Chapter 6: Publicity Stunts
“You have my highest gratitude.”
Lex Luthor surveyed a broken Metropolis, but a Metropolis still standing nonetheless. His guest stood behind him, laying a full deck of 52 playing cards on Lex’s office desk. Nice try, Joker. Didn’t count on that ace up my sleeve, though. Lex grimaced. Better not use any card metaphors—somehow he’d view that as a win.
“You know your gratitude means nothing to me.” Lex’s guest spoke with a genuine tone, one laced with both concession and contempt.
“Well, you have my respect, at any rate.”
“You save my city; I save yours. Now we’re even.”
“And Metropolis thanks you. I’ll see that they thank you in style.”
“Lex, save your celebrations. You know they’re no good, and you know I don’t want them. I don’t want to share any more camera shots with you than I have to.”
“Such hostility! We just worked together to save Metropolis from one of the greatest acts of terror it’s ever faced. Surely we can get along better than this.”
“We can’t. We never will. I don’t know what you’re up to, but I do know this: Lex Luthor does really good things so he can get away with really, really bad things. I learned that the hard way.”
“The hard way? I reversed Brainiac’s shrink ray on Central City and helped you end that nightmare. All it cost you was a Wonder Woman.”
In a flash, Lex’s accomplice had him by the throat and was burying his right fist into Lex’s stomach. The nanotechnology couldn’t rush from Lex’s boots quickly enough to absorb the blow, and Lex spewed his hot coffee on the bay window glass. Lex caught his breath, and the tall, thin man in red snapped a deliberate reply.
“Don’t ever call me again.”
And with a sudden rush of wind, he disappeared. Lex smirked.
Even if I could read the Flash’s mind, I wouldn’t have to.
* * *
Captain Marvel and Batman stood in the Justice League’s Watchtower medical unit as Superman and the Martian Manhunter lay motionless. Earth’s two most powerful heroes—braindead. Batman’s in hiding, cut off from his resources. How does this happen?
Batman was no telepath, but he could tell what the young hero was thinking.
“I’ve never seen the Joker get this bold. He’s always been out to cause as much chaos as possible. But this . . . this is new. I don’t know how long he’s planned on this. Long-term plans aren’t his M.O.”
“But what’s he going to do next?”
“He’s a terrorist. He’s threatened to set off 52 bombs in Metropolis. According to Two-Face, he’s out to undo Lex Luthor.”
“Lex will think of something.”
“Probably. But Lex has never dealt with this kind of enemy before. The Joker doesn’t let up. He’ll be back with a bigger publicity stunt, Lex will outsmart him, and it will just keep going. The only thing that will change is the amount of lives at stake. That’s how it works with the Joker.”
“I should help Luthor. I could put a stop to this.”
Batman put his hand on Captain Marvel’s arm.
“Lex isn’t the kind of man you want to help. Besides, the Joker knows you took down Superman. He’ll have something on hand in case you show up.”
“Metropolis shouldn’t suffer because of the Joker, though.”
“Ten years ago, I’d agree with you. Five years ago, I’d probably still agree with you. But the more time you spend trying to save people, the more you realize that everyone suffers because of everyone else. The Joker’s just one who takes credit for his share.”
* * *
Jimmy Olsen raced into the Daily Planet’s empty elevator and mashed the button for the 17th floor. The elevator doors shut halfway, then opened again while leaking a tone that sounded vaguely akin to the elevator’s familiar “ding.”
Dang. Forgot the machine’s down since the Superman brawl yesterday.
Jimmy sighed and headed for the stairs. As he rounded the corner on his way up the steps, he heard someone scrambling up the steps behind him.
Jimmy didn’t have to turn around to recognize the demanding, authoritative voice of Lois Lane, but he turned anyway. The senior reporter was a legend in the media world, and Jimmy Olsen couldn’t pass up the chance to talk shop with her.
“How’d your interview with the Flash go?”
Ms. Lane’s green eyes seemed to search for any and all information Jimmy could offer before he even answered. She was in her early forties, but she was still just as gorgeous as she was when she got her first interview with Superman nearly 20 years ago—just older, tougher, and even less tolerating of nonsense.
“It was quick. That’s not a joke. For someone who just searched every square inch of Metropolis in an hour, he doesn’t have much to say.”
“Did you get anything good out of him?”
“‘Hate to see a nice city like Metropolis go kaboom.’ Not too much. Did you ever interview the guy?”
“A few times.” Lois was getting winded as they reached the 5th floor landing. “Never on his own, though. Back when the Justice League was active, he’d be my go-to guy for some flippant remark that made light of things. He never was the main event, but in many ways, he was the most human of the old JL. Superman gave people faith; the Flash gave them hope.”
“He didn’t come across as hopeful today. He only agreed to the interview because he knew I was friends with Superman—am friends with Superman.” Crap. That’s just what she needs to hear. “Sorry, Ms. Lane; I hope he’s all right.”
“Jimmy, I’ve lost count of all the times they’ve almost killed Superman. Darkseid, Brainiac, Zod—they’ve all tried and they’ve all come close in some way or another. He’s still here; they’re long gone. It will take a lot more than 24 hours in the Watchtower’s ICU to make me believe he’s dead.”
Hope you’re right. Jimmy changed the subject.
“So how much footage did the Joker send you?”
“Too much. He sent me at least 10 hours. He spent most of them rambling on about kryptonite Venom and how our way of life in Metropolis was over. There were also a lot of bald jokes aimed at Lex Luthor, who apparently has some sort of new power armor. Then there’s the part where he threatens to blow 52 buildings sky-high.”
“Lex and the Joker, huh? What do you think of that?”
“Part of me’s glad to see the bad guys taking each other out for a change. But the better part of me knows that it’s never that easy, and that a lot of people are going to get hurt.”
“People like Superman?”
“And the Martian Manhunter. And now the Batman. The Joker sent me footage of the Batcave, and it was filled with kryptonite weapons: bullets, rockets, grenades, batarangs, blades, and more. Then we got the press release with his secret identity—the feds have issued a warrant for Bruce Wayne on charges of conspiracy to murder Superman.”
“Wayne? Wait, so Batman’s on the run from the government?”
“Given the number of enemies Batman collected over the years, I’m guessing the feds are the least of his worries.”
Jimmy paused. Superman’s down, Batman’s on the run, the Joker’s at large, and Lex is flying around town in battle gear.
I’m going to have a lot of writing to do.