Who is John Blake?
Well, as anyone who’s seen The Dark Knight Rises already knows, he’s the true moral center of Gotham City with more impassioned belief in justice than either Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne seemingly put together, and more detective skills than either, as well. More to the point, as anyone who’s seen The Dark Knight Rises already knows, his name isn’t even John; it’s Robin. You know, as in Batman And…? There’s a reason – beyond the need for a last minute twist, the “ahhhhh” that comes from recognition and realizing that you’ve been outsmarted all along (even if the last minute twist seems to come from nowhere) – that The Dark Knight Rises saves the true identity of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character until the very end of the movie, after all. It’s not just that identifying his character as Robin from the get-go would’ve left you spending the entire movie waiting for him to put on his own mask and tights at some point, wading into the action to kick-ass and save Batman’s butt in some surprise denouement, either (That role, instead, is filled with Catwoman, with a quip about gunplay that feels curiously off-color, considering recent events). No, the reason that Christopher Nolan and cohorts needed to keep the identity of the latest Robin a secret is this: It apparently sucks to be Robin.
That’s the opening to an entirely different version from this week’s essay for Time’s Entertainment section than the one you’ll see. It was another of those weeks where I wrote the thing, thinking that it was one thing, only to discover many hours later – Seriously, the first version took me most of Monday – that I was entirely wrong and I needed to start from scratch and angle it an entirely different way altogether.
Part of that comes from the fact that this was one of those times when Stephanie Abrahams, my fine fine editor, pitched me the story instead of the other way around, and I didn’t necessarily have a good enough handle on it when I started writing the first time. Another part comes from the fact that I started it within an hour or so after leaving The Dark Knight Rises at the theater, and that is actually a stupidly short amount of time to try and process what I’d just watched – I have to say, I think I liked TDKR as much as I disliked The Dark Knight, which is saying something – but, really? Most of it comes from the fact that, I thought this story was Thing A, only to discover in the process of writing the final paragraph, that it was actually Thing B all along. Literally, even as I was writing the end of the first version, I was thinking “Oh shit, oh shit, this is what I should’ve said instead!” I got up from the desk after finishing, trying to work out if I really wanted to junk 1500+ words worth of effort, and immediately started outlining the version of the piece you can actually read on Time Entertainment by hand, knowing that I was going to end up doing it.
(I wrote the outline by hand, then went to the gym to give myself some space to consider whether it was worth throwing away everything I’d done and starting over, knowing that it’d mean I’d be writing until midnight most likely, and then having to start again the next morning at something like 6am in order to meet the deadline. Depressingly, I just ended up more convinced that it was exactly the right thing to do; in my favor, it turned out that I only needed to start work at 7am on Tuesday to make it happen.)
There’s something to be said, for me and my process at least, in knowing when you’re defeated and need to start again. I find a value in writing things that end up entirely discarded, even if they’re just roadmaps about where not to go the next time around – although, I admit, I’d rather find pieces of writing I can lift wholescale and put into something else later. Mind you, if I could know when to cut and run earlier, I wouldn’t have any real problem with that.