BATMAN BECOMES ENLIGHTENED
From the top of Gotham City Police Headquarters, the great searchlight shot out its powerful beam, casting on the low cloud ceiling overhanging the city on that autumn night of 1966 a circle of light containing the unmistakeable black shape of a bat. The signal shone out for no more than thirty seconds, but that was more than enough for it to be noticed within the brooding Gothic pile that was Stately Wayne Manor.
"Robin? To the Batmobile – let's go!" called out Bruce Wayne to his youthful chum, Dick Grayson. Within seconds the two crime-fighters were costumed, up and running through the dark hallways of the great house. A trapdoor sprang open and they slid like greased lightning down the twin poles that led towards their transport of delight. They hit its front seats, and an instant later the exhaust shot out a great gout of flame and she was up and speeding away. The Batmobile; the Dark Knight's steed; the only car fit for the work of the World's Greatest Detective.
"Gosh, Batman!" said the Boy Wonder. "What could the Police Department need help with this evening? It's been awful quiet since they put away the Riddler last month, and the Joker the month before."
"That pair of slippery eels will never stay caged for long," replied the Caped Crusader, dourly. "And there are plenty more villains in this city besides them. Let's just concentrate on getting to Police Headquarters and finding out!"
The Batmobile sped through the deserted suburbs into downtown, where it shot through narrow alley-ways and along back streets to take the shortest possible route. Within minutes, Batman and Robin were at the tall tower of the Headquarters building, mostly in darkness at this time of night, and then shooting up inside it in the secret Bat-elevator that led directly to the office of Commissioner Gordon.
The grey-haired civic official was sitting expectantly at his desk, and rose from behind as soon as the two superheroes entered. At his side was his ever- loyal Hibernian lieutenant, Chief O'Hara.
"Batman! Robin! Thank heavens you're here! Well, I know you gentlemen have seen it all, but we've got a real problem on our hands right now. Maybe the biggest since the Joker was boldly pulling boners right on the streets of Gotham!"
Batman and Robin shot nervous glances at each other. They did not often care to recall the affair of the Joker's boners. Gordon went on:
"Someone has sent this note to the Mayor's Office." He held up a yellowing piece of parchment, with writing on it in what looked like an old-fashioned script. "It says – "The King is dead - long live the King! If this city does not depart immediately from the path of decadence it is following, I will wreak havoc on Gotham that it has not known since General Cubitt's Hessians burned it down during the Revolution!" It is signed by "The Dark Enlightener.""
"And what makes you think, Commissioner, that this is anything but a childish prank, or the ramblings of a lunatic and possible fan of Elvis Presley?" asked Batman.
"Well, it may be a lunatic," said Chief O' Hara, "but if so it's a very dangerous one, to be sure! That note was delivered to the Mayor in a box with the severed head of Patrolman Artie Gillis of the Ninth Precinct, who went missing only yesterday from his beat. If this is how he delivers his mail, I shudder to think what this fellow's idea of wreaking havoc is!"
"Holy symbolic decapitation of authority!" declared Robin.
"Exactly, old chum," said Batman. "If it weren't for the use of the name "Dark Enlightener", I would suspect Kingpin. "The King is dead – long live the King"! But Kingpin would scorn assuming another identity than his own to commit his crimes, and nor has he ever been an enemy of decadence! No, I think this person may be a newcomer to our Rogues' Gallery, and a deadly one too."
"The paper is genuine 18th century, maybe cut from an old book, although the ink is a modern imitation," said Chief O' Hara. "But there were no fingerprints or other forensic evidence on the parchment or the box, and no-one at the post office it went through could remember who left it. So at the moment, we have no clue as to who "The Dark Enlightener" may be."
"I think, gentlemen, there is one thing we can be sure of," said Batman. "Every crook in Gotham knows that whoever threatens the city must get through me first, and The Dark Enlightener will know that too. To destroy the city he must first destroy me. Make it well known in the press that I am involved in dealing with this new menace, and this may press The Dark Enlightener into acting against me, and so revealing himself."
"But perhaps killing or injuring you or Robin in the process," said Commissioner Gordon.
"That's a risk I'm prepared to run, Commissioner. We'll be prepared for him," replied Batman. "We've been preparing, one way and another, for many years. It's what we're best at."
"As you wish, Batman," said Gordon. And, without further discussion, the two caped figures stepped back into the Bat-elevator and disappeared back into the deep shadows cast by the tall skyscrapers, whence they had come.
It was impossible to miss the screaming headlines of the Gotham press over the next couple of days. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" cried the newsboys on every street corner." Savage murder of police officer! "The Dark Enlightener" sought! Who is this mysterious stranger! Commissioner Gordon will "neither confirm nor deny" involvement of Batman in the case!"
At Stately Wayne Manor, life went along at its usual pace. Billionaire Bruce Wayne attended his usual round of upscale tennis matches and charity dinners, whilst young Dick Grayson got on with his schoolwork. But below the surface of their masquerade, Batman and Robin stayed alert, ever on the look out for The Dark Enlightener's strike, which must come as night follows day, since Gotham City showed no signs of abandoning its decadence. Nothing happened until the second night.
Standing erect at the tip of the radio mast on the roof of the Grand Eastern Hotel, Batman scanned the city laid out below him as he often had from this favourite observation point, looking for any sign that its prolific criminal underworld was at work. It was an overcast night and rather a chilly one; perhaps too much so for the crooks, as it looked as they had all stayed at home. Then, with his Bat-binoculars, he caught something that should not have been there at this time of night – small, but unmistakeable, there was a light shining somewhere inside the dark bulk of the Gotham Museum.
"Robin!" he called down to his companion, standing at the foot of the radio mast. "Someone has broken into the Museum. Come on, let's get down there! We'll leave the bike in the alley."
"Holy desecration of proud civic history!" cried the Boy Wonder, as Batman jumped down from the mast and they both ran to the edge of the roof, each hooking one end of their Bat-abseiling rope to it, before jumping off and plummeting into the black abyss below. A few instants of gut-wrenching acceleration later and howling wind later, the ropes kicked in and they descended to the ground at a relatively stately pace. They released and gathered up the ropes. Then, to avoid alerting the intruder to their presence, they ran the block or so to the Museum on foot.
Batman swiftly found what he was looking for there - the intruder had gained access by breaking a small window high on the flank of the great erection. Swarming over the high, spike-topped wall around the building as casually as he must have done, they shot their ropes high into the air from their Bat-pistols, so that they would hook themselves to the museum roof. They proceeded to clamber steadily up like a pair of giant spiders, one careful step after another, until they had reached the broken window and could get through it themselves.
The beam of a torch was coming from inside the Museum's Manuscript Room. Whoever was in there was no common burglar. From a brief examination, it appeared they had somehow turned off or neutralised the alarm system, yet had chosen to take none of the valuable items sitting under glass in the room which had been their point of entry, or in any of the other rooms the Dynamic Duo passed through as they ran from it down the darkened corridors towards the Manuscript Room. What was in there that could be of such significance to the mysterious invader?
The door of the Manuscript Room stood ominously open, allowing its beam of light to stream out through a window opposite. Standing on each side of the doorway, Batman and Robin waited a few seconds. There was no sound from within, and the torch light revealed nothing out of the ordinary – only great marble-topped reading tables surrounded by chairs in a room lined with bookcases and display cabinets. Batman counted down, in whispers:
"Three…two…one – GO! PUT YOUR HANDS UP, WHOEVER YOU ARE! I'M BATMAN!"
As the pair burst through the doorway, there was an ominous click, followed almost immediately by a long, rattling sound, as an open-bottomed steel cage suspended on chains from the ceiling fell with frightening speed. Before they could even turn to run back, it had crashed to the floor, and Batman and Robin were prisoners, futilely hammering on its bars. The torch light was turned off and the main light in the room went on, at about the same time.
"Well, Batman," said a cold voice, "I am disappointed that you should have fallen for such an obvious trap."
The man sat cross-legged on top of a table, just off to the side of the room and out of line of sight of the door. He was dressed like a Victorian gentleman, in a long black frock coat, with a black shirt and trousers, and on his head, over the black mask that covered all of it save eyes, nose and mouth was a tall black hat. Out of various crannies of the room emerged three other black-clad and masked figures.
"Holy inevitable encounter!" cried Robin. "You're The Dark Enlightener!"
"Indeed I am, Boy Wonder," said the figure on the table, "although it looks as if thinking it was inevitable didn't help you any." At a signal from him, one of his underlings went out of the door and pulled down the blind on the window opposite it, preventing any more light from escaping. "Your approach was under observation, and my watchers tell me that you appear to have done nothing to summon any back-up. So I am not expecting anyone to interrupt our little party."
"If you've gloated enough to satisfy your ego," said Batman, "perhaps you'd be kind enough to tell us what made it necessary to murder Artie Gillis?"
"A threat unaccompanied by some proof that I meant business would not have been taken seriously," said The Dark Enlightener. He got down from the table and began to pace around in front of the cage. "I had nothing personal against that policeman. But he represented something I do detest – the liberal Establishment that rules over us and the network of falsehoods it makes us believe! The denial of the biological truths of human inequality. Our so-called democracy, which is no more than an attempt to enforce an equality that does not exist. Our society, which restrains the strong and superior to subsidise those destined to be weak and inferior. That is the enlightenment I stand for – about the brutal truths of life, from the comforting lies our masters hand down to us."
"Gosh," muttered Robin. "I knew some people were unhappy about the Civil Rights Act, but this is ridiculous."
"I'm afraid I've heard this song before, Robin," said Batman. "Our friend here simply sounds like another meathead that wore out his lips slowly reading through "Mein Kampf". I have to admit, though, I'm surprised to find a villain still advocating beliefs that even The Joker wouldn't associate himself with, twenty years after the world rejected them anyway."
"Well, as I think I've just proved, you're pretty easily surprised," said The Dark Enlightener. "Anyway, it doesn't greatly matter what you think of me, because I've placed a massive bomb under the floor of this room and in five minutes time it will explode and blow you both to atoms. And appropriately enough for such devotees of democracy, it will destroy, along with you, the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution that are stored here. Bye-bye, sports!"
He turned on his heel and began stalking towards the other door of the room, closely followed by his henchmen.
"Wait!" called Batman.
"If you were about to ask, "Aren't you forgetting something?" then the answer is no," replied The Dark Enlightener.
"I wasn't," said Batman, produced two bombs from under his cape and threw them at him. They exploded with a deafening crash, and spewed out a dense cloud of noxious smoke that filled the room pretty much instantly. The Enlightener and his gang were knocked off their feet by the explosion. Once they had got back up, they couldn't see or breathe for the choking fumes, and in the meantime an ominous buzzing roar was echoing louder and louder through the Museum's corridors.
The Bat-bike burst through the doorway towards which the villains had been heading and gunning its engine, leapt over their heads towards the cage, sending them all sprawling to the ground for a second time to avoid it. The bike swerved in front of the cage, and within a few seconds had sliced through the top and bottom of two bars with its laser. They fell to the floor with a tremendous clang, and, although the hole created was only a narrow one, it was wide enough for the Dynamic Duo, wearing the smoke masks from their utility belts, to squeeze out.
By then, the air had mostly cleared and The Dark Enlightener and his men were back on their feet. They ran at Batman and Robin, two on each. The Enlightener was brandishing a pistol, but before he could fire it, Batman was on him, grabbing his hand and smashing it into a marble table-top. He screamed and dropped the weapon, and Batman smashed a hard right into his jaw, dropping him to the floor for the third time in as many minutes. The accomplice then grabbed Batman from behind, only for the Caped Crusader to hurl himself backwards on to the ground, landing on the man with his full weight and winding him completely. Batman sprung up, parried a couple of punches from the now-revived Enlightener with one arm, and once again hit him full in the face with his free hand. That, at last, was enough, and The Dark Enlightener finally slumped over, out cold.
The two other henchmen had run at Robin with knives, only for him to grab an antique oak chair and hold it in front of him like a shield, warding off the frantic thrusts of their long blades, then, with a single sweep, knocking the weapons from both men's hands. Robin smashed the chair with both hands over the head of one man, felling him like an ox, before swinging a mighty roundhouse kick into the head of another. He also collapsed to the ground.
"The bomb!" cried Robin.
"Don't panic, Robin," said Batman. "There's a simple solution to that!" Reaching in to The Dark Enlightener's pocket, he pulled out a radio-control device. "The bomb was remote-controlled, not a time-bomb. As soon as he said that we would be blown up in five minutes time, I was sure he planned to detonate it himself. That's a very short time window to allow yourself to escape from this building and get a safe distance before the explosion, and this is not a man who takes stupid risks of that kind."
"It's a good job you built that remote control system into the Bat-bike! And built the control panel into your utility belt!"
"Ah, I knew it'd come in handy sometime. As it is, it looks as if we've wrapped up The Dark Enlightener with no harm done but to that chair! Come on, let's tie them up and go call the police."
Later on the same night, the Dynamic Duo were standing in Commissioner Gordon's office. He and Chief O'Hara, roused from sleep to deal with the fall-out of yet another costumed villain being captured, were sipping mugs of black coffee.
"It's amazing," said Gordon. "One of The Dark Enlightener's gang turned on him pretty quickly under interview, and when our men went to investigate the headquarters, in an old warehouse, they found it was full of bomb-making equipment and several completed devices along the lines of the one at the Museum. Evidently the fellow was planning an extensive bombing campaign."
"There were a lot of long, typewritten screeds too," added the Chief. "All about how he was going to return the country to the feudal ages, which were a much better time, and restore the rule of divine right monarchs."
""The King is dead, long live the King,"" said Batman.
"Oh, and this."
O'Hara showed them a hand-written note with a small photo of a smiling, fedora clad young man and his lady-love on it. The photo was torn in half and the note read:
"Eddie – It's over. We really could have been something, but your crazy hate choked all the love I had. I'm sorry. Jeanie."
"That hat's a few seasons behind the fashion," said Robin.
"Much like the man who wore it," said Batman.