It’s Part 4 of Cat-Tales’ Anniversary Countdown, and a steamy moment certain fans have been waiting for with less than a Zen Master’s patience has finally made the list.
It’s Part 4 of Cat-Tales’ Anniversary Countdown, and a steamy moment certain fans have been waiting for with less than a Zen Master’s patience has finally made the list.
It was March 8, 2001 when Chris Dee posted Chapter 1 of Cat-Tales 1: A Girl’s Gotta Protect Her Reputation. Today, the popular Bataman series celebrates its 12th Anniversary by cutting the ribbon on the new Fan Gallery on the Cat-Tales website.
“If you haven’t seen it (or haven’t been paying attention while I squee about it), we have new categories for Character Portraits, Sculpture, and even cosplay. If you HAVE seen the new gallery, you haven’t seen the new pieces – more from old favorites like Remidar and Anya Uribe, a brand new artist Shisa Ai making her debut on the Cat-Tales gallery with an exhibit of Catwoman: Black & White.”
As an added treat, the website has updated an old Ask Catwoman feature for the occasion, finally answering a question about the most-asked about topic: Selina’s cats Whiskers and Nutmeg.
When I had the idea to look back at Cat-Tales year by year, there was never
any doubt which tale I would highlight for 2006
Bruce knew Selina resented being summoned to the Batcave “like a spaniel.” And, since the matter wasn’t pressing, he squelched the impulse to use the intercom or send a message through Alfred. He waited until lunchtime and went up to the manor himself. He thought Alfred was just a little too pleased that he had come up for lunch unprodded (a development that Bruce found annoying), but Selina didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about his behavior. She greeted him with the easy smile that was the norm since their talk after the fundraiser, and they chatted only of non-Bat subjects as they ate. Bruce said he was avoiding the Wayne offices. He denied it was because “Lucius had to be punished” for the disastrous Ashton-Larraby fundraiser. On the contrary, Bruce insisted, he had trained enough Robins to know that what Lucius really needed now was a free hand. He didn’t need to feel supervised, second-guessed and micromanaged because he had made a mistake. He needed to pick himself up, dust himself off, and regain his confidence as quickly as possible.
With that noble declaration, Bruce wiped a crumb from the corner of his mouth, tossed his napkin onto the table, and asked Selina to accompany him back to the cave. She agreed, the easy smile morphing into one of feline curiosity. When they reached the Batcave, she curled comfortably into the chair at workstation two, picked two wing-shaped slivers of metal off the desk, and began to play. Bruce suppressed a lip twitch as she turned the pieces this way and that, trying to work out what they were and how they fit together. Then his whole demeanor changed as he underwent what the staunchest heroes in the Justice League have described as “the most frightening transformation in existence.” His jaw clenched, his eyes darkened, his entire body seemed to become denser, and those with sufficient imagination could almost envision the mask appearing over his stern features.
He sat and powered up his screen, while Selina continued to play with the batwings as if nothing at all had occurred—which to her mind, it hadn’t.
“With all the rogues incarcerated at Blackgate or Arkham,” Bruce began in the gruff Bat-gravel, “I have time to look into another type of case. This is really why I began this work. I never intended to—I never envisioned the kind of costumed criminal element that evolved in Gotham.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Watch it, Stud,” Selina chided playfully. “Remember one of them is sitting in striking distance, and I’ve got one of your, eh…” She held up the two wing pieces pinched together between her fingers to resemble a lopsided batarang. “…What is this thing anyway?”
“They’re components for a new palm unit,” he growled. “They don’t fit into each other,”
She put them down, disappointed, and gave him her full attention.
“So this is what you really wanted to do before the likes of me showed up and spoiled your evenings with lots of purple, banter, and fun?”
He scowled and said nothing, refusing to be baited.
“So what is it?” she asked gamely.
“Diamonds,” he pronounced with a grunt.
“Ooh,” she sat up eagerly. “That doesn’t sound so dreary after all.Tell-tell.”
He paused, needing a moment to process her enthusiasm. She was excited, which is, of course, what he wanted. But in all the years of study, in all the years of crimefighting, in all the briefings and all the interrogations, the phrase “tell-tell” had never been uttered.
“As you know, Gotham is one of four primary centers of the global diamond market, the others being London—”
“Antwerp, and South Africa,” Selina interrupted with a naughty grin. “Yeah, Bruce, I have a nodding acquaintance with the international gem market.”
He nodded, curtly.
“More diamonds are bought and sold in that one block of 47th Street than anywhere else in the world. Ninety percent of the diamonds imported into the U.S. go through there; a single day’s trade averages $400 million. And most of it—in this day and age—is still done on a handshake. If there was nothing else in this city, that’s a fulltime job for a crimefighter, right there.”
“Pfft,” came the unexpected response. “I hate to ruin your plan, Handsome, but I think I see where this is going. And I will tell you gleefully that they don’t need you, and more to the point, they don’t need me. They’ve got a private police force of their own hired by the neighborhood association, something like fifteen individual security firms on top of that, armed guards, x-rays, retinal scans, everything. They’re fine.”
“There are twenty-five diamond exchanges, Selina, how many can you get into?”
“All twenty-five,” she answered instantly. “But I’m me.”
“And within those twenty-five exchanges, there are twenty-six hundred independent businesses. How many of their safes have you opened?”
“I have no idea,” she laughed. “Who counts?”
“More than half?”
“Probably,” she said with a grin. “But again, I’m me. And I have no interest in spending my nights poring over blueprints looking for ways to plug up holes that only I could get through.”
Bruce felt his lip twitch in spite of himself as he recalled his earlier thought:the slightest hint that she might participate in such a loathsome activity as crimefighting was enough to set her off…
“I wasn’t going to suggest anything like that,” he said honestly. “I was just mapping out the landscape, laying out the basic facts of the Gotham City diamond district.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“Really,” he assured her.
She laughed—a very particular laugh, a rooftop laugh that he hadn’t heard for quite some time—a laugh that nearly always preceded her getting away with something.
“Okay then,” she said at last, “basic facts of the diamond district have been duly laid out in scrupulously correct if slightly anal bat-fashion. What’s next?”
The bat-density seemed to intensify and, when he spoke, his voice dipped again into the deep bat-gravel.
“Talk me through selling a stolen diamond,” he ordered.
“Well,” she smiled, happy (for once) to comply with a bat-order. “As you probably know, every gemstone is unique. Hit it with a laser, it will produce its own, one of a kind sparkle pattern, just like a fingerprint. Any stone important enough for me to take an interest in, that visual signature would have been recorded and logged in an international database.”
“So if you steal my Aunt Elena’s necklace here in Gotham, remove the stones and sell them loose in Hong Kong or reset them into a bracelet to sell in Tokyo, they will still come up as stolen. My goods are returned to me and you go to jail.”
“That’s the theory. So why am I sitting here instead of in jail?”
“Unscrupulous dealers who won’t check the gemprints to verify that any item they sell is legitimate,” he suggested.
Selina made a face.
“Well, I’m sure that goes on, but not on my level. Anything I’d steal is going to be valuable enough that whoever buys it down the line will probably insure it. When they do, that means a new gemprint and oh, look, those stones were taken in Gotham six months ago… Catwoman suspected.”
She grinned, and he considered the problem.
“Recutting into smaller stones would greatly diminish the value,” he noted sourly.
“It would,” Selina agreed. “But that’s not the real problem with it. It all gets more complicated in 1998. There’s fighting in West Africa for control of the diamond mines. Serious atrocities. On his worst day, Joker couldn’t come close to this kind of ugly. Both sides start selling diamonds on the black market to fund their wars, and most civilized countries, wanting nothing to do with these ‘blood diamonds,’ pass laws prohibiting their import or sale. So now all legit diamonds, cut or rough, have to have an ID that certifies they didn’t come out of this process.”
Bruce inhaled slowly, beginning to see the solution. Selina could almost envision Sherlock Holmes savoring a long draw on his pipe.
“How secure is the database?” he asked finally. And Catwoman’s naughty grin widened into the Cheshire variety.
“How secure is anything?” she asked in reply. And he grunted.
“If you have a stone to sell that you’re not supposed to have,” he began, solidifying the thought by speaking it aloud, “you can’t change its gemprint any more than you could a fingerprint, but you can change the information in the database that’s attached to the print. You substitute the visual signature of some lesser diamond, which you can then bury, destroy, or grind to dust for industrial use, for the one on the record of Aunt Elena’s necklace. So the gem tagged on that record as ‘stolen’ will never be found. And you make a new print for your stolen diamond and assign it to a record with an innocuous and legitimate-seeming history.”
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective,” Selina purred softly.
“Thank you for your help,” he said, swiveling the chair to face the monitor. He began typing rapidly into a waiting file, and Selina began to think he had forgotten her entirely.
“Done with me, or should I stay?” she asked finally.
“Oh, I’ll have more questions,” he graveled, his fingers never slowing and his eyes never wavering from the screen. “Give me a minute to modify a few queries and data filters.”
She waited. She picked up the batwing whatever-it-was again, buffed its silver surface, and used it as a mirror to primp her hair. Then she looked curiously around the cave.
“Those bats are watching us,” she said at last.
“Oh, those two,” Bruce said lightly. “They perch lower than the others. I think they’re attracted to the hum of the computer.”
She giggled, delighted.
“You have your own Whiskers and Nutmeg.”
“Selina, do not name the bats,” he warned darkly.
“I wasn’t going to name the bats,” she declared with exaggerated dignity.
“Good,” he grunted. He could bring Catwoman into his life, he could accept her friendships with Riddler and Two-Face, he could overlook her favorite bar being the Iceberg Lounge, and he could even, in time, come to terms with a stolen cat figurine among the curios in his bedroom. But he simply could not tolerate her coming into his cave and assigning cutesy names to the native chiroptera.
“The black one is awfully cute,” she noted.
“Selina,” he growled.
“I’m not naming him,” she insisted. “I just said he was cute. Look at those ears and that broad muscular chest—”
“Gemprints,” Bruce cut her off forcefully. “Whenever I’ve purchased diamonds or had them insured, I receive hardcopies of the gemprints, laser inscriptions, serial numbers, everything. Once you or your fence alters the records in the database, I still have proof that the stones you’re selling in Tokyo are mine.”
“Yes, but your hardcopies are sitting in an acidfree envelope in the bottom of a safe in the bedroom. It’s not connected to anything, nothing searchable will ever see it.”
“No,” Bruce admitted reluctantly. “But it’s a start. It’s a link. The key to most detective work is finding some overlooked link between the person and the deed.”
“I always thought Walapang would be a good name for an animal,” she said brightly. “I hate giving them people names, don’t you?”
“You’re not naming the bat ‘Walapang.’”
“Do you even know what it means?”
“Yes, it’s from Lombardic law: ‘to disguise one’s self in order to commit theft.’”
“You are a freak of nature,” she smirked. “A sexy freak, but a freak.”
He sighed and resumed typing.
“It will take me another seven minutes to modify the auto-downloads, search routines, and data spiders in light of what you’ve told me. In that time, you have a workstation of your own, as noted by the purple wallpaper you’ve installed there. Why don’t you amuse yourself on that and leave the bats alone.”
“You cannot in your wildest fantasies think that is going to work.”
“We’re doing stolen art next,” he graveled with the subtlest flicker at the corner of his lip. “Your workstation is logged into the Museum Security Network.”
“Meow,” she said, swinging her chair around.
Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.
Last year when I rolled out the ebook compilation of Book 3, I mentioned that one of my favorite TV shows was Joe Straczynski’s Babylon 5. Each season, there was a different opening. My favorite of those was Season 4 which began “It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours” and built step by step to “It was the year everything changed.”
I never consciously shaped the Cat-Tales arcs to create such a year of change. I took the opportunities that came my way. It was time to establish Catwoman’s true origin story, it was time for CT and JLAin’t to do a crossover and for me to collaborate with MyklarCure on a tale that was neither his nor mine, but truly ours. It was time to look through Alfred’s eyes and have a tale told completely from his POV, and a DC encyclopedia leaking the word of Stephanie Brown’s death gave me the perfect opportunity to give that tale dimension and gravitas. Identity Crisis came along. What else can be said? It was an episode of such power, the counterpoint Identity Element simply had to be written. It was only after the fact, arranging the individual tales into that compilation and ending as usual on a Hell Month, I realized I had “The year everything changed.”
For the Look Back to 2005, I wanted to share ceremony in which Ra’s al Ghul dips himself in the Lazarus Pit (and his hysterical attack of the munchies afterwards as he analyzes the Gotham dispatches with hysterical results). I would have liked to share several moments from Deja Vu All Over Again – Eddie’s pivotal scene in Chapter 1 coming on the day Frank Gorshin died, Selina’s pangs at Dior trying on Red Goddess #4, Talia stumbling upon Catman after his disastrous Batman impersonation. There were more great moments, but sadly, none were in the running. The only possible Look Back was to the tale that was not only the most challenging and gratifying that I’d written, but the one that brought me such a wonderful new wave of readers.
Gothamites are a provincial lot. To the rest of the world, Elongated Man going public about his identity in the mid-80s was a huge event. So was Ray “The Atom” Palmer’s divorce from Jean Loring almost a decade later. It was the former story that produced the phrase “media feeding frenzy” and the latter which accomplished the then-impossible feat: ousting Monica Lewinsky from the cover of People Magazine for three weeks running.
But in Gotham, those were the silly escapades people in other cities got worked up about. No colorful cape, no Superman or Wonder Woman or Flash, could ever rank in importance with a denizen of Gotham City, and no exploit of the Justice League, no matter how cosmic in scale, would ever be as interesting as the happenings between the Hudson and Gotham rivers, between Wayne Plaza and the 10th Street Bridge.
When Sue Dibny was murdered, it was news, of course: The wife of Ralph Dibny, Elongated Man, murdered in her home. It was treated in the Gotham press like any other sensational murder involving a famous person with no ties to Gotham: It was a headline. The funeral, peppered with mourners in masks, capes, and spandex, produced an extraordinary photo above the fold. Diana, Princess of Themyscira, gave the eulogy—and the 42nd Street Borders pulled her book REFLECTIONS from “Last Year’s Releases” next to the discount bin and put her back in the display window for a week. Those were the only visible effects of Sue Dibny’s death as far as the public Gotham was concerned.
In more private corners of the city, it was different. There were stirrings, quiet ones. Nothing that could foreshadow the potent and terrible repercussions this one event would bring…
Criminals ducked in and out of the Iceberg Lounge. It was Hell Month and nobody wanted to risk being seen, most years they would have left town altogether by now. But everyone was anxious to hear the speculation: Batman was insane in January, every January, it was like he went on some kind of jihad against all crime and all criminals. Would this make it worse—or might it make it better? The wife of a long-standing member of the Justice League was dead: on the one hand, Bats might go straight over the edge and decide to wipe all criminals off the face of the earth. On the other hand, he might be so busy with this one case that he wouldn’t have time to put half the rogues gallery in traction. More than a third of them might reach February 1st without a leg cast, more than two-thirds without a neck brace…
At the Gordon-Grayson home, there was a different undercurrent, just as tense with uncertainty… Dick had gone to Bludhaven for Hell Month, not because he was avoiding Bruce, simply because Batman’s tempers always drove more criminals across the river at this time of year. Bludhaven is where he was needed right now—the fact that it got him away from Bruce was a bonus. Or it would have been except that with Barbara left behind in Gotham, Dick’s situation hadn’t really improved. Every outbreak of the Hell Month Psychobat on the OraCom led to a sequel when Barbara called Dick in ‘Haven to say goodnight… It was January, Dick knew that. It had been like this since he was twelve. They would all get through it. But then Sue Dibny was killed, and Dick really didn’t know what to do. A death in the hero community—in the “family” of the hero community—in Hell Month—and so soon after Stephanie. Bludhaven still needed him, but Dick couldn’t help wondering if maybe Bruce needed him more…
In Wayne Manor, Bruce had “gone to Maui” as soon as the news broke about the Dibny murder. Batman had completed the initial survey of the crime scene before Ralph Dibny had even signed the paperwork at the funeral home. While Ralph was selecting his wife’s coffin, Bruce was organizing dozens of small glassine bags filled with carpet fibers, hair, ash, clumps of dust, lint and crumbs harvested from the murder scene. While Ralph selected the flowers to lay atop the coffin, Bruce was printing out a floorplan of the Dibnys’ living room.
Ralph decided against the white lilies the sympathetic funeral director had suggested. He went with red roses, because there was a red rose on the lid of that first Valentine’s Day box of chocolates he gave Sue, the one in which she kept her mementos… Bruce marked up the floorplan to indicate the location where each specimen and fingerprint was taken.
Ralph tried to remember the name of Sue’s high school for the obituary notice… Bruce used mobile phase chromatography to isolate trace vapors captured from the crime scene.
At first, Selina kept her distance, sensing that he needed space both physically and emotionally. She ventured into the cave only when CNN began covering the arrivals at the funeral. She found him in the cave, of course, but dressed casually, not in costume except for the gloves, and standing before a long worktable dense with neatly ordered clusters of forensic evidence.
The large main viewscreen that dominated the cave flickered with the same image displayed on the smaller monitor at workstation 1: the left half of the screen cycled through slides from an electron microscope, the right from an infrared spectrometer. A transparent grid was superimposed over these, and it sputtered wildly with a blur of digits and moving crosshairs as the Batcomputer executed incomprehensible analyses.
Selina stood quietly for a moment, waiting for Bruce to acknowledge her arrival. He went on preparing a slide for the microscope. When he set down the tweezers and still didn’t speak, she did.
“It’s on the news,” she said softly. “The arrivals at the funeral. It sounds like they’ll at least have some privacy inside the cathedral, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. You know what the press is like. Look, know you don’t want to watch this, but I did think—”
Bruce wordlessly moved to the workstation, punched a few buttons, and the CNN coverage appeared in a small window on the main viewscreen still dominated by the refractive indices and birefringence values of Sue Dibny’s turtleneck.
“I’ll check the video later,” Bruce growled, “to make sure the fools who went in costume didn’t expose anything in front of the cameras.”
“Well they couldn’t very well go in their secret identities,” Selina pointed out. “No matter how careful they were, somebody could notice—”
“Anything,” Bruce cut her off. “In costume or not, somebody can always pick out something from a photograph. I know all the reasons not to go in costume, Selina, and all the reasons not to go out of costume. And that’s why I’m here right now and not there. That’s the one advantage to being the cold-hearted bastard of the League, nobody expects me to do the touchy-feely stuff. I paid my respects to Ralph privately. The rest of them can assume I couldn’t be bothered.”
It was Hell Month. He said things like that in Hell Month that he wouldn’t at other times. Selina knew that, but she made few concessions to it. It seemed like all the others did: Dick, Alfred, Barbara, and Tim, even the Justice League—even the rogues—everybody changed when he got like this. Selina made a conscious effort to be different—she was the one person who would not bend to him and his Hell Month demons. She didn’t have a perfect record, but whenever she thought to, she made an effort to treat him exactly as she always did. And if he was going to spout gibberish like that, there was really only one way to respond:
“Pfffffffft. Bruce, I’m sorry, but with all due respect to Hell Month, Pfffffffft! We both know you’ve got a bigger heart than any of them. If they actually do not know that just because you grunt and scowl, then they are quite simply too stupid to live.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to say something like at the very moment four of them are carrying Sue’s coffin into the cathedral?” Bruce asked in Batman’s deadliest gravel.
“Not as much as it bothers me to hear you say you’re the cold-hearted bastard and they’ll assume you don’t care at the very moment you’re watching that funeral out of the corner of your eye while you pretend to fight with me.”
Bruce stared for a split second, grunted, and then turned to face the screen. He touched a button on the console and the image expanded to the full width of the viewscreen. They watched for a few moments.
“Did you know them well?” Selina asked quietly.
“Not really. Ralph fancied himself a detective; he likes to think he’s emulated my techniques. But we’ve never worked together much. He’s a showboater, that’s why he went public. He likes the attention. Eel is the better operative all around: longer stretching, stronger… unattached.”
“I’ve never heard you take something like that into consideration,” Selina noted, a strange intensity creeping into her voice.
Bruce turned away from the screen and looked at her in silence for a moment.
“When have we ever talked about this at all? Single is better. A crimefighter with a wife and family…”
“Is less expendable?”
“Of course not. It’s just that, strategically speaking—look at Clark. His love for Lois is a greater vulnerability than Kryptonite.”
“But he’s your first pick to partner with, Bruce. Always. So much for that theory, huh? In the whole League who are you tighter with or work with more, hm?”
“Yes,” Bruce admitted. “I work more with Superman—because of the man, not a flaw in the strategic principle. I trust him. I trust his judgment and his ethics and his decency. That outweighs any sweeping general guidelines about the qualities that make a good partner.”
“And the fact that he can benchpress a planet doesn’t hurt either,” Selina remarked dryly.
Bruce grunted. Superpowers were a double-edged sword. Useful in a fight, but a terrible weapon sitting right in the heart of your operation that could always be turned against you… They could be turned, or they could simply turn. The old proverb was passed on generation after generation for a reason: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. What kind of fool would a man be to work with those demigods day after day, year after year, and not consider the ramifications of that one fundamental truth:
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Superpowers corrupt… superbly.
Bruce only grunted. He didn’t want to get into this. It was unusual for Selina to take an interest in the League or his work with them.
Of course, it was an unusual day. He turned back to the viewscreen and watched the rest of the funeral coverage in silence.
At the Iceberg Lounge, Hugo Strange retreated to a corner booth, muttering how the others had got it all wrong. No one knew Batman like he knew Batman. Debating whether the Bat would devote himself only to this one case or wreak his usual Hell Month vengeance on Gotham. The fools! He would do both, of course. He would clone himself so he could do both.
The only real question was if the clone would take the same Hell Month next year or if the clone-Bat’s Hell Month would manifest in July…
After the unexpectedly discomfiting interruption of the funeral, Bruce returned his full attention to the investigation.
He had long ago disciplined his mind to block echoes like that—however grisly the discovery of a body, however poignant the interview with a grieving family member, he would set it aside and focus on the work.
Funerals were… unavoidable… every murder was a death, every murder meant a coffin. It was unavoidable. The world didn’t care if it was January, his personal Hell Month, and that it took much less than the sight of a coffin or a few bars of Mozart’s Requiem to throw his mind back to that other funeral.
He had to concentrate. Sue deserved that much and so did Ralph. He returned his attention to the fingerprints…
It was very different from Stephanie’s memorial, of course. Stephanie’s was private. Because her identity as Spoiler wasn’t known, the heroes were able to come together in privacy and dignity to mourn their loss… honor her contribution… support Tim. None of that was possible here because Dibny was such a fool. It might be brutal to think that of a man who’d just lost his wife, but Bruce didn’t mind being brutal, especially during Hell Month. It was foolish, letting his name and face be known, putting those he loved in peril. For what—for the attention—because some hack at the Gotham Post made up some lies about her. It was so dangerous—she could make all the rules she wanted, they all knew, all his enemies knew whether they’d say so in front of her or not, that something existed between Batman and Catwoman. Getting to her was a way to get to him. Hurting her was a way to…
Hell Month. It was just Hell Month.
Of course it was Hell Month when Ra’s took her—when Ra’s al Ghul took her from him as a way to—he was afraid she was dead that whole flight to Mongolia. Ra’s took Selina as a way to get to him and they were just dating. Now they were living together. It wasn’t just a bottle of shampoo in his shower anymore, she slept every night with her head on his chest—she picked out the sheets they lay in.
Bruce wondered suddenly if he had paid for those sheets or if she had. His mind flashed on the penthouse, the fop act, trying to bait Poison Ivy… “Tim was under age, so he imposed on one of the other groomsmen to buy the liquor. They went a little overboard. Always happens the first time I give someone my credit card.” …Reminding Poison Ivy that she had a rich man in her snare (or so she thought) was one thing. Selina was a very different proposition. She might playfully sneak his wallet to pay for lunch at d’Annunzio’s when he and Clark had to leave on an emergency, but apart from that shopping spree to Paris, she had never to his knowledge spent his money. Now that the manor was really her home… his house was her home… and she was starting to buy little things for it… Bruce felt himself burning with curiosity to know if she charged those sheets to him or paid for them herself. He could access the credit card statements easily at the computer and—
And a wave of nausea rose as he looked to the workstation, thinking only of Selina and those stupid sheets, and saw spatter-analyses of the scorch marks surrounding Sue Dibny’s head flashing on the viewscreen.
Weak. He was so weak. He had to stay focused. Sue Dibny was dead. Ralph was in agony because his wife was dead. He had to stay focused. This was bigger than Hell Month and who paid for a pair of goddamn bedsheets.
Except the bedsheets were blue, a deep rich royal blue, because Selina bought them and Selina knew he liked the color. And he wanted to know if she charged them to his account because he wanted to know if she would spend his money as if she were…
The mental image of that coffin returned.
My first Hell Month with Bruce, I didn’t even know what was happening.
The second, he sent me shopping in Paris.
This year, this one was new, he asked me to come down to the cave. He asked me to help with a case. We’d worked together before, of course, but we’d always backed into it somehow. It had never started like this:
Alfred came up to my suite. He’d brought me tea earlier—there is simply no way to stop Alfred from bringing tea, particularly in times of crisis—and I assumed he was just back to collect the empty cup. But he said Bruce had rung on the intercom and wanted to see me in the cave.
I raised an eyebrow, because that had a certain ring of “Here, Fido. C’mere, boy” which cats simply do not do. But I went anyway. Hell Month, I guess. Or maybe I just felt, what with the funeral and all… anyway, I went down to the cave. He was in costume this time, except for the mask.
“Little early to be suited up, isn’t it?” I remarked.
“I’m going to patrol early tonight, just in case they’re emboldened after the coverage of the funeral.”
“Hey, no need to make excuses to me,” I told him, “I like you like that.”
When he didn’t say anything more, I reminded him “You summoned me—like a spaniel.”
“I asked you to come down. I need you on this, the Dibny case.”
“Meow,” I answered. Because there are one or two highly special circumstances when it is permissible to take a cat’s cooperation for granted, and this was one, and I was pleased that he knew that.
“This is the security system made available to the family and friends of Justice Leaguers who request it.”
“Different from our system here,” I noted.
“Very. You’ll find all the same modifications I made to the Phoenix on the ground floor, and the bodyheat detectors are similar to our alpha perimeter defenses on the grounds. That’s where the similarities end.”
“Because you don’t want any family and friend of the League who request it to have the blueprints to get into your bedroom.”
“This has Thanagarian, Martian, Apokolitian and Kryptonian technology as well, and—”
“Hey, I’m not complaining. It’s also my bedroom and I don’t want any of those over-sugared virtue-jockeys having the key either.”
“Selina, this system is unlike anything you’ve seen before.”
It sounded like fun, running barefoot through the Justice League’s idea of ultimate security.
“Somebody beat it,” he growled—it was a Batman growl, but a particularly menacing one. “Figure out how.”
Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.
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.
Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.
It was hard to select a single episode from for this week’s look back. Year Three began with a fellow called Giggles waltzing into the Iceberg for a job as interim bartender and we all still smirk at the response when Oswald asked his real name. That was the Hell Month when Bruce asked Selina to move into the manor, not even realizing he’d done it until a scary moment on that Cartier’s rooftop. It was the year he discovered a certain cat figurine in the curio in his bedroom “To Candice, from BW.” It was the year we first heard the DEMON Oath of Loyalty (in the long form, if you please) and witnessed the formal ceremony of Calling an Ubu. It was even when we found out the Ha-Hacienda SOP for a Bat-Encounter, beginning with the order to smile… politely. Then smile like you know something about Batman’s sister…
But in the end, despite all this moments of purring purple cattitude, one chapter in one tale stood out.
Whiskers trotted across the Great Hall of Wayne Manor like a cat on a mission. He trotted up the grand staircase, down the hallway, and made a brisk turn into Selina’s suite.
ººFOUND IT!ºº he declared with such a gleam of feline triumph, Nutmeg actually lifted her head several centimeters from the cushion where she napped, and looked at him.
ººI found it!ºº the cat repeated, ººI found that cave smell!ºº
ººThe cave smell,ºº Whiskers insisted, ººDamp. Clammy. Rock. When Bat-Bruce is Two-Foot in Boots.ºº
Nutmeg licked a paw, unable to share Whiskers’s enthusiasm for their new quarters. Most of the furniture had come with them to this new place, but not Selina-cat’s bed, and hence, not Nutmeg’s war room underneath Selina-cat’s bed. All of Nutmeg’s prized trophies: the plastic milk ring, the crunchy envelope, the paper ball, the pantyhose egg, had all been lost along with her special place for keeping them. Whiskers suffered a loss as well: his terrace and the prize spot behind the planter where he pretended to be the stalking jungle cat of death. But his special cushion was here, so he didn’t mind so much. Indeed, he seemed to look on the new place as a great adventure.
ººSo,ºº Nutmeg said finally, deciding to give Whiskers his moment of glory, ººyou found the smell?ºº
ººBehind the tick-tock. Tick-tock opens up into big dark. Damp. Clammy. Rock. Lots of mousy squeak-squeak noise.ºº
ººHow can anyone not like mice?ºº he asked. Whiskers was a life-long enthusiast of the gentlemanly sport of mousing. He didn’t understand how anybody could not enjoy it.
ººWoof.ºº came the reply, the ultimate expression of feline disdain.
Whiskers shifted his back legs in a telltale signal that he was ready to pounce. Then he hopped up to the sofa, rolled Nutmeg onto her side and nipped at her ear while her paw swatted his muzzle. When the brief wrestle was over, Whiskers touched the tip of his nose to Nutmeg’s, just as two martial artists might bow after a match. Then he sat up.
ººIf you don’t explore,ºº he told her sternly, ººyou’ll never find a new territoire.ºº
ººI explore,ºº Nutmeg said proudly, ººI followed Standing Softpaws today.ºº
ººAeiou!ºº Whiskers exclaimed in delight.
Both cats were equally fascinated by the two-foot they called Standing Softpaws. He was almost catlike in his ability to appear from nowhere and stare—which he did a great deal in their first days here. It seemed that he was keeping an eye on them, which they found insulting. They were certain he was the keeper of their new living quarters, for he had a wonderfully feline way of moving about the rooms, putting every little thing in its proper place. Few two-foots were so precise about where objects belonged. If only he would get over this idea that they had some grudge against his breakables.
“Adorable creatures, Miss,” they had heard him saying, “but I do fear for the Meissen and the Ming.”
That led to outrageous suggestions that they be locked in Selina-cat’s suite. They overheard Bat-Bruce veto the idea:
“Alfred, I’ll admit I don’t know all there is to know about cat behavior. But I have learned one thing: If you let them know you don’t want them to go in a particular place, it absolutely guarantees that will become the mission of their lives.”
“Respectfully, sir, is it not possible you are letting your experiences with Miss Selina cloud your-”
“No, Alfred. It’s not.”
“I see, sir.”
“Selina says leave the door open, and once they see they can come and go freely, they’ll probably stay in there with their familiar things after the preliminary explorations.”
“Very good, sir.”
Both cats thought Bat-Bruce should be rewarded for such admirable behavior: Whiskers did so by rubbing his head into the pantleg, while Nutmeg determined to claim one of his socks just as soon as she found a new war room in which to keep it.
She also resolved to settle the matter of Standing Softpaws.
Nutmeg observed that Standing Softpaws had again appeared at the door to the room. He was, Nutmeg would have to admit, almost as silent as a cat. Neither Bat-Bruce nor Selina-cat were as quiet as they seemed to think. Like all two-foots, their ears were simply too far from the ground to be able to move with true stealth. But Standing Softpaws was the exception to the rule: here he was, staring at her, and Nutmeg had no idea how or when he arrived.
She stared back, politely.
And he walked away.
This struck her as unforgivably rude, even for a two-foot. She had interrupted her nap in order to return his stare, and he walked away. She decided right then that he should be taught a lesson. She would follow him to his own nap-place and look at him, see how he liked it!
She followed down the hall, down the stairs, and down another hallway. She followed through the bright room and the drafty room and the room with all the books. She stopped long enough to rub her scent into the doorway. She liked books, they had a warm, crisp smell and were fun to curl in when Selina-cat tried to read them. Then Nutmeg trotted faster to catch up with Standing Softpaws wherever he had gone to… she rounded the corner and… gaped.
It was the Land of the Can-Opener. It was the biggest, grandest, sparkling Land of the Can-Opener any cat had ever seen! And Standing Softpaws was its king???
Instantly, Nutmeg decided she had misjudged this wise and noble two-foot. She would find him and make amends at once.
Nutmeg was not actually able to locate Standing Softpaws to make her apologies until the harsh squeal led her to his location. She recognized the sound—it was a teakettle, and it meant there would be little plates with cake and sometimes sandwiches. She saw Standing Softpaws take just such a plate into a little pantry-like room off the kitchen. There he sat, in a hard-looking chair that offended Nutmeg’s feline sensibilities. Beside him was a little table. From her position on the floor, she could not see onto the table, but her nose told her the steaming hot tea was on there, which meant the cake would be too.
She walked up to Standing Softpaws and treated him to the “aren’t I precious” look.
“Good heavens, who let you in here?” was the less-than-welcoming greeting.
Nutmeg switched her posture from “aren’t I precious” to “what can you be doing over there that could possibly be more interesting than admiring me ?”
He appeared to ignore her, then glanced down twice as he sipped his tea. Nutmeg waited for the third glance, readying herself to perform the ultimate act of feline beguilement: the silent miaow.*
The moment came—Standing Softpaws reached for his tea, brought the cup to his lips, and glanced downward. Nutmeg opened her mouth as she would for a fully articulated meow, but emitted no sound. Standing Softpaws watched this, as all two-foots do, as if pondering what possible burden could so plague a little creature that she could not even give voice to it. He set down his cup, and bent to take Nutmeg into his lap.
“Now then, little fellow, it can’t be as bad as all that, can it? I suppose this house is rather large and daunting for someone like you to get used to.” He touched his fingertip to Nutmeg’s nose, which she permitted, as it seemed like a friendly gesture, and also because it smelled like tea. “But I assure you,” he went on, now stroking her fur as he spoke, “that you are not the first newcomer here, and, thus far, all new residents of Wayne Manor have made the adjustment.”
He gave her a morsel of cake and told her of Master Dick and Master Jason, and his efforts to make them welcome when they came to live here. They sounded, to Nutmeg, like two of the sorriest cats she ever heard tell of.
Probably my favorite Book 2 Cat-Tale. If you recall, due to some Alfred’s machinations in a previous tale, Bruce was stuck hosting sessions for a food and wine festival at the manor. Still learning about Selina’s civilian side, he had some surprises at the first cocktail party. Selina knew a great deal about wine, and one of the presenters turned out to be an old flame: the French aristocrat Count Francois de Poulignac. Selina was so caught up in the reunion, she didn’t even introduce Bruce, and in the only real hint of actual jealousy we saw in him, Bruce grumbled to himself that it might be because she didn’t remember his name. “What with it being so short and easy to pronounce and in only one language.”
On with the fun:
After Alfred’s literary hero, Jeeves, the most famous butler in fiction is probably Stevens in Remains of the Day. Alfred remembered fondly that book’s account of an unflappable butler serving in India, who interrupts his master’s tea to report a rabid tiger has entered the house and rests beneath the dining room table. The butler calmly asks permission to use a particular weapon, after which the guests hear three gunshots. The butler returns to refresh the teapot and reports “Dinner will be served at the usual time, milord, and I am pleased to say there will be no discernable traces of the recent occurrence by that time.”
Perhaps it was the gift for dignified understatement that put Alfred more in mind of Stevens than Jeeves at this particular moment. Or perhaps it was that Stevens’ duties brought him into contact with Nazis and Nazi collaborators, while the worst Jeeves had to contend with were chaps called Tuppy Glossop and Gussie Finknottle.
“There is a matter in the library requiring your attention, sir,” Alfred announced soberly. Bruce turned from his place where Signora Rinaldi was measuring counter space for a demonstration on olive pressing, and Alfred continued. “Your immediate attention, sir.”
Assuming this was yet another of the endless preparations for the festival, Bruce entered the library with a distracted air, totally unprepared for the sight that would greet him. The transition to Batman was instantaneous as his brain registered it – the Joker! – sitting in an easy chair – feet up on an endtable – balancing a leather-bound volume of Emily Dickenson poems on his chin.
“Brucie! You’re not the one I wanted! I knew that old fellow didn’t understand me. Should I kill him for you before I go? Listen, I’m looking for Selina, got a bit of a problem I want her to help with. Have you heard that I’m dead?”
“Um, well,” Bruce stammered.
“Dead! The papers all say that I’m dead! Where would they get an idea like that? Don’t I look the image of a happy healthy Joker?”
Before Bruce could answer, Joker picked up the book and sung a verse to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas…
♫ Because I could not stop for Death,
♫ He kindly stopped for me.
♫ The carriage held but just ourselves
♫ And Immor-TA-LI-TY! ♫
Strangely, after a wildly atonal wail on the last word, the madman became completely lucid.
“So anyway, Bruce, you mind if I call you Bruce?”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” was the cold reply.
“So anyway, Bruce, your li’l gal Selina’s the reigning queen of bitch-slapping these damn newspapers. I’m sure she’ll know what to do about this.”
“Selina’s not here.”
“Oh. That’s what the old guy said too. Y’think, maybe, not kill him after all? Well then, how ‘bout this, I’ll leave you my calling card…”
The phrase meant a gas bomb, a mortar shell, or at best a squirt of acid …except this time it only produced … a calling card.
“Now, this number is the Hacienda Central in the East Village. Always try there first. If there’s no answer, try this one—that’s out by the expressway, I don’t use it much, too noisy, but there’s a machine! Leave a message and then if I don’t call back in 2 days, call this number and say ‘Blind bats bite blowfish’ and they’ll tell you where I am. Got all that? Ta!”
And he was off. Bruce looked down at the card: locations of two Haciendas, phone numbers, e-mail, pager, and a password for getting more information from an answering service. This was the motherlode! Absently, Bruce flipped the card over and read: Harley’s Hyena Chow: take 10 lbs ground meat and 10 lbs cornmeal…
“Say, Brucie, one other thing…”
Oh hell, Bruce thought, I knew that was too easy. He’s back. And now he makes the card explode.
“…something’s been nagging at me since that Christmas party, maybe you can help me out with it. I wasn’t there in the adorable flesh, you know, and it’s the funniest thing, nobody will tell me what happened. Hatter and Scarecrow are a pair of old hens after most parties, but this time, nothing.” He made a light “look, the coin is-a-gone” gesture, then took on a dangerous tone. “You see my point, Brucie. It’s suspicious.”
Brucie growled silently, but Joker continued undeterred.
“If they’re not saying anything, it means there’s something to
not say. And the others, Roxy, Penguin, Two-Face, it’s almost like they’re avoiding me.”
“Mm. Imagine that.”
With any other obnoxious visitor, Bruce would have slid into fop mode and made some excuse about the event being planned: lots of details to see to, must run (Ta!) …but Batman would not relinquish even that much of the helm. This was the Joker. DefCon-2!
“Avoiding me! Why would they want to do that? I’m such a warm and charming guy. And I’m such a fuzzybunny at parties. So why won’t anybody talk to me? I know why, oh yes I do. It’s to do with Harley. She’s boffing one of them, isn’t she? You were there, Wayne, you can tell me…”
If it weren’t for the absolute certainty that it would be signing Edward Nigma’s death warrant, Bruce might have told him, if only to reinforce the new form of address. If Joker had to call him something, he’d do almost anything to remove ‘Brucie’ from the list of possibilities.
“’Excusez-moi,” François appeared in the doorway, evidently still hunting for that room in the manor with the perfect temperature differential for his wine seminars. “I couldn’t help but overhear, and I must say you are looking at this all wrong. I am the Comte de Poulignac.” He offered his hand to the Joker, who regarded it with an air of puzzlement. He looked to Bruce, who shrugged. Joker carefully shook François’s hand, and the count continued…
“So your mistress has taken another lover, what of it? They are like that,
les femmes. So much passion and impulse, and so little thought. It is very endearing, no?”
Joker again turned to Bruce, hoping for confirmation that this idea was as loony as he thought.
“That make sense to you?” Joker whispered.
Bruce was forced to admit, it didn’t.
“To object to your woman’s new lover, it is so unsophisticated,” the Frenchman continued, “so—what is the English word?
The black and white, big collars, and the hats with the buckle—pilgrim? No,
puritan. It is so puritan to make an issue of these things.”
Joker gave François de Poulignac the same wary-but-friendly, mustn’t-spook-the-lunatic look the orderlies always gave him at Arkham. He pulled Bruce aside.
“Brucie, reality check: I’m wearing a purple suit?”
Reluctantly, Bruce raised an eyebrow and gave a regretful half-nod.
Another grudging nod.
“Kill people by the dozen.”
“And the cheese-eating surrender monkey just called me a puritan.”
Joker turned his head, seeming to process this information.
“Well that’s a first,” he remarked finally.
Bruce was at a loss for words, but the Joker was unperturbed. He looked back at François then back at Bruce. “Cover me, I’m going in…” he confided, then turned his attention away from Bruce.
“So, Count,” Joker began in a firm I’m-not-the-crazy-one-here tone. “Let me get this straight. Let’s say you have a girl.”
“The doctors tell me it’s best in these hypothetical scenarios if you have a very definite image in mind. So, some particular girl—say a blonde, petite, squirrelly laugh, lot of energy, and a luscious little tush. With me so far?”
“And you hear she’s screwing around.”
“Oui, but in France we would never say this ‘screwing,’ but I know what you say, she takes a lover.”
“Right. And you’re not upset by this?”
“Mais pourquoi? But why? Any woman with spirit enough to be interesting is bound to want a hobby.”
Joker spun round to Bruce with a distinct “You heard that too?” then turned back to François as though to continue. Then his head snapped up and he turned back to Bruce. He suddenly realized there was a subtext to this discussion he’d completely overlooked: Bruce Wayne was dating Selina Kyle, the Catwoman—and the whole world knew about her thing with Batman. Oh shit, no wonder the guy looked like that. Joker’s suspicions about Harley were just a theory, but Catwoman and Batman were common knowledge.
Why, he and Wayne were brothers really, they were commiserating like brothers in arms whose women were stepping out with damnable faceless man-beasts, and this French pastry came in spewing nonsense that was painful to them both.
“This guy should die,” Joker said to no one in particular.
“A dilemma,” thought Bruce.
“No, wait, that’s too good for him,” Joker reconsidered.
“Dilemma solved—maybe,” thought Bruce.
Joker began pacing, trying to work out a fitting punishment. From a crimefighting perspective, it was fascinating to watch as the clown paced, hummed a few bars of
Deutchland, Deutchland, paced some more, and snorted “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
The psychopath was sufficiently absorbed in his ravings that Bruce was able to step nearer François and whisper, “You might want to leave now.”