Sunlight gently streamed through the window of Fancy's bedroom, causing the young heiress to stir from her sleep. She couldn't remember when she'd slept so well- the partying and sex of the night before had worn her out, and when she'd finally closed her eyes she'd fallen instantly into a deep sleep. She yawned and sat up, before looking to her left with a satisfied smile on her face. Beside her, the Joker slept on, wrapped up in a cocoon of blankets, only the tip of his long nose visible. In a rare moment of consideration, Fancy decided not to wake him- they'd been pretty energetic the night before, and older men (even surprisingly virile ones!) needed their sleep. She quietly rose from the bed and made her way to her private bathroom.
Like everything else in Fancy's apartment, the bathroom was a study in gaudy luxury. Gold taps were affixed to both the sink and the bathtub, while ivory was used to make the handles on the drawers and cupboards. A full length mirror covered one wall, and all the towels were pure white Egyptian cotton. The only real trouble, from Fancy's perspective, was the lighting. It was bright and harsh and often unforgiving- after a night of hedonistic partying and excess, the last thing the vain young woman wanted were bright lights. They tended to show all the small things she normally tried to ignore, like baggy eyes, stringy hair and vomit-stains. Today, however, was an exception. Fancy didn't know if it was the fun at the club or a remnant of last night's sexual ecstasy, but she felt positively radiant.
She hopped into the shower and let the warm water cascade over her body, and was surprised at how it stung in places. A close examination revealed small bite marks, hickeys, and bruises across her upper body, mainly at her shoulders and breasts. She laughed softly- apparently she'd had a better time last night than she'd noticed. The Joker really was the most exciting lover she'd ever had. He wasn't the most skilled or imaginative, but he had... something...which she'd never experienced before. Maybe it was the glamour and excitement of sex with the world's most notorious murderer. Maybe it was the pent-up sexuality of a man who'd done without for a long time, giving his performance extra vigor. Or maybe it was just that she felt closer to the Joker than to any other man in her life, an almost spiritual connection really.
Finishing up her shower, she toweled off and returned to the bedroom, where the former master criminal was just beginning to awaken. The lanky man rolled out from under the covers and stretched his tall, naked frame, producing an audible crackling sound. As she had the night before Fancy found herself spellbound by the Joker's body- not only was he far more muscular than she'd expected (or hoped) but his entire body was covered in scars. These scars were barely visible unless looked at very closely, covered as they were by the Joker's own unnatural skin color. They ranged from a few small cuts on his hands to what looked suspiciously like bullet wounds on his chest and what appeared to be the marks of a rope around his neck. They drove home just what sort of life this man- HER man- had lived, and how much he'd overcome.
Leaning over the bed, Fancy rested a hand on his bony shoulder and gave him a warm smile. "Morning lover" she said patting his shoulder "Sleep well?"
To her surprise, the Joker just turned and looked at her blankly, as though he didn't know who she was. It was actually a little creepy. Then, suddenly, his face broke into his characteristic grin. "Ah, Francine! Or should I say, Venus?"
"Um, who's Venus?" Fancy asked feeling a bit puzzled. "Don't you like my name?"
"Of course I do, Francine." The Joker cooed, pulling her close and nuzzling her hair "Just my little joke, that's all. So! What's on the agenda for today, my girl?"
"Well, I kinda want to meet up with my girlfriends for a little, y'know… gal time." Fancy said, stroking the Joker's chin idly. "Will you be all right on your own?"
"Oh, I expect so. " the clown replied with a sly smile. "I have one or two things that need doing as well. But won't the producer be displeased that we're splitting up for the day?"
Fancy snorted. "Like I care what those suits say! Anyway, they can just send two cameras over, and film us both, right?"
Joker nodded slowly. "Yes, that might work. They'd get double their coverage, then, wouldn't they?"
"Yup" Fancy said, rolling off the bed and heading for her closet. "I'm taking Britina, Lindsey and Orlean out shopping, then lunch at the Regency- you remember? We had lunch there one time?"
"Oh yes" the Joker replied, buttoning up his waistcoat as he admired himself in a mirror. "We ate their after going to that quaint store of yours- Heroes? Herrimans? Ah, now I remember! Herod's, that's it. Such a delightful name- always brings to mind images of imperial luxury, ancient glory, mindboggling decadence, and a mountain of murdered infants, their blood pooling on the ground."
"Um… okay…" Fancy said, not sure how seriously to take that. "Afterwards, though, I wanna get some exercise. There's a pool up on the roof of this building, heated an' all. You wanna go fer a swim?"
"Certainly, Francine, I'll pick up some swimming trunks on my way back from the jew-" the Joker paused awkwardly for a split-second before continuing "er- the Jewish part of town. Yes."
Fancy broke out in a wide smile which she quickly suppressed. 'Jewelers? He's buying me jewelry already?! That is SO sweet!'
Fancy was about to press for details when there was a knock at the door. Shooting a glance at the clock, Fancy rose and began to dress. "That must be the cameraman- listen, go keep 'em occupied while I get ready for today, 'kay?"
After selecting a suitably chic outfit, Fancy picked up her cell phone and dialed the producer. "Listen, Morry, I need another cameraman. Wh- No, I have not chased Mike away. No- SHUT UP! Listen, I'm gonna go hang out with my friends- you know the ones, they're always good for ratings, right? But Joker wants to go shopping, for jewelery I think… What? Yeah, I think he means to pay for it. No, Morry, that's not good enough. Now, either you get a second camera down here in half an hour or I call the big bosses at the network and tell 'em you're making it impossible for me to work. What? Well, that's not my problem Morry. Just get a cameraman here NOW. Byeee!"
Hanging up, Fancy heard the sound of the Joker's wild laughter coming from the living room. She knew the Joker was reformed now, so she didn't give it too much thought. When she stepped outside, she was surprised to see him doing card tricks for the camera. At the moment, he was 'shooting' the deck from one hand to the other, spraying the cards in a perfect arc through the air without any apparent effort.
"… So you see kids, life is just a gamble, and the house has the game rigged! So bet big! If you're going to lose anyway, you might as well do so in style!" Joker laughed, allowing the cards to settle in a neat pile in one palm. "Go for the gusto, take risks, seize the day, etcetera etcetera blah blah blah! HA!"
"Glad to see you've got tricks that can be used outside the bedroom" Fancy said as she walked over to Joker's side"So, like, Morry should have another cameraguy here in a few minutes. Why don't we have some breakfast? I worked up a big appetite last night. How's about some of those awesome scrambled eggs you make?"
Breakfast went by quietly, interrupted briefly by the arrival of the new cameraman Leonard. The tall man seemed unfazed by working with the Joker. When Davey asked about that, the man simply shrugged.
"Listen kiddo, I served in the Marine Corps for five years. Then, I worked for CNN in Bosnia AND Iraq, covering the wars and terror campaigns. If he isn't spraying me with machine-gun fire or firing rockets at me, I ain't too worried" he said, helping himself to some toast. "Good toast, whole wheat?"
After breakfast, Fancy and the Joker split off to start their first day apart.
Joker and Leonard stepped out of Fancy's apartment building and tried to hail a cab. This was not as problematic as it might first sound. By long experience, Gotham cabbies had learned that if you pick up a man in bizarre clothes there was a chance he'd rob or kill you, but that if you deliberately snubbed him there was a better chance he'd hunt you down later, or simply open fire right then and there. Thus, the two were soon on their way across town.
Traffic was typical of a Gotham morning- movement was sluggish but constant, with brief standstills as well as clear spots. Joker took this opportunity to continue his "conversation" with the audience.
"…and it isn't as though I've never had female company before. As I said earlier, there have been many young women who've thrown themselves at me. Myself, I think it's the nose- women see a man with a large nose and they wonder if everything else is in proportion. But I digress… in all that time, after all those meaningless flings, it's nice to meet a young lady as special as Francine. Intelligent, kind, and absolutely dynamite in the sack! Truly, a rare jewel… one that deserves the finest gift I can arrange. Oooh I can't wait to see the look of surprise on her face when I give her her present! Speaking of surprises, Leonard, would it be possible for you to keep the camera off the jewels when we're shopping? I don't want anyone, not even the folks at home, to know what I get her until she gets it."
Leonard nodded and allowed that that might be possible. Joker had to admit, he was somewhat impressed by the man. Most lemmings were terrified by him, and would respond in one of two ways. Either they would become tryingly sycophantic in an attempt to curry his favor, or they would become tediously defiant in an attempt to mask their fear. But Leonard seemed genuinely calm and unfazed.
Eventually, traffic eased as the last of the morning commuters reached their offices. The limousine then smoothly glided the rest of the way to Gotham's diamond district. Once there, the Joker instructed the driver to park anywhere since "I prefer to do my shopping on foot- makes it easier to spot good finds donchaknow".
After a few blocks of window-shopping (and drinking in the terrified reactions of passersby) Joker stopped in a small, unassuming jewelery store. At first glance, it seemed an unlikely place for the former Rogue to shop. The store was small with relatively few display cases in view. However, it was the contents of those cases that made Jackman's Fine Jewels unusual. Rather than the usual wide assortment of generic rings and accessories, Jackman's focused on unusual pieces. Some were absolutely unique, created specially by the store's small stable of jewelers. Others were made-to-order by wealthy clients, placed on display only until their new owners came to pick them up.
Moving slowly down the aisle, he examined the various items on display, before stopping. The store clerk, who had watched enough Fancy Living to know this was not likely to be a robbery, hurried over. The truth was, she was eager to meet the former Clown Prince of Crime- he was so dapper and charming! Besides, the owners were always complaining about how hard it was to get good exposure in this town- if Joker bought something here, it could mean big publicity for the store and a nice fat bonus for her.
"Yes sir" she said, making sure not to look directly at the camera. She'd heard that was a big television no-no. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Yes, actually. I'm looking for a gift for a young lady friend… Well, quite a lot more than a friend, actually" The Joker said a little shyly "I'd like something special, something unique. Something that will show her that I am always thinking of her."
"Well, how about this ring?" the clerk said, tapping a display case. "It's a three karat sapphire in a silver band- it's expensive enough to show how important she is to you without committing you to anything you aren't ready for."
Joker frowned in thought before shaking his head. "No, no. It's a lovely piece, don't get me wrong, but it's a bit... well, plain. I want something unique, something unusual, something that says something about her and about me. Oh, and since this IS meant to be a surprise, could you not describe the pieces in front of the cameras?"
The young lady blushed, embarrassed by her lack of forethought. Of course he wanted to keep the purchase secret! How could she not have understood that to start with? Stupid! Aloud, her voice remained deferential and calm. "Of course, sir, please excuse me. Now, how about this?" she tapped another part of the same case. "It's a little pricier, but I think the colors really do set it apart from most jewelry, don't you?"
Joker examined the ring in question. It was a small band of jet-black onyx, in which three round stones had been set. The largest stone was an emerald, about two karats in size. To the left was a one karat amethyst, it's purple surface polished smooth. On the right was an opal of matching size, it's milky white color contrasting nicely with the black ring. After a pause, he shook his head. "It's lovely, but still not quite right. What do you have in earrings?"
For the next half an hour, the young lady led her client through the store, carefully showing him different pieces. Each one was well-selected and tasteful, earning nothing but praise from the Joker, but none seemed to be quite right. It seemed as though he were about to leave, when she snapped her fingers and rushed into the backroom. After a moment, she emerged carrying a small box. When she reached the Joker, the clerk opened it, careful to keep its contents out of sight of the camera.
"This was made to order by a wealthy client of ours. Unfortunately, he lost a great deal of money in last years financial troubles and wasn't able to meet the price. It strikes me that this would be perfect for your needs."
Joker seemed to be awestruck. Slowly he nodded his head. "Yes. This is EXACTLY what I've been looking for. Wrap it up- don't bother about the price, I'll find a way to pay for it somehow. And let me just say, this is the finest service I have ever received in Gotham City."
The clerk smiled. "Here at Jackman's Fine Jewels we pride ourselves on that, sir." 'And THAT ought to satisfy my boss' she thought, already planning how she would spend her bonus check.
Later that evening, Fancy made her way back to the apartment feeling very peculiar. By her normal standards, the day had been a fantastic success. She and her three friends had cruised through Gotham's finest boutiques, trying on several dozen new outfits and spending more money than the average person earned in a year. They'd dined at the Regency, and enjoyed a superb meal of salads, soups, and club sandwiches. All the girls had been dying of jealousy of her new man- Lindsey had nearly choked on her bisque when Fancy rolled up one sleeve to show off one of her hickeys. Once Fancy revealed that Joker had gone to buy her jewelry, the group had burst into happy squeals before ordering a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Fancy knew she should be feeling great- proud, happy and vindicated. But, somehow, her friends praise had felt empty to her. After some thought, she'd realized what was wrong.
She'd grown up. She didn't really care whether her friends were jealous of her or not- it was enough for her that she was happy. She didn't feel excited about the new clothes she'd bought- Joker would appreciate her even if she wore K-Mart fashions. She'd enjoyed being with her friends, but she knew now that she couldn't just spend her life shopping and partying. It was time to think seriously about her future, and of her new man's place in it. 'Won't daddy be surprised?' she mused as she opened the apartment door. 'After all his lectures, it took a former criminal to make me grow up'
"Francine!" Joker called out from his place on the couch "Come on over! Me and Davey were just thinking- the Gotham Theatre Company is giving a showing of Paggliaci on Thursday night. Why don't we get dressed up to the nines and go? I do love to hear that singing clown"
"Sounds great, Joke-y" Fancy said, sitting down next to the older man and kissing him. "What did you boys get up to today? Anything I should know about?"
Joker chuckled and patted his coat pocket. "Ah, Francine, you can read me like a book. I did get you a little something which I think will greatly surprise you when you receive it. But I can't reveal my purchase just yet, I want to do the engraving myself."
Fancy felt like swooning. "That is, like, SO totally romantic! You are so sweet!"
Joker laughed softly. "Guilty as charged, m'dear! Now, how about that swim?"
I'm sorry this chapter was so long delayed. I have no excuse- time just got away from me.
I took some heat for my comments about Grant Morrison and Frank Miller last chapter, so I thought I'd take some time to explain them. I don't actually dislike Grant Morrison's work, but he does have some flaws. Sometimes his stories are a little hard to follow, the pacing can be inconsistent and his stories sometimes have some big plot holes (like Batman RIP where apparently like half the city knew Batman's secret identity, and yelled about it in the streets to alert the other half). But these aren't major flaws, just a call for a good editor to clean things up a bit.
My problem with Morrison is that he's over-hyped. People talk about him as though he's one of the greatest comic writers of all time, and that gets irritating after a while.
As for Frank Miller… (sigh) My God, Frank Miller…
Frank Miller is an overhyped hack. Sure, he's made some good comics in the past- 300, Dark Knight Returns, and so forth. But he's always had flaws, and in recent years those flaws have come to overshadow his strengths.
To begin with, he has the habit of giving all of his characters these really unnecessary inner monologues.I've nothing against the monologue- it's a great way to give a character depth. But it can easily be taken way too far- in the Miller-verse, no one can do anything without constantly reflecting on their lives and their actions. Seriously. All Star Batman And Robin opens with Dick Grayson on the trapeze. Now, the trapeze act is an extremely complex routine, even for experienced performers. Timing and coordination have to be perfect, and the whole thing requires absolute focus. It would be logical to assume, then, that a young boy performing this act would only be thinking about what he was doing. But no, instead Dick is thinking about how his parents are always there for him. A nice thought, sure, but not really appropriate given the circumstances. Characters 'speak' in short, choppy sentences (a flaw which carries over to the dialogue) and often repeat themselves ad nauseum. Dick repeats the phrase more than six times during his trapeze scene. While at the circus with Bruce Wayne, all Vicki Vale can think is "I'm on a date with Bruce Wayne". It's virtually the only thing going through her head.
Which brings me to my next point, Miller's appalling treatment of women in his comics.
In the Dark Knight Returns, Selina Kyle has somehow metamorphosized into an overweight pimp, who calls Bruce Wayne when she feels 'lonely'. Bear in mind, there's nothing inherently wrong with this in and of itself- except that they don't fit. Selena Kyle (aka CATWOMAN) is an athletic jewel thief, and no explanation is given as to why she gave up this lucrative and personally satisfying career to take up the role of pimp rather than simply retiring on the vast amount of money she stole. More, she adds almost nothing to the plot, and could have been replaced by a generic character or left out altogether. In short, it seems that Miller wrote her into the story purely so he could degrade her- turning her from a successful self-confident thief into a wrinkled, washed-up sexpot who's still pining for Batman. Guy's got some issues.
Linkara does a good four minutes about this in his review of All Star Batman And Robin, and frankly says it better than I ever could. Go watch it.
Lastly, there's characterization. The Batman of ASBAR has almost none of the traits we associate with heroes. He abducts Dick Grayson away from the circus, the only home the boy's ever had, and informs him that he's been drafted into a war- JUST A FEW HOURS AFTER THE BOY'S PARENTS WERE MURDERED IN FRONT OF HIM! He then crashes through a police car, presumably killing whoever was inside of it. When Dick gets upset at this frankly psychotic behavior, Batman slaps him. I'm not going to go into a whole rant about everything wrong with those three sentences. All I'm going to say is this: Does that sound like a hero to you?
It gets worse. In Dark Knight Strikes Again Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are blackmailed into acting as goons for Lex Luthor. Luthor accomplishes this by threatening the three heroes loved ones. Now, these are the three purest heroes in the DC universe- a champion of truth, the world's biggest Boy Scout, and Captain Frigging Marvel. All three of them would do anything rather than knuckle under to evil, and have often made painful sacrifices when they knew they had to. Yet in the Millerverse all they do is give Luthor dirty looks before flying off to kill for him. Yes, it gets fixed (sort of) later, but the point is they should never have been in that position in the first place.
It's like he has a perverse need to destroy every character he didn't create.
That's why I don't like Frank Miller.
On a happier note, a sequel to Arkham Asylum has been announced and the trailer features Joker and Harley looking out over Gotham City. I'm giggling like a school girl already. Tee hee.