Chapter 2: Just a Man
Commissioner Gordon threw the switch, and the Bat-signal lit up the sky. Gotham city exuded a spiritual chill—Gotham goose-bumps, tourists called them—but tonight was especially nippy for September.
“He doesn’t like being manipulated.”
“He’d prefer me to X-ray the city and pick him up myself?”
Two weeks had passed since the incident at Arkham, and Superman needed answers. The asylum was secure and Alfred had stabilized in the hospital; it was time to talk about what happened.
“This isn’t some pussycat miscreant.” Gordon’s voice was strained. It had been a long fourteen days. Most of the asylum patients were back in Arkham, but a few of them were still out causing chaos in the city. A fresh-escaped Two-Face was getting his old gang back together. The cold-blooded Killer Croc was leaving half-eaten boaters to wash up in Chesapeake Bay. Dr. Crane and his mystery nanotechnology had vanished. Citizens were worried. The police force was spread thin. Batman had given all pursuit to finding the Joker—there were no leads. Kryptonian curiosities were the least of his concerns.
“This isn’t just a thug, an assassin, or even a drug lord.”
“He’s still just a man.”
“The Joker may be a man, but he’s not human. He’s a force of pure chaos and fear. Don’t you understand? Nobody, nowhere is safe while he’s out there. He’ll just as soon kill for a laugh as he would tell a joke—to him, there’s no difference. That’s the kind of ‘man’ on the loose. And you know Bruce; he’s not stopping until the Joker’s back in the cage.”
“I thought the Batman had sworn an oath of vengeance on crime, not one individual.”
“False dichotemy.” Batman emerged from the shadows.
“Bruce,” Superman began. “We need to talk.”
“Save it. What do you want?”
“I need to know what happened at Arkham. Jimmy’s video didn’t really explain what Crane was using—nanobots, was it?”
“You know as much as me.”
“You had to have noticed something. Did J’onn mention anything he heard in the Joker’s mind?”
“You know he wouldn’t listen in on him again. He tried that once. Gave him nightmares for months. Probably having one now.”
Superman glanced down. He had been in space when the Joker escaped and the nanobots ripped Arkham open from within. He couldn’t hear Jimmy’s watch outside the atmosphere; the Martian Manhunter had sent out a telepathic cry for help just before slipping into a coma.
“Crane didn’t say where he got his instruments?”
“You know as much as me. Are we done here?”
“Not quite. I can’t help but notice that the Commissioner could use some help cleaning up after all this. It seems Gotham’s getting out of control. Maybe you should stick around and help him get a lid on things—”
“You’re telling me what to do now?”
“You can’t just leave Gotham behind to deal with a grudge.”
“You’re right. A true hero mopes in outer space.”
“Don’t make this about me.”
“It’s not about you. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Nothing’s about you anymore. We fight our own battles, choose our own leaders, and run our own lives. Nobody cares that there’s a Superman. Your worst enemy saved the city you never could fix, and it’s eating you alive, isn’t it? You can’t stand seeing someone else get the glory, can you? You can’t stand that we can get by on our own now.”
The Man of Steel grabbed Batman by his cowl.
“On your own? You’d all be dead or worse if it weren’t for me—all of you! Who kept Zod from making slaves of you all? Who sent Darkseid to the Phantom Zone? Who stopped Braniac from eating every last mind on earth—who flew into his core and fed him that virus? You tell me who!”
“You tell me who won the Super Bowl five years ago. Then tell me who made that virus.”
“Knock it off, Bruce.” Commissioner Gordon’s tone was calm and cool. “If you’re going to piss off the last son of Krypton, do it out of town.”
Superman dropped the Dark Knight down to his feet. Batman landed wobbly—it was clear that he hadn’t been getting much sleep. Gordon continued.
“Look. I don’t know where he is, but if the Joker were in the city, we’d know by now. I don’t have enough officers to get the other nuts back to Arkham, find the Joker, and keep the traffic running in Gotham. You want to help, Superman? That’s fine by me. One of you bring me the Joker, the other get Two-Face, Croc, and the rest of those nut jobs back behind bars. I don’t care who does what, but I want everyone back in Arkham in three days. Make it happen.”
Gordon left the roof, and the heroes were alone.
“You take the Joker,” muttered Batman. Superman nodded in approval.
“That’s reasonable. I’ll catch up to him quicker, and it’ll be easier to just fly him back—”
“That’s got nothing to do with it, Kent.” Batman turned his back on the Kryptonian and strode toward the roof’s ledge. “I thought there would always be another way to stop dangerous people. Fear alone usually does the trick.”
He looked down on the city below. “I swore to avenge my parents. I also swore not to become a killer. For years, Joker’s tried to break me—tried to prove that I’m no better than him. He’s killed over 2,000 people, including Jason and Tim. Now he knows who I am, he’s left his memento on Alfred’s skin, and just skipped town to make me chase him. He knows if I catch him, he’s dead. Then he wins.”
Batman snapped around to face the Man of Steel. “That’s why you’re going after him. The Joker’s not afraid of me, but the rest of this scum is. I won’t have to kill anyone if you go and I stay.”
“You think the Joker’s afraid of me?”
“No, Clark.” Batman turned to the streets and spread his cape to catch the night wind.
“I don’t think anyone’s afraid of you anymore.”