It is said that there are two kinds of people in this world - good and evil. It is said incorrectly. There are actually a little under seven billion kinds of people in the world, each of whom occupies their very own position on the spectrum of morality.
It was all relative, anyway. When considered against the entire population of the Earth, the Riddler's position would seem to be dead in the black. But when placed against his peers, suddenly he found himself occupying the opposite end of the spectrum. He didn't kidnap (well, often, anyway), or kill on a whim, or warp minds into obedient mush (something that all too many of the others were guilty of). For a world-famous supercriminal, he was practically harmless.
Which was probably why Jackie Baker was still alive and in one piece. If any other rogue had wandered into her apartment, their meeting would have been over in a matter of seconds. Bam, dead, hey look, she made dinner! But since it had been the Riddler, things had turned out a little differently.
For example, instead of lying dead in an alley somewhere, Jackie was lying quite comfortably on the Riddler's overstuffed green couch watching the Wheel of Fortune marathon on channel four. Instead of a traditional villainous monologue regarding her imminent death or his imminent plans for world domination, the Riddler was telling stories of the various encounters with Batman he'd had through the years while he flipped popcorn into his mouth one-handed. (On the other hand, instead of having a home of her own, she had a burnt-out wreck courtesy of their rather unfortunate game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but that was old news nowadays.)
"Origami Swan Lake," he said as Vanna White tapped a single G.
Jackie stared at the screen. It read "O--g---- S--n ----". "How do you do that?"
"Practice," he said smugly, flipping another kernel of popcorn into the air. Instead of landing neatly in his mouth like all the others, however, this one caromed off the bottom of his nose and ended up perched cheekily on his lapels.
"Right," she drawled. "So anyway, you were saying?"
"Hmm? Oh, right. So there was Batman, fighting the five assassins while I took the scroll out of the display case. I knew I didn't have long, because I'd only gotten five assassins-"
"Wait a minute," Jackie interrupted. "Five assassins at once and he still beat them? He must be indestructible!"
"You have no idea," Eddie sighed. "You should hear the theories. He's a robot, he's a clone, he's a robot clone, he's an alien, he's an alien robot clone - you're laughing," he accused lightly.
"Yeah, I am," Jackie snorted. "An alien robot clone?"
"That's one theory," he smirked, tossing another kernel of popcorn into his mouth.
"What's your theory?"
The popcorn lodged firmly in his throat as he wheezed in shock. He didn't have a theory. What he had was an answer. Batman was Bruce Wayne, nothing but a billionaire playboy in tights with fists that could break bones. But obviously, he couldn't tell anyone that, not unless he wanted to spend even more quality time staring at the ceiling of Arkham's infirmary ward.
He swallowed hard. "I need a drink," he coughed, hurrying out to the kitchen. He took his time with getting a glass of water - the longer he waited, the longer he had to come up with some way to stop talking about Batman. Finally, armed with a selection of new topics and a glass of water, he returned to the living room.
Jackie had moved. She was still half-submerged under the huge green afghan, but now she was perched nervously on the edge of the couch, watching the door with nervous eyes. "Someone knocked," she informed him.
He sidled up to the door and peered through the peephole (which was technically a periscope-like device built into the wall just beside the door to avoid unfortunate things like too-clever thugs waiting for the light in the peephole to be blocked by a head before opening fire). A familiar thin man, arms crossed, stood tapping his foot on the doorstep.
"It's just Crane," he said, somewhat relieved.
"The Scarecrow," Eddie said nonchalantly, opening the door a crack. "Hey, Jonathan-hey!"
Jackie dove underneath her blanket as Crane neatly shouldered Eddie out of the way and strode into the lair. "What do you want?" Eddie said, resting his water glass on a handy stack of magazines.
Crane favored him with a scathing look. "You have corn on your shirt," he informed him.
Eddie scowled and flicked it off. "Well?"
"Have you seen Jervis anywhere?"
"No, I haven't. Why? What did he do?" Eddie asked, noticing that part of Crane's traditionally sour expression was fueled with anger. On the couch, the blanket-covered ball that was Jackie peeped hesitantly through a fold of her cover at the fearsome Scarecrow (or, rather, the not-quite-so-fearsome-at-the-moment Jonathan Crane).
"I don't want to talk about it. He's here, isn't he?"
"Why would he be here?" Eddie asked, perplexed.
Crane sighed and patiently explained. "He's not at any of his old lairs. He's not at the Iceberg. He's not at that ridiculous Wonderland display in the park. He had to have come here!"
"I repeat, why?" Eddie said.
"You play chess together in Arkham," Crane accused, "and that latest riddle of yours sounded like something he'd write, so he's got to be here somewhere."
"In case you've forgotten...no, you weren't there, were you?" Eddie asked, thinking back to his last meeting with Tetch.
It had been in an ill-advised session of group therapy at Arkham Asylum. The group leader had, for some reason, picked that day as the day that the Riddler's psyche would be shredded bare in front of the lion's share of the rogues' gallery. He picked and pried and prodded about riddles and their insignificance in the modern world until Eddie was just about ready to pop.
And then Jervis had spoken up with that damned so-called 'riddle' - why is a raven like a writing desk? - and the psychiatrist had thanked him for his contribution. Thanked him for quoting a meaningless bit of nonsense when Eddie's brilliantly constructed riddles were discarded as so much useless wordplay!
When Jervis had smugly smirked at Eddie, he'd lost it and they'd ended up in a full-fledged fistfight in the center of the circle. Eddie, while swinging Jervis around by the neck, had accidentally smacked Mr. Scarface from Arnold's hands and sent the dummy flying into the Joker's face. The dummy's splintery hand left a wide red cut across the clown's pale white forehead. The Joker leaped eagerly into the fray, and before long the entire room had erupted in a gleeful slugfest. The final injury count was six black eyes, two dislocated shoulders, countless bruises and thirteen individual wounds requiring stitches.
They didn't do group therapy at Arkham after that.
"Anyway, we're emphatically not on speaking terms at the moment," he finally said to Crane.
"Oh, really?" Crane asked softly, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Then who is this-" He darted to the couch and flung the blanket off like a showman revealing the Next Best Thing in Cars.
Jackie yelped and stared up at Crane, wishing very hard that she was wearing more than just a set of Eddie's pajamas. His eyes narrowed with disbelief. "Another one, Edward? How many girls do you think you need?"
"She's not...I...she's just a friend," Eddie spluttered.
Crane sniffed superiorly. "Right. I'm sure you needed someone to keep you company since your other three friends ended up in Stonegate." Jackie tried to twitch the blanket out of Crane's hand. He flicked it out of her reach.
"She's not...all three are in Stonegate?" Eddie was genuinely surprised. Apparently the qualifications for legal insanity were getting harder to leap over.
"And very unhappy to be there, too," Crane gloated. He considered Jackie over the rims of his spectacles. "So what are you calling this one? Query mark 5?"
"She's just a friend!" Eddie snapped.
"She's in your boxers," Crane retorted, pointing a slender finger at Exhibit A.
"That's only because she doesn't have any clothes of her own!"
A wicked grin flitted across Crane's face. "Oh really?" he inquired delicately, making Eddie's face go completely crimson for the second time in as many days.
"Because he burned my house down," Jackie explained.
"I did not!" he protested.
"This habit of yours of picking up strays needs to stop, Nygma," Crane advised, ignoring them. "The last three haven't exactly boosted your standing among the rogues. And this one doesn't even look the part," he added, looking over Jackie's less-than-perfect frame.
"Well, at least I can get girls!" Eddie snapped, losing his temper. "When was the last time you had a henchgirl?"
Crane scowled. "If you see Jervis, let me know," he growled before storming out of the lair. Eddie firmly locked the door behind him and permitted himself one deep sigh.
"What a jerk," Jackie huffed as she snuggled back into her blanket.
"He's always like that," Eddie said absently, trying to figure out what else about the conversation had bothered him. "I wonder what Jervis did."
"What riddle was he talking about?"
That was it! "I haven't written anything that sounds like Jervis. Ever," he said firmly. "There must be another copycat out there."
Eddie sighed again as he settled back into his seat. "New criminals come to town, and they see how successful the rogues are, so naturally they think that all they have to do to make it is to grab a gimmick. Generally, they try to grab mine." His eyes rolled. "The only ones that lasted more than two minutes were the Cluemaster and the Puzzler. Oh, and the Quiz, but she just stole my color scheme."
The words who would want it? popped into Jackie's mind, but she managed not to say them. "Do they try and copy anyone else?"
Eddie shrugged. "There's Catwoman and Catman, Firefly and Firebug, not to mention the whole Clayface pyramid scheme..."
"Never the Joker?"
"No one's stupid enough to rip off the Joker. He'd rip them apart." Which, of course, led him to start thinking about what exactly he was going to do to this new upstart once he got his hands on him. As far as he was concerned, Gotham had room for one puzzle-based villain, and it was him.
He savored another crunchy, salty bite of popcorn. He'd finish his snack, he'd go find a copy of this new riddle, and then he'd devise a delightfully difficult deathtrap for this new deviant. If he escaped, Eddie would leave him alone. If not, well, that would just prove that the new guy didn't belong in Gotham anyway. "Spilled Milk Teeth" he said absently, glancing at Vanna White's line of mostly blank squares on the screen. Now, where had he left that cache of copper wire...
(to be continued)
Author's Note: Of course, in another universe, Crane does have three very devoted henchgirls...but sadly, it's not my universe. Eddie's adventure with the scroll is in Legends of the Dark Knight #185-189.