THE DEVIL WEARS PURPLE

 

            Mitchell Brandenburg pinched his wrist to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.  He garnered sixty-two percent of the vote and easily won election as mayor of Gotham City.  With his opponent having conceded, he took the podium in the ballroom of the Continental Hotel at 10:30 pm to address his jubilant supporters.  He clasped hands with his wife, Amy, and waited for the cheering to subside.

            “Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  While I was in the elevator coming down here, the reality hit me that I’m going to be Gotham’s next mayor.”

            The crowd yelled and applauded.

            “First off, I want to thank my opponent, Councilman Sanders, for a spirited campaign that stayed focused on the issues.  Second, I want to thank the people of this great city who have invested their trust in me.  I’ve heard you loud and clear that you want me to continue the work of my good friend, Mayor Golini: to be tough on crime, be fiscally responsible, and promote investment in business and the community.  It’s my view that Gotham is headed for a new renaissance, and I couldn’t be happier at the prospect of being your mayor during this wonderful time.

            Finally, there are some individuals to whom I must extend my deepest gratitude.  Without them, I would not be standing before you tonight.  Amy, my loving and beautiful wife, who didn’t flinch when I told her I planned to run for office.  Mayor Golini, who encouraged me to run and gave me his tremendous endorsement.  Jim Gordon, whose rank and file officers enthusiastically supported our campaign.  Bruce Wayne and Jake Petroski, whose financial contributions helped us get our message out.  Last but not least, all of you who have given your time and effort to work for me.  You’re the best.  This is our moment.  Thank you again.”

            Cheers erupted once more, and Brandenburg walked into the crowd to shake hands.

            While Bruce Wayne made small talk with some fellow businessmen, he noticed a frantic police officer pushing through the noisy gathering in search of Commissioner Gordon.  He watched with interest as the officer whispered something in Gordon’s ear.  A look of horror covered the commissioner’s face, and he dropped his glass of champagne.

            Quickly apologizing to a waiter for the mess, he left with his sergeant and did not say goodbye to anyone.

            Twenty minutes later, Bruce saw the Bat-signal beaming in the sky.  He turned and offered Brandenburg a congratulatory pat on the back.  “Great job, Mitch.  It’s good to know Gotham will keep moving in the right direction.”

            “Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t be the winner without your deep pockets.”

            Bruce yawned.  “Think I’d better head home now.  I’ve got to get ready for an important meeting.”

            “Give Selina my love.  Thanks for joining us, and good luck with that meeting.”

            “Yeah,” he said, his eyes gazing out the window.  “You never know how these things will go.”

 

            A steady breeze whipped the brisk November air around as the Dark Knight approached Gordon on the police roof.

“Thank God you’re here, Batman.”

“You look pale, Commissioner.”

            “You will, too, in a minute.”  He shut off the signal.  “It’s bad news of the worst sort.  Maybe the worst ever.  Sometime between the eight o’clock bed check and the ten o’clock one, eight master criminals simply vanished from Arkham and Blackgate.”

            “A mass breakout?”

            “No, just certain ones.  And they didn’t exactly break out.  In fact, nobody really knows how they did it.  The cell doors were still locked, and none of the guards saw a thing.”

            “Who’s out?”

            Gordon took a deep breath.  “Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Killer Croc, Zasz, and Firefly.”

            Batman shuddered.  “They could touch off an unprecedented crime wave.”

            “Yes, especially with Joker, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy already on the loose.”

“Any silver lining?”

“That’s the weird part.  Two-Face didn’t escape.  He’s still in his cell.  Acts like nothing happened.”

“Curious.”

“Sure is.”  Gordon looked at his watch.  “Sorry, but I have to go.  Lots to do, as you can imagine.  I’m mobilizing all units to hit the streets and start rounding up the escapees.  We need every extra man we can get.  Will you help us on night patrol?”

“Absolutely.”

 

Despite the efforts of Batman and several thousand uniformed officers, not one of the villains was captured, or even located.  On the positive side, none of them committed crimes, either, something everyone involved found strange.

The morning papers painted the situation as a law enforcement scandal, while pundits and talk show hosts used the opportunity to criticize Gordon, the mayor, and the DA.  Calls for Brandenburg to fire Gordon upon taking office also mounted.  Even Batman took heat for his general no-kill policy.  Everybody had an idea on what to do about the “supercriminal problem.”

Bruce and Selina discussed it over a late breakfast.

“This is not a coincidence, right?” she asked.

“They escaped at more or less the same time.  They’ve all dropped out of sight.  You can’t help but believe that wherever they are, they’re planning something bad.”

She frowned.  “Together?  A lot of those guys can’t stand one another.”

“‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”

“You really think they can cooperate long enough to carry out some plot?”

“With the right motivation.”

“Such as their mutual hatred for Batman?”

“That’s more than enough to motivate some of them.”

“Who’s behind it?”

He put down his fork.  “My money’s on Joker.  He has the brains and the ego to pull off something this audacious.”

“Now I’m more worried.”

“Welcome to the club.”

“Any idea why Two-Face didn’t join?”

“No, but I’ll talk to him tonight.”

 

In an underground cavern on the northwest outskirts of Gotham, the eight escaped criminals awoke and gazed at their surroundings.  Similar in some ways to the Batcave, the well-lit cavern contained a laboratory, shooting range, and large training floor, among other amenities.  While their eyes took it all in, Joker appeared at the railing of a platform several feet above them.  Knowing what a mercurial bunch he had, the Clown Prince of Crime stationed three muscular, armed guards to keep order if needed.

With Harley Quinn by his side, he smiled.  “Good morning, fellow criminal geniuses.  I do apologize for the blindfolds and the sleeping gas when you were brought here last night.  Security precautions.  You all expressed interest in my proposal, and I didn’t want to give you time for second-guessing.”

“We didn’t know it was your proposal,” Penguin groused.

“Another precaution, Oswald.  As I said, I do apologize if you were in any way made to feel like a prisoner, for that is just the thing I was trying to liberate you from.”  He looked at Scarecrow.  “My compliments, Dr. Crane, on your paralysis gas.  You made it so easy for me to break everyone out undetected.”

“You’re most welcome, Joker.  I trust that no one, ourselves included, suffered any lingering effects from being put in suspended animation for a time?”

“No,” said Firefly.  “I was wondering what you called that.  One minute I’m in my cell, the next minute I’m here.”

“Get to the point, Joker!” Bane yelled.  “This isn’t an awards show.”

“Hey, Bane, you ever eat a clown?  They taste funny!”  Killer Croc laughed at his own joke.

“Touchy, touchy.  You muscle guys need to relax.  Bane, I hope you found your supply of Venom.”

“I did.”

Joker paused, hoping for a word of thanks.  “You’re welcome,” he muttered.  “Harley, get the map.”

She brought over an easel with a large map of Gotham City and its environs.

“Gentlemen, despite our differences, we have at least one thing in common.  We want to see Batman and his caped colleagues destroyed.  I think we also want, in one way or another, to bring this city to its knees and deal a fatal blow to what passes for law and order.  We have all tried numerous times to accomplish those things, and we’ve failed.  Or rather, we’ve been thwarted by Batbrain.

“As I see it, there are two reasons why we haven’t succeeded.  One, working individually, we just didn’t have the necessary manpower.  Two, we never approached it from the proper point of view--a military one.  I’ve been reading a lot of history, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to lay waste to a city.  The best way is by attacking it like an army, using massive force.  In other words, urban warfare.  Building-by-building, street-by-street combat with the Keystone Cops and Batman’s oddball buddies.  We can do it, but we must work together for it to happen.”

Groans spread through the group.

“I will not work with him.  He tried to kill me.”

“Yeah, well if you hadn’t double-crossed me, we wouldn’t have gotten caught.”

“I don’t even want to be in the same room as this jerk.”

“Oh yeah?  C’mon, let’s take it outside, weasel.”

“You’re such an idiot, no wonder Batman always catches you.”

Joker fired his pistol into the rock ceiling.  “Shut up!  You’re acting like spoiled brats.  I will not babysit a bunch of whiners when there’s so much to do.  I understand your reluctance to work together.  Truly.  A few of you even make my skin crawl.  That’s why this plan is unique.  It’s designed so that each of you will only be responsible for one aspect of the operation--something related to, shall we say, your area of criminal specialization.  If everyone ‘does their thing,’ it will multiply the effects created by the simultaneous breakdown of vital operations like electric power, water, public safety, transportation, and computer networks.  Once the police are neutralized, by and large, Batman and his allies will be overwhelmed, and we can pick them off one by one.”

Several men nodded their heads; others smiled.

“They like it,” Harley whispered.

“Of course they do, dear.”

Zasz spoke up.  “Joker, it sounds good and I want to hear more, but I’ve got a question.  To put it bluntly, I think a lot of us like your plan, but we don’t like you.  Why do you have to be in charge?”

The Clown Prince aimed his pistol and shot him in the chest three times.  “Because it’s my plan, you ungrateful monster.”

A sobering silence followed, and everyone looked at each other.  The message was clear.

Joker peered down at his three henchmen.  “Charlie, you guys take that trash out and dump it in the river somewhere on the other end of town.”  Looking at his seven remaining guests, he smiled icily.  “Dissenters are such a drag, aren’t they?  Well, back to the plan.  Each of you should get in touch with any employees you still have on the outside.  Harley will explain later how to do that and maintain security.  Part of the plan is to free your imprisoned associates from Arkham and Blackgate so they can join us and provide additional manpower.  I estimate that collectively, our force will number more than a hundred.

“That’s just the basic outline of what I have in mind.  If you’ll join with me, we can change the history of this town in one glorious night.  With Batman out of the way, Gotham can become the crime paradise we’ve always wanted.  This is our best chance to wipe out our common foe and do some serious damage.  What do you say?”

Firefly grinned.  “I’m in.  Anyone for flame-broiled Batburgers?”

Mr. Freeze fired his cryogenic gun at a bat which happened to swoop down from the roof of the cave.  Encased in ice, it dropped to the ground.  “Or maybe a Batsicle?”

The others laughed.

Bane grunted his assent, and Killer Croc licked his teeth.

Scarecrow looked at Joker.  “I’ve been with you all along.”

Folding his arms, Riddler looked over the others.  “I’m detecting a pattern here.  While I usually prefer to do my own thing, it does sound like your thing is my thing.  It sure beats sitting in a cell working on crossword puzzles all day.  I’ll throw in.”

Joker stared at Penguin, the lone holdout.  “What do you say, Mr. Cobblepot?”

“What’s in it for me?”

“Well, aside from the joy of killing Batman and his youthful menagerie, there’s your portion of any money or valuables we steal.”

“Money, huh?  Where there’s money, there’s Penguin.  I’ll go along.”

“Splendid!  Thank you all so much.  It’s almost humbling.  Almost.  We’ll take a short break, then it’s time to begin training and preparation.  With a plan this big, there’s lots to cover and not a moment to waste.  Take heart, friends.  Batman’s days are numbered!”

The cavern echoed with Joker’s crazy laughter.

 

Bleak and depressing, Arkham Asylum was a necessary evil for the citizens of Gotham.  Necessary, because it provided a safe and somewhat secure place to lock up the criminally insane.  Evil, because those same criminals used their time to hatch further nefarious plots.  If an idle mind is the devil’s playground, Arkham was his Disneyland.

Though not the superstitious sort, Batman felt the dark walls permeated with demented spirits as he followed the guard to Two-Face’s cell.

The clatter of keys in the lock made the former district attorney turn and look.

“You got a visitor, Mr. Dent,” the guard said as he opened the creaky steel door and ushered Batman in.  “Call me when you’re through.”

Batman nodded.

The guard closed the door and locked him inside.

When the echo faded, Batman approached his onetime ally.  “Hello, Harvey.”

Two-Face met his gaze.  “Batman.”

“I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Dent flipped his ever-present coin.  It landed with the unscarred side up.  “Hmm, your lucky night.”

Batman sat on the foot of the cot.  “Several criminals broke out of here last night, but you didn’t.  Why?”

He fingered the coin.  “I decided not to.”

“Tell me anything you know about what happened.”

“I got a note dropped in around nine.  It said to wait by the door with the note at 9:30 if I wanted to get out and join in a plan to destroy Gotham and bring Batman down once and for all.”

“Who sent the note?”

“I don’t know.  It didn’t say.”

“Can you show it to me?”

Another coin flip.  This time, the scarred side showed.

“Sorry, no can do.”

“Did it mention a date?”

“No.”  Dent studied Batman’s face.  “You look worried.”

“I am.  But you don’t.”

“I’m not.”

“You should.  This is a major threat to the city.”

“So?  You know I don’t believe in your ‘law and order’ anymore.”

“That was your own choice.”

“Was it really?  I worked hard to uphold justice.  I made sacrifices.  So did my family.  I went out on a limb for you.  And what did I get for it?  This!”  He turned the disfigured left side of his face toward the light.  “No, Batman, the only law is chance.  Justice lies in a flip of the coin, a roll of the dice.”

“If I believed that, I wouldn’t be trying to stop whatever the person who sent that note is planning.”

Dent chuckled.  “We are so alike, you and I.  Did you ever stop and think about it?  We were once different people.  Something happened to make you who you are, like it did me.  Your life is just as divided as mine, but you mask it and pretend you can do something about it.  I only acknowledge the reality of who I am.”

“Sometimes you still are who you were.”

“Are you?  Tell me something.  A man gets hit by a bus and dies.  He crosses the street a minute earlier or a minute later, and he lives.  How do you explain that?”

“I don’t.”

“It’s random chance, and there isn’t a damn thing he can do about it.  ‘Time and chance happen to them all.’  Life or death.  Yes or no.  Win or lose.  Black or white.”

“Life is more than dualities, Harvey.”

“I am duality!”  He waved the coin at Batman.  “So are you.”

Seeing that further discussion was pointless, Batman stood up.  “Thank you for the information about the note.  It’ll help our investigation.”  He walked to the door and summoned the guard.

“Batman?” Two-Face called.

“Yes?”

“Watch out for those buses.”

 

            Batman let out a sigh of relief when he climbed into the Batmobile and left the gates of Arkham behind.  On the way home, he phoned Gordon.

            “Any luck yet?”

            “I just talked with Two-Face.  He said somebody left recruiting notes in the cells last night before the escape.  The notes mentioned a plan to wreck the city and eliminate me.  With everyone they’ve recruited, this is more than rhetoric.”

            “I wonder who they are.”

            “I’m almost positive it’s Joker.  Who else has such a flair for the spectacular?”

            “You’re starting to scare me.  I’d better call the mayor.”

            “Commissioner, for what it’s worth, I have a sense that something catastrophic is going to happen, on a scale Gotham’s never experienced before.”

            “Worse than a mass crime spree?”

            “Much.”

            “God help us if you’re right.”

 

            A potential disaster was the last thing Mayor Golini figured he would have to face during his final two months in office.  After Gordon informed him of Batman’s information, he called a meeting of the city’s crisis management team in the morning.

            Gathered around the conference table were City Manager Donna Perez, Fire Chief Tony Deluggio, Emergency Management Coordinator Eugene Little, Public Works Director Matt McGeehan, Mayor-elect Brandenburg, and Gordon.

            Golini arrived last and shut the door.  “Thanks for coming on short notice.  Once again, we find ourselves with a law enforcement problem that affects the entire city.  Based on Commissioner Gordon’s investigation into the disappearances from Arkham and Blackgate, we believe there’s a high likelihood that the criminals are teaming up for an attack on Gotham.  What form the attack may take or what the target may be, we don’t know yet.  Anything else you’d like to add, Commissioner?”

            Gordon cleared his throat.  “My men are continuing to scour the city for the escapees, but so far we’ve found no trace of any of them, which lends credibility to the idea that they’re working together for some evil purpose.  Batman believes Joker is calling the shots, and I don’t need to tell you what he’s capable of.”

            “It’s very hard,” Golini acknowledged, “to guard against an unknown event which will happen at an unknown time.  However, it would be irresponsible for us not to do all we can with the information at hand.  Gene, I know we’re vulnerable.  That’s a given.  How bad is it?”

            “Depends on the type of attack.  If the guy wants to poison the water supply, I’d say our protection is pretty good.  On the other hand, if he wants to launch a missile into City Hall, there’s not much we can do,” Little answered.

            “Joker likes to do big things in a big way,” Gordon reminded them.  “The police are proceeding on the assumption that he’s planning a major incident--maybe more than one, given who he’s working with--to draw the maximum attention.”

            “Something similar to Scenario B in the Emergency Contingency Plan, Jim?” Perez wondered.

“Yes.”

“Short of nuclear holocaust, that’s the worst scenario we plan for, isn’t it?” Golini asked.

“Affirmative,” Chief Deluggio said.  “Multiple explosive detonations or fires, with thousands of casualties.”

            “There’s a disturbing personal tone to this, as well,” Gordon interjected.  “They intend to kill Batman.”

“Is there a ransom demand?” Perez asked.  “Any indication they’ll call it off for something in return?”

“No,” Gordon said firmly.  “This is pure vengeance.  Unless we can find Joker first, I see no way to prevent it.”

Deluggio looked grim.  “In which case, our focus switches to mitigation of damage and minimization of losses.”

“Either way, I want to get everybody on alert and thinking about how we can make the city as safe as possible, since we don’t know how long it will be until Joker acts,” Golini said.

            McGeehan shook his head.  “This seems so unreal.  One of the mightiest cities in the country is quaking in its boots because of a handful of misfits and psychos?  There’s got to be more we can do.”

“I know what you mean,” Golini said, “but there are practical limits on our actions.  Dusk-to-dawn curfew, shoot anything that moves?  Sure, we could do those, but I refuse to make our citizens feel like they’re living in a prison camp.  I still have hope that Jim’s people or Batman will find Joker’s hideout in time.  Meanwhile, what steps can we realistically take right now?”

“I’ll beef up security around utility plants today,” McGeehan offered.

            Gordon scribbled a note.  “I’m canceling all leave on the force.  We’re also doubling patrols near sites previously identified as being at risk or vital to city operations.”

            “I’ll inform all stations to anticipate a Code Red in the near future,” Chief Deluggio said.

            “Should we notify the citizens?” Perez asked.

            Golini drummed his fingers on the table.  “That’s always the big question.  They know about the escapes, and the media have them asking for our heads.  I’m afraid with so little to go on at this point, it’ll cause them needless panic, or they’ll accuse us of hiding our perceived incompetence behind the alert.”  Turning to Brandenburg, he added, “I’m sorry to do this to you, Mitch.  If it isn’t resolved soon, you may end up bearing the brunt of the fallout.”

            Brandenburg shrugged his shoulders.  “The curse of living in Gotham.  It goes with the territory.”

            Golini closed the folder in front of him.  “It sounds like we are or will be doing all we can at the moment.  I’ll be in touch as the need arises.  Adjourned.”  He looked at Gordon.  “Jim, can you stick around for a few minutes?”

            “Sure.”

            When the others had left, the mayor removed his reading glasses.  “This conversation never took place.  As far as anybody else is concerned, we were chatting about how Barbara’s doing in college.”

            “Understood.”

            “You know we can’t implement security in a vacuum.  Public reaction plays a lot bigger role than it should.  Personally, I don’t give a damn what the media or the average Joe thinks.  If it were up to me, we’d bulldoze Arkham, give your boys machine guns, and blow the crap out of every one of those ‘supercriminal’ nut cases.

            “We’re really over a barrel now.  People are going to complain no matter what we do.  It’s our fault everyone escaped.  It’s our fault Joker hasn’t been caught.  And if he carries out this plan, you and I will catch hell for whatever happens.  I’m leaving office January 1st, so there isn’t much they can do to me.  You, on the other hand, want to stick around.  If everybody’s making you the scapegoat anyway, go ahead and do what’s right for the city.  I’d rather be run out of office knowing I did everything I could than stay on wishing I’d done more.”

            Gordon nodded.

            “In other words, Jim, I’m giving you a green light to take any and all steps necessary to secure the city against an attack and reduce losses if one occurs.  I don’t care whose toes get stepped on.  I’ll back you with what’s left of my political capital.”

            “Thank you, sir.”

            “I just have one question.  How real is the threat?”

            “I believe it’s very real.  Joker--or somebody--went to an awful lot of trouble to break these guys out.  Batman’s afraid they’re going to do something the likes of which we’ve never witnessed.”

            Golini sighed.  “When Batman worries, Gotham takes Valium.”

 

            Bruce, Selina, Tim, and Barbara met in the Batcave at three.  They faced many of the same issues in grappling with the threat posed by the escaped villains.

            “Everything about this situation is different.  We don’t know what they want to do.  We don’t know when.  We don’t know where.  It’s like defending against an invisible storm.  All we really know is that it’s coming.”

            “What’s the city doing?” Selina wondered.

            “I’m sure Dad’s beefing up security across the board,” Barbara said.

            Tim asked, “How do you bring down an entire city?  It seems kinda impractical.”

            “Turn off the power.  Destroy roads,” Bruce answered.  “Disable communications.  Attack soft spots.”

            Selina said, “You’d need an army to protect against something like that.”

            Which may be just what Joker had in mind.  Bruce gestured at a city map.  “The Gotham PD isn’t an army.  It can only cover so much.”

            “The same goes for us,” said Tim.

            Bruce told him, “Yes, which is why the best defense is to prevent the attack.  If we locate Joker’s hideout, it’s over.”

            “Unfortunately, no one’s come close yet,” Barbara said.  “Word on the street is nonexistent.  The cops don’t have a clue, and neither do we.”

            “Joker probably paid a tidy sum for that silence.  For now, all we can do is keep searching.”

            Tim looked discouraged.  “Surely there’s somebody who’d be willing to talk.”

            Bruce thought for a moment.  “Poison Ivy is good friends with Harley Quinn, but she’s no fan of Joker.”

            “Isn’t she missing, too?” asked Selina.

            “That doesn’t mean she’s in on the plot.  Out of all the master criminals, she’s by far the least likely to join Joker for anything.  If Batman can find her….”

            “She might have heard something from Harley,” Tim finished.

            “Exactly.  Assuming she’ll talk to me.  Batman’s not her favorite person, either.”

 

            Under a moonless sky, Batman tramped through Robinson Park for Poison Ivy.  She apparently didn’t want to be found.  Parts of the park were overgrown as dense as woods, and the lack of light made it difficult for him to see.

            He searched the better part of an hour before spotting her red hair beneath a thick hedgerow.

            Hearing footsteps, she sleepily called, “Phil, Rhoda...we’ve got unwanted company.”

            Two leafy plants snaked out and securely bound Batman’s legs.

            Ivy yawned.  “Whoever you are, you’re either brave or stupid.”

            “Do I get a third choice?”

            She recognized the voice and scrambled to her feet.  “Batman!”

            The plants tightened their grip.

            “Call off your pets, Ivy.  I want to talk.”

            “You’re brave and stupid.  I’m not in the mood.”  She gestured at the plants.  “Kill him.”

            Phil began to cut off the circulation in his left leg, while Rhoda climbed upward, encircled his arms, and wrapped herself around his neck.

            “Been working with Joker lately?”

            The question startled her.  “What?”

            “You heard me,” he gasped, trying to break free.

            Stop, guys!  Let him go...for now.”

            Phil and Rhoda released Batman and crawled back into the hedge.

            Ivy smiled.  “You know how to get a girl’s attention, don’t you?”

            “That was my aim,” he replied, massaging his throat.

            “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I am not involved in whatever Joker’s doing.  I wouldn’t give him a drink if he were dying of thirst.”

            “But your friend Harley Quinn would.”

            She gave a sigh and sat down.  “That’s a sore spot with me.  I have tried and tried to get her away from him.  He treats her like dirt, but she’s blind in love with the weirdo.”

            “Has Harley said anything specific about his plan?”

            “No, and I certainly wouldn’t tell you if she had.”

            “She hasn’t let anything slip?”

            “I haven’t seen or heard from her in a couple of weeks.  She did tell me before that Joker asked her to ask me to join his plot.  She said it was big and would be curtains for you.  I turned her down flat.  If it involves Joker, I want nothing to do with it.”

            “Good for you.  But did you think about the consequences?”

            “What consequences?”

            “Surely you’re aware of what happens to people who say no to him.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Think about it.  Think about his history.  Nobody tells him no and gets away with it.  He’ll say it’s okay, no big deal, then turn around and shoot them dead.”

            “Harley wouldn’t let him do that to me.”

            “Look at how he treats her, and she’s as loyal as can be.  Joker does what Joker wants.  He seldom listens to anybody else.  He may very well retaliate against you.”

            “Thanks for your concern, but my plants and I can handle Joker.  He’s a one-note clown.”

            “Don’t be too sure, Ivy.  He tried to kill everyone off with poisoned counterfeit money.  He wired a hotel with explosives.  You and your green friends are no match for his ruthless evil.  If he blows up oil storage tanks or drenches the city in chemicals, it could be an environmental disaster. ”

            “Okay, stop scaring me.  I get your point.  So what should I do?”

            “I’ll offer you a deal.  Tell me anything you know about Joker’s plan, no matter how small.  In return, I will do my level best to protect you and the park if it comes under attack.”

            She batted her eyelashes.  “You really care, huh?”

            Folding his arms, he said, “I care about Gotham City and protecting the innocent.  Robinson Park is part of the city, and in this case, you’re innocent.”

            She fumed that he ignored her overtures.  “I guess that’s the most I can get out of you.”

            “It’s more than you had.  Now, what do you know?”

            “The only thing Harley said is the plan’s so big, they need as many people as possible, which is why she was bugging me so hard to join.  Other than that, she just kept yammering on and on about how this would finally get rid of you and your Bat friends.  No timetable, no other information.  That’s it, I swear.”

            “Thank you.  We want to find Joker and stop him before he can put the plan in motion.  If we can’t, we’ll have to focus on containing it once he starts.  There are no guarantees, but you have my word that we will try to safeguard you.”

            “Never thought I’d be indebted to Batman.”

“It’s a funny world.”

“What about Harley?”

            He shook his head.  “She sold out to the devil, and the devil wears purple.”

 

            The Bat-signal lit up the night as he was driving home.  He made a U-turn and headed downtown.

            “I was just about to call you,” he told Gordon.

            “There’s been an interesting development in the case.  A couple of fishermen found a body floating near the East River Bridge.  Coroner ID’d him as Zasz.  He had three bullet holes in him.  Ballistics matched a slug to ones they got from the hotel massacre victims last year.”

            “Joker breaks him out of Arkham then murders him.  It doesn’t make sense.  Then again, Zasz wasn’t in the same league as the others.  I can see why Joker would get fed up with him rather quickly.”

            “So you think it’s an isolated incident?  He isn’t going to kill them one by one?”

            “What, and do us a huge favor?  No, he needs them.  I picked up some more information tonight.”

            “Where?”

            “Confidential source.  Whatever Joker’s planning, it requires a large number of people to pull off.  That sounds like it’s going to involve the entire city.  Also, they’re planning to eliminate Batgirl and Robin, as well as me.”

            “We’ll be spread too thin if we have to watch every square foot of the city, and I can’t keep the entire force on duty 24/7.  Come with me.  We need to talk to Golini.  I think he’s still at his office.”

            “Meet me downstairs.  We’ll take my car,” Batman said before spreading his cape and leaping off the roof.

 

            The mayor was alone, crunching budget numbers to cover the costs of increased police overtime and other security measures being implemented.  The knock on his door surprised him.  “Who could that be?  Come in!”

            Gordon and Batman entered and closed the door.

            Golini managed a smile.  “Of course, the only two men would be working later than me these days.”

            Gordon said, “Batman’s confirmed a lot of our suspicions.  Joker’s planning attacks across the whole city, which is why he sprung everybody from Arkham and Blackgate.  He not only wants to kill Batman, but all his associates, as well.  And if he’s doing that, I have to believe taking out the police force is also high on his list.”

            Golini leaned back and rubbed his eyes.  “None of that surprises me, Jim, but it sure as hell scares me.”

            Batman said, “We still have no idea when or how they will attack.”

            “And that’s the crux of the problem from a law enforcement perspective,” Gordon told the mayor.  “Other than obvious things like the power grid, City Hall, and the police building, we just don’t know what to protect.  As I explained to Batman, I don’t have the manpower to cover the whole city and do it around the clock.”

            “So we have to make educated guesses,” Golini told him.

            “And what if we guess wrong?  What if we’re protecting the Morrow Towers and he destroys the museum?  What if we guard the museum and he blows up the cathedral?”

            “Go by the emergency plan.  I’ll back your decisions.”

            “Joker hasn’t read the damn plan!  He doesn’t think like other people.  What’s valuable to us may be worthless to him, and vice versa.”

            “Just use your best judgement, Jim.  That’s all any of us can do.”

            “I’ll increase night patrols and move guys out of desk jobs, but what I wouldn’t give for some extra people.  Batman, can you bring us any more help?”

            The Dark Knight nodded.  “I’ll call in every resource I can, starting in the morning.”

            Gordon prayed there would be enough time.

 

            The following night, Batman convened the first meeting of the Bat Council, as he dubbed it, before resuming security patrols.  Joining him around the work table in the Batcave were Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Nikki, Nightwing, and Zatanna.

            Nikki couldn’t get over the sight of the Batcave and its furnishings.  “Awesome digs, Bats.”

            He smiled.  “Consider it your second home until this operation is over.”

            “Cool!”

            “It’s good to see some old friends again.  We all know each other, except for Nikki.  She’s a protégé of Catwoman.”

“Who protected the East End quite nicely while I was on maternity leave.

“Just don’t call her ‘Catgirl,’” Batgirl said, drawing a sly smile from Nikki.

Batman continued.  “Nikki, to your left is Nightwing.  He was the original Robin and now works in Blüdhaven.  In the top hat is Zatanna, magician extraordinaire.  She’s been known to turn men into frogs, so watch out.”

Everyone chuckled.

            He brought up a detailed digital map of Gotham on the large video screen.  “It’s no exaggeration to say we’re in a war--not just a war on crime, but with the evil that lies behind crime.  I appreciate your presence here and the extra hours many of you have put in trying to find Joker’s hideout.  Between us and the police, nearly every inch of the city has been searched without success.  Knowing Joker, I would’ve been surprised if we had found him.  His base could be located outside Gotham.  If so, our odds of finding him before he puts his plan into motion are not good.  Too much territory and too little time.

“I think we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns on the search.  Pouring more energy into it is not going to increase our odds.  In fact, it may do the opposite.  If we don’t have a plan of our own, we’ll be caught off guard when things get ugly, with very little chance of success.  It’s time to switch our strategy from preventing an attack to countering one.

            “When I put together the evidence--which isn’t much--with our extensive profile on Joker, it outlines a very foreboding picture.  I believe he and the others intend to carry out a series of coordinated attacks in all areas of the city.  Given that Firefly, Bane, and Mr. Freeze are among his allies, it’s fair to assume the attacks will be intended to cause maximum damage to the city and its ability to operate.”

            “What do they accomplish by putting Gotham out of commission for a few days?” Zatanna asked.

            “Think bigger, Z.  With all he has at his disposal, he’s probably aiming to destroy the city, not just cripple it.”

            “Whoa!” Batgirl gasped.

            “We have to think in catastrophic terms.  I’m certain Joker is, and has been for some time.  Imagine a modern-day equivalent of the Great London Fire, or the sacking of Rome.”

            Catwoman said, “We’ve seen lots of threats from these creeps before, but nothing like that.”

            “They’ve never joined forces to this extent, either.  We’ve got to prepare for the worst, or we won’t be prepared.  Look closely at the map.  The colored areas are my best guesses as to what they’ll attack.  They’re what I would target if I wanted to bring the city to a halt.  The power and water utilities.  Major bridges and roadways.  Command and control--City Hall, police headquarters and substations, computer networks.  Financial institutions and corporations.  Cultural landmarks like the museum, the library, the cathedral, or the Knights Dome.  If they want to cause mass casualties and panic, apartments and public housing.”

            The others stared and tried to absorb the enormity of what he was suggesting.

            “Of course, we’ll be targets, too.  By causing so much chaos at one time, they reduce the effectiveness of any response we or the police can offer.  I expect several of them to have their thugs, which only increases the numbers against us.”

            “This could be...it?”  Tim swallowed hard.

            “I won’t lie to you and sugarcoat the risk, for Gotham or for ourselves.  I’ve never seen a scenario more intimidating, or one more worthy of my best efforts.”

            “The ultimate showdown,” Nightwing commented.

            “Not a bad description.”

            “How sure are you that you’re right?” Batgirl asked.

            “Why would Joker need so many allies with such distinct ‘talents’ to do one stunt?  Why would a man who loves to brag about his schemes disappear so completely to formulate something routine?  The hotel massacre was a wake-up call.  He raised the stakes high with that, and he gives every indication of continuing to up the ante.  In any event, I’d rather be overprepared than underprepared.”

            “What’s your plan--I mean, our plan?”  Nikki asked.

            He pressed a key on the computer.  “I’ve divided the city into five zones, as indicated by the green lines.  Each of us will cover a zone.  That should make things a bit more manageable.  Batgirl, I’ve assigned you Zone One in the north, which includes the Batcave.  Nightwing, Zone Two, the west.  Catwoman and Nikki, Zone Three, the East End and surrounding areas, including Arkham.”

“Gee, thanks,” Catwoman muttered.  “I hate nuts.”

Batman said, “I’ll cover Zone Four, the southwest, including City Hall and the Courthouse.  Robin and Zatanna, Zone Five, the southeast.  You get police headquarters, Wayne Tower, and Blackgate.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Joker plans to empty out Arkham and Blackgate to create even more havoc.  That’s why I double-teamed those zones.  I do expect some police presence, but they’ll be too busy managing the emergency to offer much help in stopping Joker’s gang.”

“Is it wise to divide us up like that?” wondered Nightwing.

“The very nature of his plan puts us at a disadvantage.  If we combine forces to cover one area, he has carte blanche everywhere else.  If we split up, we may be able to curtail some parts of the operation, but yes, it does dilute our strength.”

“The lesser of two evils,” Zatanna said.

            “Something like that.  Much of this is educated speculation.  I wish we had more definitive information, but that can’t really be expected, given who we’re dealing with.  To improve our ability to stay connected, I’ve set up an encrypted wireless network blanketing the city.  We can keep in contact and move quickly to help each other if needed.  There are battery-powered relay transmitters on top of Wayne Tower, the old Clocktower, and on the roof of Wayne Manor.  Before you leave, I’ll give out your communicators.”

            He walked over to the closets containing his arsenal of weapons and threw open the doors.  “Help yourselves.  Empty these out, and grab whatever you want--Batarangs, bolos, sleeping gas.  Anything that makes you feel more prepared to face Joker’s army.  There’s no point in holding any of this stuff back.  Keep them with you every night.”

            “When do you think the attack will come?” Nightwing asked.

            “The million dollar question.  I don’t know.  I’ve been going over the history of Gotham, as well as my history with Joker, to determine a date that might appeal to him.  Brandenburg’s inaugural seems like something he would target, but it’s nearly two months off.  Also, I think he may want to avoid predictability, since the strength of this kind of plan is in the element of surprise.”

            “So we just need to be on alert?” Catwoman asked.

            “Yes.  Patrol your zones, and watch for any sign of trouble.  We may not know the attack is on until it’s started.”

 

            “Say, Puddin’, when are we going to do this thing?” Harley asked while Joker held her close.

            “Soon, Harley.  Very soon.”

            “I’m tired of waiting.”

            “It’s part of my strategy.  Make your opponent wait, sweat, and worry.”

            “But why?”

            “Let me tell you a little story.  Tom, a mediocre golfer, challenged his friend Harry, an excellent golfer, to a match.  “Give me a handicap of two gotchas, that’s all I ask,” said Tom.  Although Harry had no idea what a gotcha was, he agreed.  On the first hole, just as Harry was about to tee off, Tom snuck up, grabbed him around the waist and shouted, ‘Gotcha!’  They finished the round without further incident, but Harry played terribly and lost.  When asked why he didn’t win, he said, ‘Have you ever played eighteen holes waiting for a second gotcha?’”  He broke into hysterical laughter.

            “I don’t get it.”

            Scowling, he said, “Breaking everyone out of Arkham was the first gotcha.  Batman and his buddies are probably messing in their pants, wondering when the second one’s coming.  They have no idea what fun we’ve got in store for them.”

            She kissed him.  “You’re brilliant, Puddin’.”

            “I know, but it never hurts to be reminded.”  He was gleeful at the thought of the Dark Knight losing sleep and fruitlessly searching for him.  “I finally found a way to beat you, Batman.  Payback’s on the way!”

 

            He waited a few more days to give everyone extra time for training with their own cohorts.  Thursday night, he gathered the entire group one final time to go over the details of his battle plan.  “The hour draws near, friends.  You’ve worked and prepared for your individual parts.  Now you get to see how everything fits together.  Harley will point to the map as I describe the operation.

            “Scarecrow is our leadoff man.  He will pump hallucinogenic knockout gas into the ventilation system at police headquarters to cut off central command and control.  Those cops will be in a nightmarish coma for hours.  His wonderful assistants will do the same at police substations and fire stations.  Ten minutes later, Riddler and his crew take down the electrical power grid.  If somebody does manage to bring it back up, a self-replicating computer virus will attack the city’s networks, rendering them useless.

            “Once the power goes off, Killer Croc liberates the fine folks at Arkham, and Bane frees the inmates at Blackgate.  They will also give instructions on how to link up with you guys, since many of them used to work for you.  Meanwhile, Penguin and his men will loot the four major bank vaults and the Diamond Exchange.”  He grinned.  “I’m envious, Oswald.”

            Penguin just puffed on his cigarette holder.

            “Firefly is going to burn or destroy--your choice--vital bridges, roadways, and anything else he wants to.  Mr. Freeze will ice up the main water pumping station, bursting the pumps and pipes and leaving the city without water to fight the fires.  Lastly, Harley and I will go around the city in our car, bombing business and government buildings.  We’ve got a bazooka, and I can’t wait to try it.

“After you complete your main assignments, stay nearby to get rid of whatever police or friends of Batman show up.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Firefly, incinerate Robinson Park, and make sure Poison Ivy fries.”

“No, Joker!” Harley pleaded.  “She’s my friend.”

“So?  Buy yourself some new friends with the money we’ll grab.  People don’t turn me down and live to tell.”

“You can’t hurt her.  Please?”

Joker looked at his partners.  “We’re experiencing technical difficulties.  Be back in a minute.”

The others heard the sound of two hard slaps, followed by a crying whimper that faded away.

Returning with a smile, Joker said, “Harley’s decided to get some rest and think things over.  Now, where was I?  The effect of the plan will be to overwhelm all efforts at law enforcement and damage control, leaving Gotham totally vulnerable and without its hero guardians.  Panic and chaos will spread, further eroding order.  By morning, it’ll be ours for the taking.”

“Sweet,” said Killer Croc.

“Gotham will never be the same,” Riddler added.

“Exactly what I’m aiming for,” Joker said.

Penguin asked, “When’s all this gonna happen?”

Joker shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Anybody have a particularly favorite date in the next week?”

Most shook their heads.

“Okay....”  Joker picked up a dart and threw it at the calendar on the cavern wall.  It landed on Saturday, November 13th.

He removed the dart, took a red pen, and wrote, “HELL NIGHT” on the date.  “Only two days away.  A mere forty-eight hours until the dogs of war are unleashed on Gotham.”

 

Bruce and Selina cuddled in bed after making love.

“You’re still tense,” she said, rubbing his chest.

“That obvious, huh?”

She nodded.

“Selina, I’m afraid--more than I’ve ever been as Batman.”

“Really?”

“I don’t think we can win this time.  Joker has too many advantages.  I didn’t want to be melodramatic and call it a ‘suicide mission’ at our meeting.  But not all of us will survive.”

“This Cat’s planning to come back, darling.”

“So is everybody else.  But no one truly knows.”

“I know this.  No matter what happens, I love you.  And that won’t change.”

 

Joker could not have asked for more suitable weather.  Saturday night was chilly and breezy.  Thick clouds blocked the moon and stars, and light rain fell intermittently.

The officers standing guard outside police headquarters saw a black winged form fly overhead then disappear.  “Good to know Batman’s watching out for us.”

The guard on the roof also thought it was Batman as he watched the winged figure land.  When he strolled over to greet him, he noticed the wings were a hang glider.  “Batman?”

From behind, Scarecrow answered, “No,” and flung a fistful of powder in his face.

The guard coughed, wheezed, and fell unconscious.

Scarecrow unstrapped a tank of concentrated gas from his back and ran to the intake ventilator.  At exactly 9:11, he started pumping the gas inside.

Citywide, his “darlings” did the same thing at ten substations and a dozen firehouses.  The gas spread quickly through the buildings, leaving its victims in a deep sleep peppered with horrifying dreams.  Anyone lucky enough to awaken would be mentally incapacitated for several hours, maybe longer.

 

Simultaneously, Riddler and his half dozen henchmen made their way through the shadows and invaded Gotham Light and Power.  After disabling the electric fence and slipping under it, they fanned out across the perimeter, looking for security personnel.  Striking quickly, his acrobatic thugs subdued or killed the four police and three private guards protecting the station.  One of his men died during a scuffle with a guard which resulted in both being electrocuted.

Once inside the control room, they bound and locked up the three technicians on duty.

“Let me at those computers.”  While Riddler took over the system and uploaded programs, his surviving men planted explosive charges around the complex.

“Gentlemen, start your flashlights.”  At 9:21, he looked up at the graphic display of the utility network.  “Riddle me this, Gotham.  What’s the most powerful city on earth?”

His thugs shrugged their shoulders.

“Electricity!”

With two keystrokes, he shut down the entire power grid.

 

From atop City Hall, Batman watched Gotham plunge into darkness, in more ways than one.  He activated his communicator.  “It’s begun!  Head to your key areas and prepare for action.”

 

To the south of the city, Bane crashed through Blackgate Prison’s entrance.  Throwing aside armed guards and anyone else who got in his way, he stormed through the penitentiary cellblock by cellblock, ripping loose barred doors like they were made of cardboard.

“Everybody out!  The Joker’s granted you clemency!” he roared.  “Line up outside.”

When all two hundred prisoners were free, he climbed up on a transport van in the driveway.  “If you used to work with Joker, Penguin, or Riddler, stick around and I’ll tell you how to link up with them.  The rest of you are free to go.  Head for the city, and do whatever you want.  The liberation of Gotham has begun!”

 

Killer Croc broke down the front doors of Arkham.  The backup power had come on briefly, jolting the asylum’s antique wiring and tripping the fire alarm.  Just before a short knocked the electricity out for good, all cell doors released in response to the alarm.   When Croc made his way inside, the hallways were crowded with inmates, many of whom took brutal revenge on the staff, guards, and each other.  It was bedlam beneath the dim light of a few functioning emergency lamps.

Two police officers fired at Croc, but their ordinary bullets bounced off his green hide.  Annoyed, he grabbed their heads and slammed them together.

Within minutes of his arrival, residents started to pour out and wander off.  Some armed themselves with guns and clubs confiscated from the dead officers and guards.  He tried to get their attention so he could direct them to their former bosses.  “I can show you where to find Penguin.  Joker needs your help.”

Nobody listened.

The mob was dissipating so fast, he saw it was pointless.  “Aw, crap!  Go ahead and tear the town apart.  You’re going to, anyway.”

 

In the west, Mr. Freeze completely iced up the steam tunnel, then turned his attention to the city’s water plant.

Before the guards could fire their weapons, his cryogenic freeze-gun encased them in ice.  He roamed through the facility, freezing water tanks and conduits.

He smiled as he entered the main pump room.  Two more shots from his freeze-gun, and the massive pumps with their adjoining pipes began cracking as though they were glass.

Soon the thick metal shattered, and the only water flowing in Gotham was the rain running along the streets.

 

Downtown, Penguin and nine associates stood outside Allied Gotham Bank looking up and down the street in the financial district.  “So much money, so little time.  Okay, let’s get rich quick.”

The largest of his men smashed the glass doors with a crowbar.

“Vault’s all the way to the back.  Put the explosives on the hinges and the lock.  We need to work fast.”

Less than five minutes later, they were inside the vault filling up dozens of moneybags.

 

Firefly crisscrossed the skies in his new, improved jet backpack.  Depending on his mood, he could shoot like a flamethrower or hurl explosive fireballs.  He even had a handful of grenades.

Looping over police headquarters, he spotted the dormant Bat-signal.  “That’s gotta go.”

A fireball shot out of his left wingtip and blasted the searchlight into fragments of glass and twisted metal.

As he flew, he spotted patrol cars here and there.  Zooming low, he torched each one, then soared higher to avoid the gas tank explosions.  He quickly became an “ace,” roasting five cars and their occupants.

Then it was time for the bridges and roads themselves.

 

Joker and Harley cruised the largely empty streets like a deranged Bonnie and Clyde, shooting and bombing to their hearts’ content.

“Joker’s here, and he’s raising hell,” Harley sang.  “Who you gonna call?”

The Clown Prince took aim with his bazooka and fired into the telephone switching station, which exploded in a cloud of blue smoke and orange sparks.

“Who you gonna call?  Nobody!” he replied in a fit of laughter.

“Motorcycle cop coming up fast from behind,” she warned.

“No problemo.”  He turned around, pointed his long-barreled revolver, and pulled the trigger.

The shot blew a chunk from the bike’s front tire, causing it to swerve out of control and hurl the officer into a parked car.

“Direct hit!” he said.  “Love those moving targets.”

“Isn’t that Wayne Tower on the corner?” she asked, slowing down.

“So it is.  We gotta stick it to poor little rich boy.”  He sent a grenade streaking into the third floor.  A ball of flame blasted out, shattering windows and torching offices.

Spotting a police officer rushing toward the car, she picked up her own pistol and fired.  “Gotcha!” she said, seeing him jerk back and fall.

Satisfied, Joker watch the smoke rising from Wayne Tower.  “You know, Harley, I think I’ve found a new career.  Urban renewal!  Hahaha!”

 

Frustrated at home, Commissioner Gordon was unable to make contact with anyone at headquarters, either by radio or cellphone.  Nor could he reach Mayor Golini.  Or even Barbara.  The only person who answered his calls was Lt. Cooper at Precinct Ten, a storefront substation southeast of City Hall.  “Lieutenant, what’s your situation?”

“We have no power, sir, but we are operational.”

“Good.  Consider your station emergency headquarters.  I can’t get in touch with any other units.”

“Us, either.  We’ve talked to a few guys on the duty roster with cellphones.  Looks like that’s the only way to communicate.”

“And who knows how long it’ll last?  I’m going to call as many officers as I can and tell them to report to your precinct.  Any of your guys with working phones should do the same.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“We’ll hold the fort until you get here, sir.”

What an apt analogy, Gordon thought as he phoned Captain Martin.  “Tom?  Thank God.  Listen, I need you and every other guy you can find to go to Precinct Ten.  We’ve got to mount some kind of counteroffensive.”

 

            A mile southeast of Arkham, Catwoman and Nikki took cover as Firefly blasted North Avenue and a pair of tenement buildings.  When he flew off, they left the area and ran two blocks west, only to be confronted by Killer Croc.

            “Hello, Kitty,” Croc said, licking his sharp teeth.

            Catwoman pulled out a Batarang and turned to face him.  “What a coincidence, Croc.  I was just thinking how I need a new set of luggage.”

            She flung the weapon, but it did little more than nick his chest.

            “Wrong animal.”  He charged after her.

            Nikki hurled a bolo, but missed completely.

            Croc slapped her to the side and lunged for Catwoman.  The Cat jumped, but he got hold of her boot and brought her down.  As he tried to choke her, she raked her claws across his belly.  He gave a loud moan and instinctively let go.

            Nikki ran up and kicked his ribs hard, knocking him off his feet and into the gutter.  She helped Catwoman up, and they darted away down the closest alley.  “What the hell is he, a man or an animal?”

            “Yes,” Catwoman answered breathlessly, looking back for Croc.

            “Uh-oh!”

            “What?”
            “Brick wall straight ahead, Cats.”

            They sputtered to a halt.

“Damn!  Dead end.  I couldn’t tell in this pitch black.”  Catwoman frantically groped for a window, an open door--anything to give them time to regroup.

“Going somewhere?” asked a voice behind them.  It was Croc.

The rain fell harder as Catwoman moved to kick him.  He caught her leg and shoved her back.

Nikki tried the same maneuver, but he grabbed her by the face and bashed her head into the bricks.  With a wail, she crumpled to the ground and went out.

“Nikki!”

Croc kicked Catwoman in the chest so hard, the impact with the wall knocked her wind out.  Gasping for air, she didn’t see the two-fisted blow he landed on top of her skull.

A flash of stars exploded in her brain, and she collapsed beside Nikki.

 

While Gordon drove into the city, he passed scores of people fleeing south.  Some looked injured.  Still unable to reach Barbara, the mayor, or anyone at headquarters, he threw his phone into the passenger’s seat.  On a rise just across the Gotham River, he saw the smoke and glowing fires dotting the skyline.

Pulling over, he stopped the car.  He could not believe the sight.  “Oh, my God!  This is our Pearl Harbor.”

 

Riding his Redbird motorcycle north of Blackgate Isle, Robin found Bane by an overturned police car.  A physical mismatch if ever there was one, it did not deter him.

Bane couldn’t help laughing.  “You know how this looks, don’t you?”

“Like David and Goliath?”

“Like Bambi and Godzilla!”  Bane head-butted him, sending him sprawling in the street.

Robin grabbed his throwing bird and let it fly.  The blade gashed Bane’s arm and drew blood.

“A mosquito bite, nothing more.  Where’s Batman?”

“Hopefully, beating the crap out of Joker.  He asked me to keep an eye on you until he was finished.”  Robin did a backflip and kicked him in the face.

Bane stumbled and bumped into a corner mailbox, which he ripped loose and threw.

Tumbling out of the way, Robin easily avoided the deadly projectile.  “You need some serious anger management, pal.”

“Manage this!”  Bane yanked a stop sign out of the sidewalk and swung it like an axe.

Robin made an acrobatic leap and grabbed the crossbar of a streetlight.  When Bane approached, he wrapped his legs around the man’s head in a scissor lock and tried to rip loose the tubes injecting Venom into his body.

Bane dropped the sign, pulled him off, and flung him into a lamppost.

The boy’s back armor took most of the impact.  Nevertheless, it still made his teeth rattle.  Dropping to the pavement, he rolled over and sat up.  As he reached for a knockout gas capsule, the brawny man stomped hard on his right foot.  He heard the bones snap inside his boot, and a searing pain shot up his leg.

Bane walked away frowning.  “So much for Robin.  Change your name to Lame Duck!”

Boiling mad, Robin held onto the lamppost and stood.  He took two steps before his leg gave way, and he fell.  Feeling like a hot poker was jabbing his ankle, he sat on the wet curb and called Batman with his communicator.

Bane headed northwest, hoping to link up with Scarecrow.

 

At the moment, Scarecrow was tangling with Zatanna not far from police headquarters.  He elbowed her in the stomach, and she responded with a crotch kick and a punch to the chin.

“The lady’s tough,” he said.

“I’m even tougher with this.”  She took the magic wand out of her coat.

Before she could use it, he sprayed hallucinogenic gas in her face.  “Goodnight, Zatanna.  Unpleasant dreams!”

 

The intense light shining in their faces woke Catwoman and Nikki.  Hearing an engine, Catwoman groaned and said, “I sure hope that’s the Batmobile.”

Nikki rubbed her pounding head.  “Me, too.”

The light suddenly dimmed, and they could see a purple car ten feet beyond in the alley.  Harley and Joker got out and walked toward them.

“Omigod,” Nikki muttered.

“What have we here?” Joker asked, holding an umbrella and pointing his revolver.  “Batman’s lady friend and her apprentice.  Stand up, you soggy cats!”

Nervously, they complied.

“Harley, watch my impression of Riddler.  Riddle me this.  What’s the difference between Batman and Catwoman?”

“I dunno, Puddin’.”

“She doesn’t wear any armor.”

Catwoman’s eyes grew wide with fear.

Smiling fiendishly, he shot her twice in the abdomen.

Harley fired two rounds at Nikki, who collapsed on her fallen mentor.

In the steady rain, a red-tinged river flowed past Joker’s car and down the alley.  His satanic laughter echoed off the walls and seemed to carry on the wind across the city.

 

TO BE CONTINUED