Title: A Divine Comedy: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here
Author: DC Luder
Rating: M for violence and dramatic elements
Summary: With the Joker ruling and destroying the universe with Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers, there's one that will suffer the most…
Author's Note: All recognizable characters and events are property of DC Comics not DC Luder.
A/N 2: Based on the events seen in Superman: Emperor Joker with numerous quotes and references throughout - I have put all direct quotes in italics. Also quotes from Dante's Inferno are marked with bookend ellipses (...)
"If you're going through hell… keep going."
… Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been missed…
From what I could tell there were only two constants in Joker's hideous take on the universe, and they were definitively related. Each night there was a horrendous scream that echoed the world, the sound of some horrible agony striking its victim. Although I had no contact with the other people, I knew it was impossible for them to identify who the screamer was or why it happened each night.
The second constant answered the who and why.
It was me.
The first night, I had been beaten to death with a crow bar.
The fifth night, it had been hyenas, tearing meat from my body with a smile on their faces.
The tenth night, I had been burned until my bones were ash.
The twenty-fifth night, I had drowned in a vat of Sulphuric acid.
The fiftieth night… I couldn't remember how I had died but I knew it had been just as agonizing as the rest.
But as always, mere hours after I was slain I was resurrected for the sole purpose to die once more. The demonic acolytes sent to kill me by the Joker generally allowed me to live through an entire day before coming to carry out their task. Then there were days I would die numerous times, almost consecutively. The agony and pain never ending whether I was leaving or coming into the world.
Over the countless weeks, I had been able to piece together enough facts to come to a meager understanding of the world the Joker ruled over. Empowered by some unknown force, he had claimed himself emperor and had chosen a royal court including Lex Luthor as his own personal Jester and Harley as his Queen. In addition he had also formed his own JLA – the Joker League of Anarchy which resided at the Hall of Jerkos. The new "superheroes" of the world included Bizarro, Skizm, Gorgeous Gilly and Gravedigger Lad. Even combined they would have never been a match for the original JLA, even if an alien invasion was taking place simultaneously alongside a few natural disasters.
But the Joker had not forgotten his former foes.
He had practically re-written their histories and abilities, publishing their antics in the Sunday paper funnies. Although no doubt to repay them for any hardships dealt to him over the years, I also had a hunch that he did it just for a laugh. Worst of all, Superman was considered one of the greatest threats on the planet and was locked away in Arkham Asylum. Although he broke out regularly, I was never able to find him before my nightly demise. I had hoped as weeks had turned to months that he would eventually discover the truth and use his Boy Scout will power and determination to see through the lies Joker had embossed into his mind.
But he never came.
… I come from a place whither I desire to return…
The Gotham City I knew and loved was also a victim of the Joker. The sky was always dark, even the middle of the day. The skyscrapers, once architectural accomplishments, were jagged splinters that threatened to cut open the heavens. Although I had only made it to Wayne Manor a handful of times over the last few months, it too had met its match, looking freakishly similar to when the earthquake had destroyed it.
While trying to understand the new world, I had also tried to seek out those who had once stood at my side. Dick was nowhere to be found. Alfred and Tim were also missing, as was Barbara and Jim Gordon and even Helena. Knowing what the Joker put me through each day, I couldn't help but dread what they were facing…
That night, I was approaching the Gotham City Police Headquarters, which for some unknown reason the Joker had left fairly untouched. For some time I had been using it as a shelter as well as a cache for weapons. Unfortunately, my supplies had dwindled to practically nothing.
Along with my tenacity.
In the beginning, I had been determined to win, to find a way to over power the Joker and to end his reign of terror. But with each night, with each death, I found myself losing not only my will but my belief that I would ever be able to stop him. That anyone could.
… These have no hope of death... mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but do thou look and pass on…
There had only been two times in my life that I had lost faith in myself. The first had been when Bane had crippled me, followed several years later when Gotham fell victim to the earthquake and was left to rot in a No Man's Land. In time, I eventually was able to recover and once more see that my city needed me to protect her, not to abandon her.
But this was different.
I had become my enemy's plaything, to be stabbed, hanged, shot at, vivisected, digested, boiled, burned, beaten, disemboweled and drowned. Even with Bane, while he tested me by letting loose the inmates of Arkham Asylum, his ultimate goal was not my demise. He wanted to rule the city and had chosen to break me in order to prove his worth.
The Joker had no need to prove his worth as the cards were in his favor, leaving me empty-handed. This was sheerly for his amusement...
I had just reached the front door of GCPD when I felt a chill crawl down my spine.
They were early.
Turning to face my assailants, I counted at least twenty, all armed with medieval weapons from maces to bows and arrows. At least half were mounted on black horses, their nostrils red as they pranced and snorted on the pavement. One knight rode forward, his armor made of what appeared to be purple steel, "Dark Knight, by order of the All Powerful Ruler of the Known Universe, the Emperor Joker, you have been condemned to death for crimes against the throne."
There was no need to play into the game. I had tried in the beginning to reason with the men and creatures sent to take my life but soon realized they were mindless drones and then resorted to sheer force in order to defend myself.
I vowed I would not give in.
I vowed to protect the innocent.
I vowed to give my last dying breath to the war on crime.
But after so many last breaths…
The knight that had declared my fate charged forward, drawing his sword from its scabbard as he spurred the horse onward. When he was within a few yards, I threw a handfuls of gas pellets and razor sharp tacks out to deter my assailants and to force their horses into a panic. It worked for a moment and I was able to disarm and render the foot soldiers unconscious with little effort. Their armor and chain mail weighed them down and their spears did little in close range.
I was almost about to retreat in order to seek refuge in the building behind me when I felt white hot metal sliding into my back and out my front. As another sword entered my body, I tried to turn to defend myself but to no avail. A third knight approached, embedding his blade just underneath my collarbone.
As my legs began to give way, I barely felt the swords retreat before strong arms dragged me back towards police headquarters. While one of the knights lifted me up, another two drove stakes through my cape and into the front doors. Once I was trussed, they stepped back, lifting their visors to admire their work. The tallest of the men stepped forward while taking a dagger from his belt. He began to carve into my chest and even my half-conscious mind knew what image would result from his blade.
A big, toothy smile.
On few occasions, my death was painful but fairly quick. There were several nights I could recall fighting countless numbers of attackers, taking them on one by one until I fell to the ground from exhaustion. There were even more that I was tortured to death, each wound more agonizing then the one that came before.
That night it took me fifteen minutes to drown in my own blood.
…I come into a region where is nothing that can give light…
When life returned to me, I had expected to still be hanging on the GCPD door. Instead, I was buried in cold, wet dirt. Although my mind was mainly focused on conserving oxygen while I tried to dig my way to the surface, I couldn't help but wonder who had buried me… and why. Finally, my hand burst through the freshly churned earth and I managed to force myself upward, gasping for air. As my vitals finally dipped into a normal range, I took in my surroundings through a dreary rain. I spotted hundreds of granite tombstones, all engraved with the same words: General Dead Person.
My eyes then fell to the stone that had marked my grave, but where the others had chiseled generic titles, the words on mine appeared to have been burned into the rock: BATMAN A TRUE HERO.
Someone believed in Batman.
Still fatigued from coming back to life and digging myself out of my own final resting place, I made it to my feet wearily, mumbling the Joker's name. After a few steps, I collapsed face first into the rain sodden grass. While I forced air in and out of my lungs, my mind once more drifted to the fact that I had been buried.
Someone had broken through Joker's will.
Pristine red boots came into my line of sight while I remained motionless on the ground. A pair of broad hands that could turn coal into diamonds carefully grabbed onto me, helping me to my feet.
It couldn't be…
As I looked into Superman's eyes, I managed to ask in a whisper, "How?"
He explained that as he had flown off, he had heard my heart begin to beat, followed by the sound of me clawing my way out of the grave. I processed his words on some level but had replied as if I hadn't heard him at all, "Superman? Is it… Is it really you?"
As he wrapped an arm around my shoulders to help support me, he declared, "I'm real, Batman, and together—I know we can bring that lunatic down."
Where confidence filled his words, fear echoed in my response, "… Maybe."
Superman was unable to hide his concern nor his shock, "I've never known you to doubt your abilities… or mine."
As my strength slowly returned to me, I explained, "I've reached the point… where I've come to doubt my own existence… Can't remember anything clearly… except the pain." I began to step away from him, my feet finally steady beneath me, "Every night he's done this to me. Every night I've died only to be resurrected- so that he can begin the torture- again."
The wet ground of the cemetery began to churn and rumble. As Superman stood in shock, emaciated hands of the dead began making their way to the surface, just as I had done moments earlier. As the corpses rose, they began to take the form of clowns, moaning my name as one giant, cryptic chorus.
Instantly taking action, I began to pummel them as they slowly approached, calling out to Superman as their collective voices grew louder, "Same thing… Over and over. I fight them… use every ounce of will and strength…"
The clowns suddenly lurched forward, bony hands latching onto me with death grips as cold as they were strong. I felt them clawing at me, squeezing me, breaking me, lifting me above their heads, still chanting my name. As fear took over me, I cried out, "But it doesn't do any good!"
In my peripheral vision, I spotted Superman also being attacked, nearly fifty of the corpse clowns piling on top of him as he called out to me, "Whatever he's done to you—however twisted—however horrible- you can't give up! We can't give up!"
For a moment he disappeared under the pile of clowns. Then suddenly, his attackers were airborne as he flung them in every direction, showing no attention or care for how they landed. This drew the attention of those that had been taking me away. They seemed to listen to him as he said, "This isn't a question of your life… or mine! This is a question of billions of lives, of the survival of reality itself! You're the most willful, tenacious… the most courageous man I've ever known!"
Suddenly, my fear ebbed and the strength I had mustered each day to take on my enemies surfaced. It took little to untangle myself from the clowns, jabbing at them relentlessly, blinding them, breaking them. Superman continued, "Use that will! Push against him! Against the nightmare he's created!"
As I finally looked back to him again, my eyes widened in shock. The city skyline behind him shifted for a moment. The horror that the Joker had transformed Gotham City into was lost as a flash of the city I loved shone through. I found myself whispering, "Behind you… For just an instant- Gotham! My Gotham, not the Joker's!" As more clowns began to emerge from the soil beneath our feet, I bellowed, "My Gotham!"
Together, we fought the clowns well into daybreak. Just as exhaustion was about to take me, the clowns vanished, no doubt the Joker suddenly realizing that someone was defying his will. After recovering, Superman informed me that there were others ready to fight, others that believed we could win.
I had hoped his list of followers included those I once fought alongside in the JLA but instead he only named a small collection of his personal allies: Steel, Superboy and Supergirl. Upon meeting with them, we would be able to form a plan to bring down Joker's reign of terror.
Superman began by explaining to the new arrivals that attacking the Joker would require working beyond the physical plane. After he explained how our beliefs had helped us conquer the zombies, I commented, "And it's belief that's going to win this war in the end."
Unfortunately, our meeting was interrupted.
First had been the infamous Mr. Mxyzptlk, appearing out of a pipe that was emptying sewage into a treatment pool. He began stuttering and stammering on how he agreed with our plan and offered his assistance, however slight. Superman silenced him with a glare and a harsh, "Zip it, Mxyzptlk."
Our second interruption came in the form of a ten story tall Joker, clad in a Roman-style toga complete with red accents worn by the members of the senate. In his hand was a lifeless, normal sized body of a woman who had been known in Joker's world as the bald and beautiful billionaire, Lois Lane.
The Joker scowled as he roared, "Faith? Oh come on now! Need I remind, you… and it appears that I do… That this is all my dream! And faith in anyone or anything other than your beloved emperor will lead you down the same trail it led this adorable little Judas!"
Superman's voice matched Joker's in volume but not in strength, "Lois!"
Joker began to laugh finally, "What's left of her. But just to show you how generous I am… she's all yours!" Without hesitation, he let his hold on Lois go, forcing Superman to fly up to save her.
The mad man's laughter tripled as he declared war between the believers and the followers. Having died at his hands, as well as those of numerous others, I was unable to show the bravado that Supergirl, Superboy and even Steel had. Despite the hope that their arrival had instilled in me, I knew it wasn't going to be enough. Glancing over my shoulder to see Superman clutching the bleeding form of Lois, I had a hard time convincing myself that there was any hope left in the Joker's twisted world.
Just as I was about to approach Superman, his bride's limp body seemingly came to life as she lifted her hand towards his lips. In any other situation, he would have no doubt kissed her fingers while telling her everything was going to be okay. But in Joker's world, Lois Lane was not sporting the diamond engagement ring and wedding band given to her by her husband.
Instead, a kryptonite ring shone brightly, illuminating the horror in Superman's eyes.
I lurched at her, "You traitorous witch!"
Superboy grabbed her and pulled her away from his mentor, "She was in with the Joker all along!"
Lois began laughing, "Go ahead, take the ring, it doesn't matter now. Look at him! Just the knowledge that I've betrayed him and allied myself with the emperor is enough to shatter his faith—in me—in himself… in all of you!"
Before I could allow the rage within me to release itself upon her, the ground shook with the Joker's victorious laughter.
All I had endured meant nothing.
It was just the beginning.
...no hope ever comforts them, not of repose, but even of less pain…