On Darkwings, and Dark Knights

Damien Nathaniel Wren

Chapter 1: Contrition

Batman's eyes narrowed as he stared at the bank of monitors used by the Batcomputer. One notice in particular from GCPD caught his attention: Joker had escaped from Arkham.

Batman took long strides heading towards The Batmobile thinking where Joker might go. The Clown Prince of Crime always had a love for old Toy Factories, or perhaps Costume and Magic Shops – but he'd exhausted most of them in Gotham and wasn't one to repeat himself. No... This time he'd have to do something different... something unusual...

As Batman jumped into his car Alfred – who was in the process of serving Bruce's evening meal – piped up. "I take it you'll be dining take-out this evening."

Batman let out a chuckle and said "I'll be back by morning." before closing the top. Alfred watched as the Batmobile's jet turbine engine whined to life – flames occasionally leaping from the various ports which vectored its thrust and provided The Batmobile with almost unnaturally tight handling at high speeds. Within moments the vehicle's exhaust vents moved in synchronous union as the vehicle sprung to life.

"So I take it you'll be wanting your usual breakfast of leftovers, and bandages then." His words fell on no ears but his own however. The Batman was long gone.

Batman shifted the Batmobile into its highest gear as he continued winding his way through the mountain roads into Gotham. "Computer, analyze recent Police broadcasts and triangulate Joker's position." A confirmation tone played followed by the computer's voice: "Triangulation Complete."

"Show the sattelite view of the co-ordinates on-screen. Maximum magnification."

A portion of the Batmobile's winshield lit up as its Heads-Up-Display showed Joker heading towards a familiar back-alley. "Close View" Batman commanded, and slammed the accelerator to the floor. Two words escaped his lips: "Axis Chemical".

Joker ran madly – dodging another Police Cruiser and hiding behind a dumpster. Once clear, he continued his escape – straps and sleeves flying as he ran. Convinced he was safe now, he stopped to catch his breath – sitting on a nearby milk-crate. Hunched over, he placed his arms on his knees and crossed his sleeves before him – talking to himself. "First, catch my breath – then ditch the jacket!"

"Keep it. It suits you." Joker looked up to see Batman – then down to where The Batman's foot had already trapped his sleeves onto the floor. Eyes wide he looked up just in time to see the oncoming, leather-gloved fist. WHAP! Joker reeled back – his sleeves tearing from the force of the blow – and slammed against the wall. Batman wasted no time following up as he used his forearm to pin Joker to the wall by his neck.

Joker cackled. "Just like old times, isn't it, Drac? You, me, a Family-Sized vat of toxic waste." The leather in Batman's guantlets creaked as he pressed harder against Joker's neck. "Oh come now – don't tell me you've already forgotten our first date? Face it, Bats – you MADE me. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even be here dancing our precarious little dance. But then, think of all the fun we've had together!! The gags, the beatings..." Joker paused – cracking a demented smile. His voice lowered as he continued, taunting now: "the necrologically impaired sidekicks."

Batman picked up Joker by the collar and threw him against the opposite wall of the alley – garbage cans flying as a stray cat screeched its complaint. Batman again pinned Joker before he had a chance to recover – blood now trickling down Joker's forehead, and from the corner of his mouth. Joker had suffered an internal injury – a damaged lung.

"You made me FIRST Joker! Or should I say 'Red Hood'?"

"Red Hood, Schmed Hood – Who CARES? Joker is YOU'RE doing – your very own dimented work of procreational art! Face it, DRAC – I'm the closest thing you have to family. Flesh, and blood. Your very own little Bats-in-the-belfry Jr.!"

Batman slammed a fist into Joker's gut with everything he had, the clown coughing up blood in response. Joker looked up again at Batman – his eyes lighting up as his lips curled back to reveal his yellow, crooked teeth and unnaturally wide grin.

"Ah-ah-ah! Keep this up and you'll be fighting for the top bunk in Blackgate. That's ASSUMING they don't decide to lock you up in Arkham with me. I can just imagine the headlines now: 'Winged FREAK Committed to Arkham on Charges of Criminal Child Abuse'. It would be quite the punchline wouldn't it? DADDY!?"

Bruce Wayne shot up in bed – his covers a tangled mess on the floor. He was soaked with sweat - his limbs trembling. His heart beat painfully as if attempting to leap from his chest. Head aching he turned to his nightstand and poured a fresh glass of water – the image of Joker still fresh in his mind as he drank.

He put his hand to his forehead and began breathing deeply, whispering to himself. "Nightmare ... Too Real." He looked at the clock – 3:33am. It had long since become a rare occasion he could sleep during the Gotham nights and it seemed tonight would be no exception.

Still groggy, he headed down to the Batcave to train – his thoughts turning to the recently apprehended Mad Hatter. He had broken out of Arkham a week earlier, and was returned 3 days ago with no apparent sign of criminal activity. No burglaries, or kidnappings. No reports of bizarre animal behavior. Tetch didn't even have a single one of his trademark white cards marked with a "10/6" on him. "What could he have been up to?" Bruce murmured.

"Master Bruce!" Alfred greeted Bruce as he entered The Batcave – now fully awake. He had changed into a pair of sweatpants before coming down while neglecting to accompany them with a t-shirt, and had also grabbed a towel. "I take it you've already been informed of Joker's escape from Arkham."

"No, Alfred. I hadn't. When was it discovered?"

"A few moments ago at 3:33am."

"Co-ordinate reports on the Gotham City Police Band and triangulate Joker's most probable whereabouts, then verify via sattelite. I'm going to change."

"Yes, Master Bruce."

Under two minutes had passed before Bruce Wayne re-emerged as Batman walking in long, steady strides towards The Batmobile. "Find anything, Alfred?"

"Yes, Sir. It would appear that Joker is currently headed towards Axis Chemical. What the devil could he be looking for in an abandoned chemical plant?"

Bats wasted no words in his reply: "A reckoning."

Jumping into The Batmobile he made a quick system's check before closing the top – the vehicle's vectored thrust system now aiming rearward. The jet turbine switched from its shrill, pre-ignition whine to a full roar as Batman hit the accelerator and – seconds later – was gone.

Alfred set out fresh clothes, and a newly replenished first-aid kit for Bruce's return before ascending the staircase that led into the mansion – struck again by the stark contrast between the sparse, utilitarian, Batcave below and the plush opulence of The Pallisades above. The preparation of Bruce's morning meal – Alfred decided – would keep until his return.

Drops of rain occasionally splashed onto Batman's optics as he searched the area around him. Morning was approaching. Gotham's sunrise would be in an hour and her Dark Knight wanted this overwith.

His foe tonight was Joker – wildly unpredictable, and highly athletic. Apprehending him was never that simple. Looking down into the alleyway – a mere block away from Axis Chemical – Batman spotted his quarry. He took aim, fired his rappeller, and with nothing more than the gentle rustle of his cape in the wind took his place, and waited.

Joker's bare feet slapped their way through newly formed puddles as his red eyes flashed wildly about him. The Gotham Police Department was somehow still frighteningly close, and annoyingly zealous in their pursuit. He had managed to shed his Arkham-Asylum-Chique, however and return to one of his personal torn-sleeved straight jackets, and pairs of purple pants he kept hidden about the city for just such occasions.

Taking care to remain hidden Joker peeked into the surrounding street – dashing madly across to the next alleyway once clear. He was almost there ... almost there when a strange feeling as if something were tugging at his back overcame him.

Joker stopped, his eyes alight as he revealed his crooked, yellow grin. He stood erect, poised – as if delivering a line from Shakespeare: "Suspicions amongst my thoughts are like sad bats wheeling about the steeple of my..."

Batman broke his glide – slamming himself into Joker with ferocious intensity and interrupting his monologue. Joker's expression lie unperturbed as he spoke. "Hello, DRAC. Miss me?" Joker slipped a foot under Batman's waist and kicked hard – sending him flying – before running again towards Axis Chemical and cackling wildly. "Last one in is a rotten egg!"

Batman rubbed his head. Joker has slammed him into the wall but good leaving him a little dizzy. "No time for this." he said, and jumped up – chasing Joker. He fired his rappeller and took an alternate way in from the upper floors as Joker pried a few boards from an otherwise open window.

Joker lifted his arm to reveal a playing card as he stepped his way stealthily, slowly through Axis Chemical – his blood-soaked eyes taking in every possible detail. Joker stopped, smiled, and nodded before continuing. Then again. Batman's eyes narrowed.

"Twinkle, twinkle little bat." Joker recited, "How I wonder what you're at!"

Batman swung down on his line sending Joker flying with a kick to the chest. He slammed into one of the abandoned wooden crates in the plant – crushing it. "You've been spending too much time swapping stories with Jervis Tetch, Joker. GIVE UP! I'm taking you back to Arkham."

Joker broke into uproarious laughter as he tossed his playing card upwards. It burst into a brilliant flame like a flare – illuminating the entire factory. Joker had set a trap, and sprung it expertly – uttering two words. "GET HIM!"

Batman was surrounded – a number of large men wielding sledge hammers and wearing a variety of hats, all with a card marked "10/6" thrust into their hat-band. He glared at Joker – still watching as his attackers jockeyed for an advantaged position. Batman didn't wait – slamming his fist into the gut of his closest attacker and removing The Mad Hatter's Trademark as he threw the man into another attacker. Dodging a blow from a sledge hammer, Batman rolled to the two bodies lying on the floor – removing and crushing the 2nd card.

Four more attackers to go Joker took flight – cackling all the way. "Don't play nice, kiddies!" His voice suddenly turned sharp. "And remember, Santa's WATCHING!".

Batman crossed his arms – blocking an overhead attack, and grabbing the offending hammer by the neck. He quickly kicked his attacker – sending him reeling. Turning, he held up the hammer as if to block another blow allowing his new attacker to break it in two – rendering the head useless. Spinning quickly he slammed the staff into his attacker's stomach – bending him over – before grabbing and crushing HIS card underfoot. The third man fell – a dazed look in his eye.

Three to go.

Whirling about quickly he re-established his bearings – watching as two of the remaining three attackers ran at him with hammers high. The Bat dropped a smoke pellet, firing his rappeller into the cieling. The two swung, crushing each other's mind-control cards on impact. Batman swung down to the final participant in the ambush – thankful for the way the Mad Hatter's mind-control enhanced one's strength, and resistance to damage.

Batman grabbed the man by the collar – quickly noticing the card had fallen to the floor. He was breathing erractically, and sobbing as the scent of urine began tinging the air. Batman released him – setting him to one side – before stomping on the final card.

"Where's Joker?"

"I ... I don't know! Last I remember I was at home, using my computer. Next thing I know I'm here, and you're mopping up the floor with me. What am I even DOING in Gotham City?"

Batman's eyes widened. "So that's how..." He trailed off, shoving his would-be attacker in one direction and dodging in another. One of Joker's deadly cards slammed into a crate – exploding it. "Tag, Batsy! You're IT!"

Batman fired his rapeller – quickly raising himself onto the catwalk and in pursuit. "Run, run as fast as you can! You can't catch me, I'm the JOKER MAN!"

Joker took off – jumping from surface to surface, vat-to-vat as he began his almost ape-like escape. Batman looked, seeing where he was headed next. The whole structure was supported by ropes which Batman cut via Batarang. He leapt – slamming headlong into the Joker as he fell only to have them splash unexpectedly into a large pool of water.

Joker grinned as he came to the surface – amused by himself. Rubbing his face vigorously on his sleeve before speaking. "Imagine that? Makeup that won't smudge, run, or fade away. It's PERMACLOWN!" Joker took off swimming towards the edge, while Batman again fired his rapeller. As Joker escaped the reservoir Batman swung upon him – knocking him down.

It was right then they noticed ... something was different. "Isn't that something?" Joker asked. "Didn't feel a thing!" Joker rolled backwards, throwing Batman at least 20 feet where he landed with a sickening CRACK! Batman stood up holding his ribcage as he let out a cough – blood spattering the floor as he rose.

Joker looked down at his hands. "Don't remember being able to do THAT before." And with a shrug, he took off in a series of heroic jumps leaping to the top of the plant and out of a skylight.

Batman looked around. Joker had won – for now. This was no longer the abandoned Axis Chemical. In fact, this plant – although similar – was very much an active one that appeared dedicated to purifying, carbonizing, and bottling water for sell to the masses. His eye caught several pallets of boxes near a fork-lift, ready for loading. Placing one hand on a box he read aloud. "Koo Koo Fizzy Water..."

He aimed his rapeller at Joker's exit point and fired – lifting himself up-and-out of the factory. He activated the remote on his belt to call The Batmobile – no reply. He repeated the instruction, and got the same.

Now standing atop the Koo Koo Fizzy Water Plant he stared out at the cityscape unfolding before him. The familiar skyscrapers, towers, and streets that made up Gotham City had been replaced by something far more alien. A single set of flatly colored buildings spiraled upwards from the city's heart and reached impossibly high, all surrounded by an enormous sprawl of lower-lying buildings stretching into the horizon. Opposite that was a great body of water the likes of Gotham Bay – a dark, majestic suspension bridge arching its way high over its surface to a destination unknown.

Batman shook his head slowly, speaking quietly to himself. "What are you up to, this time?" Speaking authoritatively now he called for Alfred. No response. "Looks like I'm on my own."

Authors Notes:

Batman, Joker, Alfred, and Jervis Tetch (AKA "The Mad Hatter") along with Gotham City, Axis Chemical, The Batcave, and The Pallisades/Wayne Manor are all property of DC Comics, and used here without permission. Koo Koo Fizzy Water, and the city of St. Canard are property Disney Corporation, and also used without permission.

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: among them "use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied" (U.S. Copyright Office, Factsheet on fair use of copyrighted works, .). It is under such authority I proceed.

Finally, I would like to in particular pay homage to the work of Frank Miller in "The Dark Knight Returns" – which succeeded in bringing Batman back to his roots. Also to Kevin Conroy – who has ineffibly defined the voice, and character of Batman for nearly 20 years. Of no less importance to me is the style and creativity of Mark Hammill, and Kevin Michael Richardson in their portrayals of "The Joker" in "Batman: The Animated Series", and "Joker" in "The Batman" respectively.

Despite whatever differences may exist in my portrayals of these characters, it is your work Dear Sirs that have defined them, given them life, and made it possible for them to continue to captivate, enthrall, and inspire me for more than two decades. For that I most sincerely thank all of you.