by David J. LoTempio
Special thanks to Nicolas Juzda and David R. Black for creative input
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
Prologue: A letter to Clark
Ive gone and done it. Ive burned my JLA membership card (see attached) and Ive left the Watchtower for Earth. I know what youre thinking - "How could Batman, in good conscience, leave the Watchtower when a super virus is infecting heroes and villains, and altering our minds."
My "good conscience" had left me some time ago. When I was first infected with the virus, in fact. All that time, Ive spent acting like the strong hero struggling to preserve his decency. It wasnt hard with you, Jonn and the rest so concerned about studying the virus. Dont you think my performance was excellent? I deserve an Oscar.
Take a look at the Earth outside our windows on the moon, Clark. What do you see? I see a flat world with flat people living flat lives. From the Earth, we look the same way. Flat heroes. Flat lives. Im sick of it. I deserve better.
This virus has shown me something. Im tired being a hero. Ive been fighting crime in Gotham for too many years. What has it gotten me?
Has it brought my parents back from the dead? No.
Has it made Gotham a better place to live? No. Although, you must admit the subsequent plagues and earthquakes were entirely out of my hands.
For too many years, Ive ministered for justice chaste, sacrosanct, and vigilant. No more. It is time Bruce Wayne, international playboy millionaire, and Batman, dark knight, became one. I want to buy the most beautiful women with my good looks. I want to plant a kiss on the nipple of the Earth and suck its life. I will shine like an angel but ride like a whore.
While you were in the other room watching cells divide, I took it upon myself to sabotage the teleport tubes. Dont bother trying to use them.
Is the world sinister, Clark?
Part 1: The Garden Bed
"Jim Gordon, you look like a pig."
And he did. Dirt covered his haunches. It filled his mustache. The hazy, misty morning in Gotham made the soil of the garden stick to his every inch. He jammed his shovel in the earth and turned to see his daughter Barbara cover her face. He "oinked" his response.
"Is this a venerable, retired Police Commissioner, or a barnyard animal," she asked between her fingers.
Gordon slowly got up from his garden and scrambled across the patio towards his daughter. He oinked and sniffed loudly. Barbara Gordon turned her wheelchair away from her father, but her rubber wheel became lodged in the patio door track. She squealed as her father rutted about her hair and neck, depositing dirt therein. "Baa U Ram," she yelled. "Stop! Baa U Ram!"
Gordon hugged his daughter. He had little family left in this world, and Barbara was the only reminder of better days. He placed a dirty kiss on her cheek. "That only works for talking pigs, dear," he said, "and not the daughters of talking pigs."
"Does it work if theyre retired," she asked.
"No, Im sorry," he replied. "Retired police officers are notoriously hard headed." Gordon his daughters wheel and freed it. They entered the kitchen and Barbara noticed the scent of ammonia. The room was impossibly clean for a single man.
He was a cop his whole life and now that he was off the streets his attention was focused on creating order in his new world. Each room was cleaned once per week. The garden was watered twice per day. Weeding was always performed in the morning. Whites were washed with whites, blacks with blacks, and bright colors in cold water. Gordon exchanged sidewalk savagery for the quiet anarchy under the household bed.
Barbara drew her finger across the kitchen table - no dust and no dirt. She felt the electric tingle of well-waxed wood. While part of her was worried about this behavior, she contemplated asking her father to visit her apartment. Cleaning a house is a form of therapy not a profession. Becoming a slave to Endust was relegating your life to a set of finely prescribed directions: hold life upright; spray surface from approximately 6 inches away; rub life into the surface with clean cloth in a circular motion; repeat as needed.
"What brings you over, Barbara," Gordon asked his daughter.
"I havent seen you in weeks, Dad. My "consulting" keeps me too busy to get over here often. Plus, you havent returned my calls. I just wanted to see how youve been doing since your retirement." The word, retirement, brought a sigh to Gordons lips. Below the sound of her wheels, Barbara could hear three wheezes from her fathers chest.
Gordon said nothing. He took a canister of coffee out of his cupboard and filled a filter. Making coffee was a subtle ministry. The simple process gave him direction. He poured cold water into his coffee machine. It gurgled like a baby, spitting hot steam and coffee bits. "Oh, Im doing about as well as a man can." He seemed to be speaking to his empty mug. "Lets see, in the past year Ive seen my wife killed by the Joker, Gotham ruined by an earthquake, Ive seen its residents reduced to barbarism, and been shot three times in the chest. Do you think there was a message?" He handed a mug to Barbara and filled it with coffee.
"Lets be mature, Dad. Youre reading too much into it. None of those things were directly connected."
"Oh yes they were. Theyre responsible for my retirement." Gordon liked his coffee good and strong - a style all policemen learned to crave. It was your only friend on cold stakeouts, four days in a car with only the dispatcher for a friend. He took a sip from his good friend the coffee mug - its rich enamel finish holding his breath.
Barbara liked her coffee strong, too. Being the daughter of a policeman inclined her towards certain traits. Asking tough questions was one of them. "I was wondering. How much of your retirement was to spite Batman?"
Gordon considered lying to his daughter. How dare she ask that question. How dare she make her father admit to being old, to being cankerous. "Some of it," he said. "All of it. Christ, I dont want to know. Damn it, Barbara. Why in Gods name do you have to bring him into it? I told him then and Ill tell you now not everything in this city has to be about Batman. Not by half of it."
He took a long drink from his coffee. Maybe it was the drink, or it could have been the question, but Gordon could feel a bitter thing rising in his throat. "A better question," he said, "is how much was to spite Sarah."
Sarah Essen-Gordon died an unglamorous death at the hands of the Joker. She had stayed by Jim Gordons side through many a terror. They forged something stronger than marriage while rebuilding Gotham block by block after the earthquake. Barbara knew her stepmother should be here, working in the garden beside her father. Instead, she became a martyr to his cause. Could her father really resent Sarah for dying? Could he really be that selfish? The thoughts repelled Barbara. "Come on, Dad. You can't be serious. Dont demean Sarahs sacrifice with pity."
"Pity. This damn city deserves something more than pity. I held this City together by shoestrings. I gave my wife for this City. But for whom? Half the city left after the earthquake. Batman left and then came back to abandon me after my shooting. And Sarah... She left me."
Gordon wiped his brow. "Damn, I was supposed to die like a hero. I was supposed to die. Not Sarah."
Barbara looked at her father. He had spent so much time cleaning his home that he neglected to purge himself of the guilt over a dead wife. Of the shame of weakness after being shot. Of the betrayal of loyalty by the Batman. He was going to eat himself up. He needed help and she needed time to address this situation.
"I feel like a fish thats been baited."
What can a daughter say to comfort her father? But there are barriers of age, respect and blood that separate parent from child. Why do things have to be so damn complicated?
She reached her hand out but her chair bounced off the kitchen table leg. She grazed a pile of letters, scattering them across the floor. As she gathered them, her eyes caught a name. She held the letter to her father. "Have you seen Bruce Wayne lately? Why did he send you a letter?"
"No. I havent seen him. Why do you ask?"
"He came by the other day but I was too busy. He was acting strange. I thought he might be sick."
Gordon was puzzled. "If you didn't let him in, how did you know he was sick?"
The Gotham mist congealed against the window - a touch of a world that was older. Barbara stared at it. "Oh, I just had a feeling."
The phone rang and Gordon grabbed it. He was happy for the distraction.
"Im looking for James Gordon, the retired Police Commissioner for Gotham," the voice said on the other line.
"This is Gordon. What do you want!"
"You heard me - simple question with a simple response. What do you want?''
"Mr. Gordon. I'm James Garrison, Aide to President Lex Luthor, and Im calling on his behalf. Your country has need of your expertise."
"My expertise? Im retired, young man. The best advice I could give President Luthor is wear a hat. Hell catch a wicked burn otherwise."
"President Luthor requires someone experienced with understanding the criminal mind."
"Why don't you call the Department of Justice. Or better yet, the FBI. I recall they might have a modicum of expertise regarding crime."
"Frankly Mr. Gordon, no one, other than yourself, has the wealth of personal experience that we are looking for. I would love to discuss this further in private."
Barbara listened closely to the conversation. This was an opportunity for her father to break out of his funk. This was an activity his retirement couldn't offer. She wheeled herself to her father. She grabbed his sleeve and mouthed her encouragement. Gordon yanked his sleeve away and turned from her. "I understand god damn it," he yelled.
"Excellent. Ill be waiting outside in 15 minutes."
"Hold on a minute. I'm happily retired. I don't need this work, and Luthor is the most powerful man in the world."
Gordon looked at his mail. Luthors face was spread across the cover of TIME. "He's the Man of The Year for Christ's sake. Can't he get someone else?"
"President Luthors faith in the FBI has been shaken by the Robert Hanssen incident. He is quite worried about potential spying involved with our situation."
Barbara grabbed the magazine and slapped her father with it. The martyr act infuriated her. Her father was acting like an idiot. He needed work. He needed a purpose to act as a compass out of his own personal misery. Why was every man in Gotham, from Batman to Gordon, insanely self-absorbed?
"Alright, Garrison. I'll talk with you if only to get some peace. Can you give me any specifics?"
"I was asked to discuss details in person, and in a secure setting."
"Well, I need to wash up and get some fresh clothes. Can we meet in an hour?"
"The situation is urgent. Don't worry about getting clean. I'll be down stairs in 15 minutes."
Gordon was uncertain about this turn of events. Luthor was hardly a saint and Gordon had the mind of a cop. He remembered Luthor's crimes. Six years ago he leveled the city of Metropolis in a fit of anger. The diagnosis of a degenerative disease had set the multi-millionaire on a dying rampage. He was reviled then - a multi-million dollar monstrosity. There were other rumors too; whispers of murder, blackmail and assassinations. America hardly remembered.
Luthor was fit and trim, cured of his ailment. Metropolis was a technological city of wonder, largely due to Luthor's ingenuity. It was funny really. Gordon lost his wife and took three bullets in the chest for his city; he got a pension, a garden and sometimes a break on parking tickets. Luthor ruins his city, acquires a killer disease, and is public enemy #1 yet he became the president of the United States. What kind of help could he want? Of what use was Gordon to him? Surely that's all Gordon was to Luthor - a tool. Gordon knew that tools come in different sizes and for different purposes. Some were for gardening and others for killing. God help Jim Gordon. Luthor had used both.
"I need to leave immediately, Barbara."
"I heard. Sounds exciting. Maybe it has something to do with the Vile Virus."
"Whom better than a Gotham cop knows vile?" Gordon surveyed his apartment looking for an excuse to stay. He had kept it pristine. He had nothing better to do after all. "Can you watch the garden? Water the tomatoes. I have a few bills that arrived in the mail."
"Ill be glad to take care of it Dad. I wish I could do more."
Gordon quickly washed himself and grabbed the only suit that fit him anymore. He was downstairs in less than 20 minutes.
A night blue Ford Taurus was waiting by the sidewalk. The driver was a young, well-dressed African-American in his late 20s. He looked like hed grown up with Nick-At-Night reruns. The suit was the best you could find between the covers of GQ.
"Commissioner Gordon," Garrison said. "Come on in."
"Thats Retired Commissioner."
Barbara watched her father drive away. She blew him a kiss and turned back towards the kitchen. She wanted to take care of those bills. The letter from Bruce Wayne lay askew from the rest of the pile. It was a plain white envelope. In the sunlight, she saw the shadow of a note.
Barbara Gordon was privy to several secrets, not the least of which was Bruce Wayne was Batman. She also knew that Batman was supposed to be quarantined on the moon, in the JLA Watchtower. What was the note then? A prescription? A request to send the latest Elmore Leonard novel?
Her utility knife sliced the envelope open. The aroma of cologne immediately escaped. She inhaled deeply. She took out the note, and scribbled on it was a picture of a bat with a tongue sticking out from it. Underneath the bat was the word VILE.
Barbara Gordon let out a forceful sneeze, and her sinuses filled with weight. Suddenly, she didnt feel like watching her fathers garden. She felt evil.
Part 2: Goyas Sleep of Reason
"You are going to love this." Blue Beetle was jazzed and directed attention towards his special aircraft, the Bug. Booster Gold, erstwhile celebrity hero recognized the mood. Beetle was like a teenager with Hyperactivity Disorder but without the Ritalin. Too bad, Booster felt like dropping a few tabs of Ritalin.
Beetle led Booster inside the craft. A circle of crystal lens lay around the belly, like a series of large-scale movie projectors. Beetle lay a top one, his feet swinging in the air. "Three words - Synchronized Laser Array like those phazer banks on STAR TREK. Set to slay Mr. Sulu."
"Yeah but what good is it," Booster asked.
"Oh, I dont know. I was thinking about writing a little love note in burning homes to those losers stuck in the JLA Watchtower. Something like Join the fun in burning Detroit or Quit peeking in fiery shades of Metropolis."
Booster Gold hadnt been one to condone mass destruction but since infection with the Vile Virus he had begun to reconsider the media grabbing potential. "Sounds like fun, Beetle. But don't you think that the air force would shoot you down? They might take exception with a giant, flying Bug burning holes in American cities.''
"Booster, we're the Lollypop Guild. We're Fonzi and Richie! We're too cool to be touched. Get with the program." Beetle threw his hands up.
The warehouse door opened and the villain Prometheus stepped into the room. His metallic nightstick pulsed beneath his white cape. The young anarchist had made a name for himself while overthrowing the Justice League and attempting to install a world order of no order at all. "Why is it that wherever I go," he said, "I meet people living in the past? Nobody cares about Fonzi anymore. This is 2001. Were living in the Matrix generation, which is why I'm cool and you're yesterday's nostalgia. This is the Love and Darkness and My Sidearm generation."
Beetles sneer drew a line in the air. Prometheus was barely as old as him but with about ten pounds more muscle. Plus, he looked good in his helmet and leather attire. Blue Beetle just looked like the Tick a fool. "What brings you here to the Beetle's Lair?"
"Im just here for Batmans summit. Im assuming he wants to consolidate our forces against Hell to the chief Lex Luthor. I plan to polish his head with my nightstick."
"Excellent," Booster said. ''I always wanted to tattoo LOSER on his big baldhead. Preferably using a rusty can opener." Booster fired a long, lazy beam from his wrist blasters, cutting a large round head in concrete. A blazing X crossed its face.
Beetle turned to his friend. "What do you have against Charlie Brown."
"That's supposed to be Luthor. What are you - an idiot?"
They were like children to Prometheus, two boys pretending to be adults. His disgust for them wasn't a secret but Batman needed pawns. Even Prometheus was a pawn to the Dark Knight; conscripted into his little crusade against decency. Since then, Prometheus had become initiated into the grand Vile Vial conspiracy. International terrorist, Ras al Ghul had released the virus in the hopes of disrupting the forces of justice. It didnt hurt that he was able to convert his greatest rival, Batman, to his cause. Together, Ras al Ghul and Batman were becoming an unstoppable terrorist force.
"You really seem to enjoy reminding us of how cool you are, Prometheus," Beetle said. With your smarmy Ive-got-technology-thousands-of-years-more-advanced-than-Earths baloney. How come you dont remind people that you got your butt whipped twice by Batman? Once wasnt good enough. No baby, Prometheus needs double the trouble on his butt."
Booster Gold stepped into the crisscross light cast by a skylight. His deep blue and gold costume sparkled. "You must be so jealous of sharing the lime light with us."
"Excuse me," Prometheus replied.
"You know," Booster said, "Sharing the attention with a pair a handsome heroes with super model bodies. Were the new standard bearers for crime, and damned if we arent good-looking. I just got an email today from some ladies at WGBS-TV to destroy their Metropolis offices. Everybody wants us. I dont notice anybody writing to you. Looks like we stole your fire, buddy."
Prometheus wasnt going to dignify their goading with a retort, but his anger seethed with each of their barbs.
Outside, the roar of engines announced the arrival of Batman. The Dark Knight entered the room like a general. Two women, Power Girl and Fire, flanked him like female Gestapo.
Beetle whistled the Emperors Theme from Star Wars and finished it with a slow, sultry end as the two heroines passed. They were heroes once, and had worked along side Booster and Beetle in the Justice League. Back in the day, their boundless bounce in hip and chest enlisted thousands of teenage boys in their fan clubs. They werent concerned with Fires flames or Power Girls strength; instead their eyes traced every line on their tight costumes.
The advent of the Vile Virus had changed this scenario. Instead of bright and full costumes, the women wore tan, puritanical tunics over dark coveralls. Their breasts were bound. Power Girl and Fire had become soldiers in the fight for female freedom from male objectification. One shape was their lord and it was anatomically incorrect. They believed in a woman's right to the ultimate control of her body - virago imago the image of the courageous woman. They were prepared to destroy their enemies by fist or fire.
Booster and Beetle snapped to attention and saluted them as they entered. "Where were you, Bats," Beetle said.
"I was in Afghanistan; blowing up Buddhas with the Taleban. You havent lived until youve detonated a rocket up the nostril of a 176-foot stone Buddha. Its like crushing prayers."
Batman seemed insufferably pleased with himself. His stance was almost relaxed. Booster Gold had never know Batman to act like this and was used to the overly-serious Bat-up-his-butt Man. "Wont Ras al Ghul take offense to that," he asked. "Hes sponsoring our revolutionary activities and is your partner after all. Doesnt he conserve things like that?"
A friendly arm draped itself along Boosters back. "I am your benefactor, Booster," the Dark Knight said. "If not for me, you and Beetle would still be spray painting Booster Gold Was Here across the bust of Wonder Womans statue in Boston. Hardly the attention worthy of such a handsome hero as yourself."
He gently pulled Booster nose to nose. "You could learn something from the Taleban. They know how important it is to control the image of your society. Its a spell really. A conjuration. By removing the offending image, they are able to make room for a new one."
"We know what youre talking about Batman," Power Girl said. She and Fire had found a collection of Blue Beetles magazines Stuff, Maxim, Playboy, Female Body Builders, and Heavy Metal. Every cover held a woman covered more by sweat than clothes. "Image is a powerful tool for control. Men have subtly controlled the image of women; planting images of weak, unadorned women in the minds of boys like buds. Theyve arrested the evolution of the Virago Imago for centuries"
Fire lit the magazines with her powers. "Did you know that Lex Luthor and Lex Corp have significant investment holdings in media like AOL Time Warner, WGBS, Conde Nast. From television to comic books, Luthor has been controlling the image of women like a commodity. Power Girl and I are taking it back."
Batman drew in a deep breath, savoring the pheromones of evil. "Im sick, ladies and gentlemen. Sick of the hypocrisy and the lies and the sins excreted by Lex Luthor. This criminal has the impertinence to assume the respected political position of the Presidency. Lets face it I deserve it." He looked to everyone for confirmation.
"Right on brother," Prometheus assented. "Take it to the bridge."
"Oh I intend too." Batman stood over Booster Golds crude drawing of Luthor. He pointed to it. "Killing him is too good. I want to see him sweat first. If Americas sick, weve just got to sweat it out. Were going to reveal Luthor for the crook he is before the American public. Were going to invade Metropolis and steal incriminating evidence from Lex Corp. Once hes squirming, well put him out of his misery."
"Wouldnt this be considered treason?" Booster seemed concerned. "How will that affect my popularity?"
Prometheus shook his head. Booster Golds vanity took on a powerful gravity after infection with the Vile Virus. It was a lead weight around his vision. "Buy a copy of the program," Prometheus said. "The Vile Virus is a ritual. Ras al Ghul, Batman, us were purifying the world of its dross and remaking it in our own image. In the end, what the public thinks wont matter. It will just be a quaint nostalgic notion, like Presidents that you can trust. Im all for this! One Grande order of karmic justice, please; with skim milk, no sugar."
"We begin our offensive this afternoon. Our target will be Metropolis, city of splendor, city of shiny LCD lights and Superman afternoons. How I cant wait to make it cry tears"
Prometheus opened an iBook laptop. "Do you have any messages for our online audience?"
"Tell them order is highly over-rated. Civilization is ruled by one thing and that is appetite. I plan to eat well in Metropolis. Our viewers can join us there and raise their hands if theyre tired of being nice. Superman is a big red tyrant. Its time we started the revolution."
"So what are we going to call our one nation under Batman? No nation is going to take us seriously if we name it Batland? Ive got to admit that I wouldnt want to live in the State of Blue Beetle, but Boobie-ville might be nice." Beetle stretched his goggles towards Power Girl and Fire. Mere inches from their bosoms, he released them and let out a squeal of laughter. "Dont worry ladies. Im a certified Doctor of Boobalogy."
Power Girl snapped a metal pipe and swung at Blue Beetle. The virus did not dull his acrobatic skill and he deftly avoided the swing. "Remember, were all on the same team for now ladies."
Prometheus used Beetles disturbance to take Batman aside. "I have some bad news," he whispered. "Luthor has enlisted Gordon."
"You were supposed to take care of Gordon."
"It seems that he doesn't like to read his mail. That's not all the bad news." Prometheus handed a copy of Time to the Dark Knight.
"Man of the Year." He flipped to the article. It contained several features on Luthor: a diagram of the new Metropolis and how he revitalized the city. A yellow post-it covered a large photo spread. Batman tore it away. Beneath was a montage of Luthor the philanthropist, Luthor the captain of industry, Luthor the Savior of Gotham, and Luthor the Celebrity. On his arm was a woman with a trim, athletic body. Full hair. She sparkled with something halfway between sin and satin. The caption said her name was Felicia Hardy but Batman knew it was an alias.
"What Is Catwoman doing with Luthor!"
"I think she said her motivations were love and money. But you were beating the spit out of me when she said it so I could be wrong. Either Luthors a better lover or hes got a bigger bank account than you."
Batman had such pleasures waiting for Catwoman before this betrayal. She was to be his mistress in the New World Order. Now, he only thought of the terrors he would inflict on her. He tore the magazine and tossed it upon Fires burning collection.
"How could this happen, Booster," Beetle asked. He and Booster Gold had overheard the meat of the conversation.
"What," Booster replied.
"You know, Lex Luthor and the girl next door?" Beetle crossed his fingers and spanked his palms.
"Like Shaggy sings, Just say it wasnt you."
Beetle began to sway his butt to a hidden beat. Jamaican voices filled his head and fueled his body with a R&B rhythm. Teenage booty music. He began to sing - "Picture this, we were both butt-naked banging on the bathroom floor. How could I forget that I had given Batman an extra key? All this time he was standing there he never took his eyes off me."
"Beetle," Booster interjected. "If you want to be a true player youve got to act like Lex Luthor. Say it wasnt you."
Beetle began spanking himself as he swiveled across the floor. "But Batman caught me on the counter, saw me banging on the sofa. I even had Lex in the shower; Batman even caught me on camera. He saw the marks on my shoulder. Heard the words I told him, heard the screams get louder. He stayed until it was over."
The pair laughed deep bellows. The meeting had really become too serious for them virago imago, karmic justice, and presidential character assassination none of that mattered to the boys. It was all for the fun. Beetle turned to Batman. "Bats, you may think youre a player but youve still got a lot to learn."
Batman laughed. He could appreciate Beetles point of view. It was humbling really. Nothing is better for a leader to know than if hes wearing clay shoes. For a moment, he and Beetle shared a mental sympathy, and then Beetle felt himself lifted into the air.
Batmans arm was curled around his throat. The muscles in Beetles neck screamed as the weight of his body pulled at his head. The concrete met him between the shoulder blades, popping the breath out of him. Stunned, he could do nothing as Batman pressed something beneath his shoulder blades and hyper-extended his arms above his head. Batman put his boot on Beetles back and pressed his head to the floor.
"Youre begging for a hole in the head, Bats." Booster leveled his wrist blasters towards Batman. Energy and light bounced in the air like a neon sign, but nothing fired. Booster stared dumbly at his devices until he saw Prometheus nightstick gently tap his chin. He had a habit of stealing fire from others.
Batman continued to hold Beetle to the ground. He waved Power Girl over towards them. "I think youre absolutely correct, Beetle. Luthor is a player, and Ill probably need plenty of torturing practice to make him scream."
Fire knelt over Beetle. He could feel his back warming up. Beetle squirmed. "You cant do this! Im one of your own men!"
"We all get the leaders we deserve, Beetle. Too bad you got me."
Part 3: All The Presidents Men
Gordon entered the room a dapper man with a good pair of Bacco Bucci shoes; the shoebox claimed Performance Footwear for the Fashionably Inclined. Garrison had insisted on buying Gordon two new wardrobes on the way to the White House. He said the President wanted him to look good, and that it was the least they could do after pulling Gordon out of retirement. Gordon could hardly refuse; his old suit fit like a tight glove on a walrus.
The room was filled with the Presidents Cabinet, their staff, and a number of former super villains, but one man commanded the attention of the whole room - Lex Luthor. He stood there unrecognized; a speck in a sea of dark flannel suits and the electronic color of cell phones. Luthor looked up from a file. He halted his conversation, and all eyes followed the lull through the air towards Gordon. The President handed a file to his aide and met Gordon halfway through the room. Luthors every movement had savoir-faire.
Lex Luthor sized Gordon up. "You're looking good Gordon. Heard you took three bullets in the chest. You're up and around, strong, we should all be so lucky."
"Baloney," Gordon replied and grabbed two hunks of flesh around his waist "I found 20 pounds. My chest whistles when I walk too fast. How about I put three bullets into your chest and see how you like it?"
"That would certainly save us the trouble of this meeting." The speaker was Amanda Waller, a formidable woman with the disposition of a brick out house. She was Luthors Secretary on Metahuman Affairs. Waller knew the tooth and nail world of Washington, DC better than did anyone in the room. She was one of the few people who could be openly critical to the President.
Luthor directed Gordon to his leather-backed chair around the conference table. "Everyone here, Im sure, is aware of James Gordon and his impeccable reputation. Its fair to say Gotham City wouldnt exist without his dedication. A man of his stature is not often seen. Let me introduce everyone to you, James."
Gordon already knew most of the Presidents Cabinet by reputation. General Rock, Chief of Staff, was a legendary soldier during World War 2. General Lane, Secretary of Defense, had served prominent and distinguished tours in Vietnam and the Middle East. Catherine Grant was a famous anchorwoman at WGBS-TV before becoming the White House Press Secretary.
Luthor gestured to a group of four superhumans. "These gentlemen are representatives from the Justice League Task Force: Brainstorm, Anarky, Firefist and the Weather Wizard."
Gordon knew some of them. Brainstorm was hard to forget with his conical helmet that channeled stellar energy. Supposedly, it gave the scientist the power of mind-over-matter, but it didnt stop anyone from insulting him to his face. The various aides liked to add the phrase - vast quantities to all of Brainstorms sentences. They also liked to ask him if he was from France.
Firefist was an arsonist from Chicago whom had tangled with the Blue Beetle once or twice. His oversized yellow helmet and gloves were garish and comical. He stank of sulfur and even his teammates seemed to sit apart from him.
The Weather Wizard was the most infamous of the villains. He had fought the Flash on several occasions using his technological wand to command the weather. His smirk was as wiry as his hair; a tangle of thin, oily strands. He absentmindedly picked his teeth with the wand point, occasionally creating miniature bellows and lightning.
Anarky stood proud beside this rough collection. He was the most mysterious of the batch with his face concealed beneath a placid yellow mask and his form draped by an Inquisitors uniform in rich crimson. His name was Lonnie Machin and he was a 15-year-old genius. And like many adolescents who've read too much sociopolitical philosophy, and with not enough experience with how the world really operates, Anarky was a believer in anarchism.
"I seem to recall," Gordon said, "That young Anarky here was opposed to all governments. Isnt defending the United States hypocritical?"
"Lets be honest, I was a worm making the heart of America rotten. But after infection, Ive realized that governments are the inevitable products of any society. We can only move forward as a culture if common purpose and direction unite us. I was thinking about changing my name to The Republican, but who wants to dress like an elephant."
"Think nothing of it, young man. Now that Gordon is here, we better provide an overview of our evidence." He turned to Gordon. "James, Im hoping you can offer some insight into our enemy. Ms. Waller, give him the rundown."
Waller stood up and approached a slowly descending projection screen. "About one week ago, the Vile Virus was released at Belle Reve Prison. This customized virus produces profound bi-polar personality shifts among infected individuals. At the time, Belle Reve was the meeting site of a veritable army of super villains and heroes, notably the Justice League. Simply put, heroes became villains and vice versa."
Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, raised her hand for attention. She didnt wait to be recognized. "Mr. President, is it true that youre canceling the grant to the Atlantean Embassy to reimburse bio-tech companies for work on the vaccine? The money was supposed to pay for clean up of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. I feel the need to remind the President that this is an initiative that will significantly improve our waterways, as well as our relations with a sovereign nation."
"Im well aware of what the money was supposed to pay for, Ms. Norton. Unfortunately, the Atlanteans will have to live with dead fish a little longer."
The President turned his chair towards Secretary Waller, signaling that the discussion was over. He pursed his lips and gave a magnanimous gesture, as if he were apologizing for the interruption.
Waller clicked the display control and a picture of the Batman appeared. "The President has been attacked by a number of assailants over the past week. We believe these attacks to be coordinated by one man - the Batman."
A picture of the city, swamped by water appeared on the screen. Gordon estimated the waters to be 10 feet high. "Washington, D.C. is currently pumping out water from an attack by Aquaman. Prior to that, Green Lantern came looking for the President but only succeeded in attacking one of the stand-ins."
"How is Mr. Morrison doing" Luthor said.
"Grant is recovering from Green Lantern's brainwashing," Garrison replied. "He still thinks he's invisible, but we're positive a powerful shock can bring him back to reality. A full IRS tax audit should do it."
"We've also received a number of threats to the President. Most recently, the former heroines Fire and Power Girl attacked several of Lex Corp's magazine holdings. They claimed that President Luthor is a 'symbol of erectile dysfunction," that he was actively undermining the freedom of women through objectification. The White House web site was vandalized and imprinted with the phrase - 'I'll be Luthor's back door man' - across all the screens. Finally, the Department of Defense's servers were hit with a Denial of Service attack."
Catherine Grant raised her hand. "I can confirm reports that high school students throughout the country have received email messages from the Department of Education advocating anarchy in the educational system. Plans detailing how to make homemade tear gas and explosive light bulbs were printed in a number of periodicals including the New York Times, the Daily Planet, and Wall Street Journal. No one knows how the documents were compromised."
Waller clapper her hands in irritation. She didnt like it when she was ignored. "Now, we are looking for an opening; an angle that will allow us to find Batman or stop these attacks. Obviously, the security of the United States is in grave danger."
"Excuse me, Mr. President," Garrison interrupted the meeting. He held a cellphone close to his face. "We have a report that Bruce Wayne is on the steps of Congress. He's holding a press conference demanding you enforce the Anti-Trust laws. He claims that Lex Corp is a monopoly and has unfair market advantage because of your position."
"That's a bit of a nuisance. Does he have any support on the floor?"
"Yes, Representatives Newsom and Cross. He claims hell produce evidence of Lex Corps illegal activities tomorrow at one o-clock."
"That's not the only problem," Waller added. She too was listening to a frantic voice over a cellphone. "Reports are coming in that Metropolis is under attack by Power Girl, Fire and Booster Gold. The city is requesting help."
"We can't let the old place down now. General Lane, arrange for immediate air transport to Metropolis. I expect Sectary Waller and Gordon to join us.
The meeting quickly adjourned and Gordon found himself ushered along with the President, Waller and the superhumans. Everything was moving very quickly. How were they sure that Batman was involved with these attacks? Gordon could see no evidence, and without evidence, he had nothing but supposition to guide him. The situation was too matter of fact, which told Gordon that a deeper current lay beneath these events. Only by going along could he hope to discover its meaning. And so, Gordon got on the plane to Metropolis, and made sure that he had packed his pistol.
Part 4: Start the Commotion
The Presidential helicopters came in low over the burning city of Metropolis. Their rotors curled tendrils of smoke into gentle somersaults of burning ash. Metropolis the City of Wonders didnt seem so wonderful today.
Gordon turned to Garrison. "What's it like working for Luthor? Must be interesting working for a man who almost destroyed Metropolis on his own?"
"It's my understanding that the Chief Executive was afflicted by a debilitating condition at the time. He was not in control of his own actions. He's proved his true nature many times over since then saving the world when the sun eater attacked, saving Gotham City after its earthquake. I assume you remember how he helped Gotham?"
"A city in ruins is not something you would soon forget. Nor how a mercenary whom only works for extremely wealthy and powerful people destroyed the citys records. It was amazing how Luthor showed up immediately afterwards to clean up the mess. And clean up in unclaimed real estate."
"Is this an example of fine police instincts, Gordon? Or have you been watching too much NYPD Blue?"
"Im just a curious voter" was Gordons reply.
Over their helmet microphones they could hear Secretary Amanda Waller bark commands. "Power Girl is the most powerful target out there. We dont have anyone with the strength to match her so Im taking a trick from the old Suicide Squad - well out think her. Brainstorms mind over matter helmet will be responsible for taking down Power Girl. Since Firefist is familiar with flames, he gets the heroine Fire. Booster Gold is just a pretty boy with gadgets, so a good match would be Anarky. Weather Wizard, you lend support to whoever needs it, but try to put out some of the larger fires."
"What are your impressions, Jim," Luthor asked.
"I think that this isnt how Batman normally works. Big public displays of violence arent his bag. On the other hand, hes not against using them as misdirection. I think hes up to something else."
Garrison turned to Gordon. "Reports say that approximately 60 people have already been injured during this rampage. Not to mention the hundreds trapped in subways and office buildings. Lets a bit much for a diversion, dont you think?"
"All do respect, Garrison, but your President asked me to give my opinion on Batman. Maybe hes not behind this attack. Maybe your information is wrong."
"Why would Batman stage this production," Luthor asked. "Why Metropolis and not Washington, DC? Wouldnt that be easier?" Luthor stared at Gordon with a gaze that could wither the strongest lobbyist in Washington. He expected a good answer.
"Hes after something. Something to discredit you, Id guess. Speaking hypothetically, hed be after something like transactions linking you with a certain mercenary whom destroyed Gothams records. Or something explaining why Luthors dead stepfather assassinated the former mayor of Metropolis. If such records existed of course."
Luthor weighed Gordons words and then leaned towards the helicopters pilot. "Take us to Lex Corp Headquarters," he said. "We can monitor the battles from there and check on security."
"This Waller is supposed to be some kind of tactician, right," Firefist asked. He was riding with Brainstorm on a skysled, a miniature flying cycle. "How does she expect me to fight Fire with fire?"
"I seem to recall," Brainstorm said, "that you utilize so-called Greek Fire, which has the curious property of being inextinguishable until it burns out. Your answer is right there, isnt it? Just lather the woman with a good dosing of Greek Fire and youll incapacitate her."
"Wont that hurt her?"
"Oh come now. The woman can become a blazing bonfire. Im sure the Greek Fire will just exhaust her supply of oxygen. Now do try to concentrate on the matter at hand. Im coming in for a landing."
The skysled descended into the gathering smoke. A billboard of Destinys Child was scorched with the words GENOTRAITORS. The Metropolis offices of Maxim burned with hate. Firefist jumped to the ground. Ashes from thousands of magazines filled the air like a black snowfall. Everywhere they turned, burns dulled the bright, shining edges of Metropolis.
"Where do you suppose they are," Firefist asked.
A pair of women rushed screaming out of a Victorias Secret across the street. Another women tossed bodily through a massive plate glass window followed them. The stores interior was lit by a blaze, and burning lace and satin floated in the air like a flock of birds. Firefist and Brainstorm saw two silhouettes emerge from the fire.
"Traitors," the tall one yelled. "Push-up bras, thongs, garters these are the new chains of female slavery. We command the design of our bodies and not men!"
The shorter figure paused by a mannequin adorned with silky underwear and angelic wings. A gentle caress set it on fire and the light revealed the pair as Fire and Power Girl.
Fire pointed towards Brainstorm.
"Look at that one, Power Girl," she said. "Hes obvious over-compensating for masculine inferiority with that phallic shaped helmet."
"Im familiar with Brainstorm," Power Girl replied. "A true symbol of male edification if ever there was one. He wants you think his helmet channels stellar energy, but its just a cover for pleasuring his mammoth ego. Id like to break him. You can have the stout one with the large gloves."
Brainstorm felt like a little boy as he sped his skysled away from Power Girl. Her strength and speed were frightening. She was a foreign entity, embodying a blunt female force. For a moment, he whimsically thought she should rename herself "Girl Power."
He dove beneath an overpass and unleashed a pair of starbolts from his helmet. Their weird energies played with the atomic structure of the concrete and steel. Power Girl was astonished to see the overpass separate into a pair of arms that wrapped around her.
Firefist was fairing much worse. Brainstorms plan had sounded good but failed in execution. Fire and her green flames were able to easily deflect his Greek Fire. He was beginning to think that pitting a former arsonist against a flame-powered heroine was a bad idea.
"Do you realize how silly you look with those yellow, oven mitt gloves," Fire asked. "Youre the kind of slow-brained male ape that takes comfort in protective costumes." She directed her powers to the road and melted the asphalt around Firefists feet.
Poor Firefist felt waves of sweat pour under his helmet. This was his end. In desperation, he dosed the heroine with his entire canister of Greek Fire; a crackling arch of orange liquid engulfed her. The street flared with terrible fury as the heroine absorbed the essence. Firefist could barely make out her shape as she approached him. Her steps boiled concrete.
The sky erupted with thunder and Firefist was thrown to his knees. A massive downpour of rain fell, obscuring the buildings but not Fires flare. It was the Weather Wizard throwing hell and high water at the blazing heroine. Wave after wave of water poured from the sky, vainly seeking to extinguish her power.
Once or twice, Fire attempted to fly into the sky but the Weather Wizard pummeled her with thunder. She dropped to the ground, covering her face from the lashing rain. In a flash, Weather Wizard changed the storm into a frigid blast of air that froze the defeated woman. The Weather Wizard turned to the shivering Firefist and helped him to his feet.
"No tears, buddy," he said. "Waller figured it would be better to use you as a decoy against her. She left the real job to a professional."
A shadow lay across the erstwhile heroes and they looked up. The hovering figure asked "The question is professional what?"
A pair of golden beams lanced out from the figure and threw Firefist and the Weather Wizard across the street. Booster Gold descended slowly to the ground. Surveying the scene, he quickly determined that both men were out cold. A WGBS news truck pulled up to the scene - prompting Booster to rush to Fires side. As the news crew recorded the action, Booster dramatically lifted Fire into his arms and carried her to a street bench. He put on his best look of concerned sorrow and turned to the cameras.
"Why must our heroines be misunderstood," he cried. "Woe for our society, when we cant accept fabulous looking women with opinions and brains. We should give them love and empathy, and not act like President Luthor who is obviously threatened by anyone with a full head of hair." He struck a pose.
A crowd gathered in the water-sloughed streets. A teenage boy with a cane broke ranks and hobbled towards Booster Gold. "Can I get your autograph, Mr. Gold?"
"Of course, young man. Who should I make it out to?" The boy handed Booster a pad and marker.
"Make it From Booster to my buddy, Anarky."
"Anarky, thats a curious name." He wrote the inscription and handed the pad to the boy.
"Yeah. Its much more interesting than a vain name like Booster Gold." The boy lifted his cane and touched Booster. Electricity bounced in the air around Booster Gold and the news crew. Hair burned and electronics sparked as Booster and the crew collapsed to the ground. Anarky lightly tapped his rubber boots with the cane. "Sucker."
Brainstorm had succeeded in capturing Power Girl but her titanic strength was limitless. He knew this woman was near Supermans level of power and nothing made steel or rock could hold her. He threw a series of starbolts from his helmet and turned live electrical cables into snakes. The cables spit sparks as they crawled towards Power Girl. The air exploded as the cables latched onto her head. Brainstorm tentatively stepped back as Power Girl emerged from the destruction.
"Trying to lobotomize me, Brainstorm? How typical of a man to try and silence what he fears. Thats why Luthor sent you. He fears the future, but there are others who respect a womans power."
The speed of her attack was amazing. Before he knew it, Brainstorm was falling to the street and Power Girl was crushing his skysled in her hands. He felt his legs crack as they met the pavement. He gasped for air.
"Dont bother trying to breath," she said as she landed astride him. "Itll be over soon."
Hysteria gripped Brainstorm. Humiliation and fear circled around him, tightening his throat. He threw starbolts at her, hoping that he could control Power Girl just as he could control matter.
"Thats does it, you witch. Im turning you into a Stepford Wife! Fall damn you! Obey me!"
Power Girl felt her limbs tighten as the strange energy took over her body. But Brainstorm had chosen poorly. Loss of control was the ultimate fear for Power Girl, and fear was a force that could drive power through her veins. Brainstorm whimpered for his mommy as Power Girl broke gravity, leapt into the sky, and promptly fell from exhaustion. The pair lay together like two spent lovers.
"Get these two off the ground," Amanda Waller barked. The Presidential helicopters had arrived at Lex Corp Tower and found its roof top guards lying in a broken heap. "Garrison, get the President back in the helicopter and away from here. Hes still got to film that interview for Biography. We dont need him to be the Deadman of the Year."
Gordon watched as Luthor protested but everyone knew that Waller was right. And when she was right, she moved for no man or woman, much less the President of the United States. If the infected heroes were still here then a chance to physically take out Luthor would be a chance too good to miss. Gordon took out his revolver and counted the shells. He walked towards the elevator.
"Gordon," Waller yelled. "Where the hell do you think youre going?"
He held up a brochure for Lex Corp Tower. "This pamphlet claims that Lex Corp Tower has one of the two quantum, light-based super computers in the world. Its on the 30th floor. Thats where Im headed."
"Oh and makes you think that anyone will be there?"
"Booster Gold," Gordon replied. "Since his stint in the Justice League, hes been friends with the Blue Beetle, a superhero known for his technical prowess. Theyre usually a two for one deal. Beetle will be poking around the computer if hes after dirt on the President."
Waller wasnt amused. "You think youre pretty sharp for a cop. Okay, tell me why hes not trying blow up the building."
Gordon smiled at Waller and then turned away from her. She knew Gordon was right but had to put on a show for the crew. It was all politics even here on the roof of a burning city. "You dont know Batman like I do," he replied.
Blue Beetle was in his moment of glory as he sat at the controls of the Lex Corp computer. Batman was smart to recruit Beetle for his crew. Few men would try to navigate a computer with cutting-edge technology and use it to search for dirt on its owner. It was a difficult task but one suited for him.
"Yknow, Prometheus," he said. "I have to admit youre right about the Matrix Generation being the scene. I mean, when we took down those guards outside it was like something out of the movie. There must have been what 30, 40 guards plus those two bodyguards for Luthor. We were walking on walls, crunching bones, breaking doors. Dude, you have got to teach me those moves."
The only response was the CD burner recording every evil deed and deal committed by Lex Luthor in the past ten years. The burner ejected the CD with a sigh. "Whats the matter, Pro. You afraid of having fun with the Beetle?"
Beetle turned around and came face to face with Jim Gordons pistol. "Is it too much to ask for blanks," Beetle said.
"Put your hands behind your head, Beetle," Gordon said.
"Okay, but what about my feet?" Beetle was amazingly dexterous and rolled his body forward with practiced precision. Gordon felt Beetles boots slam into his chest. Beetle rolled across the marble floor as Gordon released a shot. The shock of the attack quickly passed and Gordon got a bead on the hero. He fired another round but only succeeded in knocking out the lights.
The computer cast a pale light in the room, but enough for Gordon to see Beetle reach for something on his belt. Beetle lifted a gun that fired a blinding burst of light. Gordons eyes gave out. A white haze surrounded him. He swung his weapon wildly, hoping to peg Blue Beetle.
He heard a thud and then Beetle groan, but felt no impact. A gloved hand covered his mouth before he could ask what happened. Another hand groped his chest, depositing something in his jacket. A slim hope grew in Gordon. Perhaps, his old friend Batman was here saving Gordon, as he should have when three bullets tore his chest. As he should have saved Sarah.
"What hit me, Prometheus," Beetle groaned.
"The old man got a lucky hit," the villain replied. "Dont worry, I took take care of that useless old cop. Come on, Ive cleared us a way out. Waller only brought Secret Service along. As if that could stop me."
And so as the pair left, replacing Gordons hope with confusion. Why had the villain Prometheus saved Gordon? What purpose did that action serve? It was maddening and it didnt become clearer as Gordons vision returned.
He massaged his eyes until the haze was replaced with splashes of light. A constellation of stars played across his eyelids. He sucked on his teeth. Things had felt good for a moment. The clarity of purpose, the security of Batman and the pleasure of action had held Jim Gordon in a warm embrace. The situation was crazy but maybe Barbara was right - he had needed a purpose in his life.
Gordon searched in his pockets for the surprise. It was slick, warm and plastic. He pulled out a CD and Gordon didnt need to be a detective to figure out what it held.
Luthor hosted a press conference later that day and praised Gordon as the hero of two worlds: Metropolis and Gotham. The official press release stated that Retired Commissioner James Gordon had succeeded in discovering a plot to sabotage Lex Corp and Metropolis. With the assistance of Amanda Waller, he was able to fight off the corrupted heroes.
James Gordon was filling a role in a highly, structured story written by politicians. The injured villains were good soldiers and the captured heroes were the tragic victims. Representatives from the National Organization of Women (NOW) were there but no one listened. Power Girl and Fire were heroes lost to the machinations of a terrorist virus. Maybe their message about objectification was correct but they were no longer the type of heroine America wanted. Instead, their image became enslaved to Luthor's public relations machine headed by Catherine Grant, and their message was nothing more than insane ravings.
The whole spectacle was outlandish to Gordon. Reporters wanted to know what clothes he wore and whether he was a role model for retirees? Did he eat enough fiber? Luthor had turned Gordon into a hero; such was the power of the president.
Gordon realized that he looked better then he had in years. He might have lost the battle but with Luthors help nobody cared. He was what the public wanted sage-like, strong, endearing. In this crazy world where heroes and villains exchanged roles, America wanted a hero that it could easily digest. His gray hair, mustache and healthy stomach reminded everyone of their grand father.
Gordon fingered the CD On the ride back to Washington DC. It was time that he had a chat with the president.
Batman wasnt pleased with the press conference. Beetle and Prometheus found him sitting in the half-light of the television. CNN cast odd florescent images on his cowl. Blue Beetle felt like a boy returning home with a bad report card. His ice pack eased his throbbing head and fed cold trickles of water into his spandex. Prometheus stood silent.
"Do you see how they're strutting this old man like a peacock!" Batman thrust his hand like a dagger towards the screen. "What happened in Metropolis? I knew Blue Beetle was an idiot but I thought that at least YOU could handle anything Luthor threw at us. I dont have room for soft people in my administration, Prometheus."
Prometheus said nothing, knowing that no answer was really expected. Blue Beetle dropped his ice pack. His goggles were shattered and a bright red bruise slowly throbbed alongside his face. "Take a Bat-chill pill," he said. "We did take out Brainstorm and Firefist. That geezer Gordon is smarter than you thought. Besides, what do you mean "we" oh Dark One? I dont recall seeing you skulking around Metropolis."
"I was taking care of some plans in Washington D.C.; plans that wont amount to anything without dirt on Luthor." Batman paused and brushed his nose. A faint white substance lay on his glove. "I also happened to bust a pair of coke dealers. I took the drugs, stole a Ferrari, and tested them to see which could make my heart purr faster."
"So whats the plan, Stan," Prometheus inquired. "Should I conscript a few more heroes turned villains? I think I can find Crimebuster."
"Crimebuster," Batman grimaced. "We dont need that weakling. If we cant break Luthor publicly than it just means we have to get a little blood on our hands."
Batman lifted a batarang from a workbench. "Dont worry," he said as he loaded an explosive into his batarang. "I have a plan. We're going to do this like the French - so delicious. The French always act deliciously."
Part 5: Two for Two -
Gordon was having breakfast in the White House commissary when White House Press Secretary Catherine Grant dropped the bombshell. It was a sunny morning. The coffee was good and strong. Garrison was wearing a navy and gold Brooks Brother suit. And Cat Grant was holding a copy of Gotham Weekly declaring James Gordon to be the #1 eligible bachelor in the city.
"I just wanted to be the first person to congratulate you, Mr. Gordon," she said. "They contacted my office last night, right after the press conference in Metropolis. The President even gave them a direct quote." She opened the magazine for Gordon and pointed to the quote. It said "Jim Gordon embodies the very best of Gotham City and law enforcement."
Gordon looked at the picture of him in wonder. The suit made him look 10 years younger. He barely noticed the extra 20 pounds. His eyes were newly minted detective badges. "Ms. Grant," he said, "This is absurd. Im not twelve months a widower. Im retired. Do you know how old I am? The only thing Im eligible for is a job greeting people and squeezing granny asses at Wal-Mart."
"What are you griping about?" Her smirk was applied like makeup, accenting her cheekbones. "Enjoy your moment in the sun. Did you know this is the first year Bruce Wayne lost the top spot? Plus, its been one year and a week since your wifes death, which I think they handled respectfully in the article."
"And your age," she purred while adjusting his silk tie. "America is going to be swamped by retirement age Baby Boomers by 2005. Youre the new look of sexy Gordon. Women cant resist a rugged man in a good suit."
She perched herself by his table. Her hand lay just south of his lap. "In fact, the President mentioned that you would make a great candidate for Mayor of Gotham City or maybe the next director of the FBI. Let me work my magic with you."
Did Luthor think he could buy Gordon by giving him Gotham or the FBI? Gordon silently gave Luthor credit for the audacity. The new suit was nice and the shoes were better. Washington, D.C. seemed to be the place to make old men look good. It was also a world where a man with the right tools could have whatever he wanted. Gordon lightly felt the coolness of the CD in his jacket.
Gordon picked up Catherine Grants hand and returned it to her lap. He calmly wiped his mouth and stood away from the table. Gotham Weekly was tossed on the eggs and ketchup. "Ms. Grant, would it be possible to talk with the President about these ideas?"
Grant took out her Handspring Visor; Gordon noted that it matched her lipstick. "I think the President has some time this morning. He had an important meeting scheduled with Bruce Wayne for noon, but Wayne cancelled. They were going to discuss Waynes allegations that the Presidents former business is a monopoly. Lord knows Luthor is no ones angel but Wayne is going nowhere without proof. I bet he didnt have any."
Gordon instinctively touched the fabric near the CD. Wayne would be a good ally with this disc. He made a mental note to contact Wayne as soon as possible. Maybe he could even find out what the letter was about.
"Ms. Grant," he said. "You have a singularly difficult job and Luthor is blessed to have you on his staff. Dont you think handling my political aspirations would be too much for you to handle?"
"I dont have any problems handling men, Jim Gordon."
He was sure she didnt.
It was a mere hour and a half wait, but Gordon couldnt relax. He borrowed a laptop and skimmed through the CDs contents. Much was incomprehensible to him. For all practical purposes, Lex Corp was not a monopoly, but practicalitys end was where Lex Corp began. Psychic brand-washing and addictive commercials were the more esoteric activities contained in the CD. They were accented by occasional disappearances of dissenting employees and sundry shadowy dealings with the U.S. Government. Lex Luthor had succeeded in making Lex Corp one of the most successful businesses in the world by exploring the outer fringes of business ethics.
Gordon looked up from the laptop and watched the landscapers and gardeners work on the White House lawn. The men trimmed trees, seeded the lawn, and pruned rose bushes. Gordon knew what it was like to make order out of natures wildness. He had exchanged a pistol for a shear when he retired but their purpose was the same control. A good gardener knows that hes just borrowing the worlds attention. You own the garden for limited time span until you die and join the worms. It was like that on the streets of Gotham too. But there are those individuals who attempt to extend their reach beyond natures restrictions.
Garrison showed Gordon into the Oval Office. Luthor was greatly pleased to hear of Gordons interest and was eager to discuss future plans. Gordon could be very useful for his administration in any capacity.
"What do you think about this Vile Virus," Gordon said, hoping to steer the conversation. He felt uncomfortable knowing the secrets of the President of the United States. He wondered if this was how Barbara felt when she visited him. She knew truths about her father that he refused to admit, and the best they could do was to act like characters in a TV sitcom. Why was honesty so difficult to convey through language? "I was thinking that it could be a great therapeutic gift. Imagine infecting all the prisons in the world instantly rehabilitating all the criminals. Dont you think that would be wonderful?"
Luthor leaned back in his chair; the light lay luxuriously about him. "That is an interesting perspective, James. I hadnt really thought about it, and Im sure neither did Ras al Ghul. Dont you think that course of action would undermine self-determination? Doesnt a man or woman have a right to choosing her own path, whether its criminal or godly? We could infect every criminal in the world but we still wouldnt eliminate crime. Not every criminal is evil. Poverty, ignorance, desperation, appetites these are the forces which turn a person from civility."
"But maybe you can do something about that James," Luthor said. "I happen to know that Louis Freeh will be stepping down as Director of the FBI. Things have gotten a little ugly for him after the Robert Hansenn fiasco. Hes learned that you cant pilot the ship if no one thinks youre the captain. I hear youre a gardener, James, and the weed of crime bears bitter fruit."
The CD shimmered in the sunlight streaming through the windows. It felt light in Gordons fingers, but its presence commanded a weight that pulled on his conscience. "Back in Metropolis," he said. "I took this from Blue Beetle. It has information from Lex Corps files."
Luthor relaxed into his chair. "Well, this puts us in a curious position doesnt it."
"Consumer mind control, extortion, and a host of other crimes," Gordon counted off. "I dont think the American public wants a President immersed in sin. I wonder if Bruce Wayne was right about you and Lex Corp? You cant tell me that being the President wont benefit your own corporation further."
The allegations caused Luthor to knit his brow. The words had pricked a wound in his pride. "First, Lex Corp is not a monopoly. We have carefully observed all Federal Anti-trust laws. Second, Bruce Wayne is just a jealous baby, and youre an archaic totem. I am the leader for the 21st century. I know what people call me meglomanical genius, super villain, I am all of those things and more. America needs me. It needs a leader like me, free from the quaint notions of homespun morality, liberated from pedestrian views. Isnt that what America is about Liberation."
Luthor paused in his speech and watched a lone landscaper spreading weed and feed on the White House. "Well, perhaps liberation through judicious control is a better example. Bruce Wayne doesnt want to bring me down because of those anachronistic Anti-trust laws. He, and Batman, and you want to stop me because each of you fears what I represent. I am the future. I will lead America into the future."
"There are those individuals," he said, "like Ras al Ghul, that think they need to create a secret society, an easily controlled cabal, from which they can rule the world. Thats an old paradigm. Very limited. America is my secret society. I am the future and I plan on making America the greatest empire the world has ever born. You, Batman, Ras al Ghul are remnants - decorations from an older age. Its not too late to join the party, Gordon. So, tell me. How did you plan on using that CD?"
Hesitation caught Gordon. He felt the room stick in time; his pulse registering slower beats while, paradoxically, his mind raced. Gordon had entered a world of politics where the weaponry was words and images. Even the CD was illusory; a piece of plastic holding light images of Luthors indiscretions, no more substantial than the cheap piece of material it was printed on. He turned the disc over in his hand. Slowly the reflections dulled to a gray sheen. It wasnt the CD changing the light, though. Outside, a great shade descended upon the city.
The Bug, Blue Beetles aircraft, hung above the White House; its belly was pregnant with malice. A series of searing lights opened the air, signifying the activation of the Synchronized Laser Array. Blue Beetle rubbed the firing button with his thumb. Batman nodded to him. "Ive been wanting to do this ever since Independence Day," Beetle said.
A miniature sun dropped like an egg from the Bugs belly. Its teardrop shape sheared through the center of the White House: shattering windows, burning heirlooms, tears floors of history like tissue. Interior support columns buckled and thrashed serpentine in the air. But somewhere, a flag still flew in burning night, and despite Batmans best efforts the White House still stood. Its proud exterior pained and crying but resolute.
Amanda Waller emerged from the wreckage intact, her navy blue suit still burning. The center of the building had been boldly carved. Above her, the Bug lit the smoky sky and its speakers blared Whole Lotta Love by Led Zepplin. She found her 9mm pistol and aimed it at the ship. As she stood there, her mind assessed the situation, filtering out the cries of survivors from the shrill alarms. The gun would be useless against the Bug. As she dropped her arms, she saw Garrison crawl out from under a metal cabinet, its surface still searing white from the attack. She went to his side and steadied him. "Wheres the Weather Wizard? Anarky? We need some super-powered support to defend the President."
Garrison swooned and leaned upon Waller. It was an unwelcome intimacy and he stammered his answer more from shame than weakness. "The Weather Wizard disappeared under a crumbling wall." He weakly swung his arm across the scene, trying to find something that looked familiar in the ruins. "Oh my god, is that thing a body?" He gagged dryly.
Waller grabbed his face, prepared to beat an answer from the injured man. They had little time to prepare a defense. She saw three shapes descend from the ship. Then she knew that they had no time at all.
Inside the Oval Office, Gordon and Luthor pulled themselves up from the floor. The room had survived the assault, and Luthor silently thanked Lex Corp for reinforcing the walls with the latest metal compounds. He tried to raise the Secret Service on his phone but the lines were dead. There were a number of exits from the Oval Office, secret or otherwise, and Luthor quickly identified them.
Gordon went to the main door and grabbed the handle.
"I wouldnt do that, Gordon," Luthor said. "I believe were being paid a visit by a mutual friend. Id stand closer to my desk if I were you."
Gordon thought it was odd how calm Luthor sounded. As if he expected this situation. But much of the circumstances surrounding this event were still a mystery to Gordon. How had Luthor known that Batman was involved? There didnt seem to be any direct evidence of his involvement. Interpreting the attack on Metropolis was luck and educated guesswork on Gordons part. Assuming Batmans involvement only helped create answers but not necessarily the correct ones. And there was also the issue of the CD. Why had Prometheus given it to Gordon? Was he baiting Gordon to make a move on Luthor?
Small explosions could be heard through the reinforced door. Cries of injured men, dedicated to preserving the life of the President, sounded closer with each detonation. But Gordon ignored the sounds and listened to his inner voice, which was clean and strong like a young man. It said that bait was the word. Luthor, who awaited the Batman like a guest of tea, used Gordon to draw Batman out into the daylight. He had dressed Gordon up in fine clothes, made him the most eligible bachelor, and turned him into the kind of target a jealous superhero would want to kill.
He stood beside the Presidents desk. "Youve used me," he said.
"And you were going to use me," Luthor replied. "Or were you fanning yourself with that CD?"
Their tete-a-tete was interrupted by another blast that knocked the reinforced doors aside. The smoke gently parted and Batman entered the room. Behind him, Prometheus and Blue Beetle dragged the unconscious body of Anarky. Unceremoniously, they dropped him like a dead deer.
"Luthor," Batman said in greeting.
"Batman," Luthor replied. "Is there something that your President can help you with? Ive been thinking about increasing Federal funding for mental health. Maybe spruce up Arkham Asylum. What do you think?"
"I think you dont have time for sarcasm, Luthor. Ive just staged a coup d'état, but it seems Ive forgotten something. I need the bloody head of the previous dictator."
Gordon grabbed a leaden paperweight and charged the Dark Knight. What more could he do? He wasnt about to let Batman murder the President in cold blood, no matter Luthors crimes. Unfortunately, Gordon should have known his attack was hopeless. Batman, Prometheus and Blue Beetle were three of the finest hand-to-hand combatants in the world. Before Gordon made it three steps, he was disarmed and in the grip of Batman.
"Did you enjoy your play time with Luthor," Batman said to Gordon. The Dark Knights hand closed around his throat. Gordons neck muscles strained against the force but he could start to feel them give. "You were my partner once, Jim. How many crimes did I help you to solve? How many times did I save Gotham; and this is how you repay me? Im sure you enjoyed the fine suits and nice meals. If that was what you wanted from me, I could have given it to you. All you had to do was ask, but all you wanted to do was get on your high horse and berate me. Well, youve just made your last enemy."
Luthor held his palm up. "Youve made many enemies in your career , Batman, and few friends. Infection by the Vile Virus hasnt improved your social skills. I think youre the one out-numbered here."
Gordons vision was a miasma as the oxygen slowly dwindled in his brain. Batmans iron grip tightened and he could feel his spine tingle in pain. Batman gently laughed, watching Gordons face turn a full shade of purple. This old man was no help for Luthor. The moment had arrived to give Luthor his final compensation. He went to give Prometheus and Blue Beetle the order to restrain Luthor when Beetle fell to the floor. Prometheus stood above Beetles body, his nightstick swinging playfully.
All pretenses were dropped - as was Gordon - and Batman understood that the deadly game of chess had shifted. His ranks had been infiltrated. The one, true, black-hearted villain in his crew had turned upon him. Prometheus held his nightstick high in the air.
"What did Luthor offer you, traitor," Batman asked. "Was it money? Your own country?"
"He offered me a chance to go two for two, old bean," Prometheus replied. "I contacted him shortly after you recruited me and spilled as many plans as I could. Youve beaten me twice now and its time we evened that score. Ive got to keep my image up. Its all that some of us have. Now lets get it on cause Ive got something for you in a funky kung fu groove."
The combatants were like the gears in a clockwork battle. Each arm, leg, and weapon counted time in a fatal temporal cycle. The sharp edge of Batmans batarangs filled each unoccupied space, moving the action forward and faster with each beat. Their blows were a heavy syncopation of mutual hate. Gordon thought it reminded him of Buddy Richs percussion: mad, precise, and jazzy.
The combatants were uninhibited by convention. One moment, Batman was throwing blows like Muhammad Ali, and then Prometheus would return with a grapple from Krav Maga. Even Luthor, himself an accomplished fighter, was astonished by the rapid creativity. Fists, feet, head, fingers, and anything and everything became a weapon in the battle between Batman and Prometheus.
Batman knew from experience that he and Prometheus were too evenly matched. Only through subterfuge were they ever able to defeat each other. He grabbed a chair and lunged at the villain. Prometheus threw himself to the floor and twisted himself back upright in one fluid motion. Batman turned to face the villain, but was greeted by a thunderclap as Prometheus executed a series of punches at blinding speed. "I got the moves, baby."
Batman wiped a trickle of blood from his face. The punches had narrowly missed his throat. "So I see. Thats a new one. Where did you learn it?"
"A Capcom video game called Kung Fu Fighter. Special Move #8."
Batman turned towards the main door. As Prometheus moved to intercept, Batman rolled backwards and carried a batarang in a long arch across the villains chest. Prometheus stared in amazement as his blood seeped from the gash on his abdomen.
"New move," Batman said. "From the comic, Blade of the Immortal."
Luthor could see that the battle had no end in sight. That fool Prometheus had a chance to attack Batman with surprise earlier but his pride wouldnt accept it. Now, the pair would duel until the end of the world. The situation was unacceptable to Luthor. He had no control and was not assured a victory. It wasnt the type of gambit Luthor liked to play, and so he decided to take a more demonstrative role.
He loosened his tie and swung it around the Dark Knights throat. With all his weight, he pulled down, hoping to crush the Batmans windpipe. Batman struggled with the silken noose, but his gloved fingers could find no purchase. Gordon waited with indecision, unable to decide which fighter was the lesser of evils. But Prometheus, who cut the tie with the Presidents letter opener, decided the scene. "Back off, Luthor," he said. "You promised me Batman. You cant have him back."
"Kung Fu fighters everywhere," Prometheus shouted. "Throw your hands in the air. Everybody sing it now One, Two do the Kung Fu! Say Three Four on the Dance Floor!" Prometheus slammed his nightstick into Batmans chest, knocking the Dark Knight outside the room. He took a deep breath and leapt after the hero. "One more time!"
Batman and Prometheus tumbled through the ruins of the White House. The ancient portraits of past Presidents, burning or singed, were their only audience. They slashed and pummeled their way over the bodies of injured Secret Service men. Their focus was only the battle, and behind their focus sat hate to pure for any taste.
They fell into the commissarys kitchen, which had been hastily converted into a temporary shelter for the injured. Catherine Grant covered her injured secretary as the duo threw utensils into the air. "Everyone get the injured out of here, now," she yelled.
A riot of people rumbled out of the room, momentarily stalling the combatants. Prometheus was shocked as Batman suddenly disappeared from view in the rabble. Frantically, he scanned the room. He found Batmans fist as it hit his sternum, knocking the breath from the young villain.
"You could have been something," Batman said as he bodily grabbed his opponent. "Robin and Nightwing didnt listen to me either. Was it asking too much for their blind obedience?"
He threw the villain headfirst into the industrial dishwasher. It was moist and humid inside, reminding Prometheus of the Malaysian Jungles where he learned the deadly art of Silat. So close to Batman, one moment was all he needed to end the fight. Batman grabbed the controls for the dishwasher, as Prometheus arose, and turned it on. A torrent of searing water flooded over Prometheus. It soaked through his costume, streamed up his nose, and, as he took a breath, it seared into his throat. The gurgle and hiss of the steamy water drowned his scream.
Satisfied with his work, Batman went to find the President. Their interview was not over.
Luthor surveyed the destruction of the White House with fascination. It was a propitious moment. Few Presidents had the opportunity to redesign the White House entirely. While it had always been a symbol of strength, the significance of the White House had become too compromised by the blunders and mistakes of previous administrations. For some, the White House was a building that had ceded from the United States of the Honest and Upstanding. Luthor had a few ideas how remodeling could change that.
He watched as Gordon dusted himself off. The old man was useless now. Luthor was disappointed that he even considered Gordon a possible ally. He was a tool, nothing more, and an archaic one at that. His eyes dropped to carpet and under his desk he saw the glint of a CD.
He quickly rushed to the floor, scrambling to grab the object and its infamous information. Redesigning America could wait a moment. The plastic slipped from his fingers, and only with much effort was he able to secure it. Now, he could be finally content if only Prometheus succeeded in defeating the Batman.
He stood up and saw Gordon leveling a pistol in his direction.
"I thought the Secret Service removed your gun before entering the Oval Office," Luthor said.
"They did," Gordon replied. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was still flush from Batmans assault, but Gordon had marshaled his quiet strength. "I found yours in the desk while you were eyeing the furniture."
"Im going to take the opportunity to remind you that killing the President is still capital offense. If it makes any difference."
"The gun is just to get your attention, Luthor." Gordon snatched the CD from his fingers. "This is going to kill you. I want you to know that I consider you everything wrong in America."
A large scoffing laugh escaped from Luthor. "I'm everything that America needs! In the 21st century, we need to be able to stay ten steps ahead of our competitors. I intend America to be the winner. Speaking of which, do you know why Batman wants to kill me?"
"Because the president stands in the way of his plans," Gordon answered.
"No. Why not just assassinate me? A man of his resources could have killed me in any number of ways, but he waited to destroy me with his bare hands. That's passion. Don't you see-I'm everything he wishes he could be. I knew he was jealous of me so I baited him. I took his woman. I took you in and remade you, which is more than he has ever done for you, into the most popular man in Gotham. And I brought you here so he would follow."
"Wonderful plan. Now we just have to hope your traitor can beat the world's maddest super hero."
A batarang shot through the air, exploding upon contact with Gordons gun. The blast stunned the men. Gordons hand ached terribly, and he held it aloft like an enemy. Bones moved of their own accord and every muscle twitch sent agony up his arm. He dipped deeper into his hidden strength, the place where he kept memories of Sarah, and these helped to temper the agony. He adjusted his eyes and through the pain he saw Batman crouched over Luthor.
They looked like wrestling boys but the sounds coming from them were reserved for demons. Luthor tried to claw his enemys face, but Batman grabbed the hand. With the utmost care, he gently crushed each finger until they were ribbons. He dropped the hand and kneeled on the Presidents back. His hands fit snugly under Luthors chin, interlocking to form a deadly cradle that tugged the Presidents head forward.
"I said I wanted your head, Luthor," Batman raged. "You took Catwoman from me. You stole the favor of Gotham City and the Presidency from the American public. I deserve control of this nation! I deserve the respect! I deserve to be TIMEs Man of the Year! And Im going to have it."
Luthor refused to cry but something bleated out from him as his neck began to separate from his shoulders. He had escaped death and ruin so many times that he had thought he was invulnerable like Superman. His mind flashed to the Man of Steel. Was he watching this scene with his X-Ray vision? Was he fighting an urge of pleasure as his greatest enemy crawled like a dying animal? He hoped so, because it would give him some small satisfaction in death.
"Dont worry about America," Batman whispered into his ear. "I think Bruce Wayne is going to run in 2004."
Luthor felt the death grip tighten, his pulse becoming frantic, and wished for a better end.
His head hit the floor as Batmans grip abruptly slackened. The sound of metal pounding on meat and bones throbbed through the room. Luthor gasped for air and crawled to his knees. Bloodied and ragged, Prometheus stood triumphant in the room. His helmet was gone; exposing a face raw with blisters that steamed; eyes covered by drooping brows inflated with human juices.
Batman recovered quickly and landed several blows upon his enemy. Their energy was for naught; Prometheus could feel nothing his skin numb to any pain thanks to the blisters. Prometheus swung his metal nightstick again, landing a solid blow across the Dark Knights jaw. Again, Batman hit him with attacks meant to cripple, but Prometheus was too far removed from reality to feel them. His nightstick struck Batman solidly on the forehead.
Batman stumbled back into a wall. Prometheus dropped his nightstick, and pummeled Batmans face with his fists. One, two, three, four blows landed in quick succession. "Tff rrr tff," Prometheus mumbled through swollen lips. "Tff rr tff."
The Dark Knight slid down the wall. As he hit the ground, he whispered a name, "Dick," and then, with no fanfare, he fell unconscious, defeated by Prometheus.
The sounds of ambulances and helicopters intruded on the silence of the room. The three men stared at the fallen form of Batman, their minds straining to understand the significance of the scene. Prometheus swayed unsteady on his feet. Gordon nursed his burned hand. Luthor waited for opportunity to present itself.
Luthor went to Prometheus and gently leaned him against his desk. Prometheus seemed oblivious to the act of compassion. He stood there, as best he could, and Gordon was sure that his tattered mouth was grinning from ear to ear underneath the blisters. Assured Prometheus was going nowhere, Luthor turned to Batman and placed his good fingers on the edges of Batmans mask. With a quick tug, Luthor would learn a secret that carried the fate of the entire superhuman community. Once he knew his enemies, Luthor could play supreme games with them.
"Get your filthy hands off him, Luthor," Gordon demanded.
"Do you really think your still an officer, James," Luthor replied. "Can you really maintain law and order here? Im the President of the United States. I represent order in this room. No secret should be safe from me. Once I know this secret, so many more will fall into my hands. The Justice League will soon become mine to command. Just think what kind of country I could build then."
"I going to tell you just once, Luthor. Leave the mask on. Youre going to treat his injuries and then youre going to ship him up to the JLA Watchtower for quarantine."
"I will do no such thing. I say what will happen. I have the authority. For too long, these heroes have flaunted their independence. They are wild cards that must be harnessed. The Vile Virus has shown us that. For gods sake, this man tried to kill you. I cant believe you feel loyalty to him." Luthor dug his fingers between skin and cloth, slowly pulling the fabric up.
"Luthor," Gordon yelled. In his good hand, he held the Lex Corp CD, its surface catching the lights of the emergency vehicles. "Im the authority here! I say what goes, and in Gods name I demand decency. Otherwise, youre pretty little empire will have so much dirt thrown upon it that it will look like a mud castle waiting high tide."
Luthor removed his hands from Batman. And backed away.
"Sometimes," Gordon said, "loyalty is all we have to offer those we cherish. Even if theyre mad. Even if theyre dead. For all his faults, that man has done more good things in one lifetime than you could ever hope to perform in a thousand. I refuse to see him betrayed in this moment of weakness. If I allow it, than I betray a most sacred trust and I could never call myself a man again. Maybe you dont understand that Luthor. Maybe you think being a man is wearing fancy suits, sitting in the Oval Office, controlling the minds of everyone. But I know its something more."
Gordon shoved the CD into his pocket. With his good hand, he threw off his jacket and silken tie. He tossed his good shoes at the President, and then he sat down.
Amanda Waller eventually came with a squad of paramedics. Gordon watched them care for the fallen heroes and villains, and ensured that no one attempted to remove the Dark Knights mask. Luthor eventually sent Batman and his crew up to the JLA Watchtower.
The official story from Catherine Grant was that Prometheus had become infected with the Vile Virus and switched sides. He fought a valiant battle against the Batman to save the life of the President. Wallers people took him to Bethesada Hospital, and he disappeared somewhere enroute.
Luthor got his wish and remodeled the interior of the White House, but strangely restored the exterior. He claimed a fondness for the building, but some reporters heard whispers that the President was coerced into remaining true to the original design. A few days later, he received a CD from Gotham City and snapped it in two.
Behind the artifice, deals were made. Words were said. FDA regulations were relaxed. Chemical emission standards lowered. All because companies like Pfizer, Monsanto and Lex Corp wanted to make money from their research into the Vile Virus. Publicly, they were heroes, too. They gave their time and resources towards finding a cure but that work doesn't come for free. Just like having a President like Lex Luthor doesn't come for free either.
James Gordon returned to find his daughter gone. Her note said she had to leave for business. And though he was troubled by these events, he knew that she too shared his secret strength. Whatever trial she faced, it would see her through it. Eventually, he returned the CD to Luthor since he had little interest in revenge. Men like Luthor always received their due anyway.
In the end, Gordon tacked a picture of his wife on a post in his garden. He sat and watched the Gotham morning sun stream rays of red and gold through her photographic hair. Behind his eyes, he could see her scolding him for becoming hard and old. She lightly kissed his brow and then disappeared with the morning dew. And in this place of eternal renewal, James Gordon prayed a quiet prayer of hope and thanks.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by David J. LoTempio.
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