"Ah yes, I love the smell of insanity in the evening," the Joker grinned, watching clouds of green gas now hanging over the Narrows from the roof of Police Headquarters, with loud screams clearly audible despite the distance as well. "This town's going out with a real bang tonight."

Perhaps fittingly, a loud explosion rang out from the Narrows at that moment, sending a large fireball arcing skyward. Laughing again, he turned towards the giant Box being bolted down to the roof behind him. "How's it coming, Ed?" he asked the Riddler, who was overseeing the installation.

"Looking great, Jack," the Riddler gave him a salute with his question mark cane, "Looks like it'll be operational and ready to drain as many minds as possible in the city within ten minutes. How about the freeze ray, Vic?" he turned to Mr. Freeze, who was similarly examining the giant freeze ray being set up at the edge of the roof.

"It'll be ready in the same time, Mr. Nigma," Freeze told him, "They may have wanted to throw us in the cooler, but now we're going to put the whole city in the cooler for good."

"Terrific, wonderful," Catwoman said with an eye roll. She sided alongside the Penguin, who was checking on the pair of large rocket launchers being set up farther back on the roof, and muttered, "You're right; he's been hanging around with Jack too much."

The Penguin grunted in acknowledgement. "Have we decided the order we're doing this in yet?" he inquired to his accomplices.

"Sure have, Oswald. First we blast the city good," the Joker gestured at the rockets, "Then we send out the drones to give everyone some Smilex as a going away present-is the main fleet ready yet, Bob?" he asked his main henchman, seated behind a console with multiple computer screens nearby.

"Ready to go at a moment's notice," Bob gave him a thumbs-up, "We're tapped into the explosives that other would-be Batman set up all throughout the city too."

"Wonderful," his boss rubbed his hands eagerly, "If he's not going to use them, we might as well. Then Victor'll freeze the city good," he gestured at Freeze, "And then you can send out your 'children' to mop up what's left, Oswald."

"Actually, Jack, better let them move out first before Victor freezes anything," the Penguin countered, "That way we maximize the damage, and they can get safely out of harm's way once he does turn the ray on-are they ready to roll, Anna?" he asked the poodle lady, who was seated next to Bob at the console.

"Ready to do this again," the poodle lady nodded, mumbling to her poodle, "Don't we have a better plan than doing this again, Nikita...?"

"Missiles set," declared the large hulking Joker thug by the nearest rocket launcher, "We can fire when ready, boss."

"Wonderful, Donald; headphones on, everyone," the Joker ordered the rest of the personnel on the roof, who obligingly slipped protective headphones on their ears. "Arm the missiles," the Clown Prince of Crime commanded Donald, who hit a few buttons on the launcher's control panel, making the rockets start humming. "Arm the explosives, Bob," he ordered his top goon.

"Explosive caches armed," Bob eagerly pressed several buttons on the console, "We're ready for the Final Joke now."

"All right, prepare to execute the Final Joke in five, four, three..."

Suddenly, the organ grinder's monkey started screeching and jumping up and down on its master's shoulders by the edge of the roof. The organ grinder glanced to where his pet seemed to be pointing-and stumbled backwards in shock. "Everyone, we've got company coming!" he alerted the others, pointing to the Tumbler rocketing up the street towards Police Headquarters. "I see," the Penguin rushed up to the edge and frowned, "He never gives up, does he? But we can fix him. Hecko, Jecko," he turned to two nearby clowns, one thin and one fat, "Try and take him out before he gets here!"

Both clowns broke open a crate and hefted a rocket launcher and several projectiles. Their boss now pulled out a radio. "Attention everyone," he commended the rest of his and his partners' legions, "Bat approaching quick at two o'clock. Shoot to kill; I repeat, shoot to kill, do not let him get anywhere near the roof of this building!"


From the cab of the fire engine, he watched with a satisfied grin as the occupants of Police Headquarters opened fire from the windows and roof at the unmanned Tumbler up the street from him. It would be the perfect distraction as long as no one actually destroyed it.

He swerved it hard to the right with his remote control now to avoid a rocket streaking from the building's roof, then to the left to avoid another one. He swerved it to a stop in front of the front doors, then pushed more buttons to activate the vehicle's weapons system. Machine gun blasts raked the front door, blowing it open. Numerous goons ran out and returned fire with the Tumbler, their bullets bouncing harmlessly off its metal shell. That was his cue to move: while everyone concentrated on the distraction at the front door, he was going in the back...

He shifted the fire engine into drive and hung down the street behind Police Headquarters. Once the rear of the building came into sight, he pressed down hard on the accelerator, aiming for the rear doors. The fire engine was going eighty miles an hour when it crashed hard through the back doors, accidentally running over a few goons who had no idea what was coming. He braked to a stop in the atrium and jumped out-and was surprised to see the atrium was now a veritable jungle, with tropical plants growing everywhere. "Ivy sure works fast," he muttered, glancing around warily for any attackers...

When strong hands suddenly grabbed him and hurled him sideways into the wall. "BAAAAAAAANE!" the false Bane roared, picking him up and slamming him hard to the ground. Groaning, he nonetheless rolled onto his back and kicked the big green monstrosity backwards into the wall in turn. "You're not Bane," he growled, stumbling back to his feet, "I've fought the real Bane. You're a total joke compared to him..."

"BAAAAAAAANE!" the giant roared defiantly, giving him a brutal forearm chop to the face that sent him sprawling. "You poor overconfident thorn in all our sides," Ivy all but laughed atop a mossy mound that had probably once been a reception desk nearby, "He's Bane to me, and that's all that matters right now. How foolish to think you could stop us..."

"And I will," the Batman blocked another of the fake Bane's roundhouse rights and gave him a hard slug in the chest that bent him over with a roar. The monster, however, abruptly grabbed him by the throat and lifted him high in the air. "CRUUUUUUUUSSSHH!" it droned furiously.

"Yes, Bane, crush him good-but break his back first," Ivy commanded with a dark grin, "I've heard he likes that."

"BREEEEAAAAAAAAKKK!" the false Bane squatted down, planted a foot hard on the floor, and raised his quarry high over his knee. For a brief moment, fear passed through the mind of the man without fear, memories of having his back broken before by the real Bane coursing through his mind...

...when his eyes locked in on the Venom control dials on the imposter's chest. In a flash, he seized them and turned them all the way up. Howling, the fake Bane stumbled onto his back, his muscles now bulging wildly from too much Venom too soon. The Batman slugged the control panels hard until they shattered in a shower of sparks, leaving the fake Bane with no way to shut off the flow of Venom. He was now inflating like a balloon, looking ready to pop. The Batman grabbed one of the Venom tubes, yanked it loose, tossed a batarang at a nearby electrical tube on the wall, slicing it open, and jammed the tube into the sparking opening. The false Bane screamed in agony as he was electrocuted. The Batman held the tube in place for about ten seconds before releasing it, then pulled out the fake Bane's other Venom tubes as he fell writhing to the ground, causing him to rapidly deflate back towards the proportions of a normal man.

Before he could register anything else, however, vines snaked around his ankles and jerked him off his feet. More vines entwined themselves around his arms, pinning him to his sides. It was only them that he noticed the large Venus flytrap leaning forward from the corner, its jaws opening wide towards him. "Filthy bat intruder! You'll pay for what you did to Bane!" Ivy threatened him, gesturing at the screaming and still deflating fake Bane on the floor.

"He's not the real Bane. Whatever Anderson shot you up with must have affected your mind," he told her defiantly.

"It's not my mind you should worry about," she leaned towards him, puckering her lips, "Allow me to end all your worldly cares before my baby here devours you for good..."

She seized both sides of his head. He could smell the poison on her lips; if they made contact with his, it was probably all over. In a flash, an idea struck him. He quickly jerked his head backwards and head-butted Ivy hard, making her groan and release him. He then swung sideways towards the fire truck and grabbed hold of one of the hoses with his teeth-and not a moment too soon, as the Venus flytrap started pulling him towards its maw. Twisting around, he squeezed the trigger of the hose with his teeth, sending a stream of fire straight into the flytrap's mouth. Letting out an unearthly screech, it released him to the ground. He leaped back to its feet and sprayed it some more, then blasted the vines coming towards him as well, making then hastily retreat while burning. "Stop! My babies!" a horrified Ivy screamed, looking with horror at the plants burning. She rushed him in a rage, but he jumped aside, leaving her to trip over one of the retreating vines and fall face first to the floor. The Batman sprayed the rest of the plants in the room with fire as well, leaving flames burning everywhere. He had to hand it to the clowns for the fire truck idea; he was getting more mileage out of it than they probably could have.

A tremendous bang from the front door made him turn to see the Freezemobile smashing through the front wall. It immediately fired several rockets at him, which he just manage to duck, leaving them to blow huge holes in the rear wall. He then saw its freeze cannon turning towards him-but just as it fired, Ivy leaped towards him with a knife, right into the path of the blue stream of freezing material. She was thus frozen solid into a block of ice in seconds. The Batman rolled sideways, pulled the still shaking fake Bane, who was now only about normal-sized, back to his feet in front of him, then leaped away as the ice cannon fired again, freezing him in ice as well. He nodded in satisfaction; two threats down. Now it was time to take care of the others before they wrecked the city.

He leaped out of the way of another rocket that had been fired at him by the Freezemobile. Glancing towards the smoke its impact had left, he noticed the large hole in the wall it had left led right up the main elevator shaft. That was as good a route up as any. He rushed towards the hole, quickly jammed a cartridge into his grappling gun and fired up the shaft, leaping into the air just as the Freezemobile's ice cannon fired at him again. This, however, served only to seal up the hole behind him with a wall of ice, making it impossible for the Freezemobile's occupant to follow him. It was what might lie ahead of him that he was worried about...


"Isley, come in!" Catwoman barked over her radio on the roof, "Isley, are you there; what's going on down there!?"

"There was no response on the other end of the line. "He's here," she muttered, laying her cat down on the roof and unraveling her whip, "And he's coming this way, I just know it."

"Well it makes no matter, because he's too late anyway," the Joker declared, raising his hand over his head, "Execute the Final Joke...now!"

"It's show time!" Bob jammed his finger down on a large red button. A tremendous explosion rang out in the distance as an entire city block went up in flames, followed by several others in quick succession. "Smilex drones ETA five minutes to drop targets, counting down now," the lead goon exclaimed, following several green dots on his computer screen heading from the Narrows towards the city center.

"Excellent," his boss laughed in delight, throwing his arms up in the air in step with another colossal explosion that went up closer to their location. "If you want to have fun in this town, you better go ahead and have a blast!" he laughed maniacally, gesturing backwards towards Donald and the other top goons of his gang to launch the missiles. With loud bangs, several launched and sped rapidly towards the suburbs, where innocent families likely had no idea what was waiting for them. "Mr. Nigma, let's drain some minds while the populace panics," he told the Riddler, now hunched over the control panel behind Bob with a personal Box on his own head that was hooked up to the giant Box behind them.

"The Gotham Home Box Office is now open for business!" the Riddler eagerly pressed another button that turned on the giant Box. Green lines of light started drifting across the city towards Police Headquarters. It was then, though, that another explosion rocked a lower floor of the building, making the roof shake. "Boss, come in, the Batman's here!" one of Freeze's henchman screamed over the intercom, "He's taking out...UUUUGGGGHHH!" he groaned as the sound of a heavy punch rang out over the static.

"Come in, Frosty," Freeze tapped the radio hard. Only the sound of loud groans and more punches could be heard. "If you want anything right, you have to do it yourself," he muttered, hefting his ice cannon, "Two Face, with me," he told the fake Harvey Dent nearby, "Both our gangs together can stop him. Mr. Nigma, you take over the ray," he told the Riddler, pointing to the huge freeze ray, "Once it reaches critical mass, freeze the whole city..."


Several stories below, the Batman stood his ground by a new hole in the wall as the last remaining member of Freeze's gang on the floor he'd come up to that he hadn't taken out yet charged at him with a razor sharp hockey stick, yelling at the top of his lungs like an idiot. Once the goon had gotten close enough and reared back for a mighty swing, he leaped aside, sending the not too bright goon sailing out the hole in the wall and falling down to his demise in the street. He strode away from the hole, ignoring the scream ringing out behind him. While he intended to hold to his usual no-kill rule as best as he could, he had no obligation to save any thugs that threw their own lives away, he felt.

More loud explosions behind him made him turn back to the window. Numerous large fireballs arced up towards the sky several blocks away-and he could now make up dots of light on the horizon heading in his direction-the lethal Joker gas drones, he knew. He might need some outside help to stop the onslaught-and fortunately, he had some hopeful aid within communication distance...

He switched on the radio to the Batcave in his ears. "Come in, Fox, I may need your help," he said to the top Wayne Enterprises executive, who he'd asked to remain on alert in the lair (as he suspected deep down that Fox knew who Batman was already, he figured it couldn't hurt, as long as Alfred kept him down in the Batcave, as he'd privately instructed the butler before heading out on his mission).

"What do you need?" came Fox voice through the static on the other end.

"Did you learn about jamming frequencies in the Applied Science division?" the Batman inquired, now noticing down the street several small dots also coming closer-penguins with missiles, he suspected.

"What do you need it for?"

"I've got missiles flying out of the city, gas drones coming straight for the heart of the city, and penguins with personal rockets coming at me. Tap into the main computer; that'll bring up surveillance video from all over the city."

"OK, but I'll reiterate that I have serious reservations about this technology being used in this fashion, even in the efforts of fighting crime," Fox said with a resigned sigh.

"Just this once, Fox."

"OK, OK," the executive sighed again. After a minute's pause, he said, sounding worried now, "Yeah, I see what you see. It looks like this is pretty serious all right. But I might just be able to do something; it looks like these drones were made with Wayne Enterprises technology, so I should be able to know the operating codes. Hacking in'll be the big issue..."

"Try it, quick. If you can, give them new orders to kamikaze themselves into the harbor before they drop the gas," he ordered Fox. He then switched to another frequency. "You heard all that, Alfred?" he asked the butler, who he'd stationed at another console in the Batcave in case he'd be needed.

"Certainly did, sir," Alfred told old him, "What do you need of me?"

"Fox can handle the gas drones; you handle the penguins. Once Fox figures out how to hack in, jam their frequencies and get them to come here. We can use them to disable everything else on the roof here..."

"You realize of course, sir, that that likely will constitute in the end a pretty serious violation of your vow not to kill, since I don't see how there'll not be mass casualties from that kind of a strategy," Alfred pointed out grimly.

"I know, Alfred, but they're already committing mass murder at the moment, and if this goes through, it'll be even worse. I need you to..."

A sudden burst of machine gun fire rang out from behind him, sending him tumbling to the ground. "Hello there," the fake Two Face said out loud behind him, flanked by dozens of his gang, "Sorry to barge in like this, but I promised myself I'd kill one Batman tonight. Let him have it, boys!" he ordered his gang, who opened fire with their machine guns.

The Batman dodged the bullets as best he could, jumping behind a filing cabinet for safety. He drew several stun grenades from his utility belt and tossed them towards the goons, sending those in the front scattering with loud cries once it went off. Several others charged forward towards him with loud yells. He slugged and kicked them hard, sending them reeling backwards with groans-but others were racing forward to take their colleagues' places, more than he felt truly comfortable facing off with. Thus, he now rushed for the hole in the wall and leaped out it, leaving him briefly suspended weightless high over Gotham before pulling out his grappling gun and firing the hook towards the top floor of Police Headquarters. He rapidly swung up towards it, swaying his body from side to side to avoid the bullets from the thugs below, plus a random rocket from a yelling Two Face (he wondered how the villains had gotten so many high level armaments like this), and moments later smashed through the window of the top floor...

...where he saw he'd gone from the frying pan to the fire, as the whole floor was jammed with circus thugs. A quartet of acrobat thugs cartwheeled towards him immediately. He ducked, sending one sailing out the window, screaming. The other three set upon him with martial arts blows and kicks. He parried them move for move, then slugged the acrobats one by one down to the floor. Numerous clowns now rushed him with various weapons. With a stone cold expression, the Batman stormed towards them and started slugging and kicking away at his attackers. He gasped as one clown wrapped a chain around his neck and started choking him out. Another clown used this opportunity to try and jam a knife into his chest. The Bat suit, however, lived up to Fox's billing and proved knife resistant. The Batman kicked this clown in the face, sending him sprawling over several of his colleagues, then leapfrogged backwards over the clown choking him, slacking the pressure on his neck, then flipped the stunned clown hard backwards onto several filing cabinets. The Batman rushed forward again towards another clown coming at him with nun chucks, blocked each thrust by his foe with the weapons, disarmed him with a pair of kicks, then judo chopped him into submission. The remaining clowns all rushed him at once (he did have to give them some credit for not falling into the usual villain trap of attacking the hero strictly one at a time, he granted them). A strong fight broke out, but ended a minute later as all the others had, with the clowns lying groaning on the floor.

His problems weren't over yet, however, as burst of fire shot towards him from the door to the roof, courtesy of a fire eater in a devil's suit, who now breathed another blast of flame at him that just missed his head. And it was now that the door to the stairs burst off its hinges. "Hello, Iceman's here," Freeze called out mockingly, making the Batman roll his eyes at the sheer stupidity of the way Anderson had programmed the villain's dialogue, "I have a special delivery for you, Batman!"

He raised his ice cannon and fired at the hero. The Batman rolled out of the way of the blue streak, which froze the desk behind him into solid ice. Freeze continued firing at him as he rushed low along the wall, which was soon a sheet of ice. The villain aimed at the floor and fired next. The Batman leaped high to avoid it, ducking another fireball from the fire eater in the process, but slipped on the ice and fell on his back. He had just enough time to wonder about the logic of adding skates to the suit, stupid as that otherwise seemed, before four more of Freeze's goons came skating towards him with razor sharp hockey sticks. Thinking quickly, he curled up in a ball, then spun towards them when they got close enough, kicking their legs out from under them and leaving them to fall flat on their backs as well. They stumbled to get up, but took hard blows-interrupted by the Batman leaping out of the way of another blast from Freeze's ice cannon that just missed him-and soon were lying dazed on the ground. "You may have them out cold, Batman, but I'm going to make you even colder!" Freeze threatened, firing again and once more just missing.

"Just stop it with the ice puns, all right!" the Batman growled, dodging another blast of ice, "It's not even remotely funny anymore!"

"You really need to chill out!" Freeze refused to let it go, waving the cannon around wildly, as he did not see his prey at the moment, "Come on and take this like a man!"

"Maybe, Freeze, you can take this like one!" the Batman, having silently sneaked up behind the fire eater as he was about to blow another fireball across the room, grabbed him from behind and turned him sideways so that he blew the fire straight at Freeze. Freeze howled and dropped the ice cannon, stumbling backwards. "Melts your heart, doesn't it?" the Batman snickered, spinning the fire eater back around and headbutting him hard, then hurling him into the wall.

"That's not funny either!" Freeze protested, trying to beat the flames on his suit out. The Caper Crusader, however, rushed forward, spearing Freeze to the ground. He then punched a hole in the control panel of his suit and yanked out the wires, sparking a short. "You fool! I need that suit to survive!" Freeze begged, his eyes widening.

"Ever look into cryogenics?" the Batman seized the ice cannon from the floor. "No, don't...!" Freeze begged.

"You'll like the cooler," the Batman smirked, firing the cannon and freezing Freeze in a block of ice. "Anderson took him way too far," he muttered, pulling the ice cannon close and running for the door, "Freeze was always better in that animated show..."

He kicked the door open...and came to a stop, noticing a dozen or so Joker goons jamming the stairs above him, and an equal number of Two Face goons on the lower level, leaving him essentially surrounded. They all leveled machine guns at him. "Well, you've clearly been having fun, Batman, but it is finally time to die!" the fake Two Face declared, pushing his way through his gang with his rocket launcher in hand, "You're going to pay for ruining the life and career of Harvey Dent!"

"You're not Harvey Dent; your his idiot brother Horace, brainwashed to think he's Harvey!" the Batman snapped.

"I am too Harvey Dent...!"

"I knew Harvey Dent; he was a decent man at heart, despite what he became, not like you."

"Harvey was always the goody goody one!" the imposter whined, "Mother and Father always favored him no matter what I did! Taking his place was the best way to get back him for stealing all the attention...!"

"Uh, boss, the Batman?" one of his thugs pointed out, frowning.

"Oh, right," the fake Two Face snapped out of it, "As I was saying, Batman, it is time to die!" he leveled the rocket launcher at his foe...

...but not quick enough for the Batman to aim Freeze's ice cannon at him and fire, freezing the would-be Two Face in ice himself. "You'll like serving time in the cooler, Horace," he muttered, then rolled his eyes at the realization he'd just fallen into the same pitfall he'd castigated Freeze for.

"Kill him!" came the loud shout. The goons started opening fire. The Batman spun around and fired the ice cannon around both the upper and lower stairs, freezing more goons in blocks of ice. He glanced upwards towards the ceiling, quickly fired a line into the roof, and ascended upwards, kicking away the Joker goons that tried to grab him or shoot him as he rose. With a loud roar, Lawrence the goon leaped off the top landing above him before he reached the top, brandishing a thick wooden staff. The Batman, however, cold-cocked him with a hard backhand, sending Lawrence hard into the wall and down the stairwell to the basement. The Caper Crusader leaped to the top landing, slammed the last Joker goon guarding the door into the wall hard before the man could swing a knife at him, and kicked the door to the roof open...

...and was immediately slugged in the chest by the circus gang's strongman. The strongman yanked the ice cannon away from him and crushed it in his bare hands, then slugged the Batman hard, sending him sliding sideways across the roof. A whip cracked next to him, making him jump back up. "Poor Batman, expending all that effort to get up here, only for it to be all for nothing," Anderson's original Catwoman told him smugly from nearby, "It's too late now, you can't stop us," she pointed to the sky, where scores of Joker Smilex drones were getting closer, repetitive mechanical laughter audible from them.

"It's not over yet," he defiantly rose back to his feet, but was forced to retreat again as she cracked the whip at him again and again, forcing him back towards the edge of the roof. He leaped sideways before he could step over the edge-right into the strongman's hands. The strongman wrestled him motionless while the original Catwoman slyly approached. "I appreciate a man who fails to give up," she told him coyly, thrusting her "claws" into his face, "But all men fail before a strong woman. Any last words?"

"I like the Catwoman I know better," he muttered, trying to think of a way out of this one.

"Too bad," she reared back to slash at him...

"Come in," came Fox's hissing on his earpiece radios, make her pause her swipe in midair in confusion at where the voice was coming from, "I have the frequency; I am in."

"Thirty seconds to Smilex release," Bob announced out loud on the other side of the roof, helpfully giving the Batman a timeline to work with. "Execute in fifteen, on my mark," he told Fox, then reared his legs up and kicked at the original Catwoman; much as he hated harming a woman, with his life in clear peril, he felt this would be understandable. His feet connected, sending her backwards with a shriek to the roof. He then elbowed the strongman in the chest to loosen his grip, spun, and headbutted him hard. Roaring, the strongman swung a hard punch, but missed, and a series of karate kicks sent him flying backwards towards the Bat Signal, which he slammed into hard. Satisfied, the Batman turned towards the front of the roof, ducking under a rocket fired by the fat and thin clowns, then charged them and clotheslined them both down to the roof. He slid to a stop, though, at the sight of the remaining goons leveling their firearms at him. "Nice try, Batsy, but like the lady said, you're too late!" the Joker taunted him, gesturing up at the drones, "This city's getting a going-away present any second now they'll never forget, and there's nothing you can do to stop it!"

"Want to bet?" the Batman grinned. He tapped his ears. "Execute," he commanded Fox. In the air above them, abrupt buzzing sounds rang out from the drones, whose laughter now abruptly sped up. They also now suddenly veered to the right as one away from their drop zones in the direction of Gotham Harbor. "My drones...!" shock flooded the Joker's face. "What are you doing with my drones!" he demanded to the Batman.

"Something is wrong. Something has taken over the drones' command circuitry. They are out of our control and seemingly headed for the harbor," the poodle lady laconically stated the obvious at the control panel, "Their self-destruct sequence has also been remotely activated, and there is no way to shut it off from here. Self-destruction in thirty seconds."

"Ha-ha, Napier. The joke's on you," the Batman cracked a smile at the Joker, who could be seen fuming behind his grotesque smile. The archvillain spun back to the sky and helplessly watched his death drones dive bomb into Gotham Harbor, then explode one by one harmlessly. "YOU RUINED MY DRONES!" the Clown Prince of Crime yelled in frustration, "Somebody's got to pay for this! Bob, gu-," he turned around, but Bob, perhaps suspecting what was coming, had quickly hidden behind the structure of the stairway to the roof. "Oh well, guess it doesn't have to be him," he muttered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a ridiculously long-handled gun. "Fred," he called to another henchman standing near the edge of the roof and leveled the gun, which with its length was thus quite close to his face, right between his eyes and pulled the trigger, sending Fred's body flying backwards off the roof and down to the street below. "You'll have to learn to take these things like a man, Bob," he chided his top henchman.

"Never mind that, get him!" the Penguin ordered, grabbing several umbrellas out of the nearby circus drum full of them, "Nigma, crank up that machine and freeze the city quick!" he ordered the Riddler, who gleefully started pressing several buttons on the giant freeze ray, "You guys," he gestured at the remaining Joker goons on the roof, "Fire those rock-!"

"Hold it, Cobblepot," the Batman cut him off, taking a glance over the side of the roof, "Weren't you planning on using your 'children?'"

"You mean...!?" his expression going wide, the Penguin looked over the side himself. "Penguin army has deviated from intended launch destination and is now here," the poodle lady again stated the obvious out loud, for the army of penguins stood below police headquarters, their rockets aimed square at the roof. "Hack into the penguins' systems successful, sir," Alfred now stated over the radios.

"Good. All of you, surrender now," the Batman ordered the remaining villains, "Or I give the order for my...backers to fire those rockets up here, and all of us die."

"My babies...!" the Penguin let out a furious roar and charged forward with two umbrellas in hand, one firing bullets and the other a blast of flames. The Batman retreated from both umbrellas' ammunition, his eyes locking in on the Riddler firing the freeze ray towards the Narrows, which quickly started freezing in the distance. His first order of business before carrying out his threat would be to reverse it-although he now had more pressing matters with all the remaining goons circling around behind the Penguin, their weapons at the ready. They all forced him back towards the Bat Signal...

...which now gave him another idea. Once he was up against it, he quickly pushed it downward and threw the switch on, blinding the villains with its glow. Howling, they stumbled backwards covering their eyes. The Batman lunged forward and speared the Penguin off his feet, then shoved past the other goons and rushed towards the freeze ray. He grabbed the inattentive Riddler from behind, hauled him away from the control panel, yanked the personal Box off his head, and smashed it against the ground. "No fair! I wasn't done getting smarter yet!" the Riddler whined.

"This'll wise you up more, then!" the Batman smashed the question marked villain's face into the control panel, then hurled him aside. Locating the ray's reverse lever, he quickly threw it. The beam abruptly switched from blue to red and started thawing out the Narrows...

...although he attention was now diverted as Bob grabbed him by the throat from behind and hurled him to the ground. "Why won't you just die!?" the head goon bellowed, drawing a knife and slamming it into the chest of his foe, to no avail, "Why can't you just stay out of everything we do!?"

"One word for you," the Batman tapped his ear radios; with the ray now reversed, there was no need to hold off any longer. "Execute," he instructed Alfred, then drove his knees into Bob's groin and slugged him backwards, right as clicking sounds rang out below, followed by the roar of the penguins' rockets launching towards the roof. The initial salvo hit the giant Box and blew it up in a massive fireball, dissipating the green mists that had been drifting towards it from all across the city and hopefully restoring the minds of everyone affected by it. More rockets landed, blasting large holes in the roof. Every villain still standing desperately rushed for the side of the roof, where a green and purple Joker helicopter had now appeared with a ladder hanging down. The Batman rose up and ran for the edge of the roof himself, although a now panicked Bob shoved him down and raced for the ladder, which was starting to rise up out of reach as the helicopter started retreating with the other villains. "Jack, give me your hand!" he cried, desperately reaching out for the Joker's hand.

"Give me yours, Bob," his boss extended his hand out. Bob grabbed hold of it-only to have it come off the Joker's wrist. He lost his balance and fell screaming to the street below. "And it's a good hand too, Bob; you'll like it," his boss laughed maniacally, watching his number one guy fall to his doom, "You didn't think you were going to get away completely for the drones' failure, did you?"

He laughed again as the helicopter continued ascending away from the roof, which was being pelted with more and more rockets and starting to crack under the onslaught. The Batman raced for the edge and leaped off, activating the materials in his cape to make himself glide. He glanced up at the departing helicopter. They were rising higher in the sky, but he wasn't going to let them get away that easily...

He drew a bola launcher, jammed it into his grappling gun, aimed at the helicopter's tail, and fired. One end wrapped around the tail, while the other lodged itself around the fire escape ladder. This proved enough to bring the helicopter to a stop in midair. Its engines increased their screaming, the pilot maxing out the power to try and get away, but it proved unable to get loose. It was now, in fact, as the Batman landed safely on the ground, that the helicopter's engines exploded from the strain in a shower of sparks, and the craft swung backwards and slammed hard against the side of the building, the rotors shattering and leaving it helpless. The Batman nodded in satisfaction. The game was over.

He activated the radio again. "Mission accomplished, Alfred. Shut it down and turn them around," he instructed the butler.

"As you wish, sir," Alfred told him. Moments later, the penguins stopped firing on the roof, turned around, and waddled away from police headquarters. The roar of sirens could now be heard getting closer to the Batman's location. A whole platoon of police cars braked to a stop next to the Tumbler. "Well, what's the story?" Gordon leaped from the lead cruiser and bustled over.

"You'll find the perpetrators up there," the Batman pointed to the helicopter still hanging over the edge of Police Headquarters, "Book them."


ONE WEEK LATER...

"...the suspects were indicted on the charges of mass murder, incitement of riot, and numerous other high crimes," the TV anchor reported on the TV screen just inside the door of Gotham City Hall, where Bruce Wayne now stood, waiting for the press conference to begin, "They were subsequently remanded to Arkham Asylum to undergo thorough mental health evaluations to judge if they are competent to stand trial. At the same time, William Anderson, who brainwashed Gotham City with various mind control devices and chemicals as part of a master plan to impersonate the Batman and steal numerous items from the city, was also indicted on corruption, murder, kidnapping, and other charges after the testimony of numerous co-defendants that had turned state's evidence proved damning. Anderson, however, refused to let go of his belief that he really is the Batman, despite overwhelming evidence otherwise, and had this to say to the citizens of this city when leaving the courthouse..."

"Citizens," an angry-looking Anderson glared into the camera, "I am sorely disappointed in all of you. I gave you a peaceful, happy city where Batman could be cheered and not feared, a wonderful place to live for good, decent people, and you all betrayed me by refusing to aid me when I needed you the most! Well, I wash my hands of all of you! You do not deserve Batman's protection, or the utopic, perfect city he created for you...!"

"What perfect city?" Gordon muttered in disgust to Bruce's right, "Even without the kidnapping and torture of so many people, what good is a city where everyone's forced to think the same way?"

"I know, Jim," Bruce nodded knowingly, "I hope they can get him help, if he can be helped..."

"We're ready," a mayoral aide nearby called to them. The two of them walked out of City Hall's front door, where the acting mayor was tapping the microphone. "Good afternoon, one and all," he announced to the assembled reporters, "I wish I could be meeting you all under better circumstances, but unfortunately, this is how it is in Gotham at the moment. It is, though, my pleasure to assure you that Commissioner Gordon's men have captured all the remaining members of the gangs that almost destroyed our city last week," he gestured Gordon forward to take a wave of applause, "He also assures me that the mind control apparatus that was used to place Gotham under that spell we were all under has been destroyed, and so we do not have to worry about that again."

More applause rang out. "And now, I'd like to introduce Bruce Wayne, who has his own announcement to make," the acting mayor gestured him forward. Bruce took a deep breath as he stepped up to the podium; public speaking like this wasn't usually his forte. "Good afternoon," he told the reporters, "Well, here we are, having survived one of the biggest challenges Gotham City has ever faced. It was rough, but we came through. Bill Anderson wanted to create a better Gotham City; the problem was, he went about it the wrong way. Well, I'll admit, I want a better Gotham too. I wish there could be a world where the people of this city didn't have to worry about crime. A world where," his head started sinking low, "where my mother and father could be alive today to hear this speech. A world where Gotham didn't have to rely on a supposed spectral figure dressed like a bat who comes out at night to fight the wicked and corrupt. But that's unfortunately not our reality. And it would do us all well to not hide in false realities, for those who do end up getting lost in a maze from which they may never come out."

He took a drink of water before continuing, "Anyway, my main reason for being here is to make the following announcements. First, my father believed that those who have the money and influence to make a difference should give as much as they could to that end. And such, I am donating fifty million dollars of my fortune to rebuild the sections of Gotham that were destroyed in the mayhem last week. It unfortunately cannot bring back those whose lives were lost, but it can be a grant to help build an actually better Gotham. Second, since Bill Anderson had stolen chemicals and other technology from Wayne Enterprises while he worked there to go on his reign of terror in this city, I would like to announce, to put the public at ease, that I have authorized for all the chemicals and technologies he used to be destroyed, and anyone still with the company from the old regime that created them demoted. Never again will someone be allowed to warp reality for their own twisted ends. And above all, let us come together as Gothamites in this trying time. Together, perhaps we all can make a difference to make Gotham City a better city. Thank you."

He got a strong applause from the onlookers. Bruce breathed a sigh of relief; he'd gotten through the speech unscathed, and it appeared to have made its mark. "Again, thanks for this, Wayne," the acting mayor shook his hand, "This'll be a big help in rebuilding."

"It's what my father would have done under the same circumstances," Bruce glanced skyward, "I hope I've done him proud." He glanced at his watch. "Well, I've got to get going; important business to attend to."

He shook hands with the acting mayor and other dignitaries in parting, then bustled down the steps and down the street, where Alfred stood waiting with his limousine. As he got closer, however, he noticed something else: a small boy with teary eyes sitting on the curb near the limousine, staring down at the press conference. "Hey," he stopped and bent down to the boy's level, "everything all right?"

"They said they were going to send the good Batman to jail for life," the boy said sadly, "I liked him."

"Well, sorry to disappoint you, kid, but he was a menace in real life. He brainwashed people and stole from this city-and that's just the nice things he did," Bruce pointed out to him, "Unfortunately, he belongs in jail right now."

"But he was such a nice guy on TV, always doing the right thing and asking everyone else to do the same. I want to be like him so much..." the boy shook his head, then got up and walked away. Bruce shook his own head. "Looks like it's going to take a while to purge Anderson's Batman out of this city," he said to Alfred once the boy was out of earshot.

"Looks like it, sir," Alfred opened the limousine's rear door for him. The butler climbed into the driver's seat and drove his employer off down the street. "Perhaps, though, Master Bruce, that could be something worth considering going forward," he looked into the rearview mirror, "I realize that the criminals of this city are a particularly vicious lot, and that fighting them as heavily as you do often sucks any fun out of the job, but perhaps you may wish to consider being a bit more jovial going forward sometimes. After all, nothing says Batman has to be solely a grim, gruesome figure. Maybe Bill Anderson was secretly onto something in his little mad crusade..."

"Alfred, Anderson's whole program was a lie to get himself power and prestige," his boss reminded him.

"And that certainly is true, and may he serve a long prison sentence for it. But wrong though his actions were, his show was enjoyable, and even if it was an act, his character was a pretty noble one, like that young man just said-one perhaps more of us in this world might want to consider being," Alfred pointed out, "Maybe a sometimes nicer Batman would be a better Batman, going forward. Just something to consider, sir."

"Well, I'll think about it, Alfred," Bruce conceded, rolling against the window and closing his eyes, "Right now, I just want to get back to Wayne Manor and take a good, long nap..."

THE END