Look Back Year 7: VaultSeptember 6, 2011
It was almost impossible choosing between 00000-001, Riddle Me-Tropolis, and Vault for the Year 7 Look Back. I had wanted to do something special for Cat-Tale #50, and MyklarCure consented to let me take an idea he’d been toying with since Hush and bring it into the CT Universe. The result was 00000-001 the number of a casefile in the Batcomputer, a double homicide in Gotham’s Park Row, 1 witness, juvenile. Unsolved. Not only was the collaboration personally rewarding, the result is unquestionably one of the most astonishing and memorable tales of Fathers and Sons that you will find in the Batman mythos. That is all Myk and the sensibility of one of the finest Bat-writers it has been my privilege to work with in the past 10 years. Where was it possible to go after a tale of such power and pathos? Somewhere completely different, of course. Like Metropolis. The change of venue let me go to Chicago, the real world’s Metropolis, to merge its landmarks and its history with Superman’s, and then throw my three favorite Gothamites into the mix. I don’t remember any Cat-Tale being such fun to write, and when I had the Look Back idea, I was sure the scene I would pick would be Bruce and Selina getting those green construction paper Es at breakfast, or possibly the scene right after with a phonecall from Clark in the Batcave.
But then I remembered Vault. As much fun as Bruce and Selina are – and as incredible as the Triumvirate of Batman, Superman and Catwoman were in Metropolis – there is simply no Cat-Tale as unique and diverse in its make-up as Vault. There is the Swiss Bank introduction and the story line that grows out of it with the secret Templar vault. That gave me a chance to revisit an old-school Volume I comic style adventure for Selina, and even throw in my own Templar history told as no other History of the Knights Templar ever has been told: in the words of Jason Blood, “who know them well enough to lend them money.” But that is less than half the story. There is Vault the nightclub as well, Sly’s improvised solution to a burned down Iceberg Lounge, money laundering in the diamond district, Selina’s homecoming and a sizzling reunion with Batman in the Cat Lair, Matches Malone under cover with Catwoman, and oh yes, ‘The Tim Drake Dating Plan’ for Robin and Batgirl. What else could we ask for? Oh yeah, the metaphor:
The thing I love, absolutely love, about Swiss banks: nobody gets them right, absolutely nobody. I never realized it before, not until I strolled into Paradeplatz, but suddenly there it was, as clear as Grossmunster Church towering over the smaller buildings around it: Go to a movie with a Swiss bank in it, it’s wrong. Read a novel, wrong. It’s absolutely astonishing. Not only do they all get it wrong, but each and every one finds a new way to be wrong.
Just like with Catwoman.
There are those who have the general idea but mess up a few insignificant details. There are those who get the general idea but mess up on some fairly important details. And then there are those who are so far off, they’re in Finland.
There are times a man senses the dilemma before him—and by “dilemma,” of course, Tim meant “girl”—has such potential for soul-scarring disaster, he wants advice from friends and family, from psychologists, spiritual advisors and astrologers, from advice columns and fortune cookies, a shaman if he is lucky enough to know one, the Batcomputer if he has access, and if all else fails, a Magic Eight Ball.
In Tim’s case, seeing as the dilemma in question could kill before she could talk, he wanted all the advice he could get. The thought that gnawed at his gut, however, was the last time he asked around for advice this way was for Dick’s bachelor party. Superman hung up on him. Flash, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man charged over a thousand dollars’ worth of booze to Bruce’s credit card. Poison Ivy attacked the party, and Stephanie cut him off for a month when she found out Ivy got in disguised as a stripper. Asking for advice at this point seemed just as dangerous as going it alone.
Cassie felt bad about putting him in the hospital, that much he understood. She wasn’t exactly Miss Communication and she found oddball ways to express herself. That much he understood. She had taken to bringing him a giant chocolate chip cookie each night during patrol. That… was a stretch. He could only guess that, given the history with the Phoenix Ninja bets and chocolate sundae payoffs, she figured mid-patrol food delivery is the accepted way to settle accounts. He wasn’t sure, and that’s what bothered him. If the cookies had nothing to do with the hospital, if it some kind of hint that she was maybe kinda interested, he wouldn’t want to miss the cue—with any girl who was interested, but especially with Cassie who was already plenty dangerous even without a romantic axe to grind.
Thing was, if it wasn’t a hint, if it was just “Sorry for shin splint. Have cookie,” he wouldn’t want to go making a move.
“Say that again?” I asked, trying to wrap my brain around the news.
“Queen of the underworld,” he repeated distinctly.
When I got back from Zurich the first time, Bruce asked if I was hoping to provoke a confrontation in the lair with Batman. The truth was, I hadn’t known what I was shooting for, I just knew I had to do something. Now, returned from the second trip, it seemed I was actually getting one of those old-style Bat drop-ins. Granted, it was a little different when he was unmasked, naked to the waist, and sipping coffee from a Cat-Tales mug, but it was still… he was still…
“Queen of the underworld?”
“For the third time, yes.”
“Queen like in ‘God save our gracious,’ chess piece that can move in any direction, the lady giving all the orders; underworld as in criminal element, all the bad guys, organized and the other sort, object of your nightly pummels?”
“And how did I manage this?”
“That’s what we’ve spent days trying to piece together. You built a new club to replace the Iceberg, retaining Oswald’s entire staff. That masterstroke made the transfer utterly seamless, invisible to the outside world and nearly invisible to law enforcement. The underground operatives went on doing exactly what they always have and reporting to the middlemen they always have. The quickest and least violent coup d’etat in the city’s history.”
“Okay. And what was Gotham’s protector from all things criminal doing while I pulled this off?”
“Apparently having phone sex,” Bruce graveled.
I stared. I felt I was missing something. What did this mean? It had been a while since I worked this end of the conversation, but even so, even if Batman was unmasked, half-naked and sipping coffee from a Cat-Tales mug, he was in my lair. He just told me I had somehow become queen of the underworld. That’s something I should be able to instantly digest, dissect for possible advantages and respond to without a moment’s hesit—wait a minute.
“Why am I only hearing about this now? You could have told me first thing.”
His lip twitched, and he bent down to pick his tunic and cape from the floor.
“The mood you were in? It could wait.”
“Selina. I did exactly what you urged me to for years: put the thought of your criminal status aside for the night and gave in to what we both wanted. In retrospect, it was a very good idea.”