BATMAN TAKES A TRIP

"Riddle me this, Batman…" began The Riddler.

"No," replied Batman, and roundhouse kicked the puzzle-plotting miscreant in the face, sending him flying through the nearest wall in an explosion of fractured plaster and splintered wood. The Riddler looked stunned, no doubt because, as he crumpled to the floor in a heap of spandex and question-marks, that was exactly what he was. Batman quickly stepped over what remained of the wall, pulled the unconscious Riddler to his feet, then dragged him over to a nearby chair, to which he tied him with a length of super-strength Bat-rope.

Batman felt no emotion as he surveyed his handiwork, other than a profound sense of relief that he would not have to deal with another convoluted riddle, for tonight at any rate. Sirens had begun wailing in the background, and the police would soon be on the scene. It was time that he was not there. The Caped Crusader opened the nearest window, sprang lightly on to the sill, and had soon disappeared into the night from which he had emerged.

"You want me to agree to what?" Sitting behind his desk, the Mayor of Gotham City glared at Sam Swanson, the Chairman of his Parks and Recreation Board, in a manner that the average bird of prey would have regarded as rather too intense. Swanson could not help but swallow nervously. He had worked with the Mayor for many years now, and he knew that look did not portend well.

"Mr Mayor, the Scarlet Letters are very popular with many of the young people of this city, and a free concert by them in the City Park would be a much needed gesture of reconciliation at a time when the generation gap…"

"Goddamn it, Sam, don't make speeches at me!" cut in the Mayor. He drew on his long Havana cigar, and puffed out the fragrant smoke. "I know what a free concert in the Park by this bunch of long-haired English fairies is going to mean. It's going to mean the City being overrun by hordes of other long-haired, acid-dropping fairies and unwashed girls wearing daisy chains. If we're really unlucky, there'll be a riot, and even if we're not, there'll be a load of extra work for the GCPD to wrangle all these kids and the Sanitation Department to clean up after them, not to mention for your staff. Why on earth would I agree to turn this town into Hippie Central for the day? Let San Francisco handle that!"

"The Scarlet Letters' management has promised a substantial payment for the right to hold this concert," replied Swanson.

"Have you been listening to me, Sam? That'll all be soaked up by the costs of putting it on!"

There was a pause. Swanson decided he had better play his trump card if he wanted this to happen.

"Perhaps I should be more specific, Mr Mayor - they've promised a large contribution to the expenses of your forthcoming election campaign. And I know you've been finding donations to that a little lower than you would have hoped at this stage in the cycle."

The Mayor's eyes lit up. "Large? How large?"

Swanson handed over a piece of paper with the amount written on it. The Mayor glanced down at it. It was a very large amount, and it was money he badly needed. His likely opponent in the election was one of Nelson Rockefeller's cousins.

"OK," he announced. "Tell them it's money up front, or no deal. I'm not relying on any promises from these flakes. Oh, and Sam…"

"Yes, Mr Mayor?"

"See if you can get them to up the amount by a few Gs as well. My wife has started to beef about getting new carpets in the hall at home."

Newsboys around the city crying "Extra! Extra! Free concert in City Park!" and "Scarlet Letters to play Gotham! Read all about it!" did not go unnoticed in Stately Wayne Manor, although neither Batman nor Robin were great fans of the popular group. Batman much preferred the sombre strains of the great Romantic composers such as Beethoven, whilst the young Dick Grayson was an avowed jazz purist and scornful of the rudimentary instrumental skills of the new breed of pop musician. However, they both knew that crime has a habit of turning such great public occasions to its advantage.

"Gosh, Batman – this thing will bring out every pickpocket and three card monte artist in Gotham, to separate the rubes from their hard-earned dollars!" said Robin, as he read the papers.

"And not just that, my young friend," said Batman. "The youths that attend these rock concerts commonly consume narcotics of various kinds as they watch them. So every dope-peddler in the city will also be looking to make a quick buck from the day."

"And who's the biggest dope we know?" asked Robin.

"The one who peddles hardest on the bicycle that is organised crime – The Joker!" Batman paused briefly. He had a niggling feeling somewhere that this one hadn't quite worked out, but never mind. "We must be on our guard against an attack by the white-faced fiend of the Underworld!"

"I'll scan the Bat-computer for the latest information about The Joker's operations!" said Robin.

"And I," said Batman, "will be stepping up my night-time patrolling."

The two men peered into the Stygian gloom of the old bottle factory's deserted cellar from its entrance. They couldn't see anyone inside.

"Joker?" said the taller and broader of the two, in a fedora and a $1000-dollar suit that he hadn't paid a dime for.

"Jesus Christ – what is he up to now?" muttered the other, shorter, with a moustache and cloth cap. "Quit screwing around, you clown! This is business!"

Somewhere within the cellar, there was a low noise. It repeated itself again and again, getting ever louder and ever higher pitched, until it was echoing off every wall like the squeaks of bats swarming out of a cave at dusk. It was a giggle.

"Surprise!" shouted the Joker, and jumped out from behind an old crate in the middle of the room. He flicked a switch at the same instant, releasing a giant rubber prop spider on a wire from a net on the ceiling just above the two men. It shot down on top of them, knocking the big man's hat off his head. They let out a cry of shock loud enough to briefly down out the Joker's giggling.

The big man bent over to pick up his hat. "Goddamn it, Joker, you gotta stop these stupid kiddie pranks. It's disrespectful to us. You know who you're dealing with here, right?"

The Joker stopped giggling, and stood up from the hunched position, with his hands on his thighs, that he had been in. He was still grinning, of course, but then, when wasn't he? The livid red slash of the clown's mouth on his white-painted face was visible even in the dim cellar.

"Oh, Charlie, you Mafioso can be so humourless sometimes. All that stuff about "respect" and "men of honour". Lighten up, for crying out loud! Anyway, have you got the goods for me?"

The smaller man held up a large brown paper package. "Here it is – the last of your batch, made up just like you asked for, same as the rest. If you want to test it before you pay, we can wait."

The Joker shook his head. "I don't need to have it tested, Frankie. And before you say, that's not because I've been buying from you for so long, or because you're men of honour, or any of that crap. It's because I know, and you know, and your capo knows, that if any of you two-bit hoods try to rip me off your whole crew will be dead within a week, and there's nothing Old Man Petronelli puffing his big cigar in his fancy mansion out on the Island will be able to do about it. So I don't think you'll try."

There was a brief, awkward silence. Frankie and the Joker exchanged the package for an envelope, which Frankie handed to Charlie, so he could count the cash stuffed in it.

"Say, Joker," he said, as he did this, "You know, when we told the punk college kid who makes this stuff about your…requirements for this batch, he acted kinda funny. To tell the truth, my guy tells me his eyes near-bulged out of his head with fear when he heard."

The Joker shrugged. "Chemists! He's probably just been sampling too much of his own product. Be a smart guy, Charlie and don't ask questions. Just take the money and let's get out of this dump."

They did.

Batman's apprehension grew as the date of the Scarlet Letters' concert drew ever closer. Prompted by Robin, the Bat-computer's database had generated information suggesting the increasing involvement of known associates of the Joker in street drug transactions, specifically LSD and marijuana. With the Cosa Nostra reluctant to be openly associated with narcotics, there was plenty of scope for those with fewer scruples to act as the public face of the trade. This was only confirmed by Batman's own night-time tracking of the activities of those of the Joker's men he could locate.

"Gotham University and the whole student area is pretty much knee-deep in acid at the moment, and I don't mean the kind you get in car batteries," said Batman to his young partner one evening in the Bat-cave. "Youngsters take this stuff to free their minds from convention and expand their consciousness, but they have no idea of the risks they're running. Only a few months ago the police found a bunch of kids tripping on the roof of the Science Building. They'd been staring straight into the sun for so long it'd damn near burned their retinas out. They'll be blind and helpless for the rest of their lives now. So much for freeing your mind!"

"It's this music that sells it to them," replied Robin. He held up a record in a luridly multi-coloured sleeve. "This is the Scarlet Letters' latest LP, Captain Beefheart's Magic Tour Bus Ride." He read through the songs listed on the back."Cosmic Background, Mystic Silver Vision Thing, Where's My Left Shoe, Man? and Take the High Ground. Holy lysergic references! Personally, I'm sticking to the Dave Brubeck Quartet."

Batman placed his hands on his hips. "We have to monitor this thing somehow. I just know in my bones that the Joker has something planned for the concert, even if it's no more than selling a lot of bad drugs to misguided kids. But how can we watch thousands of people at once? Chief O'Hara will be there with squads of cops, and even they won't be able to do that."

They thought for a while in silence.

"We need," said Robin, "something that'll let us overlook the whole huge crowd at once."

Batman punched his fist into his open left hand. "We need the Bat-copter! That's the only thing that'll allow us that kind of surveillance, if we rig it with plenty of cameras. Our eye in the sky!" He glanced over at the calendar on the wall. "We've got three days now – come on, let's get over to the hanger and start work now!"

Three days later, the sleek shape of the Bat-copter, black with the unmistakable black on yellow Bat symbol emblazoned on its side, skimmed the rooftops of downtown Gotham, heading towards the City Park. Batman was at the controls, whilst Robin sat in the back, manning a large bank of TV screens and its control panel.

"Are you getting this, Robin?" shouted Batman into the mouthpiece of his headset over the din of the Bat-copter's blades.

"Yes!" shouted back Robin. Below them, huge crowds of young people were streaming out of Gotham Central Station and the university district towards the Park. On the screens and in close up, they could be seen more clearly – long-haired young men in jeans and tie-dyed shirts, some bearded, a few wearing kaftans and love beads, and equally long haired young women, some with chains of flowers tucked into their flowing manes. The summer sun was shining down on them as they laughed and smiled, excited at the prospect of hearing the music of their idols live.

"Oh-oh!" called out Robin. "See on that street corner there, between Ninth and Thirteenth? There's our problem for the day!"

A small group of men wearing the lurid circus outfits and clown make-up sported by the Joker's gang when on duty could be seen standing on that corner. Robin zoomed in with the camera, and noticed an unmistakable green-haired figure in the middle of the group.

"Holy moley, Batman, it's the Joker himself! What is he saying to those kids? And what are his crew doing with those big metal vats and giant syringes?"

"Nothing good, I'll wager!" said the Caped Crusader. "I'm going to see if I can find somewhere nearby to land this bird. Meanwhile, you see if you can raise Chief O' Hara on the radio, and let him know what's going on!"

Down below, the Joker was making his pitch through a megaphone to the passing hordes of teenagers. Two of his goons stood behind him, holding aloft a hauge banner reading "GROOVY TRIPS!"

"Hey, kids!" he announced. "It's your pal the Joker, Gotham's very own Acid King! Tired of getting ripped off with weak stuff and lame excuses? Well, get yourselves some of the Joker's Concert Day Special from right out of these syringes here! This is the purest shit in town, and for one day only IT'S TOTALLY FREE!" He giggled ferociously. "Just line up and get a squirt – I guarantee the grooviest, most out of sight trip you've ever had!"

There was an excited murmur from the crowd, most of whom turned and swarmed over to the corner, where the Joker's henchmen began to squirt the contents of their outsized syringes right into each open mouth. On other corners across downtown, other members of his gang were doing the same, or passing out handfuls of roughly-rolled cigarettes to the crowd with the cry, "Free joints here! Get your free joints with our extra-special ingredient! You'll be flying higher than Pan-Am!"

Chief O'Hara was pacing to and fro, a walkie talkie to one ear, near the giant wooden stage that had been set up in the Park for the concert. It stood in an amphitheatre surrounded by grassy slopes that was usually used for baseball games, and which had been surrounded by high wooden post fences. People had already begun to filter in through the entrance points and take their places on the slopes, and some of them were noisily starting to make their views on "the pigs" known too. A nervous Sam Swanson was nearby. The Mayor had been paid his "contribution", he knew, but if this concert generated bad publicity for his campaign…Sam's fate didn't bear thinking about.

"Saints alive, why are you calling me now? The Joker? At Ninth and Thirteenth? Well, all my men here are committed to forming a cordon around the stage or guarding the park gates – I can't spare any. I would have to order the local precinct to send down cars, and by the time they've arrived the Joker will probably have long gone. I'm sorry, but you two will have to tackle this one yourself. Thanks for the warning – we'll be on the lookout for any strange behaviour."

O'Hara put down his radio and looked across at Swanson grimly. "That was…one of my plainclothes men who's watching the crowd. He thinks we could have big trouble this afternoon. There's a bad batch of LSD circulating."

"Oh, my God," said Swanson. He reached into his jacket pocket for the Quaaludes his doctor had prescribed him for stress, and hoped grimly that the Mayor's wife was really happy with her new carpets.

Back at Ninth and Thirteenth, as Batman brought the Bat-copter over towards a convenient flat roof for landing, the Joker realised that the helicopter was not just some traffic reporter.

"Watch out boys, we've got company!" he called out. A couple of his goons whipped out MP5 submachine guns and fired quick bursts towards the Bat-copter, although it was out of the range of their weapons. The shooting was enough to start a panic in the crowd, though, many of whom turned and fled in any direction they could. There were shouts and screams, and some people fell as they tried to run and were trampled on by the masses behind them. Amazingly, though, some near the front stayed where they were and continued to strain towards the syringes for the squirted LSD.

Batman and Robin could now be seen making their way down to street level via a fire escape, and several more of the Joker's men pulled out guns and started shooting towards the Dynamic Duo.

"Hold your fire!" snarled the Joker. "No point wasting ammo – we'll deal with those Bat-jerks later on. Let's beat it! Sorry, kids, show's over. Looks like The Man beat us for the moment, but don't worry, we'll be back!"

He scrambled off down the nearest alleyway, closely followed by the rest of his gang. By the time Batman and Robin arrived, all that was left was the abandoned banner, vats and syringes, a few hurt kids lying in the street and a group of extremely disappointed customers of the Joker.

"Hey, man, you two assholes spoiled the party for everybody!" shouted one youth, as Batman and Robin came over to the sidewalk.

"Spoiled the party? It looked to me as if most of you got plenty of what you wanted. I should turn you all over to the cops, but I've got better things to do, like make sure someone deals with these injured people. Beat it, kids. Go home and enjoy your trips. Forget the concert, you probably won't remember any of it anyway once the LSD kicks in."

"Screw you, man, are you our parents or something?" shouted the man. "Who the hell put you in charge of this city? You ain't elected, you ain't even the cops – just some big guy in a stupid costume that goes round beating people up! What makes you such a goddamn hero?"

There was a resentful murmur among the group.

"He's right," said an intense-looking, dark-haired girl. "Everyone says you're for the little guy, Batman, but that's bullshit. You're always for the Establishment, man! You just do their bidding! You take on all the dirty work the cops don't wanna do, beat the hell out of guys who steal stuff but probably never would steal in a fair society…"

"Right, yeah!" cut in Batman, sarcastically. "And I suppose the Joker just kills, and steals, and deals drugs, and causes havoc, because of what the unfair world did to him! He's not evil – just a bit of bad luck and any one of us could end up like that!"

The youths did not seem in the mood to listen. The atmosphere was tense and the whole group's eyes had a weird, transfixed stare. The girl went on.

"A hundred years ago you'd probably be the guy organising the lynching party because everyone said black people were bad, and be a hero for that. To hell with you, Batman, you're everything I hate! I want to destroy you!"

She grabbed one of the empty metal vats the Joker's gang had been using, and threw it at Batman, who dodged it by millimetres. In an instant, all the youths hurled themselves at Batman and Robin, fists and feet flying, yelling "Destroy them! Destroy them!" The pair took up a defensive stance and prepared to fight their way out, outnumbered by ten or twelve times.

ZAP! POW! KAPOW! Fists flew, feet kicked out, foreheads crashed brutally into faces. Noses crumpled into a mass of cartilage and blood and teeth flew out of mouths as the punches and kicks connected. Some of the enraged kids followed their leader's example and threw metal vats or stabbed with the syringes, while one or two from the rougher parts of town even pulled out flick knives from their pockets. But although they were so enraged and so superior in numbers, they were mostly physically unimpressive, unused to fighting and lacked Batman and Robin's years of training and experience.

BIFF! THWACK! BAM! One by one, the Dynamic Duo's controlled, well-aimed blows sent their foes tumbling senseless to the asphalt, until only one was left – the dark-haired girl. Robin attempted to grapple her in a wrestling hold and restrain her, but she slipped free from his grasp and, with eye-watering force, brought her left knee up into his groin. He yelled with pain and staggered back. As Batman advanced towards her, the girl opened the small handbag that had been hanging across her shoulder throughout, and pulled a .22 revolver from it. She cocked the gun, but before she could fire, an enraged Robin came up on her blind side and punched her in the jaw with all his might. There was a sickening crunch, and the girl collapsed unconscious to the sidewalk.

For a moment, there was silence as Batman and Robin recovered their breath, panting with effort, their muscles burning and bodies battered.

"I…I really didn't enjoy that last part," said Robin, eventually.

"I didn't enjoy any of it," said Batman. "And I'm goddamn glad I didn't. Because you know what? That girl was right, or at least near enough right as makes no difference. What the hell gives us the right to run around like vigilantes, acting as judge and jury on the streets?"

"Well, because there are guys that the cops can't get and the courts can't touch, and people that'll never get justice from the system," replied Robin. "At least, that's what you always told me. We're here for the times the system doesn't work."

Batman's eyes narrowed. "Then why have we become part of the system? You heard O'Hara – all those cops around, and they still can't arrest the Joker dealing drugs in broad daylight? We've become the City Administration's get-out clause, their insurance policy against all their failings. We're helping them get away with it!"

There was a further silence. "Come on," said Batman at last. "We've got to get down to the Park. You saw those kids. They weren't just high on LSD. They probably wouldn't have been any trouble if they were. There's something else in that stuff, something bad, and the Joker's been handing it out to hundreds of people." Police and ambulance sirens began to sound off in the distance. "Well, I guess those guys will have to deal with all the injured people I was going to help, but didn't."

He took a sample of the remaining liquid in one of the vats in a plastic tube which he clipped into his utility belt. Then they ran back towards the Bat-copter.

Back at the Park, things were starting to get hairy for the police contingent, as more and more concert-goers arrived, filling up the grassy amphitheatre. Many of them had had the benefit of the Joker's free acid, some were blatantly trailing clouds of fragrant smoke from his joints. Their sheer numbers meant they were more or less impossible to arrest. The same was true of those who had brought and were consuming their own narcotic supplies, and those who hadn't managed to get hooked up before the concert and so had just brought down bottles of Rheingold beer, Boone's Farm wine and any other cheap booze they could lay their hands on, in defiance of the Park byelaws about drinking alcohol.

None of this extra stimulation helped lighten the atmosphere. Those who had been expressing hostility to the cops started to do so ever more loudly and obnoxiously, chants of "Die, pigs, die!" and "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" breaking out periodically in sections of the crowd. Sam Swanson, as if in sympathy, had taken his entire supply of Quaaludes and was sitting in a corner mumbling incoherently to himself. The police, meanwhile, huddled in lines behind their riot shields and muttered darkly.

"Are we gonna let those hairy sons of bitches get away with this?"

"O'Malley's bet me ten dollars we get to bust some heads before the day's over. What's the point of having a nightstick if you never get to use it? What a chickenshit Department this is."

"Are those the Crosby Hill PRs over there in the middle? Man, those punk spics have been begging for a baton in the face for years. I'm gonna see if I can get some of them today!"

Chief O'Hara did his best to calm his troops down.

"Now, now, men, stay calm, stay calm and professional, please! If we charge the crowd there'll be mass panic and people could get trampled to death. They'll calm down when the music starts up, I promise you!"

Unfortunately, the opening set, by usually popular local band The Three Racoons, had to be curtailed when people began hurling empty beer bottles filled with urine at the stage, and shouting "Where are the Scarlet Letters?"

Eventually, to roars of approval, the Racoons went off stage and the colourfully clad Scarlet Letters ran on to it, headed by their lankily loose-limbed lead singer, Bert Copperpot.

"People! People! Who's fighting and for what?" he appealed from the mike. "Can't we all just live with one another?"

Then the band launched into Magic Rainbow Girl, the thunderous guitar riffs handily drowning out any critical responses from his audience. Towards the end of the fifteen-minute epic, a number of figures could be seen gathering near the back of the stage.

"Mother of God, those aren't the guys from the road crew!" muttered Chief O'Hara. He raised his walkie talkie. "Lieutenant MacMahon, get a squad up on that stage, as soon as you can!"

He was too late. The Joker and his men made their way out on to the stage, brandishing guns, shoving the band members to one side. The goons were holding various tied-up hostages they had grabbed from backstage – roadies, security guards and a couple of terrified looking girls who had clearly hoped they would be the band's after-show entertainment – and those that weren't already encumbered trained their weapons on the musicians for good measure. The Joker grabbed Bert Copperpot's mic.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have to beg your indulgence for a brief interruption to your afternoon's entertainment." There was a chorus of boos, but the Joker held up his hand for silence. "Only a brief one, I promise you! And it's on an important subject too, one I know many of you care deeply about. To explain it, here's a man many of you will be familiar with – the President of Youth for a Democratic America, Mr Bob Jayden!"

This time there was some cheering, for the young firebrand and social activist was a popular figure on the campus of Gotham University, and well beyond it. He strode up to the mic like a man acting under his own free will, and most of the crowd were too far away to notice his rumpled clothes, still less the strange, wild stare in his eyes. Well, more rumpled and more wildly staring than usual, anyway.

"MacMahon, where's that squad I asked for?" hissed Chief O'Hara into his walkie talkie. "We can't let this farce go on!"

"It's no good, Chief," responded MacMahon. "They have guns trained on every entrance on to that stage and before we can get up they're, they'll easily be able to shoot most of those hostages, if not all of them."

"Young people of Gotham City!" announced Jayden. "We've all come down here, on this bright summer's day, to enjoy ourselves, to listen to the good music and dance and get high. And that's great! That's what youth is for, to live life to the full while we still have the energy to do those things and before time and age and responsibility creep up on us. But right now, how can we enjoy ourselves? How can we live our lives to the full when we all live under the shadow of nuclear war and nuclear destruction? When many of us live with the possibility of being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight and die in a war we don't believe in? When many of us live with the daily hostility of a bigoted society because of the colour of our skin, our language, the neighbourhood we come from? And how can we live our lives to the full, knowing that all these things are being done by our government, our courts, our police force, in our name?"

There were loud sustained cheers, whoops and shouts of "Right on!" from the crowd. Many were on their feet now, brandishing their fists and, like Jayden himself, they seemed strangely transfixed by what was happening in front of them. Chief O' Hara stood still, his mind blank and, for the first time since he joined the Police Department, empty of thoughts on how to react to a situation. Lieutenant MacMahon's voice came crackling over the walkie-talkie - "Chief! Chief! What do we do now?" There was no response.

Jayden continued – "The answer to all those questions is that today is the day that we start putting an end to these things! Right here, right now! Today is the day we rise up, march on City Hall, and bring down the government, the courts and the police force that have led us to where we are now! March with me, brothers and sisters, and reclaim our youth from those who would take it away! CAN YOU DIG IT? CAN YOU DIG IT?"

The roars from the crowd suggested that they could.

"Chief! Chief! Jesus Christ!" called MacMahon. He lowered his walkie-talkie. "OK, men, I'm talking command here!" he shouted to the cops around him. "We've got to snuff this out before it becomes a full-blown riot. At my order, raise your shields and advance in line – we have to chase these guys out of the park! Forget the hostages!"

At the sight of advancing lines of police, shields raised and batons out, the crowd went wild. They didn't need any further encouragement from Jayden, and if he gave any, their noise would have drowned it out anyway. Those at the front of the crowd began to hurl bottles, stones and anything else they could lay their hands on at the police, whilst those on the nearest slopes pulled up the fencing and broke off posts to throw or brandish. Objects flew through the air and clattered off the riot shields, whilst enraged young people ran at the police lines and attacked them with their bare hands. Batons smashed into heads and arms as the less militant members of the audience started to flee in panic, stumbling and falling in heaps on top of each other in the tightly packed amphitheatre.

"No!" shouted Bert Copperpot, unheard over the din. There were tears in his eyes.

The Joker giggled. "Looks like you just died on your ass out here – and now I guess most of your fans will too!"

Suddenly, a large black shape appeared over the trees of the City Park, its whirling blades making a chug-chug-chug sound. It was the Bat-copter, and it was swooping towards the stage, over the heaving mass of chaos in front of it.

"OK, boys, this time let them have it!" shouted the Joker to his followers. They raised their submachine guns and automatic pistols and unleashed a storm of gunfire on the copter. The smooth black surface seemed almost wreathed in flame as bullets struck its surface – and bounced back. Batman and Robin had reinforced the craft's armour plating as part of their work in getting the craft ready, and the windshield was bulletproof glass, although the sheer weight of fire did make a few holes through it.

"Hold on, I've got something extra for Batsy!" called the Joker, running to the back of the stage. "Kill the hostages, they're useless to us now!" Some of the captives began to scream and struggle in their bindings when they heard this, but before the Joker's gang could reload and open fire again, the Bat-copter was overhead.

Two large spherical objects dropped from it, hit the stage and exploded, throwing out massive clouds of acrid white smoke which left the goons blinded and choking. They coughed and spluttered helplessly, hands still gripping their empty weapons. The hostages and band members mostly managed to get free of their captors and threw themselves flat on the stage. Like a man possessed, The Joker ran back through the smoke cloud, which seemed barely to bother him. He was holding a bazooka. "Goddamn it, I said shoot them!" he yelled at his incapacitated underlings.

In an instant, two ropes shot down from the doors of the Bat-copter, and as they hit the stage, Batman and Robin came rappelling down them in gas masks, leaving the Bat-copter to hover automatically under the control of its robot piloting system. They tossed stun grenades from their utility belts at the Joker's gang. Only a few of them managed to load their guns and return fire.

Louder than the bangs made by the stun grenades or the cracks of pistol fire, though, was the roar of the Joker's bazooka as he fired a rocket at the Bat-copter, reckless of the safety of his own men. At least one of them had to throw himself flat to avoid the flames shooting out of the back of the weapon, which hit a stack of Marshall amps and set them alight. The rocket smacked into the end of the Bat-copter's tail and blew it and the tail fins to pieces, leaving the body of the helicopter spinning around wildly in a circle even as it hovered in mid-air.

But by that time, Batman and Robin had hit the stage and unbuckled themselves from their ropes. Hurling more stun grenades as they went, the Dynamic Duo charged at the Joker and those of his gang who were still standing, sending punches and kicks smashing into chins, faces and groins as they went. Batman headed straight for the Joker, who didn't have time to reload his bazooka.

"Hey, Bats – just hold this for me, will ya!" he snickered, hurling it at Batman, who swatted the weapon aside with a loud metallic clang.

"Sorry, Joker – I'm too busy sending you back to jail right now!" said Batman, and punched him in the face. The Joker staggered back several steps, but recovered his balance with surprising ease.

"Don't bet your pay check on that happening, pal," the Joker retorted, and launched a savage series of blows to Batman's body, to which the Dark Knight responded with a string of his own rights and lefts.

ZAP! POW! KAPOW! The two men weaved around the stage, each aiming brutally hard punches at the other whilst trying to dodge the blows of his opponent. The smoke had at last dispersed from the stage, which was littered with the unconscious bodies of Joker's gang and with prone hostages desperately trying to avoid the combat. Towards the back, Robin cornered the last minion standing and broke a Fender Stratocaster over his head. He fell backwards into the extravagant kit of the Scarlet Letters' drummer, sending cymbals and drums rolling everywhere.

"So, do you wanna know why I did it all, huh, Batman? You wanna know my plan?" asked the Joker, as he sent another punch flying towards his opponent.

Batman dodged it. "No," he replied.

The Joker was tiring now, and when he next threw a punch, he missed and stumbled forward over one of his own men. Batman took the chance to get under his guard, and sent the Acid King flying with a mighty uppercut. The Joker flew off his feet, hit the stage with the weight of a giant redwood felled by lumberjacks, skidded a few feet and lay still. The Bat-copter, whose robot pilot had valiantly managed to keep it hovering in spite of the damaged tail, finally span totally out of control and crashed, fortunately into an empty expanse of grass some distance from the stage. It let out a sheet of flame and a deafening roar, and the shockwave hurled Batman and Robin themselves to the stage alongside everyone else lying there.

Then they got to their feet, and after a moment the Joker's hostages began to get up too. In front of the stage, the lines of police had now driven the rioting crowd back about half way across the amphitheatre, and most of the rioters were finally turning to flee. Some still had fight left in them though – bottles and torn-up fence posts continued to batter the riot shields. Lieutenant MacMahon, who had been helpless to intervene in the goings-on on the stage, finally managed to detach some cops from the rear of the police formation, and they clambered on the stage to make arrests, free the hostages from their bonds and see what first aid was needed.

"Holy shit, is that Batman?" said one of Gotham's Finest. "Well, I guess we gave those long-haired Commie freaks a good beat-down today, didn't we?"

Batman gave him a long, cold stare. "Yeah, I guess you did, pal. Good work. Come on, Robin, let's find Chief O'Hara."

The pair got down off the stage and walked over to where O'Hara and Sam Swanson were still standing on the grass. As they went, they could hear a shaky-sounding Bob Jayden talking to a police officer – "I remember those guys in clown costumes breaking into my apartment, holding me at gunpoint and making me take what looked like acid, then my memory is blank until a minute ago. What the hell was I saying up there?"

Chief O'Hara still seemed to be rooted to the spot. "Batman…Robin," he said, mechanically.

"This is all your doing, Chief," said Batman, angrily. "You were responsible for keeping these kids safe! Instead, you did nothing to stop the Joker's plan even when you knew about it, and then you let those thugs in uniform you commanded attack the crowd instead of trying to rescue the hostages and arrest the Joker! It's a goddamn dereliction of duty! You can't rely on superheroes to make up for your Department's deficiencies!"

"Come on, Batman, be reasonable, he couldn't have let the audience march off to storm City Hall," said Robin. Batman turned to his companion.

"I am done with being reasonable, Robin. I guess those kids were done with it too, and in these crazy times, maybe they had a point. I'm not going to cover for you this time, Chief. And I'm through being the Police Department's and the Mayor's do-boy. Forget the Bat-signal. Forget summoning me. I'll fight crime where I find it, not where you want me to fight it!"

"I…I…had no choice…it all happened so fast," mumbled O'Hara.

Then he fell silent, seemingly incapable of meeting Batman or Robin's gaze. Swanson, by contrast, looked agitated and started to gesticulate at them. "Wait, wait, hold on a minute, this isn't fair. Don't blame the Chief for everything that happened here today. The Mayor only agreed to this concert because the Scarlet Letters' managers agreed to contribute to his campaign fund and bribe him personally. If it hadn't been for that, none of this would happened in the first place. I know – I was there!"

Batman took Swanson by the shoulder. "Are you willing to say that in public?"

Swanson shrugged. "After what's happened today, I guess my political career is pretty much dead. What the hell, I don't see why I should be the only scapegoat for this either."

Batman started to lead him away. "Come on, I'm taking you to the nearest newspaper office. We have to put this story out there."

"Have you any idea what was in that acid the Joker was handing out?" asked Swanson.

Batman shook his head. "That'll be something for the Police Department laboratory to investigate. Whatever it was, it looks like it made people particularly suggestible, almost like hypnotism."

Robin remained standing by Chief O'Hara. "Batman!" he called out.

The Caped Crusader turned round. "What is it?"

Robin gestured at the catatonic police chief. "Aren't we going to help him? After all, the Chief's done a lot for us over the years. He's our friend. It's only the decent thing."

"You stay here if you want, son. You know, sometimes, you have a choice in life between doing a good thing and the right thing. You make your mind up which is which."

The Mayor of Gotham's powerful political machine managed to keep him in office for a while even in the face of the City Park riots and the publication of Sam Swanson's story, but Nelson Rockefeller's cousin beat him soundly at the next election, and his wife was never happy with the new carpets anyway. Sam Swanson was fired from his job the next day, and went on a government career in a smaller, less corrupt city, a long way from Gotham. Chief O' Hara retired on medical grounds not long afterwards. He got the largest testimonial in the history of the Gotham Police Department.

The Scarlet Letters never quite regained the heights of their pre-concert popularity, and split a couple of years later when Bert Copperpot joined the Hare Krishnas and went to live with them on an ashram. After a legendary series of heavy blues albums, The Three Racoons were finally elected to the Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame in the early 90s, although by then there was only one original Racoon left and the other two weren't talking to him (or each other).

The Joker was incarcerated in Arkham Asylum "until such time as he is considered safe to walk the streets as a sane and productive member of society." This time, it took him two years to persuade the psychiatrist. Bob Jayden spent many years as a member of Congress for Gotham. His opponents at elections used to quote his speech at the concert so often in campaign adverts, he routinely ran the same advert rebutting it every time.

Robin still prefers jazz to rock, although he did move on from Dave Brubeck to Sun Ra and John Coltrane not long after all this. Batman is still the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader and the World's Greatest Detective. He now thinks claiming to be the Night may have been a step too far, though.