Chapter 3: It’s Simple—We Kill the Superman
Billy Batson landed in the Metropolis alleyway and looked around. No thugs? Oh, duh. Metropolis Works! Billy didn’t mind the new Metropolis. He had given himself ample time to walk to the LuthorCorp building for his exclusive interview with Lex Luthor, and he couldn’t have picked a nicer morning to do so.
Sun shone. Birds sang. Young mothers strollered down the sidewalks and older couples munched on scones outside the cafés. Hmm. An espresso doesn’t sound too bad. Billy stepped inside. Captain Marvel may be impervious to chemical influence, but Billy Batson sure could use the caffeine boost.
“What’ll it be, son?”
The wizened old man behind the cash register smiled up at the young reporter. Billy was just 19, but people always second-guessed his age. Batson had inherited powers of untold wisdom, strength, magic, and speed at age 13. He could discuss complex political issues with experienced journalists, but he couldn’t grow much more than a peach fuzz mustache. Sometimes he got carded at R-rated movies; sometimes strangers asked if he was married. Billy didn’t mind it most of the time, but youth did have its drawbacks in times of crisis.
“Let’s do a mocha.”
He’d helped out in the Brainiac War, though he never fought beyond his own Fawcett City limits. He’d graduated high school two years early and gotten a B.A. in Journalism earlier that year. He’d landed a sweet job with WHIZ Media fresh out of school, and already he had a one-on-one interview with the man who would likely be the next governor of Virginia—some even said he had a fair shot at the presidency within the decade.
“I don’t recognize you—you from out of town?”
“Well, you enjoy this here mocha, son, and tell all your friends back home to like Sunny Suburbs Coffeehouse on that Tweetbook!” The old man winked and handed Billy the hot drink, then greeted the next customer.
Billy grinned as he walked out. Just two years ago, the Sunny Suburbs neighborhood was the crime-ridden Suicide Slums; now it served the best coffee Billy ever tasted. Luthor’s really turned this town around.
* * *
Superman had searched Gotham high and low, but was no closer to his quarry. Sure, the Joker’s fingerprints had popped up all over the city since his talk with Gordon. A bomb had flooded the subways, killing hundreds. A stockpile of C4 had detonated underneath three Gotham banks; some buildings collapsed, others lay with their entrails open to the public riots which ensued. Hospital water lines were spiked with arsenic. But the Joker was nowhere to be seen.
Now the Man of Steel sat before the gigantic Batcave computer screen, trying desperately to find a lead.
“Where are you?” Clark Kent muttered under his breath.
Immediately the screen went to static, then froze, then came alive again. Superman saw a mirror image of the Batcave before him. All was still. Then it wasn’t. A maniacal cackle leaked through the sound system, muffled at first and steadily rising in clarity and volume. It looped and echoed; each “ha” stacked upon the last, producing a staggering disharmony of twisted mirth. The laughter continued to crescendo, until the entire Batcave quivered. And all at once, the Joker appeared onscreen, hanging upside-down and staring directly into Kal-El’s eyes.
“Howdy, Supes! How’s it hangin’? BAHAHA! Oh, that’s no good. That’s no good at all.”
The laughter was still going on, but could hardly be considered background noise. Superman had to focus to distinguish what the clown was saying.
“So I hear you’re looking for me, are ya? Well, of course you are. Why else would you and I be having this whole little . . . chat?”
Superman glowered at the screen.
“NOW DON’T GIVE ME THAT LOOK! I can’t help it if you’ve got better things to do. Oh, wait. You’re Superman. You’ve got, let’s see . . . super speed, super hearing, super strength, super heat vision, super breath, ah, there, see? Now I’ve just lost track of what I was trying to say. No I didn’t. You’re Superman—the only reason you’re looking for me is that you really don’t have anything better to do. Isn’t that right?”
Kent searched for the volume control. The noise had reached a pitch that would have deafened a regular human, and he was getting tired of being taunted by a recording.
“What’s the matter, Kal? No big aliens to fight? Fresh out of Darkseids and Brainiacs? No more Nazis? No more Commies? Guess not. And if you watch any TV, you know there’s nothing going on in your little town of Metropolis. Way to go! You saved your city! No . . . no. That wasn’t you. Who was that? Oh, yes! I remember.”
“What do you want?” Superman rolled his eyes, remembering Gordon’s warning not to play along. This is madness.
The image skipped. Now the Joker was standing on the floor, right-side-up. The laughter was still roaring. Superman had vocally triggered a new video.
“I want you to help me, Superman. It’s gotta be tough being you. Where’s the fun in being an invincible killing machine if you refuse to kill anything? The outside universe isn’t messing with you. And you’ve established that you’re no threat to us here. I mean, really? Did you think you’d be able to keep us all from fighting? Did you think you’d get us all to be the perfect little darling you’ve always been? News flash, pretty boy: not happening! See, we’re all onto you. We shoot to kill because we know you won’t. You haven’t got the guts. What’re you gonna do to stop us? You gonna melt all our guns and knives and crowbars with your angry eyes? You gonna take all our nukes? You can’t. There’s only one of you. There’s a planet of us. We’re gonna do what we want unless you stop us. Lex is gonna do what he wants unless you stop him. So stop us! Show us you really care.”
“That’s enough.” The video jumped again. Now the Joker’s face took up the whole screen.
“I knew you’d be stubborn about this. Ah, well. Here’s the deal. Batman won’t kill me, but maybe you will. And you’d better. Because if you don’t, well, you’ll be sorry.” Now the Joker joined in with the still-resounding laughter.
“Oh, and where am I? You’ll find me in Metropolis.”
Superman sped out of the Batcave, leaving the Joker’s video playing.
* * *
Jimmy Olsen’s video was making him a star. His news blog was going viral all over again, and major news networks were begging Planet Media for just a few seconds of footage to air. Perry White was impressed. Lois Lane had even paid him a compliment—something she didn’t do often for anyone. Things were good, and Jimmy needed to celebrate.
So he bought a car.
KORD Industries had zeroed in on its niche in the market: smart cars for cool people. Jimmy’s new Porsche-sized sports car was 90% solar-powered, 100% eye-catching chick magnet. He’d just taken Perry’s team of secretaries out for sushi on the bay, and was now cruising the beltline back to town with the top down.
. . . the heck?
Traffic came to a sudden stop on the overpass. Drivers honked and waved their fists. Jimmy climbed out of his car and began taking pictures. He couldn’t make out exactly what caused the jam, but the amount of smoke had him guessing that there had been some sort of fire. Then the bodies started flying.
Businessmen, teenage girls, mothers, babies in strollers, and old men sailed overhead from the direction of the fire. Some were dead. Those who were alive flailed and screamed. All of them were missing arms, legs, or chunks of flesh.
The nanotechnology? Is it in Metropolis? Jimmy wasted no time in sending a call for help to Superman with his watch. The receptionists fled from the car with shrieks of terror, Jimmy turned to do the same, but was interrupted when the Man of Steel landed before him like a great blue and red meteor.
“Jimmy, are you OK?”
“I’m fine. What’s going on?”
“Get out of here.”
Don’t have to tell me once. Jimmy took off after the girls. This might make a good story, but I’m not about to lose a leg for it.
* * *
Superman jetted off toward the fire ahead. Bodies, then cars, flew toward him at frightful speeds. What? That’s not Joker work. He’s never won an arm-wrestling match in his life—who’s throwing cars?
The smoke was getting thick, and Superman huffed a gale-force breath to clear it away. There, standing alone in the middle of the freeway was the Joker. The purple-suited trickster leapt at the Man of Steel, who didn’t have time to slow down—he slammed into the villain and dragged him across 100 yards of cement road. Superman sprang to his feet. A hit like that would have killed a man; there was no way the Joker was getting back up. Just like that, it was over.
But it wasn’t.
The Joker kicked himself up, popped his neck, and smiled.
“No hello? I knew the Batcave video’d get to you, but taking me out in one fell swoop? Take it slow, Supermanners. You’ve never been one to deal with enemies so efficiently.” He spat, wagged his head, brushed his jacket off, and grandly spread his arms. “Now, let’s do this properly.”
“You’re just killing people to get my attention?”
“No,” the Joker rolled his eyes. He sighed and continued as though spelling it out were the heaviest of inconveniences. “I’m killing people to get that Olsen squirt to get your attention. But come on, Supes. You know better than to guilt me. That never worked. You gonna kill me or not?”
“You know that’s not how it works. You’re done here.”
“Not quite.” The Joker ripped his gloves off and sprang toward Superman. He was fast—faster than a man should be. Superman sidestepped, but the Joker grabbed a pickup truck and swatted him into the air.
What? Superman was completely taken off guard; he almost didn’t notice the truck’s driver flying through the air beside him.
“Help!” he cried in a Southern accent.
Superman caught the man and lowered him to the freeway. Just as he put the driver on the concrete, a broken piece of tailpipe tore through the smoke and into the man’s torso. He hit the street, splashing about in his own blood.
“Bull’s eye! YAA-HA!”
Superman rocketed through the air straight toward the Joker, fist first. The Joker laughed hysterically and hooked the last son of Krypton in the jaw. Superman went down hard. The Joker picked him up and slammed him back into the concrete. It was then that Superman began to feel the seeping, sickening sting of that radiation he hadn’t felt for years.
“Surprise! You didn’t think I’d go down so easy, did you?”
The Joker had Superman by the throat. The clown’s hands had that faint green glow of radioactive kryptonite. He used one hand to hold the hero high and the other to beat him mercilessly. Superman struggled, but the Joker’s strength was mysteriously unbreakable. The Man of Steel’s head was pointed upward, so he couldn’t use heat vision on his captor. He landed a kick on the Joker, but the Kryptonite exposure had weakened him far too much for that to make any difference.
“I know, I know, it’s confusing. How could a wiry little lunatic like me possibly be in this situation? I have half a mind not to tell you, but then, oh, why not? You ever hear of a little miracle juice called Venom?”
Superman had indeed heard of Venom. The military had experimented on a super steroid nearly ten years ago, but all test subjects suffered crippling addictions to the substance. Most cases ended in suicide; those that didn’t lose their lives lost their minds. The criminal Bane had created an enhanced version of the drug and used it to bring Batman to his knees. Aside from the Joker, he was the only enemy of Gotham that Batman couldn’t overcome himself. Superman had stepped in and personally locked Bane deep in the heart of Arkham, in the cell right next to the Joker’s. But Bane wasn’t nearly this strong, and Venom doesn’t include kryptonite.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Bane wasn’t nearly this strong, and Venom doesn’t include kryptonite.’ Well, deduced, Supey! I added a few touches myself. I overheard more than enough about the stuff in the cell next door to know how to fix it up and make it really pack a punch. Oh, and the kryptonite? That’s for you, buddy! I know, I know, kryptonite’s hard to find these days. Practically impossible. Lucky for me, Bruce Wayne doesn’t trust you any more than he trusts me. It didn’t take long to find his green crystal stash in his little hideout.”
Superman’s head was spinning. The fever was setting in; his blood was boiling beneath his skin, surging through his veins like acid.
“So,” Superman spat out, “you break out of Arkham, cut up Alfred, throw together a super drug, and terrorize Gotham and Metropolis just to kill me?”
“YOU! YOU? You’re disgusting, you know that? You heroes’ egos are beyond me. Why should I care whether you live or you die? Why should I care whether you exist at all? At ALL? Weren’t you listening to the guy on the screen in the Batcave? You’re nothing to me. You’re nothing to anyone! You’re like the neighbor kid’s dad: you’re big and strong and keep a nice lawn, but you can’t give me a spanking without becoming the bad guy. Truth? Your entire idea of mankind is a lie. Justice? You would have felt guilty if you’d killed me with that flying tackle, but because you let me get up, there’s a married father with a tailpipe where his right lung should be. The American way? Oh, please, Superman. What does that even mean anymore? Survival of the fittest?”
“I . . . am the fittest.”
The Joker turned Superman around and looked him squarely in the eyes. Now his face was serious, strangely sincere. His voice shifted from its crazed ranting pitch to an even, matter-of-factual tone.
“But you don’t fit.”
Superman blasted the Joker with as much heat as his eyes could muster, knocking the clown backward and loosening his grip. Seizing his chance, the weakened Kryptonian shook himself free and turned to fly out of the maniac’s reach. But he didn’t get far; the Joker caught his flapping red cape and whipped him backward to the streets.
“Why do you people keep wearing these?”
The clown kicked Superman onto his stomach and placed his heel on the Man of Steel’s neck. He then produced a syringe from his jacket, which emitted the same deadly lime glow. He bent down, reaching with his free hand to grind the hero’s face in the freeway. Then he leaned in close and dripped his next words into Superman’s ear.
“I’m going to shoot you full of this stuff, Supes. I’m going to give you a taste of what it’s really like to do something important. All you’ve ever done is maintain the status quo; now you’re going to be different. You know what Venom does to the brain, Superman? It surges it, it turns all systems go, and if you’re not an absolute genius, it breaks it. Like strapping a jet engine to a tricycle. And no offense, Supes, but if Batman won’t touch the stuff, then I’m guessing it’s too much for a mind like yours. Now here’s the part that I’m especially proud of: this little concoction doesn’t have enough kryptonite to kill you, just enough to let the Venom from take effect. You’ll keep your powers, you’ll just get a healthy dose of ’roid rage. It’s really genius, Supes. You gotta hand it to me. Genius.”
Superman let out a final cry as the needle pierced the base of his neck. The Krypto-Venom stung as it trickled through his nervous system. The Joker lifted Superman high above his head and launched him toward the city.
Superman was paralyzed in midair. His tried to wave his arms, but they responded far too slowly. Or were his arms waving ahead of his thoughts? I’m slipping. Hang on. He crashed through one skyscraper, then another. He regained flight, but shot off far more quickly than he normally would. He broke the sound barrier with a mighty boom, blistering through apartment complexes and office buildings.
I don’t fit.
The world went fuzzy.
Truth, justice, and the American way faded into rage, rage, and rage.