What happens when you mix The Dark Knight with Breaking Bad?
My Superhero Pitch
This is a treatment for the type of superhero movie I’d like to see; one that challenges our romantic notions of the stoic vigilante. This isn’t the summary of an idea. It’s the primordial ooze from which an idea could crawl forth from. This is a work in progress. If you think it has legs, please tell me in the comments.
William has an unhealthy obsession with Batman. Modeling his haircut after the actor Christian Bale, he quotes the character in casual conversation. He lives a solitary life in an mansion on the outskirts of town, where he prominently displays a life sized statue of his idol.
“A ghastly effigy,” so says his grandmother.
His life mirrors Bruce Wayne’s beat for beat. Like Wayne, William is the heir to a family fortune. His city is stricken with crime and corruption, a reality made all the more apparent by the fact that his parents were gunned down in front of him. Identifying with the Dark Knight, William becomes a body builder, a martial artist, and an aspiring vigilante.
The difference between William and the Caped Crusader, is that he lives in a world that doesn’t bend to suit a hero’s journey, a world indifferent to his drive for redemption, one with complex problems that don’t have simple solutions.
While Alfred advised Bruce to pose as a billionaire playboy, William’s grandmother urged him to go to nursing school. Now he works the night shift, with the good natured Dawn. The pair see their share of carnage. A rash of muggings have given them a lot to do. They treat stabbings and bullet wounds, but more often than not traumatic head injuries.
William spots a pattern, one the police refuse to acknowledge: a gang is out there handing out brass knuckle beat downs. They occur so frequently, that the cops only take statements when there’s a fatality.
Dawn admire’s William’s ability to counsel grieving families. Aside from his grandmother, she’s the only person he lets into his proverbial bat cave. She’s intrigued by his mysterious nature, until she catches him stealing tranquilizers. Fearing the pressure has gotten to him, she has no idea that he’s lining his utility belt.
Break In the Routine
When William looses a patient to brain swelling, he decides to take to the streets. While Bruce Wayne’s persona came from a fear of bats, William adopts his look from Spring-Heeled Jack, a victorian urban legend, one that looks strikingly similar to Batman.
Scoping out the crime scene that claimed his patient’s life, William gets jumped by the Brass Knuckle Gang. Forced to fight dirty, he punches an assailant in the throat. The mugger’s windpipe collapses. The gang flees, leaving their compatriot behind. William performs an emergency tracheostomy. Ditching his blood-soaked costume in a dumpster, he calls Dawn for help. An ambulance arrives for the assailant, while Dawn stitches William up herself.
William says he happened upon the mugging only to be caught up in it. Seeing through his alibi, Dawn makes him admit why he stole the tranquilizers. She realizes that her confidant has made her an accessory.
That morning, William returns to the dumpster to find his costume has gone missing. Renting a storage space, Dawn hangs one lone bag of dry cleaning from the ceiling.
With his Spring-Heeled Jack persona burnt, William recasts himself as a hero with no name. He realizes that “brand recognition is for action figurers.” With this approach, William places function over form. Swapping a utility belt for a trench coat, he stitches a ballistic mask into the hood. He goes out with body armor beneath his street clothes.
The Point of No Return
When the Brass Knuckle Gang need to fence their wares, they take them to Reuben’s pawnshop. Reuben’s daughter, Jamie, is in a loosing battle with leukemia. When profits are too low to pay for her treatment, he decides to coordinate the robberies himself. He targets areas near upscale bars, with cover and convenient escape routes.
Reuben emphasizes scare tactics over violence, “All you got to do is flash the brass, take their gear, and go.”
This is a point Kayo, the leader of the Brass Knuckle Gang, disagrees on.
Stumbling through the warehouse district, a businesswoman finds herself pursued by a series of long shadows. They disappear the moment she turns around. It’s a game of late night Red Light Green Light. Seeing her pursuers’ breath rolling out the entryways, she runs.
Fleeing into an alley, she spots something strange on the ground. There’s a flair gun, circled in chalk, with the words USE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY written beneath it. She’s cornered by members of the Brass Knuckle Gang. She fires a flair.
William springs from the dark. Disarming the assailants with an extendable baton, he binds their wrists in twist ties. When William checks on the businesswoman, she maces him. He ducks into a copy shop before the police arrive. He watches the muggers get carted into ambulances rather than squad cars.
Dawn is the first to see the trail of broken bones William has left in his wake. Arriving at the hospital, he learns the police have cut the muggers loose. Before he can learn their identities, he’s called in to treat Reuben’s daughter. Blood thinners have turned a small cut into a hematologic emergency.
William adjusts his crime fighting strategy to find a new deterrent. Posing as an easy mark, he leads members of the Brass Knuckle Gang into an alley. Blinding his targets with exploding dye, he beats them to a pulp. Putting them out on display, William ties the gang members to an overpass like a chain of paper dolls. The press accuse him of tarring and feathering urban youth. His “heroics” are billed as hate crimes.
Reuben formulates a strategy to evade the vigilante, while Kayo puts a bounty on him. Things escalate out of Reuben’s control. Kayo makes an example of anyone caught wearing a trench coat after dark.
The mayor creates a task force to take the vigilante down. Undercover officers stage an armed robbery. When William intervenes, he gets a bullet for his troubles. Fleeing into a construction site, he brings a condo down on his pursuers. The scene turns into a riot. Tear gas fills the streets. Bystanders get hit with a hail of rubber bullets.
Tranquilizing a member of the S.W.A.T. team, William steals a uniform and flees into an ambulance. Dawn finds him in the ER. Treating his wounds, she asks William if he’ll stop. When the police search the hospital, he leaves before he can give her an answer.
That night William follows Dawn to the storage locker. He watches her hang a second bag from the ceiling: the blood stained uniform. It dangles beside the Spring-Heeled Jack costume.
A curfew goes into effect. Citizens are frisked without cause. Security cameras are installed on every corner. Downtown turns into a police state. Still, crime rises. Parking garages fill with shattered glass. Light rails fill with pickpockets. Bus stops fill with shell casings. Developers pull out of contracts. Shops sit empty with their lights off and their doors locked.
The ER fills with victims.
The Shifting of Alliances
When Reuben earns enough for a radical treatment, Kayo demands a deeper cut of the profits. Reuben is forced to skim funds from his wife’s outreach center.
Laying low, William forms a relationship with Dawn. She urges him to put his wealth into the outreach center. She believes the investment will have a greater long term impact on crime. William gets to know Reuben outside of his usual hospital visits. They become fast friends, discussing Jamie’s leukemia treatment, and debating crime models.
Regarding the rise in violence, Reuben explains how excessive force breeds defiance. The more brutality the powers-that-be dish out, the lesser their authority seems legitimate. He adds, “That’s why Batman could never work in the real world, he’d be fighting the entire community.”
William admires his friend’s perspective, until he catches Reuben stealing from the center. Reuben says a gang banger is extorting funds from his business, a half truth. Staking out Reuben’s drop site, William watches Kayo take the cash. He follows Kayo into a slum.
A boy, playing in the hall, recognizes William from the outreach center. Shushing the kid, William ducks into a drug den next to Kayo’s apartment. Listening in, William learns that Reuben has been coordinating the muggings the entire time, providing the brass knuckles, and reaping in the profits.
Dawn sends a text message asking if William is standing her up. When she calls, he feels compelled to answer. He doesn’t see the boy from the outreach center enter Kayo’s apartment.
The Brass Knuckle Gang gets the drop on William on his way out. Backed into a corner, William is forced to throw one of his attackers down a flight of stairs. When a plain clothes officer shows up to help, Kayo kills him with a single blow to the head.
Narrowly escaping, William stitches himself up in time to meet with Dawn. Ignoring his alibi, she focuses on the blood on his collar.
The Lowest Moment
Learning that William’s latest brawl has put a fourteen-year-old in the hospital, and cost a police officer his life, Dawn returns to the storage locker. From the bushes, William watches her load his blood stained clothes into her trunk. He follows her to the police station, but doesn’t stop her from going inside.
William’s face is plastered all over the news, right next to Kayo “the cop killer.”
Panic wrought, Kayo storms the outreach center in the middle of an event. Demanding his cut in full, he outs Reuben to his friends and family. At gunpoint, Kayo forces Reuben to collect everyone’s phones, to do his own dirty work for a change. Reuben is made to recite his mugging script, word for word, for his daughter. When Reuben hesitates Kayo shoots Jamie in the shoulder. Her blood thinners turn another graze, into a life threatening wound.
At the sound of gunfire, several neighbors phone the police. No one comes until William calls to say he’s on the scene. The S.W.A.T. team arrives in full force to take him down. Hearing there’s hostages, they surround the building.
At the sound of sirens, Kayo takes Reuben up a flight of stairs.
Charging to the top floor of a neighboring apartment, William leaps to the roof of the outreach center. Pulling his hood up, he dawns his mask one final time. Striking from the shadows, William knocks the pistol from Kayo’s grasp. Reuben picks the gun up as William and Kayo duke it out. When Kayo has William on the ropes, Reuben puts a bullet through his head.
William staggers to his feet only to find himself in Reuben’s sights.
“Listen, we don’t have to be the bad guys anymore.”
William convinces Reuben that they need to turn themselves in to save Jamie’s life.
Dawn is one of first EMT’s on the scene. She struggles to look William in the eye. The community watches as the men responsible for their devastation are taken away in handcuffs.
Several months later.
Visiting William in prison, Dawn asks where his missing assets have gone. Noting the bruises on his face, she pleads for him to mount an appeal.
William says, “Remember the storage locker you didn’t think I knew about? There’s one last favor I need to ask.”
Dawn goes to the storage looker to find a pallet full of duffel bags, each filled cash. There’s a note addressed to her.
Jamie’s mother bursts into the hospital room. An anonymous donor has paid for Jamie’s treatment.
6 thoughts on “My Superhero Pitch”
It gets my vote. You have a great deal of pivotal events, lots of potential to bring the action close, making a huge impact on your reader. The only advice I’d give is keep it tight, move along quickly. Hover just above the action until you reach each tense moment, then zoom in close to hit hard. With more emotional detail at just the right moments, this could be a great story. Well done.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I keep going over it debating how I can make things harder for the hero. I want to amp up the dread and make William feel more like an anti-hero.
Aside from his freedom at the end, he doesn’t lose anything. It’s not enough that the whole city turned against him and things got worse when he tried to do something good.
In the beginning, he needs to have something that means more to him than life itself.
(I’m an asshole for suggesting it, but I ‘m nothing if not an honest writer. #1 choice: a child)
In the middle, that thing has to be threatened.
At the shifting of alliances, that thing must be taken from him indefinitely, making him furious, vengeful.
By the end, with nothing left to lose, he just doesn’t care.(On that note, would he give the money for Jamie’s surgery? He is an antihero, right? I’d probably nix that bit, but that’s just me. You have to do your own thing, here.)
Just my two cents, I’m far from the expert on developing your superhero/antihero. Hope you find something useful in here somewhere. 🙂
I think it is such an interesting idea… how would a real life super hero be treated in the real world. i love the premise, i think it would make a very interesting and exciting movie. We the audience would get that William is the good guy and so would be on his side throughout, but everyone else (apart from Dawn) believes he’s the bad guy… the story is beset in tragedy, one fall after another, yet there seems to be a hope through it that perhaps he will bring down the crime problem and get the real bad guys away for good. Reubens part could be written (or played) in such a way that the audience is absolutely gobsmacked that he is the leader of the brass knuckle operation… i like reveals like that. I actually like the ending with the money going to the kids op… cliche perhaps but a good hope filled finish, that despite him being put away in prison he was able to achieve some good. Overall i really like it… however, i’m not sure i buy that after his attack with the tranquillizers, things in the city go crazy with law enforcement turning downtown into a police state. Begs the question, all these muggings don’t have a huge response but this particular attack does? Just remember you need to have a logical motivation… why is he seen as such a huge threat at this time? i Think there may need to be more to it… to make him such a huge threat to the entire city… think those random shootings where some crazy person is on the loose shooting random people… that makes people very afraid… because they could be the next one shot. I think you need the city to feel that way about him. Just a thought. 🙂
Thanks for the reply. You bring up some excellent points. I guess this current draft is a little cynical, in that it presumes the under publicized muggings get less of a response than the over publicized vigilante. Certainly something I’ll have to do a better job of justifying in future drafts. Perhaps, William is the tipping point the police need to justify action
Thank you, you’ve got me thinking
Absolutely… in the lead up, you could present some kind of pressure on police from the muggings which is taken over the top because of William and the sudden public outcry. You’re welcome…glad i could give you something to think about.