"Who Rules the Night?"
Chapter 3: "Shadow of the Bat"
Disclaimer: Batman, the Birds of Prey, and all associated or related characters and properties belong to DC Comics, the WB, and the CW. I make no money whatsoever from using them in this story, and this is solely for my personal amusement and hopefully that of my readers.
Author's note: Things are starting to heat up in New Gotham. Poison Ivy has made her grand reentry into the public scene, and Harley Quinn seems to have some inside knowledge to have helped her do it. Just what is Quinn up to, and does it have anything to do with the appearance of a new Red Hood? Of course, there is the matter of the new Batman to consider; who is he, really, and what does he want? The answers will come, but will the Birds like those answers . . . or even survive them?
Huntress and Dinah had split up to cover more of New Gotham with their respective patrols. For her part, Huntress was quite frustrated, stupid new Batman showing up on her turf and acting like he owned the place. Granted, that sounded a lot like how her old man had handled things during his time as Batman, but that just made her even angrier at the current pretender to the mantle.
The metallic scent of fresh blood interrupted her angry musings and she went to investigate, tracking the scent to an empty warehouse. "Funny how many of these there are," she muttered to herself before going in. With her enhanced vision, she was able to see several dead bodies despite the minimal light, and none of them looked like they'd died peacefully.
She sensed someone moving behind her, but that was all the warning she got before someone pistol-whipped her in the face, knocking her to the ground. "So who are you, tough guy?" she asked, wiping off her bloody lip.
"The Red Hood," the pistol-wielding man replied, coming into visibility. Huntress could see that the man was dressed in a black leather coat with biker gloves and boots over dark gray body armor, his face completely concealed by a smooth red helmet. "And I'm guessing you're this city's new Dark Damsel." He chuckled slightly.
Red Hood . . . The Red Hood was the original alias used by the Joker, before he'd taken that fateful chemical bath that had bleached his skin, turned his hair green, frozen his face into a gruesome smile, and driven him completely insane. The Joker was the man that had crippled her mentor, Barbara Gordon, and sent Clayface out to kill her mother, Selina Kyle.
Seeing red, literally and figuratively, Helena went into combat mode and attacked the Red Hood, only for her strike to be blocked by his hand wrapping around her wrist. Helena twisted on her heel and spun into a roundhouse kick that hit the Red Hood in his armored chest, knocking him back. Helena pressed her advantage with fast, brutal jabs, only for Red Hood to catch the last one and pull her into a knee jab to the stomach that made her double over before he slammed his elbow into her spine and followed up with a knee to the chin.
"Come on, you can do better than that!" the red-helmeted man taunted her.
"Was it you who killed those guys?" Huntress asked.
"Yeah, so? They deserved worse," Red Hood sneered before pointing his gun at Huntress. With inhuman reflexes, Huntress dodged the gunshot and slapped his gun out of his hand. She went for his throat, only to be stopped by him pistol-whipping her outstretched hand and whirling into a kick to her stomach, knocking her back before he shot at her with his remaining gun. Huntress acrobatically outmaneuvered the Red Hood's bullets, her coat flapping as she moved before she threw a Birdarang at his gun hand.
The Red Hood, reacting fast, shot the Birdarang out of the air, but he wasn't quite fast enough to avoid a right cross from Huntress. Having staggered the Hood, Huntress once again pressed her advantage with a chain of vicious punches and kicks.
"Wow, you play rough, don't you?" Red Hood quipped. "You kinda remind me of me when I was younger, 'cept I never had boobs."
That got him a knee to the stomach and a brutal chop to the back of his neck. "Yeah, I play rough," Huntress snapped back. "You got a problem with that, laughing boy?"
"Laughing boy?" Red Hood repeated. "Who do you take me for?" He pulled three four-pointed shuriken out of his coat and threw them right at Helena's face, forcing her to dodge. At that close range, though, she wasn't fast enough to avoid getting shallow cuts on her face. This time, the Red Hood pressed his advantage, punching her in the face and kneeing her in the stomach. Huntress twisted into a sweeping kick that knocked Red Hood's feet out from under him, only for Red Hood to turn his fall into a backward flip that brought him back on his feet.
"Take off that helmet and I might just give you your answer," Huntress retorted.
"Nope, the helmet's to protect my face," Red Hood replied. "I got a real pretty face. Be a shame if something happened to it. Come to think of it, it'd be a good idea for you, too. Be a shame if something went and messed up a face like that."
"Let me guess, you got night vision in that helmet," Helena surmised.
"That'll be my little secret . . . little sister," Red Hood answered. And that was when Helena got knocked out. When she came to, she saw a slightly blurry Dinah in front of her.
"Helena? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, just got knocked around a little bit."
"Some joker calling himself the Red Hood."
"Yeah, that used to be his alias, before the chemical bath. Wonder why he went back to it."
Dinah helped Helena back onto her feet. "Did he do all this?" she asked, referencing the dead bodies all around them.
"Yeah," Helena replied. "We'd better get out of here, before the cops decide to pin it on us."
As the two leather-garbed young women slipped out of the formerly empty warehouse, Huntress's eyes caught sight of a giant floodlight with the sigil of the Batman in its center. "Gordon must be trying to get the new Batman's attention," she muttered.
"Probably," Dinah murmured.
That wasn't quite the case, as Batman found out when he came down on the rooftop where the Bat-Signal had originated. Instead of the newly reappointed Commissioner Gordon, he found Dick Grayson and Alfred Pennyworth waiting for him.
"I have to admit, you've improved on the old man's costume," Dick remarked conversationally.
"Your point?" Batman growled.
"You've got the voice down," Dick commented. "Attitude, too. But you sure as hell aren't Batman."
"I am," Batman answered. "Just not the Batman you know. He quit, remember?"
Dick's eyes briefly flashed, but Alfred placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "You probably do not know the circumstances behind his departure, so I can forgive your impudence."
Batman tilted his head as though he were smirking beneath his full-face cowl. "Speaking of that, you mind telling us where he is right now?"
"I'm not aware of his current whereabouts," Alfred replied.
"Technically not a lie, but you have been keeping in touch with him, haven't you?" Batman rejoined. "I'm sure Bruce is aware of me by this point; he wouldn't want to leave Gotham completely unprotected, no matter how much he trusted his daughter and his ex-protégé."
Dick turned a fierce glare on Alfred. "Is he telling the truth?"
"Yes, he is, Master Richard," Alfred admitted heavily. "Did you think Master Bruce would completely abandon Gotham to its own devices, even if he was sure it was in good hands?"
"And you've been spying on Barbara and Helena for him, haven't you?" Dick deduced in a tone rumbling with tightly contained fury born of a sense of betrayal. "Give me one good reason not to tell them."
Alfred sighed sadly. "I do not have a reason for you not to tell them, but I do want to make sure you understand why. Bruce left Gotham not out of despair, but because he sensed the hand of a greater power than the Joker in Miss Barbara's crippling and Miss Selina's murder. He has been spending the past eight years chasing down clues to the true mastermind behind that terrible night."
"Who does he think it is?" Dick wondered. "Ra's al Ghul?"
"Heavens, no," Alfred replied. "Ra's is a ruthless madman, yes, but he is not quite so unscrupulous that he would hurt Master Bruce in such a way, and Talia loves him too much to let Ra's do something so horrible to him, even if he is her father."
"She was always jealous of Selina," Dick commented.
"Jealous, yes, but not so without scruples that she would allow something like that," Alfred answered.
"Then who could it be?" Dick wondered.
"Master Bruce doesn't know . . . but he has heard whispers on the global underworld's grapevine of an organization known as the Black Glove," Alfred confessed. "Whoever or whatever they are, all that is known for certain is that they deal in misery and corruption, spreading evil wherever they go for its own sake. At least, that is the whisper."
"They sound like bad Saturday morning cartoon villains."
Dick chuckled. "So you have a sense of humor."
"Why did you call me?"
"To pool our resources together," Alfred replied. "Whoever you are, you most certainly could use the help."
Batman gazed at Alfred and Dick with burning eyes. "And so could you. Your girls are unprofessional, going out with their faces exposed like that."
"Something I've tried to explain for some time," Alfred admitted wryly. "No such luck, I'm afraid."
"Who are you, anyway?" Dick asked.
"A friend," Batman replied. "That's all you need to know right now."
Inside New Gotham PD, James Gordon was getting the lay of the land. He'd been gone for the past seven years, and he needed to see how much things had changed in his absence. He saw some familiar faces, but he also saw plenty of new ones, transfers or recruits fresh from the police academy.
"Commissioner Gordon?" a voice asked, and Gordon turned to see a youthful black man walking toward him. "Det. Jesse Reese. It's good to see you here."
"Nice to meet you, Det. Reese," Gordon greeted, shaking the younger man's hand. "I presume you and the force have been keeping New Gotham in one piece while I've been gone?"
"With some help, of course," Jesse admitted with a slight smile.
Gordon smiled back. "Where's Chief Rojas's office?"
"Down the hall and a right turn away," Jesse replied. "You should be careful, though. He doesn't like the kind of help we've been getting, and he might take it out on you 'cause . . ."
"I know," Gordon gently cut him off. "Thanks for the heads-up."
As soon as Gordon reached the door to Chief Rojas's office, he knocked. "Come in!" Rojas roared.
Gordon opened the door. "Hello, Chief Rojas. How are you doing tonight?"
Rojas growled low under his breath. "How am I? You wanna know how I'm doing? I'm doing great, knowing that there's a bunch of vigilantes out there inviting the freaks to come out and play with them!"
"I doubt that's what they're doing," Gordon countered calmly.
"Yeah, well, did your precious Batman stop your daughter from ending up in a wheelchair?" Rojas snapped, earning him a dark glare from the commissioner.
"You might want to be careful what you bring up in conversation, Chief Rojas."
"Yeah, that was a low blow. I'm sorry, Commissioner. It's just that I'm so frustrated dealing with these crazies, and there's even this new guy coming out . . . calls himself the Red Hood, doesn't mind getting his hands dirty."
"How dirty is dirty?" Gordon asked coolly.
"Warehouse full of gangsters got pumped full of bullets," Rojas answered. "Few blocks off, some drug dealers got their throats carved out. The only clue we've got is some graffiti saying, 'Beware the Red Hood.' That's how we know what this joker is calling himself."
"No, not the Joker. Joker's gone to ground. Might be dead for all I give a damn. Someone else's using the name, all vigilante and crap instead of random slaughter for the giggles."
"Do you have any leads on who he might be?" Gordon asked.
"None so far," Rojas admitted. "No more than we have leads on who this new Batman is, and if he's got any connection to the original . . . or his little Girl Scout parade."
"I'm sure you'll find out eventually," Gordon offered neutrally.
"In the meantime, they're all giving me a huge freaking headache, and with Poison Ivy coming back, who knows who the hell else is gonna come crawling out of their holes to stir up trouble with the Bat?"
"Who have you assigned to the case?"
"I got Det. Reese and Det. Grayson from Bludhaven on the Batman case, and I got Det. Bennett and Det. Corrigan on the Red Hood case."
"Maybe you should have them work together, pool their resource."
"Sounds like an idea."
"Glad you appreciate it," Gordon answered neutrally. "I won't waste any more of your time. Just be sure to remember what I said to you before."
"Yeah, sure," Rojas grumbled as Gordon left. Upon closing the door, Gordon looked at a certain incoming detective and smiled.
"Good to see you, Dick."
"Rojas didn't give you too much trouble, did he?" Dick asked.
"Not much," Gordon replied amiably. "How's Barbara?"
"She's doing all right," Dick answered. "You talk to her yet?"
"Been trying to get settled in," Gordon admitted, "but I'm sure as hell gonna give her a call once I'm finished." He looked at Dick with a slightly wary expression. "You try to start anything with her again?"
"Not yet," Dick confessed. "Not that I don't want to, it's just that it's been a long time, especially since . . ."
Gordon placed a supportive hand on Dick's shoulder. "She probably still cares about you a lot, son. Just don't wait too long to let her know how you feel."
Dick smiled. "Thanks, Commissioner."
"By the way, I met your partner Det. Reese. I hear he and Helena Kyle are seeing each other."
Gordon removed his hand from Dick's shoulder. "I'm gonna go, see what's what around here. You keep up the good work, ok? And tell Barbara I'll be calling in soon."
Dick grinned. "Sure, Commissioner. See you around."
Speaking of Barbara Gordon, she was in the Clocktower attending to Helena's injuries. "So this guy, he showed up in a leather overcoat and a red helmet, and he called himself the Red Hood?"
"Yeah," Helena confirmed. "Weird thing is, he didn't finish me off."
"If this is the Joker, he probably didn't want to kill you unless it was suitably theatric for him," Barbara mused darkly.
"But why wouldn't he just capture her?" Dinah asked.
"How am I supposed to know?" Helena groused.
"Could be a different guy behind the helmet," Dinah remarked.
"Sure as hell would explain why he was using guns and martial arts," Helena commented.
"Or he's trying out a new gimmick," Barbara interjected. "He tends to do that."
"Except before he knocked me out, he called me 'little sister,'" Helena brought up. "What was that about?"
"Guns and martial arts, calling you 'little sister' . . . it might not be the Joker after all," Barbara conceded. "Then again, your father was very private when it came to his personal life, at least the personal life he wasn't faking when he put on his playboy act."
"Could be that," Helena surmised. "Knocked up some chick, kid figures out Daddy used to be Batman, gets sufficiently messed up in the head, and then decides to go out and put holes in people."
"Except why would he call himself the Red Hood?" Dinah wondered. "Why not just call himself Batman?"
"Maybe that's what he's doing," Helena muttered suspiciously. "Playing both sides of the fence – use Batman as a symbol to put the fear of God into the common crooks and put on a red mask and leather jacket to kill off anybody who isn't scared enough."
"You think so?" Barbara asked.
"All possibilities must be explored, that much is certain," Alfred finally interjected.
"Speaking of Batman, I saw the signal go up," Helena commented. "Figured it might be Barbara's dad trying to get in touch with him, see if it's the old man or not."
"It wasn't," Alfred denied. "It was I and Master Richard. We wanted to meet this new Batman and try to reach an understanding with him."
"An understanding?" Barbara repeated.
"Yes," Alfred confirmed. "He could be an advantageous ally."
"Or he could be just another nutjob in a mask," Helena countered. "Hell, he might be the Red Hood, too."
"It is possible," Alfred admitted. "Unlikely, but possible."
"Don't worry, I'm not offended," a voice responded. "If I were you, I'd be suspicious of me, too."
Helena whirled at the sound of the voice and saw Batman standing in the shadows of the Clocktower. "What are you doing here?"
"Alfred invited me," Batman replied. "He even said we could pool our resources so we could work together more cohesively."
Barbara gave Alfred a disbelieving look, while Helena was just outraged. She was about to attack Batman when a red blur stopped her, ceasing only to reveal itself as a man in a skintight red costume with yellow piping. A yellow lightning bolt set in a white circle stood out on his chest, while a cowl complete with a pair of yellow-tinted goggles with lightning bolt-shaped stems covered his face.
"Cozy setup you got here."
"Are you just inviting all the superheroes to come over here and hang out?" Dinah asked Alfred irritably.
Wally dashed over to the blonde in a red speed blur. "And hello to you, too. You must be the new Black Canary, at least according to word on the grapevine."
"You know about me?" Dinah uttered confusedly.
"Sure I do," Wally replied airily.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Helena asked.
"I was looking for Dick, but he blew me off, so I figured I'd come here and pass the message along," Wally answered.
"What message?" Barbara asked.
Wally peeled off his cowl and goggles to reveal a youthful redheaded man with twinkling green eyes that had, for the moment, hardened with utmost seriousness. "You remember when the sky was bleeding six months ago?"
"Yeah," Barbara replied.
Helena remembered, too, specifically that Dinah's psychic senses had been on fire, practically crippling the younger woman. She'd been confined to her bed for days, unable to do anything but stare into space and occasionally speak in riddles and tongues. Helena hadn't had the easiest time of it, either; her feline side was in near-total disarray, which had left her more human personality indisposed in trying to deal with it. There had just been this great cosmic sense of wrongness that neither she nor Dinah could shake.
"I remember," Barbara went on. "Coordinating you all wasn't exactly an easy thing to do."
"Yeah, I'll bet," Wally remarked. "For those of you who might not know, we were dealing with a cross-dimensional crisis – incursions from other realities that were merging with ours. We managed to stop it before the instability could get us all killed and take the entirety of reality with us, but there were some aftereffects."
"Like what?" Dinah asked.
"Things that we remembered as happening a certain way . . . well, they either didn't happen at all or something else changed," Wally explained.
"Like a time-traveler tampering with history?" Alfred surmised.
"Yeah," Wally answered. "More relevantly, it means people that were supposed to be dead weren't so dead anymore, and people who had no business at all in this world . . . they have business in this world now."
"Get to the point, Wally," Batman snarled.
"Well, Bats, you wanna tell them, or should I?" Wally asked.
"Fine," Batman growled, taking his mask in both hands, one hand at the scalp and the other at the mouth, and undoing the full-face cowl to reveal the face of a dark-haired teenage boy with piercing green eyes.
"John!" Dinah exclaimed. "You're Batman?"
"Yeah," John Malone confirmed.
None of the Birds were able to shake the impression that they'd seen "John Malone" before. At the very least, he had very familiar facial features. Seeing those eyes especially reminded Barbara of a person she once knew, someone who'd been very close to her before . . .
"Now what were you going to say, Wally?" John asked.
Before Wally could answer, Barbara started laughing out loud. "What's so funny?" Helena asked.
"John Malone," Barbara replied once she'd calmed herself, but her amused expression remained. "I know someone who called himself Malone. Two people, in fact . . . the original Batman and the original Robin. What's your real name, pal?"
"John Grayson," John admitted.
"Grayson?" Barbara repeated.
"My word . . ." Alfred uttered. "Master Richard certainly never spoke a word about a son before."
"This guy's from an alternate universe," Wally explained. "Otherwise, I'd be one of the first to know about Dick having a kid. His reality, and wherever it is Red Hood came from, converged with this one during the crisis, and even though it was averted, some pieces of those other worlds stayed with this one, and vice versa – hence Batman Junior . . . and him."
John glared sourly at Wally at the moniker of "Batman Junior," but Wally just stared insouciantly at him. "Nice try, kid, but I've gotten the glare from the real thing," Wally retorted flippantly before turning to the Birds. "Anyway, tell Dick I said hi. Later." He re-donned his cowl and goggles and dashed out of the Clocktower, leaving the new Batman alone with the Birds of Prey and Alfred.
"You're a kid," Helena spat.
"Not quite," John replied. "Doesn't stop me from getting carded every time I want a drink, though. I'll meet you tonight at No Man's Land . . . out of costume. I don't need everybody knowing the whole story just yet."
"Then why tell us anything?" Barbara asked.
"To establish some trust," John answered, pulling his mask back on. When he spoke again, his voice had dropped into its customary low growl. "I'll see you in school, Dinah." Before anyone could react in time, Batman had jumped off the Clocktower's balcony and opened his cape to glide away on the air currents.
The next day, Chief Rojas called in four of his detectives, those four being Dick Grayson, Jesse Reese, Ethan Bennett, and Jim Corrigan. "Chief?" Corrigan asked.
"You wanna know what I brought you here for?" Rojas asked.
"That would be nice, yeah," Corrigan replied.
"Batman . . . Batman and the Red Hood," Rojas spat out. "They're connected somehow. That bat-freak and the nutcase in the hood shooting people up are connected, one way or another, and the four of you are gonna be working together to figure out how."
"You want us all working together?" Bennett asked.
"Is that gonna be a problem?" Rojas sneered.
"No, no problem," Bennett replied calmly.
"First Batman shows up, and now this punk in a hood is going around offing drug dealers and gangsters," Rojas grumbled. "It's gonna be freaking anarchy in the streets if we let them go on like this."
"Red Hood aside, Batman has done some good for this city," Bennett remarked. "Thanks to him, people are starting to have some hope again."
"Yeah, until they find out what he really is," Rojas snarled. "A glory hound in a freaky bat costume."
Bennett was about to protest, but Corrigan held up a hand to stop him. "All right, Chief, you want us to investigate those two, we can do that."
"What about the rest of you?" Rojas asked.
"We can manage," Jesse replied, while Dick nodded his assent beside him.
"As of now, you're on the case," Rojas stated. "And I better see results, or I'll have the four of you working a beat."
"Yes, Chief," Dick replied.
"Go on, get out of here," Rojas snarled. "I'm not paying you to sit here and stare at me."
The four detectives left, all of them agreed on two things: 1) Batman wasn't quite the menace Rojas seemed to think he was, and 2) Rojas was a prick par excellence. The funny thing was that despite Dick's and Jesse's connections to the Birds of Prey, neither of them had any more of a clue who the new Batman was than their new partners did. They did know, however, that this case had the potential to lead back to the Birds' doorstep and get them exposed, something neither would allow to happen, even if it cost them their careers.
They just hoped it wouldn't come to that.
Inside another abandoned warehouse, the Red Hood was staring down a set of gangsters, the seconds for the men he'd slaughtered the previous night. "You see these?" he asked, throwing down a duffel bag full of severed heads, all of which belonged to those same gangsters' superiors. "That's what I did to your bosses. That's what I can do to you, but I'm in a good mood today, so I won't. Not right now, anyway."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" an outraged gangster shouted.
"I'm the one who's gonna be making some changes in this town," Red Hood replied. "You pieces of garbage have been growing fat off this city's blood for years. Well, it's time you put some of that misbegotten profit to better use. You'll get to keep most of it, though, provided you do as I tell you."
"And what's that mean?" another gangster asked defiantly.
"It means as long as you stay away from children, as long as you keep out of the schoolyards and the playgrounds, I'm going to make you all very rich bastards," the Red Hood replied. "And you'll be protected from the Birds of Prey, from the Batman, from the cops, and from your rivals. Try to screw me over, though . . . or deal to children . . . and you're dead. Am I understood?"
One of the gangsters was about to raise his gun to take his shot at the Red Hood, only to get his gun hand shot off. "Am I understood?" the Red Hood repeated.
"Y-yeah," the other gangsters quickly assented, not wanting to meet the same fate as their bosses or their companion.
"Good," Red Hood snarled. "Then gentlemen . . . we'll have quite the partnership. Just remember what I told you, and you'll be fine."
Endnotes: That's the end of this chapter. The Red Hood has made his debut in the Birds of Prey universe, and everybody's struggling to deal with the sudden changes in their world, especially now that Dinah knows that this Batman is really her new school friend John Malone. Despite that, a name doesn't entirely explain the truth behind the new Batman, a truth that the Birds may not necessarily be ready for, particularly in light of his possible connection to the Red Hood. Meanwhile, Chief Rojas has his detectives on the case to expose and apprehend Batman and the Red Hood, but will it just lead to more danger for the Birds? For the answers to those questions and others, hang on for the next chapter and be sure to review and let me know what you think.
P.S. I know that last scene came from Under the (Red) Hood. It had to be in there to emphasize the actual difference between this Red Hood and the other vigilantes. He's not just another Batman minus the "no-killing" rule; he's also a Machiavellian bastard with no problem exploiting the criminal underworld for his own objectives. As far as he's concerned, he's doing what has to be done, regardless of what anybody else might say about it. That's about it. Thanks for reading!