He could see her from the shadows. Shaking-not from the cold, from something else-alone and clinging to a parcel of papers; the purported ‘information’ no doubt.
It was a trap. It had to be. He ran a background check on her voice, came up with nothing that would insinuate an otherwise upstanding senior at Gotham U would turn to crime, would have insider information important enough to warrant a direct plea to Matches Malone. That in of itself was worrying, how someone would be able to find even the tiniest of a link between himself and his underground alias. He’d need to scrap the Malone profile, come up with something new, find any leaks and plug them with due haste.
He knew it was a trap, the question was by whom? Bait wasn’t the MO of many of his rogues; too orderly, too impersonal, the antithesis of the chaos that festered in Gotham’s darkened corners. Strategically, the alley she chose was brilliant. Bits of cover were smattered in every direction, the nearest busy road was tucked away behind an abandoned medical facility, open roof tops with prime positions for marksmen were everywhere. He would be completely surrounded and vulnerable for the duration of the meeting, and the aura of terror that the quaking teen gave off indicated that an attack could happen at any time.
Too many variables, but he couldn’t just leave. They’d simply kill her, and he wasn’t about to let that happen.
He put away his binoculars and gave the area one last sweep with his eyes. Now or never.
He pushed off from the building, extended his cape, blocked out the light of the moon with his body. His shadow drifted over the girl, and she looked up into the sky. She nearly screamed.
He landed loudly beside her, said nothing, and let his cape drape over his shoulders, shrouding himself completely in black. She backed into the wall she was standing against and let out a squeak, nearly dropping the papers in the process. He let her speak first, pointing the white slits of his cowl directly at her while his eyes trained over every crack and crevice he could see.
Nothing so far.
“B-Batman,” she said. “I…I have…I have.”
“Information,” he said. “I know. We don’t have much time-give it to me. Now.”
Her stuttering grew worse. His eyes were still dancing over the roof tops. “I…I…will, just I’m…”
“If anything in that package is worth putting the both of us at risk,” he said, letting his voice drop to a growl, “then you’ll hand it over immediately, and get behind me.”
He hadn’t even finished his command when a gunshot ripped through the evening air. Batman flinched and fired off a batarang in the direction of the shot, hearing a satisfied thump as a body dropped to the pavement. The girl screamed and flung the papers into the air, pressed herself against the wall in a huddled ball and started crying. Batman stepped in front of her, his head on a swivel.
“When I give the word, you run. Understand?”
She said nothing.
He turned his head just long enough to miss the three bolas emerge from the shadows. The flung themselves across the alley and wrapped around Batman’s limbs. He grunted in surprise and started straining against the bonds. A button clicked in the darkness.
The bolas glowed and angry shade of blue. Batman stopped struggling, a rare look of surprise emerging from under the cowl. He turned to the girl, screamed “Run!”, then collapsed as electricity sparked and crackled around his body, bathing him in a violent storm of light and pain. He convulsed as he hit the pavement, then stopped moving.
The girl didn’t run. Her limbs were locked in place, a petrified statue staring at a smoldering body. She saw his chest rise and fall, but that was the extent of Batman’s movements.
She heard boots thumping against the ground, heavy and orderly. Soldiers, covered in pouches and grenades and armour stepped into the moonlight, their guns trained on Batman, their eyeless masks blank and mute. They surrounded him. One of the soldiers jabbed the barrel of his gun into Batman’s back. He gave a different solider, one wearing a beret, a satisfied nod when Batman didn’t move.
Silently, they picked him off the ground, one soldier per limb, and hauled him into the shadows. An engine started up, and headlights streamed into alley. She still couldn’t move, even as one of the soldiers began eyeing her.
“What do we do with the girl?” he asked the one in the Beret.
The other soldier paused, pressed his fingers to his ear. “Kill her,” he said, eventually.
The first soldier nodded, then shoved his gun against her cheek. She closed her eyes…
Several rooftops away, a bazooka was thrown to the ground.
It had been pure fluke that he saw everything that transpired; the girl, the bolas, Batman’s body hitting the pavement like a demolished building. But see it all he did.
And he shook with unmitigated rage.
“Binoculars!” he hissed, stretching out a gloved hand. Someone tepidly dropped them into his palm and backed away quickly, shielding both head and face just in case. He looked through the lenses, zoomed in on the alley, and let out an animalistic growl that sent his minions fleeing to the opposite corner of the roof. Zoomed in, he could see with perfect clarity the armoured goons lifting Batman from the street and dragging him off towards a set of waiting lights.
The binoculars slowly dropped from his eyes, which were now nearly bloodshot with boiling rage. “What the hell is wrong with this town!” he said. “Why does every Tom, Dick and Hilary think they can just weasel in on my fun!?”
He turned to his minions, who were cowering near the furthest ledge. “That’s my Batman down there! That’s my duly betrothed partner in calamity! That’s my source of meaning in this world!” He turned back to the alley, binoculars back up to his eyes. They were pointing a gun at the girl now, reading to splatter her brains against the wall. He threw his binoculars down towards the streets. “No,” he said. “Oh no-ho-ho-ho-no you don’t! You lost you fun badge the moment you started nosing around where you don’t belong!”
“Sniper!” he called out. A rifle materialized in his hands, and still scowling, he pointed its sights at the nearest armoured goon’s head.
“In this town,” he said, “you mess with the Bat, you get the Clown…”
The van was gone. Batman was gone. Only the two soldiers remained; the one with the beret, and the one with his gun jammed into her check. Her eyes were still closed. She refused to look. Whatever they did to her, no matter how quick it might be, she didn’t want to have to watch. The dread that welled up inside of her was more than enough.
Something warm and sticky spilt over her face, and the gun removed itself from her cheek. Her eyes remained closed, clamped tighter than before, as the sound of something heavy hitting the ground rang through her ears. The second soldier sounded frantic, moving in frenzied steps. Then there was a whizzing noise, and the sound of something meaty exploding. Something landed on her leg and began to ooze down her shin and over her shoe.
This time, she opened her eyes. And she screamed.
The two soldiers lay headless at her feet, a geyser of blood spilling from their wounds. She scrambled backwards as far as she could, and kept screaming. The days traumatic events; the kidnapping, the threatening, Batman, now this, frayed her nerves further until she was in complete hysterics. Time stood still, or moved even quicker, she didn’t know. All she knew was that she wanted to get as far away from the alley-hell the city-as possible, and yet she found herself rooted to the spot as horrors danced across her vision.
She felt like she was going to pass out.
In the corner of her vision, she saw several shapes begin to move closer to her. Their silhouettes betrayed their enormous, like lumbering giants across a mythic plain. They walked into the light of the alley, and she saw their bone white make-up, their green and purple suits, the massive smiling guns strapped over their shoulders. Her voice caught in her throat.
“Da Boss wants to speak to ya,” said one of the Giants. “Right friggin’ now.”
That pushed her over the edge.
She finally fainted.
“Yooo-hooo. If you don’t wakey-wakey I’ll turn you into eggs and backeeyyy hehehaha…”
Her head snapped up, and she tried to scream, but his gloved hand clamped over her mouth. Her eyes shifted nervously back and forth, and he could see his grinning reflection in her glossy pupils. He leaned in closer.
“Good good, you’re awake finally.”
She tore free from his grip and scooted backwards on her rear. She stopped when her back hit the ledge of the roof, a pile of broken binocular and bazooka bits strew around her and cutting into her hands. Joker stretched his lanky limbs and climbed to his full height, slowly sauntering closer to her. “Look,” he said, “someone important to me has been taken against his will, and you had a little something to do with it. So, if you would be a good neighbor and tell me about all those Star Wars rejects you’re in with…”
“I don’t know anything!” she blurted out, and the tears commenced again. Joker sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Useless, the lot of them. Some mysterious new villain was violating the sacred bond that all heroes and villains shared in this dank gothic dump, and not a single ungrateful soul was willing to pony up and help restore the delicate order that had been so meticulously preserved. No, not delicate; sacred. At least when Joker and Batman were concerned. Holmes and Moriarty, Jesus and Satan, Kirk and Kahn, all those trumped up rivalries paled in comparison to the Jester and the Knight he so diligently served.
And it was all about to be smashed to smithereens by some uppity new comer! The gull! The nerve!
No, Joker was not going to let his better half down. He’d find a way.
“Welp, that’s what I was afraid of. Time for torture I suppose.”
“Wait!” The girl held up a pleading hand. The advancing droves of goons halted, and Joker leaned in to hear more clearly. She composed herself, taking a deep breath, and began to stand up, her arms still extended outward. “I can tell you what the van looked like. It was distinctive. I’d never seen anything like it before.” She paused, looked at the ground with darting eyes. “It looked like Dodge, but sleeker, more futuristic. And it was black, very black, metallic almost. It jutted out in places on the side. I think it was armour maybe. And the tires were big rubber spikes, or something like that. But that’s all I know! That’s all I can give you!”
Joker hummed to himself, stroking his elongated chin. The gears in his head whirled as ideas bubbled and congealed and disappeared in his manic mind. A mind that was more than capable of putting even the flimsiest of pieces together, he reminded himself with pride.
A smile stretched his lips to a grotesque length, and he let out a small chuckle. “I can use that. Yessiree I certainly can.” He snapped his fingers. “Thank you my dear!” he said, enveloping her in a hug. “You’ve been most helpful in your dilapidated state!” He pushed her off, nearly sending her careening over the edge, and bonded back towards his crew with a jovial laugh. One of the larger ones turned to the Joker as he passed.
“Want us to ice her?” he asked.
“No time Leroy,” Joker said. “We’ve got a Bat to save! Find me a cruiser with a red-shirt in it and get Harley on the line!”
“But what about her?” the goon said, pointing at the girl.
“I don’t know. Drop her off at a hospital and start kicking people until they take her!”
“Just do it Leroy! I’m a very busy man right now!”
The goon nodded and began to approach the girl, who was cowering and shrinking into a huddled ball again. The Joker paid them no more attention, instead focused ahead at another of his hired helpers rushing towards him with a novelty dial phone cradled in his arms. With a smile, Joker picked up the mouth-shaped receiver, and spoke gently to the person on the other end.
“Hey puddin’!” came Harley’s high pitched reply.
“We’ve got a misplaced Bat on our hands, and I need you to be my eyes ears and fingers while I go a-hunting.”
“Uh, is that a capital ‘B’ on the bat? ‘Cause I think we gotta ‘nother one here if you…”
“Yes capital ‘B’, Harl,” he said, through slightly grinding teeth. “Someone’s made off with the only reason you’re still around, so I’d suggest you make my game of hide and seek go as smoothly as possible, capiche?”
Harley swallowed. “Y-yes Mista J.”
“Good!” Joker clapped his hands. “Now we don’t want the Batfam and the Justice Dorks getting to him first, so we’ll need a distraction.”
“Yes Mista J.”
“So…hmm let me think…how’s about you take a shipment of rocket launchers aaaaannnd…drop them on the roof of the Iceberg Lounge. Tell ol’ Pengy to have a night on the town courtesy of Uncle Joker.”
“Yes Mista J.”
Joker clapped his hands again, and let out an echoing cackle, slapping at invisible backs with his gloved hand. He felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to face another one of his large goons. He held a small tracker in his beefy hand.
“W-we found a squad car near-by,” he said. “Only one guy in it.”
The Joker laughed again, and the goon lurched backwards. “Excellent!” he said. “Now the fun can begin, and Batsy-boy can rest easy knowing that his old pal Joker is hot on his trail!” He grabbed the tracker and flung it into the air, spinning in circles towards the exit from the rooftop. “You bruisers are with Harl. Make sure this town is inside-out and backwards until I find Batman and right every wrong done to the both of us.” He drew the receiver closer to his red lips. “Got that sweetie?” he sang.
“You gonna do this alone boss?” asked one of the minions.
Joker slammed the phone down onto its base and broke into another laughing fit. “Of course I am!” he said. “This little danse is between moi et mon ami.” He grabbed onto the goons lapels and pulled him closer, his face serious and his canines bared. “No one else.”
“Y-you da boss, Boss.”
His smile returned. “Good,” he said.
“Then let’s go forth and unleash the Bats of hell!”
He could see the cop from the shadows. Donut in one hand, steaming coffee in the other, hat brim tipped downwards to shield him from the streets he was supposed to be guarding. Every now and again he’d chance a glance at the radio, or the blinking laptop the jutted up from between the seats, but he’d always scoff, or sniff, or make some minor facial gesture, and turn back to his coffee or donut or just the peace of his black brim.
No one would see, no one would hear. A pity, but he had a time-table to follow, and attention, no matter how deliciously fun, would just slow him down.
It was likely a fairly short time table as well. Whoever these wannabe tough guys were, they did manage to take down Batsy quickly and cleanly. If they wanted him dead, they’d do it soon. If they didn’t, well, then maybe they were playing the Gotham game after all.
That thought just made Joker angrier.
He pounced from his position and landed on the hood of the cruiser, cackling and waving an oversized silver revolver, tapping on the window like he was a lost puppy begging to be let in. The officer in the car screamed; his hat flew off his head and his coffee landed lid first on his lap, mixing in with the bodily fluids he likely expunged.
“Evenin’ Govna!” Joker sang. “I’d like to report an assault on a deputy!”
His laughter was in harmony with a rolling round of thunder, while his fist plunged through the glass and grabbed onto the officers uniform. In one nearly inhuman motion, he yanked the officer out onto the pavement, slapped him across the face, then pushed him roughly against a wall. His gun nestled itself into the indent beneath the officers jaw.
“P-please, don’t kill me!” he begged.
“Let me use that wonderful police tracking device in your car, and I’ll say ‘maybe’.”
“T-tracking device? W-what tracking device?”
Joker groaned. “This should be Policing 101 man! The tracking device! The thing that connects you to every car blimp and camera in the city?” The officer still looked puzzled. “You know, the thing you turn to when all the minorities you’re beating up start fleeing?”
“I-I haven’t, I don’t know what you’re…”
Joker pulled the trigger, and the officer’s head disappeared. He pulled out a hole-filled handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at the gore dotting his forehead. “No wonder this city needs Batman,” he said. “Useless as Aquaman in Arizona.”
He vaulted towards the now abandoned cruiser and slid into the driver’s seat, closing the door quietly as he did. “For privacy,” he said with a wink. He roughly grabbed at the computer monitor and spun it to face him. A little app situated at the bottom right corner spelt out TRACKING MAINFRAME. The Joker smiled.
There was no password, no ID verification, not even a questionnaire and a 30 second advertisement; one little click and the Joker was inside the GCPD’s vast array of civil rights infringing devices. Scrolling through his list of options, he came across a tab that said SEARCH. He clicked on it, typed in the description of the van the nice and likely forever scared girl had provided for him, and sat back in the leather chair as the million ones and zeroes combined and split apart, traveling from receiver to node and back again. He blew on his nails, then tapped on the dashboard, cursed his short attention span and hoped that whoever the new bastards were hadn’t put a bullet in ol’ Batman’s head just yet.
The screen lit up and a soft pinging noise alerted him that the search was done. Joker leaned forward. Three different cameras played and replayed footage of the very van he had searched for traveling in and around Gotham alleyways, dating back as far as a week. A forth appeared on top, a view from a police blimp, showing recent footage of the van creeping along a side road…
…a side road that led to the location of the very fateful event in question.
“I have you now,” he said. He typed in another command, and a series of red lines appeared on a cut-out map of Gotham, surrounding a section of the city and growing smaller as more information was processed. The triangle stopped moving and just hovered, right over the east end of the Foundry.
Joker groaned. “Always the Foundry,” he said. “Nobody has any original ideas anymore.”
He quickly pulled up another tab, entered the corresponding code, and searched through a rather large list of abandoned or otherwise ignored buildings in that area. He filtered out places that were strategically unappealing to a pseudo-militia group (can’t say there aren’t professional) and highlighted places that contained basement levels (perfect place for a murder, after all).
The search returned two options. He could eliminate one of them immediately; the old card-games factory was Riddler territory, and if some new masked ne’er-do-wells moved in and out muscled Mr. Question mark, Bane surely would have called up to gloat. That left just the former train terminal, a choice that, upon reflection, seemed fairly obvious.
Obvious or not, he had the location. He had found Batman.
“Huh,” Joker said. “Well that wasn’t very hard at all.” He stuck his head out the shattered window, called out towards the officer’s corpse. “You really ought to apply yourself more,” he said. “Just because the rest of the GCPD is garbage doesn’t mean you have to be too!”
The radio fizzed with static, then faded away to reveal the voice of the dispatcher, her voice laced with panic. “Calling all units, calling all units: Harley Quinn has attacked City Hall. Repeat: Harley Quinn has killed at least two City Councillors and has the Mayor at gunpoint. Special Weapons and Tactics are requesting immediate perimeter support, over.”
“Roger that,” responded another squad car. “Unit 205 is less than a minute out, over.”
“Be advised Unit 205: Captain Earnheart’s last report was that: ‘The bitch is crazy pissed,’ over.”
“Jesus…” swore Unit 205.
The Joker looked at the radio and scratched his head.
“Huh,” he said. “Wonder what got into her…”
In his head, all the Joker would have needed was a rocket launcher the size of a person, and several extra crates of ammunition stored strategically around the old terminal, just in reach of him should he run out of explosives before he ran out of people to explode. He’d launch himself at the mooks guarding Batman like a pouncing panther, rockets flying away, craters replacing people, and with a swift motion he’d cut Batman’s bonds, blast open the nearest wall, slap pointy ears in the face with a spiked chicken (completely devoid of poison, of course-this was a rescue mission) and off he’d go into the night, content in knowing that the primordial battle of order versus chaos that played out in the rooftops and alleyways would live on to entertain yet another day.
It’d be fun, it’d be messy, it’d be brutal, but of course none of those options would do him any good. Pained as he was to admit it, the Joker would have to be…subtle.
At least the costumed charlatans reeked of amateur. The terminal’s outside was completely devoid of guards-hell, completely devoid of people. Not a bag lady or a wandering mad-prophet to be seen, meaning they had likely cleared out the area before transporting their brooding quarry inside.
Everyone in Gotham put guards outside. Everyone. Whether they were dressed as passer-bys or wearing nothing but giant green question marks, it was rule number one of Gotham villainy to have some form of outside sentinel. Two-Face did it because, odds were, someone would make at least a little bit of noise during an attack. Joker did it because some people mouthed off to him, and nothing shut them up quicker than a broken femur.
But not these guys. Joker almost spit in disgust.
He crept along the walls and stayed in the shadows, cloaking his bright purple suit in blackness. Every overly loud gadget he had was sitting in the lap of one of his goons, meaning he had nothing but his wits and his charming good looks as weapons.
And a yo-yo, of course.
He was just nearing the main spiral staircase, the entrance into the bowels of the old terminal, when he came across his first patrol; nothing more than a five man squad led by a loud and overconfident young punk.
He’d go first. Joker hated punks.
The five mumbled something to one another but didn’t move, beyond occasionally shifting from foot to foot. One of the soldiers made a disparaging remark about the young punk’s mother, and received the butt-end of a rifle in his nose as a response.
Joker pulled out a coin from his back pocket and gave it a kiss (for luck, obviously). With a flick of his finger, he sent the coin sailing head over tails in the air, watched it arc just around the corner and land with a soft clink on the checkered marble floor. All five heads turned to the noise, their guns raised.
“The hell was that?” asked the young punk.
“Sounded like a coin,” said a different soldier.
“Well go check it out then.”
“You’ve got the shotgun. You check it out.”
“I give the orders in this squad.”
Joker could see the other four raise their guns; the under-barrel laser’s pointed at the young punk’s chest. “Four to one,” said one of the soldiers. “You’re outvoted.”
Joker let out a hushed giggle that was swallowed up by the sounds of the young punk’s heavy footfalls. His gloved finger slipped into his yo-yo’s knot, and slowly, carefully, he lifted it from his jacket pocket.
The footsteps grew closer. Joker’s limbs were compressed into springs.
“It’s just a coin,” the young punk said. “Just a damn, stupid…”
With a flick of his wrist, Joker flung out the yo-yo. It’s painted metal end wrapped around the young punk’s neck, its threaded wire glistening in the low-level light. Joker yanked back on his end of the string, felt the wire cut into his fingers, and saw the make-shift garrotte tighten around the young’s vital jugular. His mask hid his terrified expression, but Joker heard what amounted to a gargled scream just as the wire sliced through flesh and bone, and blood spilt out onto the floor. The head and body tumbled separately, and crashed loudly against the marble.
The other four turned back in surprise, almost screamed out orders to the rest of the guards, or to someone within ear shot who could help them, but Joker’s inhumanly fast and lanky limbs grabbed hold of the dead punk’s gun, and before anyone could blink, an entire clip had been emptied in the direction of the opposite hall. The four soldiers collapsed, their bodies filled with gaping and smoking wounds. Joker smiled and allowed himself yet another muffled giggle.
“Thanks for silencing this thing for me,” he said to the decapitated corpse. “Party crackers are fun and all, but they make such noise.”
He discarded the gun and tip-toed in exaggerated steps towards the large stair case. Not a soul in sight, at least so far as he could see. A clear path lay just head, straight on to the central hub, where old clanking steam engine’s once were repaired and ordered about before the region succumbed to gross income deficiency, and where he’d more than likely find the captured Bat.
Unless said Bat had already escaped. And ruin all his fun, oh he’d better not have! The amount of trouble Joker went through just to get this far…
He shook that thought from his head and bounded down the steps quickly, feeling a new sense of urgency. Joker suspected that there would only be a few more patrol’s doled out through the upper levels, maybe one in reserve below. If these imposters of villainy knew anything about Batman (and they couldn’t be stupid enough to attack him on his home turf without some research), then they’d concentrate most of their heavy fighters around where-ever they held him, being more worried about a break-out than a break-in.
It appeared that he was right. The hub was but one flight of stairs and two twisting hallways away, and only one last five man squad stood between Joker and the Bat-in-Distress. He’d be led into the upper-most platform a large cavern of a concourse, filled with rusted train tracks and sealed behind a thick steel door. He could afford to be a bit louder with these last few victims, if he was so inclined.
Which he most certainly was.
Allowing his shoes to clack against the chipped and rocky floor, Joker emerged from his corner, his yo-yo bobbing from his blood-stained gloves. A sinister smile, toothy and grotesquely stretched, shone with a dull yellow light under the blinking bulbs. The rear-most soldier spun around in surprise, and motioned for the rest of his colleagues to do the same.
“Heyya kids! Wanna see a dead body?”
A hailstorm of bullets ricocheted off the wall where Joker had been standing. In a blur of green white and purple, he had slithered towards the opposite corner and snaked out his yo-yo. The wire wrapped itself around the arm of the nearest soldier, and with a swift jerk it fell to the floor with a wet and sickening splat. The soldier screamed in pain, but had his misery ended early as the spiked wooden end of the yo-yo crashed through his mask. Joker howled like a bloodthirsty wolf, and charged at the remaining four soldiers, all of whom who stood petrified in fear and quivering in their armour.
Bones cracked. Flesh ripped. The mad clown laughed. In no time at all, the hall was littered with lifeless bodies and its walls were showered with crimson. It was a psychopath’s canvas.
Joker counted to himself. “Let’s see…one, two, three, four…” Something rustled near his leg. “Ah, yes.” His foot came down hard on something soft, and the squirming stopped. “There. Five. Not bad old man. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not in the prime of your life, hehe!”
The door lay just in front of him, and with restrained glee, Joker slowly propped it open. The echo of a deep, heavily accented voice met him as he moved into the concourse. High in the rafters, he was shrouded in darkness, and could see everything perfectly. The several contingents of soldiers, the large mask-less figure pacing back and forth…
And Batman! There he was; all tied up but still as defiant as always. Good, they had the ingenuity to bind him tightly but the ineptitude to try and talk him to death. Or to their side. Or something, he wasn’t sure. Joker shuffled closer to the edge and listened in.
“You don’t understand Batman,” the Leader said. “This is all for the greater good!”
“You’re not the first person that’s wanted to cleanse Gotham’s underworld through murder. You get the same answer as Ras Al Ghul.”
Yeah, you tell him Batsy! No one murders criminals around here except Clowns and the occasional lucky constable!
“I was like you once, Batman. Buried by morals, rendered blind by petty human concepts of piety and human sacredness. That all changed the moment the real world revealed itself to me. That changed the moment I experienced a loss so profound that only a fool would cling to old beliefs. I have seen what happens when crime consumes the innocent, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to fight back, piece by piece, until those that want to do good aren’t outnumbered by beasts five times their size.”
“Poetic,” said Batman, “but murder doesn’t solve problems, it creates them. There’s always another way.”
Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves Bats; murder’s done wonders for the right people…
The Leader scoffed. “And your country seems so willing to try them, doesn’t it? I do not wish to dig mass graves Batman, only to remove the most vile and soulless among them. All I ask is for you to step away for one night, one night only, and then you’ll be free to make a real difference without ever having to worry about the lizard or the Clown ever again.”
And now…it’s personal!
Joker mounted the nearest dangling wire and let lose a hideous cackle. He swung down towards the concourse, watching as stunned soldiers backed away and an equally stunned Batman stared in confusion (and awe, obviously). He landed just in front of the Leader, who was struggling to find any words.
“No deal Mr. Banker!” he said. He kicked at Batman’s restraints, heard them tumble to the ground. “C’mon Batman, let’s give them the Gotham…”
Batman had leapt free from the table before Joker could finish, and the swirl of black and grey enveloped the Leader. Joker smiled and turned to face the incoming troops, his body square and ready for a round of fisty-cuffs.
“Alright then suckers, time to dance!”
The first soldier dove for Batman, completely ignoring the Joker. Barely able to keep his face from telegraphing his offense, Joker slapped the soldier in the back of his head, felt the reinforced palm brain his skull and send him tumbling head first into a bit of track. The rest of the soldiers stopped and stared as Joker broke into another laughing fit. He saw their eyeless masks shift between Batman and himself, over and over again, until they finally realized what complete carnage the Joker could cause and attacked him accordingly. He smirked, then felt Batman back into him.
“We can take him Bats,” he said. “All we need to do is fall back into a position where…”
He was again interrupted as Batman grabbed onto the back of his jacket, and with an effortless heavy flung him head over heels at a condensed group of soldiers. He nearly felt his tailbone snap when he collided with the group, and nearly broke it again when they tumbled like bowling pins to the hard and cold ground.
“Good…tactics, team,” Joker said, his head spinning. The shadow of a soldier appeared over him, and he saw the barrel of a gun aimed right at the centre of his left eye.
Again, Joker smiled.
“I wouldn’t stand there if I was yoooou,” he sang. His arm snapped out and grabbed the soldier just under his shin. He felt his trick ring push against the soldier’s legs, and out shot several thousand volts of electricity. The soldier sparked and sputtered, and collapsed to the ground in a quivering heap. “Electrical hazard. Very dangerous.” He giggled and pulled out his oversized revolver (which he had saved for an emergency), and pointed it at the downed soldiers head.
“Let me put the dumb animal out of its misery.”
A batarang cut through the air. Joker felt the gun pull against his grip and an overwhelming vibration jangle his nerves. The gun flew from his hand. Scowling, he looked towards Batman.
“If we’re doing this,” Batman said, burying his knuckles into the nearest soldier, “then no guns!”
“What!” The Joker’s knee connected with a charging soldier. “You know, I don’t go around telling you how to raise your kidnapping victims. Let me do things my way!”
Another batarang sailed through the air, and behind him he heard the cracking of a mask. Joker turned around just as its intended target rocked backwards, a batarang-sized split forming in his mask. Joker scoffed.
“Fine. But when this is over, you and I are having a serious talk about overreach!”
He readied himself for combat again, but no one came. The soldiers were withdrawing, slowly, their guns pointed ahead of them, not to pick targets, but to ensure that no one followed them. Joker felt ready to celebrate, to brag about the awesome combined power of the Bat and the Clown, but said Bat’s steely glare indicated to him that now was not a time for celebrations.
Seeing the Leader walk forward with a canon the size of bar stool attached to his chest, it was easy to guess what the look was about.
“I gave you the opportunity to cooperate Batman!” he shouted, looking almost close to an emotional breakdown. “I wanted you to be able to continue your work after I was done! But if you won’t back down, then the greater good will have to deal with being one hero short!”
Joker sprinted in front of Batman, and spread his arms in make-shift cover.
“You’ll have to get through me!” he said, sporting a smile that dared the Leader to pull the trigger. The bulky arm of Batman roughly pushed him to the side, drawing a disapproving glare from the Clown Prince of Crime.
“This unpredictable torrent of evil is exactly what I was talking about,” the Leader said. The gun whirled as it charged up. “I hope you are content to know that he won’t bother anyone while you’re gone.”
The Joker did what the Joker always did when the void began to reach for him; he began to laugh. The laugh rippled through his throat and ribs, rocked his head back and forth, drained the colour from the Leader’s face. Batman himself, despite thinking that he had grown immune to the maniacal laughter, turned and stared as the Joker nearly slumped over and held his gut. The Leader’s face hardened, and his hands gripped the weapon tighter.
“Say goodbye, Batman.”
The canon fired…
…and the roof exploded.
A blur of red, blue and gold landed right in front of Batman and the Joker, standing still as the bright blue beam struck its crossed arms and split into multiple, deflected beams. Whiffs of steam twined around the figure and drifted past the Joker, who by now had stopped laughing and instead was staring upwards incredulously.
“No fair!” he said, pointing. “That’s a literal Deus Ex Machina! This was supposed to be my rescue!”
The Leader stumbled and dropped his weapon. The rest of the roof exploded over his head, and looking upwards he caught the silhouettes of descending shadows shaped like bats and familiar figures. He choked on his own spit, coughed, and bolted for the nearest exit.
“No, no!” he cried. “This isn’t right!”
A wall of glowing green cut off his escape route, and a voice called at him from above. “Not today Zurg,” it said.
He stumbled and fell to his knees. Kicking up dust and bits of discarded train, he pushed himself towards another door, only to ram his face into a blue chest with a red and yellow shield adorning its centre.
“Sorry. Toll booth’s closed,” the voice attached to the chest said.
He stuttered again and backed up in fear. He stared into Superman’s face, saw the Green Lantern descend behind him. His focus was so tied up in the appearance of the Justice League that he didn’t notice the flying acrobat, adorned in black and blue, launch himself feet first at the Leader’s head until it was too late.
He hit the ground with a thud as Nightwing landed next to him. The leader of the Titans didn’t even acknowledge the presence of the unconscious villain; he simply turned towards Batman. “Sorry we’re late,” he said. “There was a bit of a kerfuffle at City Hall.”
The Leader’s soldiers turned and fled into the tunnels, dropping their weapons to elevate any excess weight. Their flight didn’t last long. They found themselves staring into the dark blue blazers of an army of GCPD officers, weapons drawn and faces covered in dust and burn marks, and immediately they were herded back into the central concourse, where Jim Gordon, his pipe filled with freshly lit tobacco, stood next to Superman and Nightwing.
“Nice try guys,” he said, “but we’re going to need you to stay in the city for the next 20-30 years.”
The League and the bat-dressed youngsters surrounded Batman, asking in short clipped bursts if he was alright, and who or what these guys were and what they wanted. He even had a hint of a smile when they talked to him, or at least when some people talked to him.
It made Joker furious. Pushing through the crowd, he huffed and puffed towards Batman, who was busy ignoring him and talking instead to Wonder Woman.
“How do you have a direct line with Oracle?” he said.
“You gave it to me, remember? After she thought you died and had to call on outside help?”
“Right. I’m surprised you’d want to be anywhere near Gotham after that night.”
“Amazon’s love a challenge, don’t forget.”
“Then I’ll be sure to call on you if I ever need a vacation.”
Joker cut in front of her and draped his arm around Batman’s neck.
“Yes, well I think we both deserve a vacation after all this, don’t you Batsy?” The crowd was silent and staring. Both Wonder Woman and Nightwing moved in closer. “I mean,” he continued, “we sure had an uphill climb here, didn’t we? But we made it through, the two amigos, the scourge of any poser who tries to mosey in on the nice little thing we have, right?” He tried to pat Batman on the back, but the Dark Knight seized his wrist in a bone-cracking grip and twisted his arm behind his back. Joker yelped in surprise and pain, and nearly collapse to the floor.
“Ah!” he screamed. “What are you doing?”
“Arresting you,” Batman said evenly.
“What? What for?”
“For your outstanding warrant. You murdered 22 people last week.”
Joker felt himself get hauled up to his full height. He blinked. “Last week? Water under the bridge Batsy!”
“It’s 22 people,” Wonder Woman said. Nightwing and Superman smirked behind her back, gave the Joker a distinctive ‘you’re dead’ look.
“Oh you stay out of this legs!” Joker snapped. “Besides, think of all the people I would have killed if I didn’t save you, Bats? What I just did was practically a public service! I should…I should get an award!”
Nightwing stepped out from behind Wonder Woman and grabbed Joker just above his elbow. “Mind if I take him?” he said. “Please?”
Batman, goddamn him, smiled. “Be my guest,” he said.
Dejected and defeated, Joker gave in and hung his head, shuffling his feet loudly over the ground as Nightwing pushed him forward. He heard Wonder Woman still talking to Batman as he moved.
“Don’t I deserve a shot at him?” she said. “He did have the gull to call me legs.”
“Don’t worry,” Batman said. “We’ll find something else you can take your offense out on.”
That did it.
“Oh sure!” Joker yelled. “I do all the work saving you and she’s the one you’re taking out for ice cream after! Well this is the end, my friend. After this, you won’t be able to count of Uncle J bailing you out of all your emergencies! You’ll get what’s coming to you from now on, you hear me Batman? You hear me!?“
He didn’t hear the laughter from the group of superheroes, as Nightwing, trying his best not to crack up too, pushed him ahead with his shoulder. Two GCPD officers surrounded them as they disappeared into a tunnel.
“Don’t feel so down,” Nightwing said. “We picked up Harley before you.”
“Yeah,” said one of the officers. “And she seems real excited to see you again.”
Joker gulped, tested Nightwing’s grip on his arm, gulped again. His head hung even lower than before, and he let out a weary, defeated sigh.
“I’m going to need to speak to a lawyer,” he said.
“Make sure my will is all filled out for when she kills me…”