RETURN OF THE TRUE KNIGHT

BY

BOB WRIGHT

AUTHOR'S NOTE: There are of course numerous different realities of Batman's universe that we have seen over the years. And I myself have wondered, could it be possible to merge some of the better known ones together into a single story? This is my attempt to do so, with a unique twist.

Batman and all related characters and indicia are registered trademarks of DC Comics and Warner Brothers Pictures. And now, as usual, sit back and enjoy the story.


Gotham City. Its skyscrapers rose high in the distance, glowing with light-much brighter light than he had ever remembered. He stumbled to a stop at the edge of the woods, gasping for breath. It had been so long since he'd seen Gotham-almost three years. And already, he had the feeling things had changed for the worst-although perhaps those still in the city were unaware of this, if his worries were correct...

He raced down the hill in front of him, heading for the small river at the bottom-and, flowing into it, the sewage pipe that led to the sewer pipes all throughout Gotham. The sewers would be a help to get him back to where he needed to be without being caught-for undoubtedly THEY were already looking for him...

His mind raced back. He had been alerted by Wayne Enterprises management that materials seemed to be disappearing from the storerooms. Fox had confided in him about one employee in question-employee-Bill Anderson by name-that he'd noticed had been acting oddly since the Batman had first appeared in Gotham. Anderson, Lucius thought, seemed transfixed unhealthily on the figure of justice. He had subsequently confronted Anderson in the hall and tried to ask what was going on. Anderson had denied everything. That night, accounting had discovered millions of dollars had disappeared from the Wayne Enterprises accounts, as well as numerous volatile chemicals from the labs. So Batman had taken to the streets, trying to figure out what Anderson might have been up to...

...except, Anderson had been waiting for him. Hinting that he'd deduced Batman's identity at some point before. A heavily armed squad of mercenaries had been waiting for him in the warehouse he'd tracked Anderson down to; he'd put up the best fight he could, but he'd been outnumbered and outgunned. He'd been knocked unconscious, and when he'd woken up, he was imprisoned in a black site out in the middle of nowhere, far from Gotham City. Anderson had shown up afterwards, to gloat at him that from now on, HE was going to be Batman, and there was nothing his prisoner could do about it.

And so, for three years, he had languished, under heavy guard around the clock. He had heard the rumors, that Anderson-and the young street punk he'd brought into his orbit-had been utilizing technology for the worse, to warp reality in Gotham to make it look different, that while everything seemed normal to the residents, that they were all basically trapped in the city. That Anderson had set up crime waves that he then pretended to stop and make himself look like a hero. Apparently, the fake Batman had tried something a little different at first, for, several months after he'd been stashed in the black site, THEY had arrived: Anderson's attempts to create nemeses to fight had created them-only they'd apparently been out of his control, and he had ultimately had to use his militia to put them out of commission and lock them up. His latest creations, the next generations of the characters, were much less dangerous, he'd heard.

The originals, however, had apparently not been willing to be forced quietly into the night. And so, four nights ago, they had broken out in dramatic style, taking most of their gangs with them. This, it turned out, had been his chance to escape too; in the confusion, he'd slipped out after them. And now, he was going to stop them before they destroyed the city-and stop Anderson from ruining it even more...

He raced across the river in a flash, stopping at the portal of the sewage pipe to stare at the bright green light emanating from the top of the toll booths on the highway leading into Gotham on the nearby highway. He easily recognized it as a dreaded "Box" as made by Anderson's original Riddler-not the over the top goofy one now operating under the name who left way too easily determined clues in Anderson's prearranged crimes. Beams of light zoomed into the Box from the cars going through the toll booth; the drivers' sense of reality were being distorted, leading them to believe everything was bright and sunny in the city. Special glasses as given to the militiamen, though, could show the truth. He had snatched a pair from the prison before leaving, and as he put them on now, he saw the truth: what looked under the Box's influence like a simple art deco toll booth manned by smiling men was in fact a heavy authoritarian barrier manned by heavily armed men and snarling dogs. He knew they could shut it down at any time and lock the citizens in. It would be up to him to change it...

He slipped through the sewage pipe and raced down the tunnel behind it. He would have to go through the length of Gotham to reach a pipe leading towards Wayne Manor, he knew. On and on he rushed, occasionally shooting a glance out the sewer gratings. The city was a lot brighter than it had been before he'd been carried away, with lots of bright colors and people walking around with smiles-fake, forced by Anderson's equipment, but smiling nonetheless. While in many ways an improvement over Gotham's usual dreary nature, it was still wrong. Turning a corner, he noticed another new facet; a giant poster of Anderson and his sidekick in costume, rushing forward with fists clenched, over the text:

Batman and Robin: our great and noble heroes! Perfect human beings who have dedicated themselves to ridding Gotham City of crime. Worthy of the deepest praise and respect of the citizens of this city. Tune in each week to see their astounding adventures, and how they keep us all safe and protected!

Protected, he wondered with a shake of the head? Or controlled and oppressed in a false reality? A hundred yards or so further down the tunnel, another massive banner could be seen hanging on another building, one featuring an ominous, scowling unshaven man in a stereotypical burglar's suit aiming two guns outward. The text under this graphic read:

Criminals!

The filthiest race of humanity there is!

They lurk everywhere, ready at a moment's notice to steal everything you have, and maybe even kill you!

Don't just stand helplessly by!

Donate to Batman and Robin's crime fighting fund today-no amount is too small!

Give today and make sure you stay safe!

He shook his head again. Propaganda at its finest. While most criminals were terrible people-as he knew all too well-lumping everyone together under one umbrella was just wrong.

He continued his trek underneath Gotham. After about ten minutes, he came to a stop again for a breather. He could see trees through the nearest grating now; he must be near the park at the center of the city. He glanced out the sewer opening at the park. Towering above it were two colossal statues of Anderson and his sidekick as Batman and Robin-and next to it, a newer statue of a girl dressed similarly. And he couldn't help noticing the large red mailbox next to it, with a policeman standing guard, that clearly looked like a collection box. A sign stood nearby, its words large enough for him to read-as well as make out the obvious edits that had recently been made:

Batman and Robin (and Batgirl) have dedicated their lives to protecting Gotham City, driving crime out. In so doing, they have won the unanimous adulation of every resident in the city. And why shouldn't they be lauded? They are perfect human beings who care for all Gothamites. But their crusade for justice can't continue without contributions from you the public. So feel free to drop off a contribution to Batman and Robin's (and Batgirl's) crime fighting crusade. No amount is too small, and there's no limit on the number of times a citizen can contribute. So give what you can, and the (Terrific Trio) can continue to keep Gotham City safe for all time.

He let out a loud sigh. It was bad enough Anderson had taken over the city; he was compounding it by extorting the residents. The cop at the box was now waving down a passing pedestrian. "Sir, excuse me, have you given a donation to Batman and Robin and Batgirl's crime fighting campaign lately?" he asked the man.

"Yeah, I gave fifty dollars last week, Officer..."

"Well, would you like to give some more...?"

"Officer, please, I'm living on a budget right now..."

"Oh come on, won't you consider it?" the officer badgered him, "After all, you never know when some terrible, twisted, evil criminal might break into your house and try and kill you and your family. Batman and his helpers can't help you unless they're well funded, and if they can't fight crime, Gotham may be lost forever..."

"Well..." the man was starting to waver.

"Criminals are everywhere; they may be stalking you even now...!" the cop got almost histrionic.

"All right, I'm sure I could spare a little more," the man conceded, digging out a twenty dollar bill and dropping it into the collection box. It was then that a familiar engine's screaming could be heard approaching. "Here comes Batman and Robin!" another man cried out, "Everyone, three cheers for our great heroes!"

"Hip-hip-hurray! Hip-hip-hurray!" came the shouts of bystanders all around. Down in the sewers, he moved to the side, not wanting to risk being seen. Anderson and his sidekick-in costume as Batman and Robin-now walked into sight, shaking hands with the collection box cop, who unlocked the mailbox and handed a large bin of money to the would-be heroes. The fake Batman nodded in satisfaction and handed it to his Robin, who bustled out of sight with it, presumably to put it in his "Batmobile." The false hero then stepped up onto the collection box's pedestal. "Thank you, citizens, thank you," he commended them with a paternal grin, "Thanks to your contributions such as these, Robin, Batgirl, and I should be able to protect you for a long time to come..."

"BATMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN!" came the cheers of the likely brainwashed crowd. The fake Batman bowed, then raised his hands to silence them. "And since you are all here, I am proud to share the following positive announcement: as today marks Robin's and my third anniversary as crime fighters, tonight, we will be throwing a special parade so you can honor us, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara, and the rest of our brave, selfless police who go so far to protect you from vicious, immoral, monstrous criminals. So come on out, and bring all your families and friends too, for you make everything we do..."

A phone could now be heard ringing loudly nearby, likely inside the Batmobile. "Hmm, a call. Well, citizens, it appears Robin and I have some last minute business," the fake Batman declared, "Go about your business, and we'll see all of you tonight for our parade and celebration."

He rushed out of sight. Down in the sewers, he moved closer to the grating, wanting to get an idea what was going on. Indeed, he could clearly hear the imposter declare, "Yes, Commissioner?"

"Batman, I'm sorry to call so soon before the parade, but something has happened you simply must be made aware of," came the solemn, overly dramatic voice of the man who had been brainwashed into believing he was James W. Gordon, "We followed up that lead on Catwoman's latest whereabouts that you and Robin had given us and traced her to the Shorthair Pet Shop. But...she and her gang are...dead..."

"Dead?" the fake Batman said, concerned, "What...do...you...mean...dead...Commissioner?"

"Dead as a doornail, Batman-and with a hideous smile twisted on her face, like nothing I'd ever seen before. Her whole gang was dead and also had the same smiles plastered on their faces. Tell me, Batman, what does this mean?"

There was a brief moment of silence. "I have...a hunch...Commissioner," the imposter Batman said stoically, "If you will give Robin and I about forty-five minutes, we need to go back to the Batcave and make some deductions. We will call you when our suspicions are confirmed, Commissioner."

The phone hung up. Moments later, the Batmobile's engine roared to life, drowning out all sound above. He nodded grimly, taking off into a run in the direction the car was now going above him. This bit of news only confirmed his worst fears: THEY were back, and they were now wiping out their replacements. Which meant they were probably going to strike against the city very soon...


"Gotham City. What a sight to see again," declared the white-faced man with the twisted grin on his face, glancing out the window in his private office on the top floor of the Axis Chemicals plant, "It's been too long since I've graced the streets, but this town's overdue for its enema, and it's going to get it tonight."

He shivered softly. "Not to complain, ladies and gentlemen, but did we really have to have it colder than a tax audit in here?" he turned backwards and complained to the half dozen or so people standing behind him.

"Hey Napier, you know I can't stand the heat, and neither can Fries," grumbled a deformed, long-nosed man in a top hat, who waddled forward to join him at the window.

"If you want my services, Napier, you'll have to accept that I can't exist outside an Arctic environment," added a large man wearing an intimidating metallic suit at the back of the crowd.

"Well, OK, Victor, but just so you know, I'll have to give you the cold shoulder, then," the white-faced man said, bursting into laughter. "Well, Mr. Cobblepot, Ms. Kyle, Mr. Dent, Mr. Nigma, Ms. Eisley," he addressed the other people in the room, "Are you ready for a party the likes of which this city has never seen before?"

"Ready to party hardy, and drive this pathetic into the ground, Jack," said the man with half his face horrifically scarred, who put a party favor to his lips and blew it excitedly, "Everyone's going to fear the name Harvey Dent when we get through with them now."

"Right, sure," Cobblepot nodded at him with a roll of his eyes. He sided alongside Napier and muttered, "Are we going to let on to him he's really Harvey Dent's pyscho brother Horace?"

"Why bother, Oswald?" Napier whispered back, "I believe in making people happy, and as long as he's happy thinking he's his goody-goody brother the D.A. gone bad, why ruin the effect? Besides, since he's way over the top and stupid, he makes the real Harvey Dent, wherever he may be, look bad, and I'm all for that."

He laughed again. The door at the back of the office now swung open. "Jack, everyone, they're all here," declared a long-haired goon in a purple leather jacket.

"It's Joker now, Bob. But thanks," Napier nodded at him. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have a big inspirational speech to give to the troops, so let's not disappoint them," he told his co-conspirators, "Walk this way."

He walked cornily out of the office, half-bent over and flailing his arms from side to side. "Don't push it, Napier," warned the woman dressed in a black cat suit holding a black cat in her arms as he walked past her, "If you embarrass me, I'm going elsewhere."

""If you want, Ms. Kyle, but what fun would it be apart from me?" Napier raised his eyebrows at her and laughed again. He strode out to the catwalk and looked down at the floor of the Axis plant. Hundreds of goons stood at attention waiting for orders: Joker goons in their own purple leather jackets...numerous circus thugs...Two-Face goons with red and black ski masks on their heads...squads of goons wearing metallic parkas...hundreds of penguins with rockets strapped to their backs...and by the back door, a gigantic green figure with huge muscles and a mask over its face. "BAAAAAAANE!" the figure now roared for some reason, raising its arms over his head.

"Yes, Bane, we're just about ready," the woman in the group wearing green waved to him. "Cobblepot, you're the politician, you start," she turned to him.

"Guess so," Cobblepot agreed, then leaned towards her and mumbled, "You haven't told him yet he ain't the real Bane either, I'll bet?"

"Like Mr. Dent, it would break his heart to know he wasn't who he thinks," she told him. Shrugging, Cobblepot stepped up to the microphone. "Well everyone, here we all are," he told the armies of goons, "Those two freaks thought they could use us and dispose of us for wannabes. But we will not be replaced! Tonight, we will teach them a lesson they'll never forget, and run Gotham into the ground in the process! Tonight, you'll get to indulge in your wildest fantasies, because tonight, absolutely anything goes! It is time for our revenge against them!"

The goons cheered wildly. Napier stepped up to the microphone now, a plunger in hand, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, let us count down to the beginning of a new era," he declared to the masses, "In ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, happy new crimes!"

He pressed down on the plunger. A series of tremendous explosions rang out throughout Gotham outside the plant, prompting Napier to laugh in delight. "All right, everyone, go have fun!" he commanded his troops. Cheering, the goons all ran for the exits. "All right," he turned back towards his co-conspirators, "Now our job is to lure them here. Mr. Nigma, do you have a good riddle to do it with?" he asked the man in the question mark suit.

"Sure do, Jack," Nigma grinned mischievously, "Just tell me when and how to drop it off, and they'll be here in no time..."