Gotham is a city of contradictions. Lauded for its progressive attitude by the press, yet riddled by race wars in the slums. Pioneering new developments in technology and medicine, even as its citizens waste away from drug addiction or disease. Creating bright, blazing beacons of hope like the first Green Lantern, only to break a man so thoroughly that he becomes a creature of the night, a predator with black leather wings and a fierce, merciless gaze. You are that man, the Batman. Tonight, Gotham seems strange, almost foreign to you, its stark dichotomy laid bare for you for the first time in years. Last night, you confronted the deranged doctor Crane about subjecting Nightwing to his newest strain of fear toxin. Though the interrogation revealed little, Alfred claims that Fox is making progress on a solution to Dick’s affliction. As for the man himself, his condition is worsening. Lying restrained in the Cave, he struggles constantly against his bonds, heedless of the damage inflicted on his body. He has already fractured his left forearm, cut into flesh, left dark bruises on his legs. His mind is going. Soon he will become completely insensate, like the ravening beasts you discovered in Scarecrow’s den (see Issue #13). By then, you fear, it may be too late to save him.
You arrived in the city an hour ago and have already stopped two assaults, both perpetrated seemingly at random by the citizens Scarecrow poisoned. It appears that someone is dropping them off at densely populated areas of the city, then letting their broken minds do the rest. Despite once being average people, their addiction to Scarecrow’s toxin has turned them into sadists with strength beyond reason. Putting them down is a challenge, even for you.
The Bat-signal hangs in the sky, only the second time it has since Gordon’s disgrace and subsequent suspension. Whoever keeps lighting it wants your attention. You figure it must be Cyril Hobbes, the replacement commissioner the mayor’s office brought in from Metropolis. What he wants is unclear; he’s made his stance on ‘the Batman issue’ clear to the press, and you, on several occasions. From past experience, if it smells like a trap and looks like a trap, it’s probably a trap. Whether it’s worth springing is another thing entirely.
You make your way to the MCU, intent on surveying this new commissioner and, if you feel it is warranted, making contact. The night-time continues to churn and broil around you as you move through it; word of the Addicted has spread, and now the citizenry begins its slow creep toward mass hysteria. You’ve seen it before, when the threats of these super villains hit too close to home. When it’s not just a few people dead in a mall or an office building, but a sickness, an evil they can’t see, fight back against or avoid… That’s what truly terrifies. That’s what plants the seeds for widespread rioting. This needs to end before it gets that far.
Now standing on a rooftop overlooking the MCU, you find your suspicions confirmed. A lone figure stands there in the whipping wind, staring up at the signal in the clouds. Broad-shouldered, well-dressed. Obvious concealed weapon under the right armpit. The wind keeps betraying it. Short auburn hair and, after activating cowl optics, blue eyes.
Hnnh. Blue. Dossier said green. Have to take up the error with Alfred.
There are no traps as far as you can see, but that’s the trouble with them: if you can see them, they’re not very good.
“Cowl, enhance and thermal image.”
The microprocessors in your suit whir quietly as they scan the rooftop, looking for bio-signs. None are evident, save Cyril Hobbes. Deciding that perhaps your usual modus operandi is unwarranted here, you make a direct approach toward the roof, struggling to maintain a steady glide on the howling winds. You land with a solid thud not far from the commissioner, whose hand goes to the piece under his arm. A reaction to your sudden appearance, no doubt.
“I wouldn’t.” You say, nodding at the man. “You’d never draw, and I’m not here to hurt you, anyway.”
The man stands there silently for a moment, his hand still hovering over the holster.
“Yeah? Not the way I see it. Why didn’t you respond to the signal before? Where were you?”
You begin to slowly approach the man, intent on analyzing him, getting a true measure of just who is sitting at Gordon’s desk.
“Let’s make two things clear: first, lighting the signal does not ensure my appearance. Second, I do not answer to you.”
Hobbes scoffs, but lets the hand drop from his holster. There’s something about his body language that you find at once familiar and foreign. Like an old friend, but one who’s been through some terrible, deforming accident since you last crossed paths.
“That’s the real problem, isn’t it? You don’t answer to anyone. You claim to be an agent of the law, but I have a feeling that if I asked you to turn yourself in for questioning right now, you’d refuse. Wouldn’t you?”
“That’s where you’ve got it wrong. Can’t blame you. Took Jim a few years to figure it out, too. I’m not an agent of the law. The law is flawed. I am an agent of justice. I deliver the scum of this city to your broken system time and again, just to watch them walk free months later due to ‘insufficient evidence.’ Tell me, commissioner: who really has cause to question motive in that situation?”
Hobbes’ mouth opens and closes several times. He’s trying to think of a retort, but he’s struggling. The quick-witted golden boy of Metropolis, at a loss for words.
“While you’re tripping over your tongue,” you growl, “allow me to enlighten you as to what is going on in your city. Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, has introduced a new strain of his signature toxin onto the streets. It’s driving Gotham mad. I’ve stopped two would-be murders already tonight, and I can’t be everywhere at once. Where are your men? Where are you?”
Hobbes remains silent for a moment, then heaves a sigh of exasperation. He still seems to have trouble finding the words.
“I, uh… You see, in Metropolis… Well, we have him.”
And there it is. You can’t keep the grin off your face. Clark has made Metropolis’ police force lazy, complacent. Something you’ve suspected would happen for a long time. Something you’ve warned the Superman about. For in a city watched over by what is essentially god, of what use is a man with a badge and a gun?
“Well you don’t have him here. You’ll have to make due with me. Me, and that.” You say, pointing to the holster obscured beneath his suit jacket. Hobbes shakes his head ruefully.
“Right. Well. I suppose you should turn over whatever information you have–”
“That’s not how this is going to go. I’ll work with you, Hobbes, but I’m not your lackey. And in exchange for my help, you’re going to do me a favor.”
The man scoffs, some of his arrogant bravado returning.
“Oh yes? And in this wildly hypothetical scenario, just what favor am I doing for you?”
“You’re clearing Jim Gordon’s name. And you’re doing it so an innocent man isn’t sent away for life for crimes he didn’t commit. And so I don’t have to look at your face anymore.”
“And if I decide not to help you? What then, eh?”
“Considering that you weren’t even aware of the Scarecrow’s plans until just now? I’d say you watch the city eat itself. And then the world blames you.”
Hobbes blanches somewhat at your statements, then nods.
“Alright, Batman,” you note he still can’t keep the contempt from his voice when he addresses you, “what course of action would you recommend?”
“First, do what you should have done when you got to this city. Make use of available resources. Talk to Detective Bullock. He’s dirty, but so is almost every other cop in this city. The other one worth getting in touch with is Detective Sawyer. She does good work, and has a sharp criminal mind. She can help.”
Hobbes pulls out his notepad, begins jotting down names.
“Right. Anything else?”
“The only other man that could have helped you is currently in holding pending his transfer to Blackgate. See to it he doesn’t get that far. If he does, and those monsters… If he does, there will be nowhere you can hide from me.”
Hobbes is still looking at his pad, finishing up his annotations. By the time he looks up, you’re gone. At least, as far as he knows, you are. A slow smile spreads across his face, then he tucks his pad in his coat and heads back into the MCU.
You patch into Batwoman’s encrypted frequencies again. Before you can transmit anything, her voice crackles across the line, impatient and angry. She hates that you have found a doorway into her world that she cannot shut. Too bad.
“What, Batman? I am extremely busy not dying at the hands of this psychopath.”
“Batwoman, the person you’re fighting may be innocent. I know that seems impossible, but I believe they’ve been exposed to Scarecrow’s toxin.”
There’s a pause, assumedly while Batwoman fights off her attacker. When she responds, she’s out of breath.
“This thing is insane! This is what we were trying to stop at GCU?”
“Yes, and we’re still going to stop it, but I need you to put them down gently. They might still be saved.
You cut communications there.
You’re concerned about Hobbes, but to maintain surveillance right now would mean breaking into the MCU and following him. Not something you have time for when drug-addled citizens of Gotham are assaulting one another. You make for the East end of the city, keeping your eyes out for Addicted or the people that are moving them. You’re hoping you might call the cat out of the barn, so to speak.
A squealing of tires somewhere to the south of your position catches your attention. Leaping rooftops, grappling and arcing over gaps too wide to cross otherwise, you arrive at the location in minutes. A narrow side street, the taillights of an unmarked vehicle disappear around the corner. Screaming and gibbering, a naked figure pursues them, then slows and stops when all hope of catching up is gone. It’s a woman, naked and hysterical, covered in cuts and bruises, filthy from head-to-toe.
The optics in your suit focus on the woman, bring you closer. Her eyes are wild, pupils dilated, jaw working unconsciously. Addicted, no doubt. You drop down some thirty yards away from her. She whirls, hearing you somehow, and screeches.
“Wait.” You command sternly, raising a hand. “I’m not going to hurt you, if you can just not hurt me.” She crosses her arms, you assume at first to preserve her dignity, but then she begins digging her nails into her flesh, making of it bloody ribbons. Her jaw is still working, and it sounds like she’s trying to say something. You begin approaching cautiously.
You raise both hands now, keeping them clearly visible and away from your belt. She’s still scratching her arms.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” you say cautiously, keeping your tone even and calm, “you’ve suffered grievous injury already. If you come with me, we can get you help.”
“Ggg-gguh… Nnn… Hurts.”
“I know. I know it does. Do you think you can stop?”
She shakes her head violently, raking herself with ever more violence. She’s past the skin now, tearing into flesh and muscle. Permanent damage is not far.
“Alright. What’s your name?”
She seems to be regaining the ability to speak, but it’s not lining up with her body language, which is becoming increasingly agitated and erratic.
“C-can you… Cannn you get me some?”
“You mean drugs? What the men gave you?”
She’s groaning now, building up to a keening wail.
“You can get it, right? You can. You’re Batman.”
You slowly shake your head, hands still up.
“I can’t do that Sarah. I wouldn’t be helping you.”
She drops to her knees then, sobbing, holding her shoulders. Then she lets out a maddened scream and hurls herself at you.
Her charge is desperate, uncontrolled. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, she just wants a way out. You can’t blame her. Having been subjected to Crane’s toxins several times in the past yourself, you know the terrible waking nightmare they bring. As she closes, you blade your body and step to the side, catch her body as she tries to change her trajectory too quickly. You hook an arm under hers, prevent her from getting a good swing on you, then lie down, breaking her fall with your body. She’s thrashing mightily, but losing strength. Losing the will to fight, and with it, the will to live. She doesn’t have much time.
“Sarah,” you say, struggling to keep her in check, “I need you to calm down. I’m going to give you a sedative, and then we’re going to figure everything out. I promise, Sarah. I’m going to fix it. I’m going to.”
You get a hand free and reach for your belt, pulling from there a potent sedative. It should give her a blessed, dreamless slumber. One she sorely needs. You hold her as the drug takes hold, wait for her thrashing to subside. Once you’re certain she’s out, you gently roll her off you and contact Alfred.
“Prepare the operating theater, Alfred, I–”
“I’m sorry sir, but that will have to wait. There’s something more important.”
“Nothing is more important than this. Nothing.”
“I assure you, this is, sir. It’s Grayson.”
Icewater runs down your spine.
“I was gone for only a moment, sir. I left him in the care of Mr. Fox. He… Broke free from his restraints, attacked Lucius…”
“And? Where is he, Alfred?”
“He’s… He’s gone, sir.”