Chapter 7: X-Factor
The greatest weapon in Batman's arsenal is fear. It is a simple concept, one that can penetrate the psyches of the most insane madmen: do wrong in Gotham and you risk the wrath of the Bat.
Under the law, a criminal is judged sane if they can distinguish right from wrong. And yet many an Arkham inmate would be in Blackgate Prison if the courts could look into their hearts and do the math: They all feared Batman. They knew Batman only punished wrongdoers. Q.E.D., they knew their actions were wrong.
Similarly, Batgirl's awareness of her own culpability may be judged by her reaction to sighting the Batmobile. She thought she had convinced herself of a loophole: She was not disobeying Batman, she was just patrolling in Chinatown. Yet the sight of that sleek, silent car turning towards the DEMON base made her blood run cold. Guilt was a new experience for her: an agitation similar to the adrenaline that drove her in battle, but colder and claustrophobic. It held her back when it usually spurred her on. She didn't like it. Much as her curiosity burned to follow Batman and see what was to transpire between her mentor and Greg Brady, she could not bring herself to continue.
She left the vicinity of White Tiger Curios just as two DEMON agents rounded the corner at Ginseng Imports.
M'varone had enjoyed the evening at the Iceberg Lounge more than Clafong had. He had been in Gotham City longer. He remembered when DEMON agents were allowed some time off—before Ulstarn saw that Omar character wave at Ishmael and decided there was a plot behind the messenger's suggestion that his friend see Star Wars: Episode 2. But even before that crackdown, when they all had nights off from time to time, the DEMON operatives kept to themselves. They might observe characters like Scarecrow or Hugo Strange, but they would not go drinking with them. M'varone found it fascinating seeing those figures from the intelligence reports in a different context.
Clafong found it all a little overwhelming. Too many faces, too many voices, too many drinks to choose from, too many songs on the jukebox. A woman called Magpie asked him to buy her a drink. A man called Jervis told him stories about the bartender's love life.
Being less preoccupied on the walk home, Clafong was the first to notice the car. He pointed in dread and whispered to M'varone: "He whose name must not be spoken."
"Batman! Been a while, what's shakin'?"
Greg Brady was aware this was not a stellar opening. Whenever the Masked Manhunter appeared at the Hacienda, Joker had done all the talking. Giggles's job was to: smile—politely. Then smile—like you know something about his sister. Then telegraph a right hook and jab, jab, jab with the left.
So "Batman! Been a while, what's shakin'?" was new. But still, it was words, that's what mattered. It let Batman know who was in charge of the operation, where to direct all the threats and venom.
"Batman! Been a while, what's shakin'?" The opening hadn't been stunning, Greg knew. Batman was certainly not stunned by it—but curiously, his new underlings were. Gr'oriBr'di had spoken the unspeakable name! Right in the masked vigilante's face! No wonder he rated a second apostrophe.
"Step outside, Brady. We have business to settle between us." With frightening economy of movement, a gloved hand shot outward and knocked U'skal into the wall. "Or do I have to go though the formality of stepping on these cockroaches to get to you."
Greg Brady was, at heart, a henchman: first into the fray and not one to stand behind while other men did the fighting. Still seated at the desk, he smiled—politely, held his hands up, curled them into fists and squeezed until the knuckles cracked his assent. Then he stood and smiled again—like he knew something about Batman's sister.
"After you," he said simply.
Only partially recovered from the Gamma-Gorgon, it was easier for Batman to prolong the fight with Brady without blatantly pulling punches. A flurry of kicks knocked him backward against a decorative stone lion and the impact enraged his injured shoulder. Then the creative bugger broke through a store window and improvised a weapon from the lid of a metal steamer.
Batman realized, to his dismay, he had a real fight on his hands. But that would serve his purpose better than a sham.
"Look at you, Brady, you're no DEMON drone. You're one of us, a Gothamite."
This as a broken pane of glass bit into body armor and Batman was forced to backhand his opponent onto the pavement. Recalling an earlier battle with "Giggles", Batman repeated an Oi-Tsuki, a lunging punch, followed by a Sanbon-Tsuki series of three strikes, then a Hirakin flat fist punch—which Brady blocked soundly and responded with a magnificent Mawashi roundhouse that sent Batman sprawling backwards into the already broken window.
"See what I mean," he said dryly, hurling himself clear of the window and his charging adversary. "You fell for that last time. Didn't now. You leaULGHNG—"
A finger thrust to his throat made the point better than the words they cut short. By necessity, Batman devoted the next minute to a silent exchange of blows, until a poor crescent kick gave him the opening he wanted. A knifehand block, reverse wedge and Kosa pin later, he could speak to his opponent at length without stopping to block more attacks.
"How did you like the trip to the Philippines, anyway? That would be where the trail for poor kidnapped Talia led, right? A cave in Samar, Ubu let you go in first that time instead of making you defer to Ra's. A dozen more assassins were waiting inside. Which would have been a problem, except they all fight the same way, and by that time you'd licked forty of them. You know what that cave is called, Giggles? Can-Yawa Lungib, 'Devil's Cave.' That's the level of intellect you're working for. No imagination. Hasn't changed his act in 1200 years."
In disgust, Batman released Greg from the pin, tossing him forwards.
"And the last round of the test would have been fighting Ubu. Right? And here's what Ubu did."
Batman jettisoned the karate style he had been using and lunged to execute Ubu's Greco-Roman body throw. Brady dodged, as expected, and Batman wordlessly progressed to a double-leg tackle. Again Brady dodged. And finally, attempting to set up a hopeless belly-to-back souple, Batman at last heard the words he was waiting for.
"Okay, okay. Stop that shit, will ya?"
Batman did stop, but laid a finger ready on a Batarang, just in case Brady was fool enough to run.
"I made my point?" the crimefighter asked in a voice deep with derision.
"Yeah, yeah, okay, it went just like that."
"Wasn't even the same Ubu that I fought. That was the last one."
Back at the manor, in Selina's room, she was again rubbing his bruised shoulder.
"You told him Ra's al Ghul is a hairdo?"
"I didn't use that word, Kitten, but I did try to make him see he has something Ra's lacks. Brady can think outside the box, adapt to new circumstances. They can't. So they're feeding off him like vampires, using him to breath a few more years of life into their hopeless, dead end quest to conquer a world that's passed them by."
"You should have said Ra's was a hairdo and left it at that," she murmured, "because that 'you can do so much better that this life of crime' routine isn't nearly as compelling as you think."
"Selina, I'm not saying Brady is in your league, but he was smart enough to stay alive henching for Joker. And for a smart man, I don't think it's too subtle a point to grasp: if Oswald Cobblepot is the best boss you've ever had, you've made some serious vocational errors."
Selina couldn't suppress her laugh, and Bruce took this as a victory.
"So, in your opinion, was Greg Brady convinced by this argument?"
"I think so. No way to be certain, of course. We'll have to wait and see."
"What about Ra's? You said you couldn't let him get away with coming into town like that and doing what he pleased. If you don't get Brady away from him, how do you…"
"How do I drive it home to Ra's that he lost?"
Selina nodded, and Bruce's lip twitched.
"Simple. I identified the Gotham X-factor. And I faxed it to him."
"My lord," Ubu announced with a deep bow, "One of Ulstarn's messengers, formerly of the Gotham City operation, has arrived with a communiqué."
"Very well, Ubu," Ra's al Ghul ordered with a bored expression, "admit him to our Imperial Presence."
Ubu shrugged and opened the door, permitting the five-foot pulsing orb of light to float into the throne room. Within the bubble, the messenger prostrated himself as was customary before delivering a communiqué to the Demon's Head. And yet, because he was encased in Jason Blood's glowing ßųŁŁą rħðmbå, the effect of groveling homage was somewhat diminished.
"A Missive," he recited, "from the Batman, Dark Knight Detective, Guardian of Gotham City, Caped Crusader, Champion of Justice, Founding Member of the Justice League of America, He who will not suffer injustice in his city, nor tyranny nor tyrants, but banishes the despot and his minions time and again from his borders, that they might know the depths of their failures. To Ghul –comma- Ra's, Fagaras Mountains, 3rd Footpath after the gnarled tree on the left. Dear Sir,
"Having examined three representatives of the DEMON organization—yourself, your daughter, and Ulstarn—I regret to inform you that all were found lacking in a fundamental ability to grow beyond a narrow and outdated mindset. While I applaud your desire to join the modern world and enjoy the benefits it offers, I regret to inform you these limitations will forever prevent your doing so.
"As Gotham City cannot serve your needs, you will, of course, not be returning. I am therefore shipping your operatives back to you by the usual method.
"Yours truly, Batman."
©2003, Chris Dee
Hm. Well okay, but what about those seismic shockwaves we were promised from the Harley-Joker breakup?
We get caught up on the goings on at Arkham next time in
An Arkham Tale