First, thank you everyone for your patience in seeing this story through to the end. It's been a long wait, and I've let many of you down. I can't make any excuse, so instead I tried to make it up the best way I can: by writing the best end to Rachel Dawes as possible, and finishing it so you would have no further doubt about it.
As you all know by now, I love the character of Rachel Dawes, even if she is not original to the Batman comic canon. Not just because she is Bruce's love interest in the first two Nolan films, but also because she represents something interesting: the promise and possibility of a normal life for Bruce Wayne. As a comic story, Batman goes on and on, but a more realistic take on the character, as the Nolan movies are, must also include a realistic notion of how Bruce Wayne/The Batman's story will end ('The Dark Knight Returns' is an end, of course, but not the end). Indeed, the end is the most important part of a story, and I think the next and final movie in Nolan's trilogy, will come up with an answer. Bruce could die, which would end the story, but that's not likely or satisfying. He could be forced to relinquish the Batman due to injury, lack of resources, or getting uncovered by the police, but that would not be interesting either. The most interesting ending to a Batman saga would be that he chooses to end, either because his mission is complete, he bequeaths it to a new generation of Batman, or because he wants a normal life. I have no idea, but my guess is The Dark Knight Rises will end with a choice of Batman to end it on his terms.
I wrote this story for selfish reasons: because Bruce got no real closure for Rachel's death in The Dark Knight, I wanted them to share a final moment together. Of course, that's really difficult when you're dead! So I had to abandon realism and go fantastic, which Ra's comic background allows you to do, and I stretched things even further. Along the way, it was definitely fun to get into the heads of the Joker, Two-Face, and Ivy. As is my custom, I want to share some thoughts of each chapter in this Author's Commentary section.
Chapter 1 – Grief
As you can tell, the chapters are named for the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And to my benefit, it worked out very well that Batman's relationships with Ra's, the Joker, Poison Ivy, and Two-Face mirror very well the notions of denial (Ra's lecturing Bruce to stop being in denial of the truth), Joker (Bruce's anger at Joker nearly causing him to snap), Ivy (offering herself in place of Rachel to further her schemes), and Two-Face (what could be more depressing than being stuck flipping a coin forever?). Seeing Rachel again, of course, gives Bruce the opportunity to accept and move on.
There is almost nothing about Rachel's background in the movies, and the books only offer a bit more, so I invented stuff about her background: her Catholic background, that her parents were working class and divorced, that she wanted to be a psychiatrist originally (in no small part to help Bruce, a la Leslie Tompkins). There is foreshadowing of the side stories of Clinton Polawski and Tanner Dawes. Of course, there is no real hint of the fantastical trip ahead!
Chapter 2 – Denial
Bruce tries to be with a woman in order to maintain cover, but obviously he is still broken up inside—at least, I made it so. There's no real time for Bruce to do any grieving in The Dark Knight, and my guess is there will be very little if any grieving The Dark Knight Returns, so I have him work out the issues here.
When he decides not to go out as Batman, I wanted to write it so that, just for a moment, Bruce realizes the absurdity of what he's doing: dressing as a bat and trying to fight all of crime as a one-man vigilante. It makes sense that right after The Dark Knight ends, Bruce should still be laying low.
The journal entries are flashbacks of the past between Bruce and Rachel I have invented for the story. The writing as Bruce Wayne starts out as very laconic and direct, reflecting his inexperience at self-expression in written words, and the distance of the memories involved. As the memories he writes about become more recent, the description becomes more detailed and sophisticated. Also, I briefly describe the very-real issue of security that Batman would have to deal with to keep his identity secret, and do a bit of retconning to explain a plot hole from the second movie – do you really think the Chinese wouldn't connect the dots between Fox's phone and Batman breaking in? ;)
And finally, the introduction to the mysterious chemical that allows Bruce to communicate mentally with Ra's, and later with the Joker and Ivy (who are alive), and Two-Face and Rachel (who are dead). There is no rational explanation, so don't look for one! :)
More seriously, I love writing Ra's cutting Bruce down to size. It doesn't take much dispassionate analysis (and selective use of the truth) to really make Batman look bad for his actions in TDK, but Bruce is not without a good response of his own.
Edit: the mysterious woman is intended to be Talia al-Gul.
Chapter 3 – Anger
It's very important for the Joker to be, at some level, beyond the ability of Batman to comprehend. Batman can and does beat him down regularly, yes, but what makes Joker such a foe for Batman is that he is Batman's opposite, and that Batman cannot fully understand what makes him tick. It gives Joker an edge in his battles, and makes him one of the few enemies that Batman can and should actually fear. Obviously to some degree his embrace of chaos is contrived, as only a master planner could pull off what Joker did in TDK, but his chaotic unpredictability, and his wish that everyone be like him and live by no rules whatsoever, makes him a great villain, and antimatter to someone like Batman.
Unlike the other chapters, this mental conversation is from the Joker's point of view. We don't get much details of what he's thinking versus what he's experiencing at the moment – he is not a guy wallowing in introspection (Batman probably isn't either, but the whole point of this story is introspection, so liberties must be taken). Just as Batman cannot fully understand the Joker, the Joker cannot fully understand Batman—but it is scary how close he hits to home.
Batman/Bruce wants to know 'why' (the Joker did what he did in TDK); the Joker honestly answers why not (because he could, and wanted to). It's an answer guaranteed to piss Batman off, but it's the truth, and no amount of beatdowns Batman puts on the Joker can get him the answer he wants. And he really knows how to get under Batman's skin, knowing that he has feelings for Rachel, by prodding and stoking Batman's worst fears about Rachel's death and what might have happened before, and that she might have been pregnant too (imagine if Rachel actually had been pregnant in TDK. How sick and dark her death would have been, mwahahaha… Oh well). Of course, Batman wasn't actually there, it was all in (the Joker's) head.
Chapters 4 and 5 – Bargaining (2 parts)
For length and dramatic reasons I had to break up this chapter into 2. As some may know, the end of Chapter 4 was posted as an upcoming preview of this story long ago in Batman: Green Dawn, my Poison Ivy origin fanfic in the Batman Begins universe. The idea of this story at first was a short meditation by Bruce on what Rachel meant to him, then I expanded it to where he would actually communicate with Rachel in the beyond. That allowed me to put Batman in communication with others as well, and because I had so much fun creating my own Poison Ivy, I decided to bring her back here.
There's a long sidestory about Bruce's high school years. I wasn't entirely sure if him starting to beat up on people he suspected of crime was entirely convincing, although it's taken from Batman: Year One. The Bruce Wayne at the beginning of Batman Begins does not give off the vibe of a prototype vigilante. I use it as a way of him acting out his aggressive feelings. Strictly speaking, I also don't get the sense from BB that Rachel and Bruce are longtime friends through adolescence; it seems from their conversation in the kitchen that this is the first time they're seeing each other in a while, which I suggest as well, although I do have them interacting some over the years. The final confrontation, where Bruce suspects Rachel wants to be a psychiatrist in order to treat him, is foreshadowing to Chapter 7, where we get the other side of what might be pressuring Rachel to pursue Bruce. As the writing suggests, Bruce is now fully able to write what he feels, and the details are much more vivid.
For Poison Ivy in this story, I finally gave her her standard comic-book power I conspicuously denied her in Green Dawn: the ability to create superpowered plants and control them. Took me a while to think up a realistic sounding solution, but it wasn't that hard. For those who haven't read Green Dawn, spoilers below…
…Due to the way Batman defeated Ivy, she lost her memory of Bruce revealing himself as Batman in order to trick Ivy into kissing him, while his lips carried an Ivy-specific poison she could not resist. So while she has positive feelings for Bruce Wayne (when Bruce tried to infiltrate Green Dawn in Ivy's nightclub as himself, and Ivy used a mind-controlled Bruce to advance her goals), she hates Batman, who she obviously remembers defeating her.
Being very smart, and completely amoral, she deduces that Bruce was in love with Rachel, and offers to be his woman in exchange for financial support for her newest ecoterrorist plot. When she inadvertently ingests the chemical and becomes mentally linked with Bruce, you see the parallels in their lives growing up. But in the end, no matter how beautiful Pamela Isley is, who she is on the inside is truly ugly, and Bruce, with Rachel on his mind, sees that and overcomes Ivy's attempts to bewitch him again.
At the end of Chapter 5 Bruce finally makes the deduction that this mysterious chemical from Ra's might enable him to 'séance' with Rachel. There's no real evidence that it would, but Bruce does the unusual for himself and takes a leap of fate. But oh what a surprise he gets in Chapter 6 when he tries to!
Chapter 6 – Depression
This is meant to be the most surreal, atemporal chapter of all. I cut back on the sheer number of times things loop over and over again, but that repetition matters to establish the particular hellish version of purgatory that Harvey/Two-Face is trapped in; he will never move beyond death, but rehash his search for Justice in the standoff over Gordon's son for all eternity.
Bruce gets a vision of things Harvey sees, some from the movie, some from missing scenes in the movie, others from before the movie. We first see Rachel and Harvey's first time meeting together; what happened to Sgt. Ramirez after Two-Face knocks her out (very ugly); an intimate moment between Harvey and Rachel before he runs for D.A. We see the chilling view of Justice Harvey has as Two-Face, and the hot and cold dual persona of Two-Face, where Dent is passionate and angry about his fate, while Two-Face is completely calm and controlled, yet utterly enslaved to randomness.
In the final dialogue between Batman/Bruce Wayne and Dent/Two-Face, the references to Batman and Bruce, and Dent and Two-Face constantly flip, one after the other. I might have made some mistakes, but they are constantly turning from one to the other, like a spinning coin.
Finally, at the end, Bruce is seemingly trapped forever in a terrifying alternate version of events where Two-Face shoots Gordon son instead of Batman.
Chapter 7 – Acceptance
At last, the heart of the story. Part of the delay was in setting this up right, but the basic elements I wanted to accomplish were simple: for Rachel to muse about the reality (or not) of her situation and for both of them to get answers to the question they most have about each other; for Rachel to learn what happened in TDK and how she would have reacted to Harvey's fall, for Rachel to get a sense of the deep, contradictory veins running through Bruce; and finally, closure for both of them as Bruce returns to real life and Rachel moves on, with Rachel both giving him the permission he secretly wants from her to continue to be Batman, and giving him the reassurance that it is okay for him not to be Batman anymore as well.
The unusual italicizing is an attempt to capture in language the indescribable. I will put it this way: if you close your eyes and try to picture, say, an image of your mother from last week, what do you see? In my case, my eyes are closed, so it's pitch black. I imagine seeing her, and while it's still blackness in front of me, it's as if just beyond the blackness I can see a full color picture of her. That is what Bruce is envisioning when Rachel tries to reach out to him, which is why verbs and adjectives are italicized – it represents his mental picture, with the difference that it's not (perhaps) a dream, but an apparent conversation.
The story with Rachel and her parents is something I imagined could have happened: given Rachel's background, it's possible her father and/or her mother would want and deliberately pressure her to hook up with Bruce Wayne, using (exploiting) their personal history together. It adds a little spice to Rachel's character, as well as provide some poignant foreshadowing of future events.
The biggest issue about this chapter I had was if and how Rachel would tell Bruce she would have chosen Harvey over him. If I wrote it that she doesn't tell him, it makes her look bad and raises the issue of whether it's even real or not (for the record, Chapter 7 is intended as real). If she does tell him, how to introduce it, and how to square it with the fact that Harvey's actions make Rachel's look really bad? I honestly sort of sideswipe the issue by having them briefly wrestle with it, then deal with the Joker (love that Joker!). Of course, it is also academic since they're both dead!
It does matter, however, because the one thing in TDK we see of Bruce dealing with his grief is his holding on to the hope that if he gave up being Batman, Rachel would come back to him. I don't know how the third movie will address it, and if there's no vision or flashback of Rachel in it (as I suspect), then really it shouldn't be made a big issue, but I would also hate to see Rachel's hard but arguably true words in that note never be heard by Bruce. I did not include it a discussion of it here, because it would have been a long detour. But with Anne Hathaway (and perhaps others) in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce will not be without female companionship, I'm sure.
It's an impossible hypothetical, of course, but I can easily imagine Rachel's utter shock, horror and devastation if she were to know what Harvey would do as a result of her death. It's a huge looming question over the movie, because in large part Rachel turns away from Bruce because she fears he will do something like what Harvey does do: give in to his violent urges. It's much worse in Harvey's case, because he is built up to be the hero. I think the idea of good men turning homicidal by the death of the women they love (Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars) is one of those irresistible movie cliches, but is really condescending and disgusting when thought about in reality. Really, Harvey, you love Rachel deeply, so you decide to act completely contrary to her in memory of her death?
The contrast between Harvey and Bruce's reactions to Rachel's death is why one of the most moving parts of TDK to me, which I inadequately try to portray here, is when Batman is taking out all the SWAT police members without harming them. It's such a clear example of the paradox of Batman, violence in the service of nonviolence. Even though he conspicuously fails to live up to his one rule in both movies (Ra's and Two-Face), it's almost reassuring to watch Batman in action in this scene and even when he saves the Joker's life, because it is evidence of the ultimate goodness within Bruce, which is hidden deep beneath his costume and violent actions. His actions address Rachel's concerns about Bruce needing Batman as a source of release for his violence within. That he is still in control of himself proves as true that Bruce meant it when he said he could give up Batman to be with Rachel, even though Rachel does not believe it, as evidenced in her note. It was important in this chapter for Rachel to finally understand that about Bruce. Of course, all that I just said is undercut greatly by the fact that Batman kills Two-Face, even though it was more justified than in Batman Begins. But that's okay – Batman and Bruce is not perfect.
Finally, reality becomes real to both Rachel and Bruce at the end, before they say good bye. If Rachel could somehow have know what would have happened in TDK after she died (what a weird hypothetical!), I think these two messages are the ones she would give to Bruce: that she's totally ok with him being Batman; and also urging him to have a life beyond. And that will be the central question of the final Nolan Batman movie: what will Bruce Wayne decide to do with the Batman.
The final paragraph is Bruce at his no-nonsense best: things are fine, and it's over.
Edit: nontrivial revisions have been done, to correct lots of annoying grammar mistakes, and to strengthen the writing
Chapter 8 – Epilogue
It is arguable everything goes in cycles, so even though Bruce has 'accepted' Rachel's death in Chapter 7, the cold reality when he returns to the real world is that, grief will never fully leave him (otherwise he would not be Bruce Wayne/Batman). But Bruce Wayne endures, because he must, and because he can.
Edit: I have revised the ending substantially, to make it less happy. Bruce is now grateful for the chance to say goodbye to Rachel, but the goodbye is for good, and he grimly decides to move on to fight crime as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, more cognizant than before that all things must come to an end.
Okay, that's the end of Rachel Dawes and my thoughts. Long though it took to finish, I'm very happy about it. I'm eagerly awaiting the final movie, and like I said before, as the final movie in Nolan's trilogy I actually want to see Batman's story come to a definitive end; if it doesn't, it's not the end of the world, but I think a great ending will be the final capstone to an incredible series and its incredible story.
As for Rachel Dawes and fanfics, Rachel Dawes may be dead and gone here, but she's very much alive in Two-Faces, my AU fanfic of what would have happened if Batman had saved Rachel in TDK! While she is very much saintly in Rachel Dawes, start reading Two-Faces and see the coin flip to the other side, with a totally evil and nasty Rachel ready to kick ass and take names. A new chapter for that story will be coming this week, so until then, take care and keep reading!
July 3, 2011