Everybody loves a clown.
The Joker had been banking on it. The crowd at Charlie Chaplin's 100th Birthday Celebrations in Robinson Park had spilled out onto the sidewalk. A huge outdoor cinema had been erected just for the occasion, the beloved comedian's films playing throughout the day. Roving "tribute artists" - better known as impersonators – brought Chaplin's best kknowncharacters to life for the delight of the crowds. Grandparents held hands with their young grandchildren, carefree students mingled with strait-laced professionals – beneath the shimmering screen, all people were levelled. It was the sort of crowd the Joker loved best – indiscriminate, diverse and unaware of its own impending mortality.
It was a good thing, then, that the Batman had been ready and waiting when the murderous maniac and his perennial henchgirl had burst through the screen, the Joker in the classic attire of the Tramp with Harley Quinn in complimentary rags as the Kid, the liliripes of her cowl pinned behind her.
There had been so special clues or hints dropped that the psychotic clown would choose this event as the scene of his next crime; the Batman had simply known he wouldn't be able to resist and had patiently lain in wait.
"What better way to honour the genius who has so inspired my work than by ensuring his name is forever entwined with mine?" the Joker had trilled to the panicking crowd as Batman, Robin and Batgirl swooped through the trees. A batarang knocked the detonator from the Joker's hand and the clown's euphoria changed in an instant to fury and he threw a full-blown tantrum, comically jumping up and down on his hat.
"I've got a backup, Mistah J!" Harley Quinn shouted from the crowd, pulling another detonator from a pocket of her grubby jacket, finger poised above the button.
"I wanna do it!" the Joker shrieked warningly as Batman paused to lift a couple of screaming kids to safety.
Harley wound back with one arm. "Go long, go long!"
"Watch out!" he shrieked, "Incoming Robin at eight o'clock! Shoot someone! Distract him! Don't lose that detonator!"
Harley looked frantically around as the crowd continued to stampede. An elderly man huddled on a torn picnic blanket, protecting two small children beneath his body as they screamed in fear. They were the only non-moving targets as far as the eye could see.
Nobody missed the tremor in Harley's hand as she lifted her gun, not Robin, not Batgirl, not Batman and most definitely not the Joker.
After a second Harley swung the gun around and shot at the Boy Wonder as he came swooping down towards her, the bullet missing his ear by inches. "You freaks really know how to crash a party!"
Robin somersaulted through the air, landing neatly then spinning around to face the crazed harlequin.
"Aw, don't be like that, Harley – I just left my invite in my other costume!" Robin quipped back, ducking as Harley fired off a few more shots, before turning to run toward her psychotic beau.
"Hey Mistah J, heads up - " she began, winding back the arm holding the detonator, before coming to an abrupt halt. "Huh?"
The Joker was nowhere to be seen.
"Looks like you're left holding the bag on this one, Harley," Robin smugly punctuated his kick. Harley just barely managed to duck, then thrust forward with a punch that glanced off the Boy Wonder's shoulder.
"It's not his fault! It's you creeps, always ruinin' his plans! You just don't share his vision!" Harley punchlined her final words by throwing a handful of tiny explosives to the pavement. They exploded in brilliant bursts of light, momentarily blinding Robin, who recoiled in pain.
When his sight returned, Harley had joined her demented beau in vanishing. Chaplin's unmistakable face hung in shreds from the screen that flickered and shifted as the movie continued to play above panicked citizens who shrieked and fought to escape from the park, too mindless in their fear to realise the danger had passed.
Directly in front of him was the elderly man, still protecting his grandchildren, gazing up at the young hero as he strode over to them.
"Let me take the kids, Sir, I can get them to saftey," Robin reached out to take one of the huddled children gently but firmly in his arms.
"She didn't shoot," the old man quavered. "Why didn't she shoot?"
Robin couldn't answer him.