A Look Back Year Four: An Iceberg TaleApril 7, 2011
Another tough call, because Year Four saw some amazing moments. The Cat-Tales debut of the World’s Finest in Red Cape, Big City and the emergence of Alfred’s voice in Polishing Silver: The Journal of Alfred Pennyworth are the fan favorites. One or the other would undoubtedly have been picked for the Look Back spotlight if only there had been a single scene to focus on. But both tales are packed with so many developments and so many heart-race moments, a snapshot wasn’t quite possible. In contrast, there was one tale where the climactic event not only had repercussions in future stories, spawned an entire Alternate Universe, and inspired the first Cat-Tales fan art, it also contained the most memorable laugh line of Book 3.
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting this week’s look back… AIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE Purple Mannequin
Sly looked carefully at the new arrival—masks were the norm for the Iceberg crowd, but face painting was not unheard of. This girl—in a pair of furry tan-colored cat ears, with her face painted in tiger stripes, feline noseleather, and whiskers—had a more elaborate look than the typical groupie. But there was something beyond that, something unusual. What it was clicked into place when she placed her order:
“A Diet Sprite, please,” she squeaked, “with a tequila chaser.”
“Shhh, I’m here incognifty.”
Sly poured the drinks with a shrug.
“Whatever you say, Ma’am. One Diet Sprite, one tequila. What you chase with what is up to you.”
Harley took her drinks to a corner booth near her quarry, sat down without appearing to notice him in any way, and then began a jerky motion with her wrist underneath her chin. She paused occasionally to sip her drink and spy on the next table.
“What is she doing?” Tom Blake asked finally.
“Trying to get your attention, you silly ass,” Nigma replied.
“Tiger stripes, cat ears, she’s not here for me. And I’d assume that thing with the chin is meant to be licking a paw.”
Catman looked at the girl in disbelief, then back at Riddler.
“Well that’s just great. That is just what we need around here. Another goddamn cat-broad trying to steal the show. THE LITTERBOX IS CLOSED, SWEETIEPIE!” he said loudly.
“Blake, you’re an ass,” Eddie whispered harshly, “she’s here for you, you stupid schmuck. She’s trying to get picked up.”
Blake looked back at Harley, who was again performing the bizarre wrist-jerk. He looked back at Eddie.
“That looks nothing like licking a paw.”
“So she’s a bad mime. She’s cute. She’s here. She’s dressed like a cat. What’s your problem, man?”
Blake picked up his drink, grumbling, and walked to the other table as if performing some odious duty to pacify a tiresome friend.
Nigma shook his head. “Cats. The eternal riddle.”
Selina’s brow furrowed, she swallowed, then looked up at Bruce, confusion etched on every feature.
“I have a feeling I don’t want to hear this,” she said carefully. “Just about anything to do with Hugo tends to make me queasy.”
“I visited their camera truck last night, setting this up. It will allow me to monitor all of their raw footage as they’re taping. If there’s anything of concern…”
“Oh,” Selina broke in, suddenly getting it, “Not the Bruce-Wayne-is-Batman theory again.”
Bruce noted, with some amusement, that she spoke of it with the same weary-dismissive contempt that all rogues did. That she knew it was true—that she was actually standing next to him in the Batcave as she said it—made no difference whatsoever. It was Hugo, and therefore a laughable embarrassment to all roguekind.
“…if there’s anything of concern,” he continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “I can zap it.”
“Won’t that look suspicious?”
“No, it’ll look like the cameras experienced a momentary atmospheric anomaly that corrupted the sound record. I perfected this technique last year when the JLA considered that reality show nonsense*.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I love it when you go all bad-ass technophile.”
Bruce’s fingers paused for a split second, and then continued their continual movement over the dials and keyboard. Selina spoke again.
“So has there been anything ‘of concern’ to zap?”
“No,” he twitched.
Selina looked at the screen that read
… … … … …:: feed off FAB! remote crew-1 camera-1 ::… … … … …
The camera shot showed the interior of a van, as five well-groomed men circulated a dossier.
“Okay, our subject this week is Dr. Hugo Strange—Supervillain.”
“Supervillain, well that explains the beard.”
“Right, always remember: when you go evil, stop shaving.”
Selina blinked at the monitors.
“This isn’t for real.”
“Maybe I should start watching more television.”
Harley stood before the mirror in the Iceberg Women’s Room, fretfully combing her hair. She had made an error. She’d greeted Gina, the washroom attendant, by name—forgetting that she was supposed to be a newcomer to the Iceberg who wouldn’t know who Gina was.
Harley bit her lip.
Well, her time here was almost up anyway. She’d gotten what she needed from Tom Blake. Now she just needed to pop upstairs to Oswald’s flat above the club, her first foray as a cat-woman cat-burglar, and then she could leave and it wouldn’t matter if Gina let the cat out of the bag about the new cat-groupie.
“Bye-ah Gina, I mean, Meow,” Harley said cheerily.
Out in the dining room, she stopped to say goodnight to Catman:
“It was such a thrill meeting you, Mistah C, I can’t tell you. Now I gotta give this sidekick idea some thought, ‘cause I don’t know if it’s quite my style. But if I decide to help you out stealin’ these famous relics from the Catacombs, then I will get in touch. Where did you say your lair was again?”
Blake regarded the girl as if she wasn’t very bright, and repeated patiently: “Beneath the Safari Club, hidden entrance in the Tiger’s Paw Room behind the armoire.”
“Thanks Tommy, I mean, Meow.”
I cocked my head and looked at the video screen. It was an exterior shot where the van pulled to a stop and the FAB! team ran out and knocked feverishly on a heavy wooden door. The door swung open, and there was Hugo Strange, standing agape as FAB! swarmed over his apartment like a Ralph Lauren SWAT team.
“Ugh, Hugo, sweetheart. 1967 called, they want their glasses back. Wonderful invention, Dearie, they’re called ‘contacts.’ Say it slowly with me: ‘con-tacts.’”
“This room is just stupid. Plastic ferns? What’s the idea here: ‘I want to set off my purple leopard print chair with a little touch of green without having a living plant around?’”
I think I blacked out for a second at that. Purple leopard. And Hugo. Just the idea—shudder.
“Don’t look,” Bruce advised, “it could get much worse.”
I remembered that he had been inside Hugo’s place as Batman, although I’d never heard the circumstances or even if this was the same apartment.
“Trust me,” he repeated, “Don’t look.”
“What’s with this floor anyway? Those tiles are kind of… what would you call that? Off-beige.”
“The throw-pillows look like Doug Henning’s T-shirts…”
“Even shopping malls in the square states don’t use those recessed overhead lights anymore, do they?”
“Now Hugo, about your personal couture. First thing we’re going to do is lose this Freud Gone Wrong beard and then we’ll fix up the wardrobe. So, you’re a criminal mastermind and all that. Sounds exciting. To each his own, I always say. So, how to do you generally dress for that?”
All sound stopped from the video feed and I opened my eyes to see why. Hugo wasn’t saying anything. I looked at Bruce, who had the same faintly horrified look on his face.
I looked back to the screen and Hugo still hadn’t come up with an answer. He might be standing there still if one of the others on the Fab! crew hadn’t burst in from a side door. He slammed it shut behind him and leaned back against it like maybe the Mummy was chasing him.
“Do not go into the bathroom.”
Greg Brady fitted a 10x loop into his eye and examined the gems laid out on Oswald’s desk.
“Very nice,” he remarked, looking up at Tom Blake.
“They are more than nice,” Blake declared, “They are Cat-worthy.”
“Um, yeah, okay.” Greg tossed a thick envelope onto the desk. Blake opened it and began counting a thick wad of bills.
“There’s less catnip here than we agreed.”
“It’s exactly what was agreed on, minus your outstanding bar tab. I spoke to my partner—”
“—and he agreed that when a tab gets into four figures we need to draw a line.”
“SLY!” Blake called again, opening the office door and screaming into the bar, “SLY! Come in here! My tab cannot possibly be…” He quieted once Sly entered the room and closed the door behind him. “There is fourteen hundred dollars missing from this envelope!”
“$1468, Mr. Blake,” Sly said evenly.
Blake looked from Sly to Greg and back to Sly.
“Fourteen hundred sixty… how on EARTH is that possible.”
“You tore up Miss Ivy’s special wood-free table, Mr. Blake. That polymer stuff is very expensive to get fixed.”
“She made comparisons between myself as the Lord of All Felines and that flea-bitten hellcat.”
“I don’t care, Mr. Blake. Miss Selina has claws too, but she doesn’t go scratching up the place. Your tab with the Iceberg-S was $1468, and so we took it out of your payoff from Iceberg-G. If that’s all you guys need me for, I’ll be back at the bar. Stop by for a beer on your way out, Mr. Blake. On the house.”
They argued the whole way down to the cave.
“I am not treading on your sacred right to go all batty on Joker matters—”
“I do wish you would drop that expression. It is not ‘going batty’ to prepare a—”
“Whatever. Point is, Harley is screwing with ME, and I don’t let that pass, and I don’t let the boyfriend handle it—”
“—AND I don’t stand quietly in the background while the—AAAIIIIEEEE!”
A scream such as had never been heard in the Batcave before echoed through the caverns, causing the bats to shriek, squawk and shudder several seconds after it ceased.
“WHAT! WHAT IS IT?” Bruce yelled.
Selina just stood, wide-eyed, staring at the Workstation 3 monitors with a look of frozen horror.
After a moment, she raised a finger and half-pointed. Bruce had already turned in the direction she was staring. His eyes registered the horror just as Selina found strength to manage a hoarse whisper:
On the screen, the FAB! decorator was showing Hugo Strange what they had made of his apartment in his absence.
“…this amazing artwork we found stashed away in the garage. Now this is clearly an important sculpture by one of Gotham’s most challenging artists. A piece like that, you’ve got to show off. You don’t want to hide this away, so see how we’ve made it the focal point of the room.”
“Oh god,” Bruce groaned.
There, in the center of Hugo Strange’s exquisitely redecorated living room, sat a contorted mannequin dressed in a Catwoman costume.
A sharp intake of breath and Selina recovered from the initial shock.
“I take it Quinn is out of the basement,” Bruce observed dryly.
Hostile green eyes glared at him.
“Did you know about this?” the tigress snarled.
Harley was indeed out of the basement—and Bruce thought it best to clarify that it was Hugo and not Batman that would be taking her place.
“I’ve seen the mannequin. She wasn’t dressed that way at the time,” he answered.
Selina stormed off to the costume vault but Bruce lagged behind, pretending to make an adjustment at the workstation. He too wanted to change into costume, but just this once he would wait and allow her to go first. Batman’s survival instinct would never permit his telling Selina, but he considered the catsuit an improvement. When he had seen Hugo’s mannequin in person, she wore a camisole, garter belt, silk stockings—and a Batman cowl.
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