Story One: The Start of a Joke
Chapter One: Child of the Asylum
From the very first time I discovered the Bat-verse, I have loved one character most of all. From the early beginnings to the latest interpretations of the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker has always stood out to me as the best villain of all time.
Now, this is my interpretation of his origins. The only criticism I have of the generally accepted (yet unconfirmed) origin story of The Joker is that it involves the cliché of him falling into a vat of chemicals. Not to worry, I haven't gone out of my way to try and discredit DC and it's established past, merely work around it. Please enjoy.
The rain had worsened that Thursday night. Anyone who lived in Gotham would have noticed the dark clouds hovering in the sky earlier that day and it had crossed their minds that the storm was upon them. It was, however poorly timed, a relief that the rain had arrived on the crime-filled streets. It was almost like a shower washing the filth from the gutter, cleansing the city. But as we all know, transgressions are not so easily wrung from society. It was nail-bitingly chilly; crime was at an all time high, gang wars were as cold as the weather and the news of a suspected serial kidnapper was spreading through the populace terrifying families. The last two weeks had seen four mothers taken from the labour ward at Gotham General Hospital without a trace. Not a demand had been made, nor a shred of evidence was found and by the end of three days since disappearing, each mother was found deceased along with their newborn. Police were baffled, the public were frightened and at this very moment were waiting on the news of the fifth mother, snatched from her bed yesterday as she waited to give birth.
None of it really mattered anymore. The dark empty room, the lack of nourishment and the kidnapping. At this moment in time, they were but a blur in her memory as if it had all just suddenly ended here and now. The only thing that mattered tonight was her son. Giving birth to him safely and without event was all she wanted, all she needed. She suspected this is how the other four had felt too, caring only that their child survive the process. The pain numbed the reality of her situation and distracted the horrible flashes she imagined would happen when this was all over.
"The baby is crowning." Said the nurse, standing back for the other man in the room. He readied himself with a towel, kneeling under his hostage.
"I'm gonna need you to push for me, are you ready?" he asked and the mother nodded. He too knew she didn't care about her predicament any longer which only made it all the more easier for him. "Push!" The mother clenched her teeth, screaming and sweating. The nurse held her hand, stroking it and comforting her.
"One more time, breathe how I breathe. Now." The process was slow and agonising, with no way of seeing if anything was going well.
"The umbilical is wrapped around the neck." Growled the doctor. "You have to put a little more into this next one so I can get him out quick, okay? Go!"
He watched the labour intensely; the comforting nurse, the disgruntled doctor and the mother who knew precisely what fate had in store. The man pressed a red button under a speaker box and leaned in close.
"Mr. Clemens." The deep voice rang over the intercom. The doctor couldn't look up at the one-way window just now, he was busy.
"Yeah, what?" he spat back, not in the mood for a conversation, or more likely criticism.
"I hope you are aware of the value of my experiment and not placing the subject in jeopardy?" continued the voice.
"All too aware, doctor." Mumbled Clemens. The mother screamed again as she tried to push her child out. The nurse padded her forehead with a wet cloth.
"Then you are also aware," began the voice again, "of how much trouble I went through to acquire it."
"Yes, sir!" cursed Clemens, then whispered; "Are you aware of how much trouble I'm going through not stabbing you with my scalpel?" The baby's stomach was showing now, only one more push to go.
"I therefore expect you to take extra care when handling the specimen. It seems unlikely we won't raise further suspicion if we attempt to pilfer another-" The heart monitor interrupted the coms, blaring loudly at the increased heart rate.
"Doctor, steady." Informed the nurse.
"I know!" Clemens bit his tongue, right now was not the best time to distract him. The nurse switched between the mother and the monitor as the heart rate fell. It all started going wrong as the mother's heart stopped completely.
"She's going into arrest." The nurse attempted to resuscitate the mother, giving her mouth to mouth. Clemens knew he had to act fast to save the child, he didn't want to be responsible for another family's loss. He wrapped his hands firmly around the baby's abdomen and readied himself to force it out.
"Take great caution-"
"Give it a rest for a minute!" Clemens shouted. It was difficult at first, keeping a good hold of the baby with placenta covering it like film. Slowly, Clemens was able to draw the baby out and into the world. He grabbed the scissors from the tray and quickly cut the umbilical cord, unwrapping it from around the baby's neck. Exhausted, he folded the boy in his towel. "It's a boy." He gasped, breathless.
"Excellent specimen." Noted the voice.
"Yeah, no problem." Muttered Clemens, placing the boy in a crib.
"This is the perfect child for the examinations, we have everything we need in him."
Clemens turned to the nurse who was standing over the mother. "How is she?" he asked.
"Vitals are returning to normal, she'll live." She said moving the mother into a better position.
"She has worked hard tonight." Said the voice. "Retire her."
"Yes, doctor." Obeyed the nurse, taking a syringe from the tray and injecting it into the IV. The colour drained from the mother and eventually, so did the last breath. As the nurse wheeled the bed out through the door, Clemens moved the crib over to the one-way mirror.
"I'll have more about his physical condition in a few days or so. Lucky to be alive though, so many things could have gone wrong." Admitted Clemens.
"They did go wrong, Clemens. Yet he still lived through it. Only someone strong could have made it out alive, and now he's ours. Leave us." Clemens walked out of the room immediately. It took a strongman to be in that room after everything that happened there over the last few weeks. He took solace in the fact that history wouldn't have to repeat itself ever again, not if he had anything to say about it. Clemens would make sure of it; make it his life's mission to keep that boy alive so that atrocities would never have to be committed anymore. 'Lucky to be alive?' he thought. 'That wasn't necessarily the case, not in this kind of a place. Not in Arkham Asylum.'
Five years later...
"Patient Interview One. Subject has been designated 'Subject J' for testing period. Subject J is five years of age, height: four foot one, hair: brown, eyes: green, gender: male. He should be proud to be part of the trials, helping to further medical sciences and psychological understanding...aren't you? You should be. You should feel very proud."
The man was tall, J could tell even though they were both sitting. He couldn't see the walls, but he could feel them they were so close. Though it was better than his room and there was more light emanating from the single bulb hanging from the ceiling as well. J held his legs tight to his chest, eyes down to the table. He didn't want to look up at his 'father'. The man liked to call himself that, but J knew otherwise. The man was young-ish, somewhere in his early twenties, strong build; he wore round rimmed glasses and despite his devilish beard he was developing a receding hairline. The bald patch atop his head seemed to give off the impression of a massive intellect which was not far from the truth. He wore a white coat, zipped up at the front and black leather gloves. On the collar of the coat was pinned a badge that read: 'Doctor H. Strange, PhD'.
"Tell me J," Strange continued. J couldn't see his eyes, the glasses reflected so much but he could sense them staring intently, "What memories do you have as an infant?"
"...little." answered J quietly, not looking up. He didn't understand anything; no one told him anything at all. The only person who spoke to him was 'father', and he only ever asked questions.
"Nothing?" J didn't want to talk; he just wanted to go back to his room. Whenever he was asked about his past, flashes would frighten him. Bad memories like the ones that plagued his dreams.
"The faces." He mumbled. Strange leaned closer, trying to catch every word. "I remember the faces." Repeated J. Even as he said the words, he remembered the horrible smiles, the sad frowns and angry smirks of the heads that rotated above him, drawing closer to their prey. "They look down at me, find me every night. Scare me."
"How interesting." Smiled Strange, leaning back in his chair. "Only five years old and already you've developed Coulrophobia. This is very fascinating." J didn't understand. Words meant nothing to him, not these words. How can he answer to this? For the first time, Strange's voice lightened, feigning good will but J was none the wiser. "Now that you're of age, I believe it is time that you are allowed to...intermingle with the population. Explore your environment, become exposed."
"You mean...outside?" asked J, looking up at Strange. How he'd wanted to see the outside. Sometimes, he would pass windows to the outside, but they were too thick. He couldn't see much, it was all blurry and distorted. He'd always wanted to find it. Strange chuckled demeaning-ly.
"No. No, outside is unnecessary." He said, throwing away J's hopes immediately. "You've been fed from your cell. Now I am permitting you to do so with the other subjects. It will be interesting to observe how you get along with them, and even more anticipating, how they react to you."
J didn't know what he meant. Who were these subjects? "Friends?" he asked sheepishly.
"No." Said Strange blatantly, deadpanned. "It's highly likely that the will attempt to kill you." Strange leaned in close, J turned away; he didn't like the smile. "But there's nothing you can do about that, is there?"
The Mess Hall was larger than any other room J had seen. It even had a second floor high up off the ground where the uniformed men were watching. Underneath them in the eating area, six tables took up half the space. Half of the other subjects were sitting at these, eating out of trays and Styrofoam cups. The rest were lined up at a small table where the cook was dishing out gruel. All of the men looked dangerous, J didn't want to be in here. He turned to ask the guard to take him back and that he wasn't hungry, but the man had already left and had sealed the door behind him. J shuffled into the line, waiting his turn. All of the people towered over him, all J could see was neck and chin. "Better watch out, little man." Threatened one prisoner.
"I'll be ya mummy if ya be my bitch." Jeered another, laughing with another prisoner. J watched as they walked to their table but didn't notice that the man in front had walked forward. The thug behind J rudely kneed him in the back, knocking him to the ground.
"Keep it movin'!" he growled. The cook pointed his ladle at the thug.
"Wait your freaking turn, dumbass!" J managed to get his food and sit down without another incident. There had been no one sitting at the centre table, so J picked the spot near the end of the table facing the door. As soon as he could leave, he would. The prisoners looked at him, glaring, their eyes staring for a long time. They would return to their food and eat, but glance again and again taking away any peace J might feel. Just when he felt most threatened, one of them decided to sit down next to him. J didn't make eye contact. In fact, he made sure that he kept this person out of vision completely in case he became violent at a moment's notice.
"Did you want some company?" he asked, his voice almost human but still very genuine. J didn't reply, taking his chances battling down the gruel. The man became even more curious. "Why are you here?" He noticed J struggling with the gruel, coughing it down. He smiled and advised; "It's better to pretend that you're downing chicken instead of this crap." J gave in, he had to say something.
"I...I don't know chicken." He mumbled. The man was taken aback.
"You mean you never had-" Something distracted him before he could finish the question. The distraction just walked loudly through the door, making its way up to the gruel table.
"...and when she said 'no'," continued the man to his followers as the cook shovelled a large slop of gruel on his tray, "I stuck that bitch in a hole 'til she let me in hers."
"Yeah, bet she behaved after that, Apone." Said one of the slightly less taller men behind him.
"Kid, finish up and get out." Said the man next to J. He was really worried now, trying to pull J away. "Just move to another-"
"What the hell is this?" echoed Apone's voice. They had been spotted. Apone approached the table, his posse in tow. He was stories above J who was too frightened to shive with fear. "You're uh, in my seat." Apone said with a less than friendly smile. "It's rude." The man next to J stood up.
"Guys, he's just-"
"Shut up!" ordered the thug onsider. Apone knelt down next to J who still wouldn't turn.
"Do you know what happens to little boys who take my seat?" he asked.
"No." Whispered J timidly. At this point, he could feel every eye in the room upon him. They all waited for what they knew was about to happen next. Without warning, Apone grabbed J by the scruff of the neck and tore him away from the seat.
"No!" shouted the friendly man who reached out to stop Apone but was pinned to the table.
"You stay put now, Garber." Said the thug in his ear.
"Get off me, Trig!" fought Garber. He watched helplessly as Apone dropped J to the ground, holding him by the collar.
"It's time you were physically educated." Hissed Apone, readying his fist for the first punch. The blow however was not made by Apone, but by J who threw his fist into Apone's face. J had never done a thing like this before, it almost felt like instinct. Unfortunately, the punch had little to no effect on his attacker. Apone punched J square in the nose, breaking it. The whole room heard the crack and watched in horror and eagerness as Apone continued to wail on J. "Respect! Your! Elders!" he shouted, delivering blow after blow. J wished he was dead. He was so confused and in so much pain. He turned to Garber, tears in eyes.
"He-" was as far as his plea got before Apone delivered another blow. A guard on the second floor was watching this one-sided bashing unfold before his eyes. Quickly, he whipped out his radio.
"Professor, Subject J is in conflict." He reported. "I am in position to assist. Over."
"And interfere with the experiment?" questioned Strange remotely. He didn't see why he should. "If this is what must happen, let it be so."
"Affirmative, sir." Accepted the guard, pocketing the radio. He didn't care as long as he didn't end up in the cage with these criminals. What was the life of a boy to his own life?
Garber couldn't stand anymore of this. He had to do something and fast. With all his strength, he kicked Trig in the knee, buckling it. He then released himself from the hold and knocked Trig away. Garber quickly grabbed J's food tray and whacked Apone in the face with it as hard as he could. "Get the hell away from him!" Apone fell off J, holding his wound. He quickly stood, facing Garber with his fresh graze across his face.
"You shouldn't have done that!" he barked. "I'll have ya sore arse on a plate!"
"He's barely old enough to go to school!" shouted Garber. Silence fell as Apone knew he had to back off. "You expect him to fight back, tough guy? A kid!" continued Garber. "How's about taking on the other murderers, rapists and psychos in here? At least they're closer to your height, let alone your age!" Apone cooled himself down; he knew that if he tried again, others would join in to stop him. He wiped his bloody wound and pointed threateningly at Garber.
"You just make sure he knows his place." He said calmly, but with the same level of menace. With the rest of his posse, Apone left the Mess Hall leaving Garber with the helpless J lying on the floor. Garber could barely recognise the boy he'd met only minutes ago. He picked up J in his arms and turned to one of the guards on the second floor.
"Aren't you gonna help him? Call a goddamn medic!" he shouted. The guard complied as Garber laid J on the gruel table where the cook helped him tend to J's wounds.
"He's making some friends." Said Clemens, not impressed by the experiment.
"It was foreseeable." Admitted Strange as they watched two guards enter the lower floor of the Mess Hall to inspect J. "It'll be a fight for survival from here on in."
"Do you ever have doubts?" asked Clemens.
"No." Said Strange almost immediately. Clemens turned to him, wanting to see Strange's answer in his face.
"But morally and ethically, have you ever been challenged to continue because of them? The idea that you...we can allow the treatment of life in such an inhumane fashion?"
"Morals and ethics stand in the way of progress, Mr. Clemens." Strange turned to the doctor, challenging his stare. "They must be removed if we are to overcome the obstacles of life. Sacrifices that must be made to better understand ourselves as human beings in the attainment of power." He analysed Clemens's response carefully; nothing too serious. He was having doubts, but fleeting ones at present. One reaction did stand out however; Clemens took a step closer to the window, his eyes drifting to J fixedly.
"I understand...but he's just a child." He stared a moment before blinking, almost snapping out of a trance. "I should be down there treating him." He made his way towards the door, but Strange's voice forced him to stop.
"You've grown a certain level of affection for the boy." He said, amused. "An unwise decision on your part."
"No. I'm only passionate about the trials. Isn't passion good?"
"Temporarily. You've put your passions into a 'human' that may not survive the next few hours. I'd rather hate to think that you could not continue due to these troubling experiences." Strange approached the window, looking out at his world, his creation. "Attachment is a very difficult emotion to overcome. Treat him...if you must." He hissed.
"Thank you." Clemens said, continuing on out the door. Strange was no longer completely confident of Clemens's loyalty to him now; the man had obviously let himself get carried away. Why others find it so difficult to detach themselves from the horrors of their work surprised Strange. The idea that his own species hadn't killed each other by now was difficult to believe to say the least. Judging by Gotham's decay into decadence and depravity, this was to happen so very soon. Strange smirked as he saw Clemens enter the Mess Hall, checking J.
The Medical Lab was much cleaner than the rest of the facility, but only very slightly. Several machines lay unused in the back corner of the room and a couple of computer terminals were leant up against the wall by the entrance. J was sitting on a table in the middle of the Lab. The only things he could see out of his one good eye was his bruised and swollen cheek and Clemens sitting in front of him. If he focused in more closely, he could see the door and the guard standing by it. Garber paced in and out of view every now and again behind Clemens, watching the progress of the clean-up. At the moment, Clemens was about to start cleaning J's cut eyelid. "This may sting a little." He said, padding it with a sanitised cloth. It didn't sting as much as it did throb, but at least the blood was being moved out of his eye. "It's not very assuring, I know, but you're being very good."
Garber stopped, giving the floor enough time to rest. He surveyed J's battered form; the cut near his eye, his bruised cheek, bleeding nose and swollen lip. How a man like Apone could even consider doing this to a child over a seat was beyond comprehension. Perhaps he was territorial, maybe he figured this was some kind of a test or just to prove something to the prisoners and Strange. The only thing this would do is make Apone become more feared, especially amongst the prisoners who had children on the outside. It's just a shame that J had to be the one he proved himself with. "Will he need stitches?" Garber asked, sitting next to J who wouldn't turn his head.
"Only a couple." Clemens looked up, only just noticing who was addressing him. "Shouldn't you be in your cell?"
"I brought him in-"
"Which we are all grateful for, but unless you yourself have sustained serious injury, I insist you return to your hole."
"I just want to make sure he gets back to his, Clemens. Under the circumstances, I'm sure you agree. Unless you want your healing skills to be short lived."
Clemens had to admit that Garber was right. He nodded, "I suppose, under the circumstances."
"What's the boy in for anyway?"
"That is classified."
"Like everything else around here. Look, I'm not surprised by that, and I can accept that bull, but I just can't accept this." He pointed at J. "This is absolutely the worst place for a kid. I know you saw what happened in the Mess...and I'm also sure that this sort of thing isn't legal."
Clemens sighed, there had to be something he could do. He took off his glasses and looked directly into Garber's eyes. "I will try and arrange some sort of escort. A sentry to take him from A to B."
"But I can't be sure it'll happen. Until then, you keep an eye on him."
"Best I can. What cell is he in?"
"He's designated 'J', that's also the cell."
"Should be easy then; I'm stuck in I. No problems."
Clemens smiled for the first time in a while; a load had been lifted from his mind. He looked back over to J, still smiling. "Garber here will be taking care of you." J looked up at Garber who waved slightly. J turned back to Clemens; he wasn't sure if J was happy or sad. It was difficult to tell with J, the emotions were hidden deep within his mind. Clemens just accepted it and patted J on the head. "Good. Now, your nose is a little out of place. I just need to put it back together but to do that you will need to be very brave for me. Okay?"
J looked down, as if he could sense the answer to the question he was about to ask; "Will it hurt?"
Clemens cupped his hand over J's good cheek comfortingly. "Only a little bit." He watched for a response, but J gave none. Clemens assumed J was prepared for the reattachment, so he placed his hands either side of J's nose. "One..." J was already crying. "Two..." Garber turned away just in time as Clemens cracked J's nose back into place with one swift movement.
That was Chapter One of the new Joker Origins story: Start of a Joke. I hope you liked it because I very much enjoyed writing it. It has been really refreshing to write something new after four stories of Red vs. Blue vs. Green. Keep in touch for the next chapter and following stories that tell of The Joker's less than humble beginnings. Please review or Private Message me your opinion.