and into the Batcave, where in the distance we can see a huddled, dark mass on the ground. The two men draw closer…it can’t be…not possible…it is. Batman, dead of a self-inflicted wound. On his chest, and stained with blood, is a note:
I was once a boy pursued by demons; now I am a man pursued by those same demons. But there are other demons that have joined the pursuit, and I fear my willpower comes to an end as I write this. Please donate my brain to the Neuroscience Center at Gotham State for research into all the awful things I’ve done to my head over the years.
Love, now and always,Bruce
I’m not even going to try to write the rest of this in screenplay format, because you don’t want to read a screenplay and it will be better if I just describe to you what follows from this positively stunning cold open.
The news gets out that Bruce Wayne has died. The news gets out that Batman has died. The news gets out that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person. With the cat out of the bag, Selina Kyle is openly devastated. So is The Joker, who no longer has his little Batsy to play with. He takes the acid and Joker venom out of his trick lapel flower and replaces them with Malort, America’s finest Swedish liqueur, which he squirts copiously into his own mouth until he passes out. But their reactions are nothing compared to the explosion following the news from Gotham State’s Neuroscience Center: Bruce Wayne had severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he committed suicide. The papers call it “that concussion disease that NFL players get,” and upon realizing that this shit has a deleterious effect upon Gotham’s favorite vigilante and not just the gladiators who entertain millions of people each Sunday, the city is up in arms.
Commissioner Goodell Gordon is taking some serious heat. Most people believe he and the rest of Gotham’s higher-ups knew about the risk of the concussions that Batman sustained over and over and that they did nothing to warn him about the eventual consequences. Gordon tries to convince everyone that Batman would not have listened even if he knew about the risk of CTE—which is probably true—but no one really cares. The World’s Greatest Detective is gone, and there’s going to be hell to pay! Not just from the enraged public, but also from villains like Penguin, Poison Ivy, Bane and the rest of the rogues gallery, who run roughshod over Gotham.
The real problem, though, is Dick Grayson. Alarmed by the news about Bruce’s CTE and wary of his own concussions, he refuses to take up the mantle of Batman and fight crime until the Gotham Police Department has released all the information it knows about concussions in superheroism, helped develop a safer crime-fighting method and recompensed the Wayne estate and the estates of all other superheroes who have perished from this terrible disease. Some say Dick is living up to his name, staring at the TV from his childhood bedroom in Wayne Manor as Poison Ivy unleashes a huge Venus fly trap upon the public high school because she’s still bitter about her teenage love life. Others—most notably other non-superpowered members of the Justice League—side with Dick from afar. The Flash might have the metabolism to repair neuron damage after every fight and Superman might have a skull harder than steel, but Green Arrow? Black Canary? Those four Green Lanterns who aren’t aliens? They’re only human, and their brains are only human. They don’t want to spend their 40s mired in mental disorder until they eventually meet Bruce Wayne’s fate.
It only takes a few days of watching the villains steal Trump-ian loads of money and kill scores of innocent people before Dick comes around and reminds the Leaguers that this is what they signed up for, goddammit. He and Alfred share a cup of tears and some tea. You’d think that’s the other way around, but no…Alfred has this weird philosophy that the two must consume their grief to become whole again. It would make a lot of sense if Michael Caine explained it as a monologue, but again, Michael Caine is not Alfred. He’s Christopher Nolan’s mouthpiece.
The two go to Commissioner Goodell Gordon and tell him they are going to fight, but Dick will need the help of Catwoman and Batgirl—that is, Barbara Gordon, the Commissioner’s daughter. A hypocrite to the last, he refuses to let his daughter play for fear of her sustaining a concussion. Luckily, she has a steely resolve and the heroism of ten billion suns (if one considers the Sun heroic for sustaining all life on Earth single-handedly). She joins the fight. They head to Selina’s apartment and use some verbal catnip to get the felinophile to fight in memory of her beloved.
The fight begins in Crime Alley. Barbara, wearing a ridiculously large helmet at her father’s insistence, is shot in the back by the Joker, who stumbled upon the scene completely lit, thought she was Batman, and briefly cheered up enough to get back to his villainous ways. If only the Commissioner had insisted upon a bulletproof vest instead of something that would curtail her mobility. When the Gotham community hears of what has transpired, #JusticeForBarb trends on Twitter for five straight days.
Meanwhile, the other good guys and bad guys don’t fight with their usual tactics, instead smashing each other in the head with rocks, blunt objects, cell phones, Harley Quinn’s hammer (which trades hands at a Super Smash Bros. rate) and anything else upon which they can get their hands. But then, as everyone’s ears ring with tinnitus and they can barely stand straight, a revelation: they’re all going to get CTE if they keep this shit up. There won’t be any point in illicit fortunes or legendary infamy if the villains aren’t mentally capable of appreciating it. And the heroes aren’t going to be able to pay it forward to the next generation of heroes if they’re suffering from the effects of literally hundreds of concussions. It’s clear to Dick, Two-Face, Selina, Penguin and the rest of them who the real bad guy is here: the Commissioner!
(Mr. Freeze isn’t concussed in the fight, but his snowglobe head-dome is broken, so he dies. Sucks for him.)
Good and evil unite in the face of their common enemy, going on strike from battle until the concussion issues of crime fighting are resolved by the police department and associated neuroscientists. This cripples the Gotham media, which now has nothing to cover and must content itself with stories about water ordinances and ding-dong ditchers. And construction companies, which always found work rebuilding after battles that needlessly destroyed entire city blocks, start hurting as well. If the situation isn’t remedied soon, all of Gotham is going to go bananas! It’s basically what The Joker always wanted, except that he’s still too wasted over the death of Batman to realize that his master plan of total chaos is closer than ever to fruition.
But after some serious interrogation tactics by Dick, who finds to his surprise and horror that he actually likes using Bruce’s Jack Bauer style (an aside…24: Legacy is counterproductive television and needs to stop it, now), the ugly truth leaks out of Commissioner Goodell Gordon’s bleeding mouth: he’s a godforsaken puppet! The man really pulling the strings is some asshole from Metropolis, name of Lex Luthor. It’s him and 31 of his rich as hell buddies who profit off of the fight between good and evil. As the Commissioner succumbs to his injuries, clarity dawns on Dick and the rest of the now-unified heroes and villains of the Batman saga. They will have to keep up their strike for a very, very long time, all the while picking off these greedy billionaires one by one.
And that’s it. Sequel’s already greenlit because this story is so fucking good.
Okay, in slightly more seriousness, here’s the upshot:
1. Fuck the NFL and its slimy concussion settlement. Yes, the league is paying out money to retirees who are suffering from Alzheimer’s and other CTE-related disorders, but the settlement is $1 billion paid over 65 years—barely a blip on the league’s budget—and the NFL didn’t have to admit any fault or commit to funding CTE diagnoses or research. As a current law student, I’m well aware that settlements are often the best result of a disagreement, and the retired players may well have lost in court and gotten nothing…but that doesn’t change the fact that the league has handled this issue extremely poorly and probably got off easy.
2. This Batman story will almost certainly never be made into a movie, because who would go see a Batman movie where Bruce Wayne dies at the very beginning? But if it were ever made, “Batman Gets CTE” might do more to raise awareness of how shitty the NFL has been than would any investigative report or activist campaign. Out of the many lessons the presidential election taught us (consult my Paste Politics brethren for details), one biggie is that messaging matters, and telling the story of the NFL’s concussion fiasco through Batman instead of a profoundly mediocre Will Smith film might raise some more eyebrows.
3. WHY DON’T SUPERHERO STORIES EVER ADDRESS CONCUSSIONS?!?!?
Batman, by all rights, should have more concussions than he can count on his fingers, if he can even see his fingers clearly at this point. Ditto for any other superhero without altered biology. Yes, it’s a dark issue, but I thought DC likes their superhero movies dark and gritty.
Zach Blumenfeld reserves the film rights to Batman Gets CTE. If you’re a studio executive and agree this is the most brilliant treatment since that four-year-old came up with Monster Trucks, you can reach Zach by carrier pigeon, smoke signal or paper airplane. Or Twitter, he supposes.