Superman was making his daily rounds above the Metropolis skyline when he saw a familiar black plane approaching the city from a few miles away, and he sighed. It was never good news when Batman came to Metropolis unannounced. At least it wasn't good news for his city.
He flew up to the same altitude as the plane and waited for it with his arms crossed over his chest. He wasn't territorial by nature, especially compared to Batman, but he still wished Bruce would extend the courtesy of a call to let him know he was coming. If anyone should understand that, Bruce should.
Superman tapped the earpiece he wore for just such an occasion. "You know, you could have called me to let me know you were coming."
He expected some sort of gruff response or maybe even just a grunt, but was surprised by the voice on the other end of the transmission.
"Sorry, Superman, but there really wasn't time," a young voice answered.
Superman focused his gaze on the front windows of the Bat-plane as it neared. He was surprised to see not Bruce behind the controls, but a teenage boy in a black mask.
"You're not Batman."
"You're right about that," the voice answered.
As the plane closed the distance between them, Superman noticed the craft wasn't changing course. The plane was heading straight for him, and while Superman wasn't worried about being hurt, he was worried about hurting the person inside aircraft. The plane veered to the right slightly at the last second, but it wasn't enough and Superman dove out of the way quickly. The left wing caught on the corner of his cape, tearing a small piece of it off.
Superman sighed. "Jeez, kid, are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"That wasn't the plan, no."
Superman watched as the plane sped away, but he wasn't about to let this one go. If this kid stole Batman's plane, Bruce would never forgive him for letting the thief get by him. But that raised the question of how did a kid steal the plane from Batman in the first place?
Superman decided to find out for himself and took off after the plane. "So just who might you be?"
"The name's Robin," the boy replied. "I'm Batman's partner."
Superman caught up to the plane quickly and paced it, looking directly in the window at the front of the aircraft. "His partner, huh? He doesn't really strike me as the partner type." The suspicion was evident in his voice, and he was sure the kid picked up on it.
"So I've been told, yet here I am," the boy answered, glancing out the window at him.
Clark had to guess he was maybe thirteen years old, no more than fourteen. He x-rayed the plane to get a better look. He had short dark hair, and tall gangly frame from what he could see. The boy was dressed in a brightly colored costume with a black strip of a mask that obscured only his eyes. Batman had a kid for a partner?
"So where is Batman?" Superman asked with a raised eyebrow.
"He's incommunicado. On a business trip."
"For criminals, maybe," the boy answered. "I'd rather have him here, but for now, I'm taking care of Gotham."
"Batman left you in charge of Gotham?!" Superman asked incredulously. Batman wouldn't even let Superman watch over Gotham, but he'd let this kid? Now he knew the boy had to be blowing smoke.
"Yes, he did," Robin answered with a defensive tone. "I know what I'm doing."
Superman could tell he touched on a nerve there. "I'm not saying you're not capable, but it's not like Batman would just trust anyone with Gotham."
"I'm not just anyone," the boy grunted in an attempt to sound tough. "I'm his partner."
"He's never mentioned you before."
"It's not like Batman is a great conversationalist," Robin replied, and Superman had to smile. The kid had a point.
Superman flew closer to the plane, right next to the window so he could get a good look inside. The engines of the Bat-plane roared behind him as Robin glanced out the window back at him, his eyes narrowing in what Superman could only guess was an attempt at intimidation. An almost perfect imitation of Batman's scowl.
"So what brings you to Metropolis?" Superman asked, hoping the change of subject would take away some of the boy's defensiveness.
"The Joker. He stole a fighter plane from a naval base just outside of Gotham. He's loaded it up with his laughing gas and has threatened to bomb all the major cities across the country if his demands aren't met."
"Want a hand tracking him down?" The Joker was serious news, and Superman knew he couldn't let this kid go up against that maniac alone. If Robin really was Batman's partner, he expected some sort of defiant answer of how he could handle the situation on his own, which Clark would ignore and help anyway. But again, he was surprised by the voice on the other end of the line.
"Really?" the boy asked, not even trying to disguise his excitement. "You want to work with me?"
"Sure," Superman replied. "Joker's a tough character, especially when he has his hands on weapons. A two-pronged attack might work to our advantage."
"Sounds like a good idea," Robin answered, trying to return his voice to a level tone. "I've got a lock on his plane. He's about thirty miles ahead of us."
"Okay, I'll head him off."
"Actually," Robin paused briefly before continuing. "I tried to stop him back at the naval base, but he managed to take off before I could. He won't be expecting you. I'll go in to distract him so you can sneak up on him."
"You sure that's a good idea? I can take a hit if he decides to open fire."
"I know, but we're better off using the element of surprise. He knows I'm coming, but he doesn't know you are. If he starts firing, I can handle it."
"Did Batman give you flying lessons?"
There was a pause on the other end of the transmission. "Uh... not exactly."
"You've used a simulator?" Superman asked, dreading the answer.
"Some," was the reply.
Before Superman could say anything more, the Bat-plane dove, then rose again, executing a nearly perfect barrel roll in front of him. As the plane came out of the roll, Robin had slight trouble stopping the plane's momentum, but it was nothing that worried the other hero. It wasn't an easy maneuver, and a simulator couldn't fully prepare someone for it. Maybe the kid did have some training after all, but Superman knew Batman, and he knew how protective Batman was of his toys.
"I know what I'm doing," Robin proclaimed proudly as he lowered the plane back down to Superman's altitude.
"So I can see. Has Batman let you fly the Bat-plane before?"
Silence answered him.
"Did he even give you permission to use it while he's gone?"
"Robin, I don't think this is a good idea."
"C'mon, you could use the help... I know what I'm doing."
"I will not be an accessory to jet theft."
"Batman doesn't mind that I'm using the Bat-plane. He left me in charge of protecting Gotham, and part of protecting Gotham is using the plane to track down the Joker. So I'm totally within the scope of his instructions."
"Robin," Superman began, his voice serious. "The Joker's dangerous, and you could get hurt."
Superman actually heard him sigh in exasperation. "Superman, I know the Joker's dangerous. It's not like this is the first time I've faced him. And you suggested that a two front attack has a better chance of success. I've been working with Batman for a while now, and I know when to step back and let him handle it. I can do the same for you."
"I still don't think it's a good idea."
"I'll back off if it becomes too dangerous. I promise."
"I must be crazy to be agreeing with this," Superman sighed. "But the second I tell you to get out of there, you listen. No second guessing that call."
"You got it, chief," Robin answered, and Superman could hear the smile in his voice.
Superman sighed wondering what the heck he'd gotten himself into. He was teaming up with a teenager who had limited experience flying a plane that Batman invented. And on top of that, he still hadn't confirmed that this kid was truly Batman's partner. But something about him rang true. Robin seemed eager to help, and there was something about him that Superman felt he could trust.
He put all thoughts of distrust on hold as the fighter plane came into view. It was just passing the northern border of Metropolis. He could tell the Joker was heading for the obvious target in the center of the city that towered over all the other buildings. The Daily Planet.
"Okay, Superman," Robin said over the radio. "I'll go in first and get his attention. See if you can disable his plane while I'm distracting him."
"Be careful, Robin."
"I'm always careful," the boy chuckled.
He powered up the Bat-plane's throttle and took off towards the Joker's aircraft as a huge flame burst from the rear jet. While the Bat-plane's movements weren't perfectly smooth, Superman could see that Robin did have an idea about what he was doing. He hoped he wasn't making a big mistake by putting this kid in danger like this.
As Robin swooped in front of Joker's plane, making very sure he'd be seen, Superman flew in behind the F-15 and reached for its rear rudder. He cried out as the skin on his hand burned, and he pulled it away quickly. Looking at his hand, he saw small specks of green dust clinging to his skin, and he felt like dozens of needles were being stabbed into his skin. He wiped his hand on his cape, trying to get as much of the mineral off as he could.
The Joker chased after the Bat-plane, and Robin maneuvered left and right, trying to keep out of the maniac's firing range. The Joker let loose sort bursts of gunfire that sparked as they bounced off the surface of Robin's plane.
"Superman, what's wrong?" Superman heard in his ear with the sound of bullets ricocheting off metal in the background.
"He's coated the plane in a kryptonite dust," the Man of Steel answered as he wiped the last of the dust from his hand. "I can't touch him."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, but there's no way I can take down his plane. We're going to need a new plan. We should break off and come up with a new plan of attack."
Robin cut his sentence short when the plane behind him fired a missile, and all of the dials and lights in front of him began flashing and screaming in alarm. He pulled the plane up sharply and inverted it to avoid being struck by the missile, only to have it scream by him with only inches to spare.
"Superman, he's fired a missile! It's heading towards Metropolis!"
"No!" Superman shouted before taking off after the missile. He pushed himself to the limits of his speed, because he only had seconds before it would strike the heart of the city. There was no telling what Joker's toxin would do if released on a large scale. There wouldn't be time to give the antidote to everyone before the toxin permanently affected people.
Superman pushed himself even harder, stretching his arms out in front of him to streamline his body. As he closed in, he could feel the heat of the missile's rocket on his face, and he only had a moment to hope that Joker didn't coat the missiles with kryptonite as well before he caught up to it.
The man of steel flew below the missile, putting the nose of it between his shoulder blades. He pushed up, grunting in exertion as he fought the missile's programming to hit its target. Slowly, the missile gave under the pressure, turning upwards. Superman sighed with relief as the Daily Planet globe passed a few feet below him, and he kept pushing hard, turning the missile to a 90 degree climb away from the city. Guiding it straight up and out of the atmosphere, Superman forced it into the vacuum of space, and once there, the missile blew up in a large explosion, releasing Joker's toxic gas into space.
Once the missile was destroyed, Superman dove back towards the Earth, hoping Robin was able to hold up against the Joker.
Robin righted the plane just as Superman sped off after the missile. He only had a second to watch the hero take off before Joker began firing on him again. Bullets bounced off the exterior of the plane, but did relatively little damage. Robin knew it was up to him to take down the Joker because with Superman occupied with the missile, if the Joker fired on the city again, there would be no one to stop it.
Robin weaved back and forth, baiting the Joker to follow, and he allowed himself a quick glance backwards to confirm it had worked. The Joker was chasing after him. Robin slowed his plane slightly, letting the criminal close the distance between them before pulling back hard on the steering wheel. The Bat-plane screamed in protest as it pulled back into a reverse loop. The exertion on Robin's body was almost too much, and he grunted as he held on tightly, refusing to let the wheel slip.
Finally the Bat-plane finished the loop, placing itself directly behind the Joker. Before the clown could react, Robin fired a missile of his own, aiming for one of the engines. The missile appeared to be right on target, but the Joker dove quickly towards the ground and the projectile followed. Right before he hit the ground, Joker pulled up, brushing the tops of the trees with his plane. The missile didn't have enough time to correct and crashed into the ground in a fiery explosion. The explosion rocked Joker's plane, damaging the left wing.
Smoke billowed from his left wing of his plane as the Joker climbed steeply, soaring up past the cloud line blanketing the sky. Robin fired up his engines again and gave chase, blowing through the clouds. Robin had his finger on the button to fire another missile, ready to strike at Joker again once the cloud cover had cleared. As he broke through the clouds, Robin's heart leapt up into his throat.
Joker's plane was heading directly for him, and there wasn't time to avoid it. Joker ejected, and Robin swore he could hear his maniacal laughter ringing in his ears. Robin slammed his fist down on the eject button, and closed his eyes. He heard the loud roar of the top of the cabin blowing off before shooting him straight up into the air. The boy clung to the seat with white knuckles, grateful that the parachute attached to the seat would deploy itself because he wasn't sure if he could do it right in these conditions. All of the simulations, practice and training vacated his mind and left only panic in their stead.
The planes collided and exploded into a spectacular fireball. The concussion blast sent Robin tumbling head over heels, firing metal scraps of the aircrafts at him like bullets. He could feel the heat of the explosion on his exposed skin, and pieces of metal bit into his flesh as they assaulted him. He cried out as a large piece of metal sliced through his right shoulder. The pain was momentary because it was soon replaced with panic as he realized the projectile had cut the strap holding him into the seat that held his parachute.
The chute opened a second later, jolting the seat and the boy in it. The left strap pulled taut, and it sent Robin tumbling out of the seat. He clawed at whatever purchase his hand could find, but he lost his grip as the parachute slowed the seat's decent, ripping it from his grasp.
Fear gripped Robin's heart as he somersaulted towards the ground at lethal speeds, and his mind instantly went back to that fateful day at the circus. So this is what his parents had felt. His thoughts were of them and of Bruce, and he just hoped it wouldn't hurt too much when he hit the ground.
Clark'smind wouldn't believe his eyes.
"Robin!" he cried out as the boy was thrown from the chair, falling quickly towards the Earth.
Superman rocketed towards the flash of color that rolled through the air, pushing himself as hard as he could. The wind rushed past him, and he slammed through the debris field that littered the sky, intent only one thing.
Robin rolled in the air, using his acrobatic skill to get the tumbling under control. He looked up to see Superman rushing towards him. Hope filled him as he saw his hero closing the distance between them. He reached up with a green-gloved hand, doing what he could to help. His yellow cape twisted around him, obscuring his view of Superman, but he quickly batted it out of the way.
"He'll make it," Robin told himself. "Don't look down. He'll catch me. He'll make it."
Superman looked right into Robin's eyes, focusing only on them. He wouldn't let the boy fall. He wouldn't let him down. He reached his hand out in front of him, frustrated at the distance still between them. The ground was rushing up at them quickly, and he knew he didn't have much time. They were at terminal velocity, and he needed time to slow their decent. He grunted in exertion and closed the distance to inches. Robin reached up with both hands, and when Superman finally grabbed his left hand, Robin clutched the man of steel's wrist with his other hand.
The Kryptonian began slowing their decent, flying forward so they weren't heading directly for the ground. By the time they reached the earth, he was able to place Robin gently on the ground. When the boy's feet touched the ground, he tried to extract his hand, but Robin still had a death grip on his wrist. Superman landed next to him, looking him over to make sure he was okay.
"Robin, are you okay?" Superman saw the wound on his right shoulder and the blood seeping into his uniform, and he leaned in closer to examine it. "Are you hurt?"
"I.. ." Robin's gaze was unfocused, but he regained his senses after a moment. "I'm okay."
"Are you sure?"
Robin gave him a lopsided smile. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks. I owe you one."
Superman returned the smile. "Don't worry about it. I'm just glad you're okay."
Robin opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of the Joker's cackle cut him off. Superman had briefly forgotten about the villain, but looked up to see him floating slowly down to the surface with the use of a giant clown-faced parachute.
"Excuse me for one second," he said to Robin, taking off into the air once again.
He flew up to the Joker, facing off with him with his arms crossed across his chest. The Joker laughed, holding his stomach as the fit went on. Superman wanted nothing more than the punch that stupid grin off his face, sending him soaring into the atmosphere, but the lunatic needed to be locked up.
"Did you see that?!" the Joker laughed. "I got the Bat!"
"Actually, you missed," Superman said smugly, grabbing the strings of the Joker's parachute in his hand.
As he flew back towards the ground with the criminal in tow, he made sure to jostle the Joker around a lot on the way down. He made his way back to where Robin was waiting, holding the Joker out at arm's length so he could see Robin safe and sound.
"See, Joker?" Superman said. "You missed him."
"Him?" the Joker said. "Who the heck is he? I wanted to kill the Batman!"
"Sorry to disappoint you, Joker," Robin said with a smile. "But you didn't get him either."
"No!" the Joker cried, waving his fists in a fit of rage. "The Kryptonite was supposed to take care of Big Blue and the plane should've killed Batman! Damn you, kid!"
"I should get him to the authorities," Superman said. "I'll be right back, Robin then I'll give you a lift back to Gotham."
"Sure," the boy replied as Superman turned towards the north.
Superman was about to fly off, but Robin's voice stopped him. "Hey, Superman?"
The Kryptonian turned back around to face him. "Yes?"
Superman smiled and winked at him. "Anytime, partner."
"Oh gag me," the Joker moaned.
Robin watched as his hero took off into the air, dragging a protesting Joker along for the ride. He looked around at the debris littering the ground around him in all directions. There wasn't anything salvageable, and he knew he was going to have a lot of explaining to do when he got back to the manor.
"Batman is going to kill me."