Two weeks ago we kicked off a brand-new Fan Zone section with Sergio Pereira’s The Darkest Knight: A Batman Story and followed that with another Batman story, Lyle Arends’ Batman: Black Sun. For the third consecutive week, we have a Batman fan story. Enjoy Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s A Comedy of Terrors.
If you’ve created your own fan art, fan fiction of even fan films of your favourite superheroes, we’re keen to feature you. If you have anything you’d like to submit, please get in touch: [email protected].
A Comedy of Terrors by Dave-Brendon de Burgh
About the story:
‘A Comedy of Terrors’ is a story I’ve always wanted to write since I read the long-ago Elseworlds-treatments of iconic DC Comics characters; the ‘what-if’ element of each tale really captured my attention and I’ve been asking ‘what-if’ ever since. This story explores the answer to the question, ‘What if Bruce Wayne suffered such massive trauma because of his parents’ murder that he never recovered, that he never became a force for justice and instead became a force of terror and death?
A Comedy of Terrors
“Another gangster found butchered?”
He had a cultured voice that rolled gracefully with precise pronunciation and emotive focus, not over dramatic or even melodramatic, but conscious of how he spoke when he opened his mouth. And then there was that underlying layer of barely-held-back giggles…
He crossed his arms, gripping his biceps through the bright-orange prison jacket he always wore, and pushed back on his chair, shifting his weight until the backrest stopped against the wall. He seemed utterly unconcerned by the fact that he was imprisoned. Hardly anything concerned him, in truth.
The man standing across from him, bulky frame draped in a tired-looking trench coat, fedora perched on the round, sparsely-haired head, shifted as if to speak again but the prisoner beat him to it.
“I can see the humour in this. But why come to me? Has Doctor Quinn told you that I need story-time along with my meds?” Now he did giggle and it was childlike and shrill, as if a brain-damaged old lady was hallucinating the joys of a long-gone tea party with invisible bunny-friends. “She’s such a joker, isn’t she?”
The man in the trench coat barked a laugh, mumbled something, shook his head. He folded his meaty arms across his chest – then unlaced them when he struggled to encircle his paunch. “She’s askin’ for your help, funny man.”
“Ohhh,” intoned the man in the orange get-up, “Well, if you put it that way…” He leaned forward, the front legs of the chair meeting the concrete floor with a dull thump and he pushed his head into the cone of sickly yellow light falling from the hooded bulb five feet above him. The detective drew back, just a nudge of movement but enough to betray his reaction to the face now leering at him:
A perpetual, somehow ominous smile, with teeth as large and perfect as piano keys; maniacally twinkling eyes, the color of which was lost in crinkly folds of laugh lines; the skin powder-white and bright and painful to look at; the jaw pronounced and pointed, like a threat; the hair a slick prow of sick-green, high over the brow and tapering down the nape of his neck like a gecko’s tail.
“In that case,” the funny man said, “I’ll listen to what she has to say.”
He winked at the detective, who took a step back, running his tongue nervously over his upper lip.
He said, “I’ll get her.”
It didn’t take long for the news to spread – that the cops had pulled in a homicidal, maniacal clown-comedian to catch the serial killer who was targeting the mob bosses of New Lincoln. Consequently, as the commissioner of the police made her way down the oft-branching corridors that led deeper into the prison that the inmates referred to as The Asylum, keeping to the invisible line in the center of the corridor which would ensure that the grasping hands couldn’t reach her, the air echoed with derision and insults.
She ignored them, of course. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t something painfully true about them.
“You ain’t never gonna catch The Bat!” a hoarse voice hollered from her right. She darted her gaze over and was repulsed enough by Reptile’s scarred visage that she looked away just as quickly. “He’ll hang ya all up and drain ya dry, stinking pigs!”
Barbara Gordon often wondered what her father would have done in her situation. The Bat was killing criminals. Brutally, yes, but all the men and women he had taken out hadn’t been good people, not even in the most loose, most grey sense of the word. In fact, the only reason that this case –fourteen dead, and unless this crazy plan of hers worked, even more to come- had snowballed into this huge media storm was because of the bad guys dying.
Moving underneath a succession of light and shadow, Barbara knew what her father would have done – before the stroke hit him and smacked his lights out. He would have done everything in his power to catch The Bat – task forces, undercover operatives, knocking on doors until their hinges fell apart… She told herself that the world was different now, that the rules had changed. Hell, even the city’s name had been changed!
But the truth was that nothing had changed. Nothing except the fact that she really didn’t want to be doing her job. She didn’t want to catch The Bat, because the bastard was doing her job better than she ever could.
All too soon she realized that she was nearing the end of her journey to the lair of the most feared man in The Asylum. Barbara had only been in the same room as him twice, and both times were in a courtroom; watching him sit there, arms smugly folded. He had been grinning as the trial sped on towards its fated conclusion, and she had realized that he wasn’t human, that perhaps he never had been. The mind of the man who hated the name the media had given him –Joker- could have never been normal. He had to have been born with the malice and hatred and twisted humour already deeply ingrained, as if the genes that had switched on had short circuited and fused. Every psychologist who had ever spent time with Joker left shaken and perplexed; every single one.
Barbara had heard that some of them had even returned to studying, convinced that they’d missed something – and those that had elected to write a book on Joker were still writing, still analyzing, still poring over transcripts and watching hours of video. No-one could seem to get a handle or an angle on him. A phrase that she’d heard repeated over and over when people spoke about Joker was no motive. It was never personal, there never seemed to be a plan, nor even a desired outcome.
If she had told the mayor that the reason for her coming to enlist the aid of Joker in finding and capturing The Bat was precisely because Joker didn’t seem to actually know, or care, what he was doing or how he did it… Well, she would probably have been forced into early retirement – and retiring at thirty-seven that would grab headlines like a pit-bull grabbed a roden.
The corridor narrowed down to a single door, the lighting overhead coming from two bare bulbs so that the walls, floor, ceiling and door had a glaring quality. This wing of The Asylum was a place hardly even whispered about, she knew. The people who worked here, even the doctors and orderlies, seemed somehow off balance, with too-quick smiles, too-ready explanations, too-effective ‘punishments’ for those who didn’t toe the line.
Barbara didn’t know what she feared more – being locked in a room with Joker or being locked in a room with the staff of this wing…
She stopped before the door, took a breath as she squared her shoulders, felt how fast and hard her heart was beating, and then knocked twice on the door, short and sharp, an irrational spasm-thought filthy-sick-don’ttouchittoolong- blitzing through her mind.
Time began to swell in the spac behind her, as if an invisible balloon was expanding and filling of The Asylum, walling her off, barricading her in this wing so that she had only one direction open to her. She licked her lips,
The door opened, silently, as if in a vacuum, and a flushed, round-faced, dark-haired man squinted at her before his fleshy lips elongated sideways. A smile, Barbara realized. He thinks that’s a smile.
“Commissioner!” he said, as if through a mouthful of fish-guts, all squelching and breath-puffs, “please, do come in.”
She wanted nothing more than to sprint in the opposite direction, to open her mouth and throat to the feeling of wrongwrongwrong that was rising in her. But her father, the legendary Jim Gordon, would have probably just lit a smoke and shouldered past the creep show-orderly as if nothing was creepy. She missed her father at that moment with an aching, searing pain – because he wasn’t standing at her side, ready to comfort her and offer her encouragement.
A thought struck her as she took the first step into the wing of The Asylum that had been emptied just for Joke: This is just an orderly, Barb. You haven’t even reached the man himself yet. But she could feel his eyes on her, a sensation like slugs crawling slowly across her back. She didn’t know how he stood it, being here by himself.
For some reason he just couldn’t get the thought out of his head – the damned thing echoed and rebounded, drowning out whatever he tried to think to get a wall up between his mind and it: This isn’t right – he should be hunting you.
“It’s as if…” he whispered, “… As if something is wrong with the world. As if the damned universe took a zig-zag tumble instead of a step forward.” He let out a breath, shook his head. “And now they want me to catch him. To stop him.” Suddenly he laughed, a quick burst of high-pitched sound like metal squealing between twisting fists. “Imagine the headlines! ‘JOKER NABS BAT’!”
Joker peered around before folding in upon himself to squat and peek under the surrounding cars.
The trail had been easy enough to follow – people as crazy as him and The Bat left signs behind, like calling cards that were blaring billboards to those whose minds spangled to the same spar. It couldn’t be helped. It was a way of saying “I am part of the wrongness in the world! Fear me!”
When Joker had visited the scene where butchered gangster had been found beheaded –after being strung upside-down, the coroner’s report had helpfully informed- he had found the signs: tiny chalk drawings, as if done by a child’s hand, of bats, on the insides of lamp-shades, on the hard-yet-brittle curves of light bulb-glass, on the under-sides of drawers. Every time the bats appeared they had either grown in number of become less, until Joker had realized that bats flew in swarms, and so he had searched until he found the beginning of the trail, one-bat, two-bats, three-bats, four, and so on. The trail had led to the mobster’s little boy’s room, to what seemed to be the panicked leavings of a child that had been interrupted during play-time – a tumble of Matchbox-cars, piled on the carpet under the bed.
Joker had turned to the unsmiling commissioner and said, “Mymymy…”
“What?” she had snapped.
“It’s obvious is ‘what’,” he’d grumbled back, hurt at her tone. “I know where The Bat’s going to be next.”
She had blinked, given a minute shake of the head. Then: “Where?”
“Where cars go to sleep, Commishy-Gee!” he had yelled in reply, bolting to his feet and rushing toward the window that The Bat had smashed out during his own exit hours before. They hadn’t been able to catch The Bat because the guards that had come with had all been downstairs. Joker also went up, up to where the roof was flat and the neighboring apartment blocks were close enough that he was able to jump the gaps, laughing and laughing at their stupidity and carelessness. And their willingness to let him play the kind of games he loved playing – the games that had no rules, no victory conditions, and no conclusions.
Less than an hour later and he had arrived as the scene of The Bat’s future crime – the parking-lot entrance to Harvey Dent’s not-in-the-books high-society snooker club.
He had known that there would be screams. He had hoped for the screams. Had been dreaming of the screams every night since he had been born. Every time the blade tasted the light before tasting the flesh and tasting the blood, there were screams. But they were never the screams he wanted to hear. The screams he needed to hear.
They weren’t her screams.
Harvey Dent screamed again, the sound of it like a trembling of butterfly wings against his brain, as the blade tasted blood for the hundredth time. The scream was exquisite and thrilling to the man who had once been a boy but had become a thing of the night called The Bat.
The Bat opened his eyes, his nose catching the fear-full scent of coppery blood, spotted with hints of piss and bile and bowel, and smiled down at his work. “Look, Harvey,” he said, smiling his yellow-and-broken-toothed smile, “I gave you another face. Now you have two!”
Across the room a slam of noise exploded the moment and The Bat looked up to see an orange-clad figure with green hair and a white face skipping into the room. The figure was smiling. The figure was laughing.
“I simply love the outfit!” the figure exclaimed, moving steadily closer. “It’s so dark and smooth and pointy eared – but I don’t get it: aren’t bats supposed to be hairy little things?”
The Bat lowered the blade, resting its painless edge against the un-ruined Dent-cheek, and he also began laughing. It was a deep, throaty chuckle, bubbly with phlegm and strained breathing. Then The Bat said, “Finally. You’re here.”
“I am, indeed!” giggled Joker, stepping into the cone of white light entrapping Harvey Dent. His features shot into stark detail and The Bat thought, Yes, yes, yes. Joker laced his hands behind his back, pursed his lips and bent at the waist, peering down at the one-time-lawyer-cum-mobster. “Ooh. Oooh.” He shuddered, then giggled, then shuddered again. “If he lives, he’ll have to get a new name!”
Laughter erupted from both of them, Joker’s shrill as iron nails on glass, The Bat’s deep and roaring like rocks tumbling in the dark. Their laughter died away, slinking, inching, twitching into the silence.
The Bat said, “You haven’t changed. Not at all.”
“Hmm?” Joker peered at him, perplexed. “Batty-boy, no, no, no, I don’t think that’s correct, we’ve never met, no, no, no, not even in a cave.”
“We have,” replied The Bat in a hoarse whisper. “I was a little boy, I was nine, I was small and you were so big and scary and-“
Joker’s eyes widened in comical surprise and he took a small step back. “No…”
“Help… Me…” came the gurgling stench-breeze of Dent’s voice, rising between them like an unseen but felt exclamation mark.
“I was nine,” whispered The Bat, “and you told your men to hurt Mom and Dad, you told your men to hold them and hurt them, hold them and hurt them…”
Joker’s hand rose, forefinger extending like a slender white slug with delusions of skeletal strength. “That was you? You were that little boy, that little runt that got away?” The finger re-curled, the arm retracted, folded across the other now-folded arm. “You know what? I can’t remember his name –it’s been years, you know- but when I find the idiot that let you get away I’m going kill him. Yes, kill him. I mean, look at what he’s done! If he’d just killed you like I told him to none of this would have happened!” He was waving his arms around, as if encompassing decades of events and deaths. Then he began laughing again and his shoulders shook with the mirth of it.
The Bat said, “I did all of this to find you.” He raised the blade, turning it slowly so that the light sparked off the small sections that were free of Dent-blood. “All of this – for you. To bring you back.”
“Back?” echoed Joker. “To where? Here? I’ve never been here before.”
“To me,” said The Bat, and reversed the blade in his hand so that he now held the hilt out to Joker. “Mom never smiled, not once, never when Dad was there, never around him, not even when he tried to make her smile.” He extended his arm, practically pushing the blade-hilt in Joker’s direction. “But that night, you gave her a smile. You gave her a red, screaming smile.”
Joker took the blade, peering down at it as if unsure what it was. His eyes rose to meet The Bat’s eyes. A slow, slow smile began to form on his face, the skin stretching, lines forming at the corners of the lush-lipped mouth, eyes becoming twinkles of mirth in crinkly white folds of flesh. “And do you want to smile, Batty-boy?”
“Please,” whispered The Bat, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “It’s been so long since I smiled.”