Milton Green was unique in the world of televised cookery. When most chefs did nothing more than mix a little of this and a little of that in a suitably shiny bowl, he took it one step further and made it entertainment. Oh, certainly he'd make a meal fit for a king - but he'd do it accompanied by a horde of costumed extras playacting every role under the sun: British miners, inmates of the Home of the Culinarily Confused, and even, once, a giant mystic potato. He somehow managed to cram entertainment, education, and some wonderful recipes in a mere half-hour every day on his show: Good Meats.
Today's show had barely started, and already he'd coaxed a laugh or two from his torpid audience. Milton beamed happily, playfully juggling a set of measuring cups as he talked. "Now, I know you've all wanted to know the perfect way to serve fish. Have I got a treat for you!" he grinned. "You see, the key to serving great fish is this." He turned expectantly toward the door, catching the measuring cups as they stacked themselves neatly in his hands. On cue, the door built into the set swung open.
Instead of the oversized talking lemon in a tutu, though, the first person to appear through the door was...was...Milton felt the measuring cups tumble out of his limp fingers as he stared wide-eyed at the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime, wearing his traditional purple suit under a ruffly pink apron that said Kill the Cook in large, suspiciously red letters, adjusted his ridiculously huge chef's hat and waved at the audience. Behind him, a pair of burly men in cheap suits took up their positions at either side of the door. At the end of the line was Harley Quinn, entering the studio backside-first as she dragged a huge Rubbermaid container along the tiled floor.
Milton felt a sharp pain in his hip and realized that he'd backed into one of the knobs on the stovetop. He jerked away, accidentally turning the knob with the back of his pants. The gas jets hissed as a foot-high flame shot up from the stove. Milton, who was slightly preoccupied with the sudden appearance of Gotham's most famous madman on his set, didn't notice. "Wh-wh-wh..." he gasped, at a total loss for words.
The Joker, with a subtle clearing of his throat, indicated the tiny firestorm raging on the stovetop. Milton hurriedly slapped at the knob until it died away. Smiling cheerfully, the Joker strode up to him and nudged him playfully in the ribs with one bony elbow. "Don't you remember, Milty? We're your special guests for today!" He favored the audience with a broad wink.
The audience, who had been on the verge of total panic, sheepishly settled down in their seats. A few chuckles rang out in appreciation of Milton's wonderful practical joke. Trust Milton Green to hire a Joker impersonator to teach them how to cook fish! The Joker blew a kiss to a young lady in the front row, who cheekily blew one back to him. The audience applauded and laughed as they settled themselves back in their seats.
Milton stood, mouth slightly open, and watched in horror as the audience didn't run screaming into the streets. They were all going to die. He was going to die.
The Joker was looking at him. "Y-yes?"
"Introduce me," the clown hinted.
"Right. Introduce. Right," Milton stammered. The prewritten idiocy of a team of writers automatically took over his tongue. "They say that guests are like fish. Here's one fish that'll...that'll never go bad...Th-the Joker!"
The audience clapped appreciatively at what they assumed was an excellent imitation of being scared nearly witless. Milton forced a big shiny television smile and gestured at his "special guest".
"Great!" the Joker enthused, slapping his neatly gloved hands together and rubbing them gleefully as he examined the countertop full of gleaming cooking toys. "Now, what are we making?"
"Um...salmon?" Milton suggested in a hopeful whimper.
"Not Joker-fish?" The Joker dramatically staggered backward, one hand pressed backward against his head as if he was about to swoon. "Monsieur, you wound me to the quick!" Beads of fear-sweat the size of dimes stood out on Milton's forehead. "I have a much better idea. Harley!" he ordered, turning to his henchgirl. "Bring out this week's secret ingredient!"
"Uh...that's not this show," Milton whispered.
"It is now. Harley!" the Joker bellowed.
"Comin', Puddin'!" Harley Quinn chirped, leaping to attention inasmuch as that was possible with an enormously heavy Rubbermaid container clasped in her arms. She wobbled forward and slid it onto the counter, knocking Milton's best knife rack and his tiny pyramid of miniature quiche plates onto the ground. "Whoops!"
The Joker directed a knowing smile into the nearest camera. "Today's secret ingredient is..." he said, prying the lid of the container open so that only he could see inside. His smile wilted as he caught sight of the box's contents. "Harley, what is this?"
"It's that special secret thing ya ordered, Boss!" she said happily.
"No..." he trailed off meaningfully. "This is that guy who wanted to read our meters." He petulantly slammed the lid back down. "Where's my box of ducks?!"
"Sorry, boss," Harley said, instinctively backing up a few steps. "We musta thrown 'em in the river by accident."
"Great. Just great," he scowled. "How are we supposed to make culinary history with some dead guy instead of my special ducks?" He sighed melodramatically and shoved the container down the slick countertop toward Harley. She squeaked in shock as the box slid right off of the counter and knocked her flat to the ground. "We'll just have to go with your plan, Milty...Milty?"
Milton Green had taken advantage of the situation to sneak over to the far end of the counter. With quiet, frantic hand motions, he was frantically mouthing "Help!" and gesturing for everyone to leave. The audience giggled at this new entertainment.
"Milty," the Joker sulked, "you're not paying very good attention to your special guest."
"Sorry! I'm sorry!" Milton gasped. "Um, what do you want to make?"
The Joker shrugged and headed toward the fridge, flinging the door open and staring at the contents. "Let's see what's behind door number one!" he said happily. "Nope. No, no, not that, that's out," he muttered, chucking the contents of the fridge directly into the audience. Since it was a stage fridge, most of the contents were merely empty containers and fake, rubbery food. The audience clawed at the air, trying to retrieve a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Milton quickly ran down the list of what was actually edible in there. There wasn't too much, just the stuff for today's show and for the season-wrap party that night. Lemon juice, some butter, and -
The Joker emerged triumphantly from the bottom shelf, waving a relatively small bluefin tuna in one hand. "Look what I found!" he crowed. With a gesture similar to a cowboy throwing a lasso, he whirled the fish over his head and smacked it down on the countertop.
Milton's chef's training was screaming at him to stop that madman from abusing a prime bluefin that way. It had cost him eight hundred dollars! On the other hand, his sense of self-preservation was shouting that if the fish was the only one to get filleted on live TV, he'd be coming out far ahead of the game.
"Great," he said weakly. "The best thing to do with a bluefin is-"
The Joker silenced him with the wave of one slightly fishy glove. "Fish sticks," he declared.
"F-fish sticks? You want to make fish sticks?" Eight hundred dollar fish sticks. His inner chef went to go have a quiet sob somewhere. "Sure thing. Uh, first we'll need a knife - "
The Joker obligingly pulled his jacket open, revealing a street vendor's array of gleaming, polished steel.
"...like those," Milton said, mouth suddenly very dry. "And then we have to clean the fish."
The Joker rolled his eyes. "Harley!" he snapped.
"Clean the fish."
Harley wrinkled her nose. "But Puddin'..."
The Joker glared at her, pointedly extracting a knife from his jacket. "Clean. The. Fish." He held the knife out to her, with the clear implication that she was either going to take it with her hand or take it in the heart.
"Yessir!" With a look of nauseous disgust crumpling her face, Harley set out to clean the fish while touching it as little as possible. "Eeeeew," she muttered to herself as she tentatively scraped the knife down its side.
With that little bit of business taken care of, the Joker perked up. "What else do you have around here?"
Milton turned wild eyes on his set. There was almost no real food on it anywhere...Ah! He snatched up a bunch of carrots and presented them to his guest.
"Perfect!" Joker enthused. With a wriggle of his fingers, he popped a vegetable peeler out of his sleeve and attacked the hapless carrots. Long strands of carrot peel went flying in every direction as he sharpened the carrots like oversized pencils.
Gray-faced, Milton looked into the camera. "I'd like to remind the folks at home that you can get a lot of sizes of...fish sticks...out of just one bluefin. You can get anywhere from NINE to ONE pieces out of just ONE fillet..." He winked desperately at his oblivious audience. "And if you aghmrphumgurf..." His eyes crossed as he stared at the sharpened carrot that had suddenly appeared between his teeth.
"Milty, Milty," the Joker cooed. "Weren't we having fun? Harley's having fun, aren't you?"
"Sure thing, boss. Loads," Harley muttered, cringing as a spray of fish scales hit her in the face.
"And the boys are having fun, aren't you, boys?"
"Yeah, boss," they agreed, brushing stray carrot peel from their heads and suit fronts.
"You look like the only spoilsport in the bunch!" Joker continued merrily. "Tell me, have you ever seen Clue?"
Milton, terrified, shook his head no.
"No?" the Joker said, astonished. "Never?"
Milton shook his head even more emphatically in the negative. The green leafy bit on the end of the carrot swayed like a pompom as he quivered. With a look of commiseration, the Joker put a comforting arm around Milton's shoulders. Oddly enough, being comforted by a mass-murdering lunatic wasn't that soothing.
"Well, then you'll be totally surprised by what happens next. See, in the movie, it turns out that everyone's got their little...quirks. But it's okay, because they're all in it together...except for one person. And that person, someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, finds out about them and just might tell someone. Do you know what happens to her?"
Milton had a pretty good guess. It wasn't nice. "N-n-n-no," he whimpered.
The Joker smiled like a tiger and plopped his floppy chef's hat on Milton's head. "Well -"
The catwalk stretching behind the light bar let out an ear-wrenching squeal of metal on metal as something heavy landed on it. Smoke bombs exploded at their feet as a billowing caped figure slammed out of the darkness above them.
"You're ruining my show!" the Joker screeched, ducking away as his boys threw themselves at the Batman. "We were going to find out where jawbreakers come from! And how to make chicken cacciatore in thirty minutes! And we were going to go to a diner and rave about their greaseball burgers!" He leaned to the left as a batarang whipped past his head. "We didn't even get to kick it up a notch yet!"
"That's not my show!" Milton screamed, clinging to the one thing he was sure of in the midst of this chaos.
"It is now!" The Joker yanked a gun from his pocket and aimed it at the TV chef's chest. "BAM!" A shower of confetti burst from the barrel of the gun, coating the countertop with bright spots of color and sparking briefly into ash as it hit the open flame on the stove. Milton Green, overwhelmed, keeled backward into his floor-to-ceiling pan rack. The pans rattled off of their hooks and clanged to the floor around him in an avalanche of expensive, spotless metal.
Harley threw a handy cutting board into the melee of Bat and henchmen. "Take that!" she shouted.
"Who said you could stop working?" the Joker demanded.
Harley looked at the tumbling, swearing ball of men on the floor, and then back to the harmless half-flayed fish on the countertop. "But boss-"
"Clean the fish! We're not going to commercial for another ten minutes!"
"You're going off the air," Batman growled, rising from the battered and unconscious pair of men laid flat out amid the wreckage of the set.
"Ah-HA!" Joker grabbed the nearest sharp thing to hand and launched himself across the room, spearing the Batman directly in the chest. "From the depths of hell, I stab at thee!"
Batman looked down at the Joker, unmoving. The Joker examined his weapon - a broken carrot - and rolled his eyes. "You make a terrible whale," he informed the Batman. "Take two!" He held another carrot aloft.
A black-gloved hand snapped out and locked around his wrist. "Looks like our time is up for this week," Joker smiled at the nearest camera. "Tune in next week when we make Baked Robin Surprise-"
Wham. The Joker's forehead collided with the countertop. "Don't you like Robins?" Wham. "I could make chicken-fried Batgirl." Wham. "Or...candied moths?" Wham. "Thought Bats liked moths. We could invite Charaxes to dinner!" Wham. "Blood of virgins?" Wham. "Picky, picky..." Wham.
Batman dumped the unconscious clown on the pile of henchmen and turned to Harley Quinn, who was still obediently scraping away at the fish. "Drop the knife," he growled.
"I gotta clean the fish," she said determinedly.
"That's not how you clean fish," he pointed out, looking at the small heaps of scales surrounding the brutalized entree.
"Oh." The small knife clattered to the table. "Is this how ya do it?" she asked, snatching the fish up by the tail and spinning in place to bring the tuna in a perfect backhand up toward Batman's face. He dodged it with ease and dipped a hand into his belt, bringing the now-fleeing jester down with a perfectly timed throw of his bolas. Harley skidded to the ground, busting straight through the cheap flats of the set and colliding face-first with a somewhat bloodstained lemon costume.
Milton Green, with a new set of imminent bruises swelling his face, staggered out of the wreckage of his show. "Tune in next week," he slurred. "We'll be bakin'...puddings. Lightin' puddin's on fire...yeah. Beautiful." He smiled weakly into the camera and flicked a hopeless finger at his ruined meal. "See ya next time on Good Meats."
Author's Note: A special thanks has to be said to Alton Brown, without whom this story wouldn't exist. Thanks also to the Food Network, Paul Dini, and Wikipedia, each of whom has entertained me for hours on end.