“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.“Mary Wollstonecraft shelley • Frankenstein; or, The modern prometheus
And Into The Storm
A hail of brick and mortar pieces hit Batman in the back as he fell.
The only things he could hear were the tinnitus-muted murmuring of the gunman, and the low-volume static of a police scanner that had definitely had a wire knocked loose.
He’d plotted for a run from the rooftop, but he was falling toward the third floor of the speakeasy.
Too much momentum. Too high up. Moving too fast, can’t get to the batrope.
He put his forearms in front of his face to blunt the crash and make some attempt to protect himself from the glass.
Keep your eyes open. They’re covered, and you’ll need to be able to see.
The window frame splintered, the glass pane shattered into hundreds of violent shards, and the Batman tucked his chin down positioning himself to roll when he hit the floor. The maneuver was executed with perfect precision, certainly saving some number of broken bones, but as he should have stopped moving, he was falling straight down.
The static stopped altogether. The tinnitus did not.
There’s the fracture you were trying to avoid shot through his mind with a pain he was certain was a broken shoulder.
Gotham’s guardian did a kip-up and was on his feet. He could still flex his arm, still move his fingers, but each action sent excruciating pain shooting through his arm.
A scapula fracture?
He scrutinized the room, which was cloaked in shades of darkness. The apartment itself was gray and desaturated, the doorway led to blackness. He moved to the doorway, and made for the stairs.
It was less dark on the streets, and with any luck, he would reach them before the would-be assassin.
Through the door, and onto the street, the Bat sprinted to the right, up the block toward the flat-tire truck. His footfalls were quiet on the uneven pavement, but they weren’t silent.
Knee might be busted.
“BATMAN!” A shout from behind him
BAM! BAM! Two shots from behind him.
The slugs whizzed by. Too close. A glance over his shoulder and he could see people alongside the gunner. The police commissioner. And a bald man in a double-breasted white lab coat with red-tinted eyeglasses.
The real Dr. Victor Fries and the commissioner leveled guns and fired shots at him, but these didn’t miss. Neither did he hear them pass by his ear or ricochet off of something distant.
He didn’t look back, instead, he leap-frogged onto the motorcycle, stamped down on the kick start lever, and took off.
In fact, the only thing that Batman could hear was his cape billowing behind him.
The Batman whizzed by on a motorcycle as blacker than the night Behind him, his cape trailed in violent snaps like the cloak of death itself. Johnny Gelio, Gotham City’s police commissioner wheeled around, his outrageous scowl made completely incongruous by his manic, exaggerated smile.
“How dare you?!” Johnny was insolent, furious, blasphemous.
His mind was aware that he had just shot a god in the chest. He knew what Superman was supposedly capable of, and he’d seen the bent barrels of enough tommy guns to believe it. But the Man of Steel made no move to disarm him, and Johnny did nothing to suggest he wanted to de-escalate.
“You’ve just interfered with an apprehension in an active investigation!” Johnny expectorated the words like a curse on the alien, who floated downward, his feet silently touching the ground.
Even standing on the sidewalk, Superman was enormous. Describing him as “towering” over Flass wouldn’t be incorrect. And Johnny stood his ground.
“Forgive me, commissioner, but there was an explosion,” Superman started. “I’ll assume you know what recently happened in Metropolis; you can understand my concern.”
“Which part of ‘active investigation’ are you failing to comprehend you giant louse! Your intervention here has cost us the apprehension of a child-killing serial murderer.”
“Would you like me to apprehend him?” Superman furrowed his brow, and Johnny was certain he was bluffing.
“Get. Out. Of Gotham.”
“Commissioner, I came because there was a cry for help, and an explosion. And just as I arrived, I heard your officer say ‘Tell the devil Falcone sends his regards,’” Superman paused, and the accusation was clear.
“I can’t and won’t speak to what my detective may or may not have said in the course of apprehending a killer, following hundreds of man-hours of work to lure him into our clutches,” Johnny answered, still pointing the gun at the brute. “Mr. Falcone is not involved in this investigation, except that his family was victimized by this freak. Sling your baseless, anti-Italian conjecture in Metropolis.”
Johnny shut up, and Superman recoiled just a fraction.
He’s offended. Good.
“Not to mention, Falco–” Flass was speaking, and Johnny would’ve broken his jaw if they’d been alone. Instead, his free hand sprang into a wave, and Flass, mediocre detective that he was, managed to take the hint.
“Again, Superman, I’ll ask you again to get out of my city.”
Superman squinted at the trio, and then burst like a missile into the night, and Johnny lowered his gun (but he didn’t click the safety on). Scattered patches of fallen leaves rustled to life in the wake of the takeoff, and Johnny caught one delicately by the stem, almost mesmerized by the way it waltzed in the air.
“Idiot,” Fries said in his signature monotone. He removed his glasses and breaking the silence. The man’s eyes were moist, though it was difficult to truly see in the darkness. “Goddamn idiot.”
“Yeah,” Flass added. “We almost had hi–“
“Not him. You,” Fries interrupted. “Your commanding officer is fixing your mistake, and you were about to contradict him in front of Superman?”
“Hey mack, I dunno who the hell you think you’re talking to, but I’m more than willing to sock a man in glasses.”
The shots rang out of Johnny’s sidearm and into the skies above.
“Both of you, can it! Flass, the coroner is correct. I don’t know what you said about Falcone, but you’re lucky I was able to cover for you. Fries, if you insulting the most reliable of my men was helpful, I wouldn’t care, but let’s leave the riot act to the guy who wrote Newark’s Riot Act.
“Tonight wasn’t our night to bring in the Bat, but Superman’s intercession may be a blessing in disguise.”
Neither Flass nor Fries laughed.
They didn’t get the joke.
Johnny twirled the brittle brown leaf in his hand, spinning it between his thumb and forefinger like a dancer in a music box.
“Let us take our leave.”
Neither Flass nor Fries laughed, and he cast the leaf aside.
Tall pine trees stood as sentinels on either side of him, whizzing by at eighty miles per hour. It was a brisk night, and even with the additional insulation of the armor, it was too cold to be riding a motorcycle.
He hadn’t thought about whether he was supposed to ditch the bike, or take it back to the cave, but unless they were on bicycles, no one had followed him on the long ride from West Side, up through Little Italy, and across the Ramapough Bridge.
Too dark, what gives?
The Batman clicked on the headlamp on the bike, having rode with it off for the additional “stealth.” The curfew provided additional cover, even with the light pollution, but some kind of muffler would certainly have helped even more.
He slowed down, his cape rippling more loudly at the slower speed, and pulled slightly off the leaf-strewn street. Batman turned the bike off, but kept the light on. Dismounting to assess the damage, he walked gingerly to account for his knee to the front of the lamp, feeling at his ribs. The gash in his side was deep, and his gloved hand came back slick with blood.
That’s more than a graze. You’ll need treatment, probably stitches.
The cacophony of the forest sang in the night around him almost disorienting.
Shards of glass pocked his arms, but there wasn’t enough light to safely remove them without risking something breaking in the wound.
Tomorrow is going to be hell.
The wind picked up for a fleeting moment, rustling dry pine needles and leaves alike into a tornado in miniature, and the realization that he hadn’t looked up in quite some time unforgivingly dawned on Batman.
The smell of ozone joined the petrichor of the barrens, and an otherworldly god drifted toward the quiet road, his boots touching the rugged pavement with a quiet tap.
Like a scene from an old western showdown, the man in all black stared warily at his counterpart.
Superman raised a hand to gesture calm, and took a step toward the shadow.
A flash of color played across the alien’s eyes in the darkness, and he cocked his head in a perfect forgery of curiosity.
“What are you?”
Batman already had two flash cartridges in hand by the time Superman had landed, but he made a move that should’ve been almost imperceptible, the first twitch of muscle as he reached for his shuriken.
“Don’t. I, don’t want to–” The Man of Steel drifted off. “You’re hurt.”
The Bat exhaled, and the air in front of him turned to fog.
“You need help. You’ve got a serious cut there, and,” Superman’s eyes twitched. “You’ve got a badly torn ligament in your left knee.”
The Kryptonian took another step forward, very slowly, still holding his hands in front of him.
Two paper-thin glass capsules flew toward Superman at impressive speed. He blew at one, and it broke with a flash and an outpouring of white smoke against the trunk of a loblolly pine. The other he caught out of the air, but not delicately enough, and it too broke with a flash causing great clouds of the white smoke to envelope his face. He rubbed his hands together, and glass particles and sawdust blew away with a breeze.
Before Batman could even take a step toward the bike, Superman was within arm’s reach.
“The explosion,” Superman said, laying a hand on Batman’s shoulder. He didn’t grip, but the weight of his hand was very evident. “What happened back there?”
The two men were at eye level, and Batman was sure that Superman could see through the reflective lenses on his mask. He thought for a second, then ducked and jumped backward into a handspring, twisting gracefully in the air and landing in a fighting stance.
Immeasurable pain shot through his knee, but he only grimaced. And then, he blinked, and Superman was once again close enough to touch him.
“I won’t hurt you, but I need you to talk to me,” Superman’s voice was more paternal and authoritative now. Almost condescending.
“Didn’t cause the explosion,” the whispered words of a ghost. “It was a set up.”
Superman inclined his head, putting his hand on his chin.
Batman said nothing.
“Even if what you said about the explosion is true, you’re wanted for multiple murders. Murders of children. I need to take you to the police.”
A beat, then:
“The police will kill me in custody.”
“I have ways to make sure they don’t. And if you’re innocent, you don’t have anything to hide.”
How is this guy so damn naive?
“Maybe that’s a strange thing to say to a guy in a bat costume.”
“It’s a strange thing to hear from a guy in a leotard,” Batman hissed.
“The difference is I’m not wearing a mask.”
Beneath his own mask, the Batman furrowed his brow.
So this is how it ends?
Superman put a finger to his ear.
You need to talk him out of taking you in.
“You can’t protect me.”
“I can. I can hear thi-things over incredible distances–“
“And even worse, how many people are in grave peril right now so that you can have this dramatic confrontation?”
“I can let a fire burn in a cornfield in Oklahoma i-if it means handing an accused child murderer over to the proper authorities,” Superman offered a rehearsed-sounding counter.
He’s had an argument about this before. He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying, that’s why he’s stammering.
“Those children aren’t coming back,” Batman snapped. “But you’re killing that farmer in Idaho. They’re not going to recover financially.”
“There’s not actually a –“ Superman sighed, then twisted his face into a look of anxiety.
“I haven’t killed anyone. And whether you believe me or not, you know it’s a possibility,” Batman remonstrated. “You kill people by inaction, and they die suffering. Do you know what’s happening in the Great Plains right now? You could irrigate the entire region, and instead, families are losing the farms every week from soil erosion.
“If you want to take me in, do it. But I’m trying to find the person who’s doing this. Why do you think the coroner was there? His son was killed, and he said he had new information.”
Superman narrowed his eyes.
“Then take your mask off.”
Superman looked in either direction, and huffed.
He could tear this off right now, but he wants me to do it. And he’s getting antsy.
“You’re not leaving me much choice here. One more chance,” Superman said
The Bat was confounded, but he just shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” Superman apologized, and his hands were on Batman’s shoulders, and his eyes were glowing red.
The feeling was unpleasant, and it was over in less than two seconds. Then Superman launched into the air with a crack, knocking Batman backwards and re-aggravating the ringing in his ears.
Pine needles and leaves swirled in the scent of ozone and petrichor, and he frantically patted a smoldering hole in the pectoral of his costume.
He was two miles from the Bat Cave, just over two miles from Wayne Manor. Batman looked around, and looked up, then he hobbled back to the motorcycle.
It was Thursday, September 20th, 1934, and it was 10:33 p.m in Gotham.
It was also Friday, September 21st, 1934, and it was 12:33 p.m. in Japan.
For more than an hour, the Muroto Typhoon was wreaking unimaginable havoc across the archipelago.
Superman’s hesitation led to the loss of almost three thousand lives, and left another two hundred thousand people homeless.
It would be eleven years before Japan would experience such immeasurable devastation again.
Approximately a quarter mile away from the cave, the headlamp of a racing motorcycle shined on Batman, who had removed his cowl, and was cutting the cape free from it with an extraordinarily sharp-and-also-bat-shaped shuriken.
Once the task was complete, he put the rear wheel of the bike onto a patch of dirt, and engaged the throttle, kicking dirt and pine needles into the air. After a time, there was something of a pit. Not too deep, but it would work for his purposes.He tore a strip off of the severed cape, and dipped it into the fuel tank of the motorcycle.
He laid the tatters in the makeshift pit. Then he placed the gas-soaked strip across it, took three big steps backward, and tossed a flurry of flash capsules toward the pit. The rag caught first, then the rest of the cape burned alongside it.
The flames lasted less time that he expected – maybe five or six minutes – and as it became just a charred pile of indistinguishable fabric, he stamped painfully on the embers, and piled dirt atop the smoking remains.
Batman made the limping, wincing trek to his base of operations on foot, then hobbled deep into the mine to change out of his clothing, and dress his wounds.
As he rounded the corner to the command center, two men stood, arms crossed, with similarly glowering expressions.
“You didn’t listen,” said Bruce Wayne.
“He never does,” said Alfred Pennyworth.
First: In trying to keep this realistic, and, unfortunately, especially given the technological constraints of the 1930s, Batman is just not going to beat Superman by outwitting him (because Superman can *ALWAYS* just brute force a solution) unless:
a) Batman has Kryptonite or
b) Superman gets distracted and needs to leave.
I realized this after I published last week, and since Batman doesn’t have Kryptonite (at least, not yet) and I’ve locked myself into some temporal boundaries, I needed a way to distract Supes on 9/20/34.
But here’s the thing: almost *nothing* significant happened on 9/20/34 (I think Sophia Loren was born, but that’s it).
Then I realized I was thinking like an American. When it’s late on Thursday in the US, it’s Friday in many other parts of the world. So I found a disaster that happened on 9/21/34.
The Muroto Typhoon really *was* as big a disaster as it’s presented in this Chapter.
I didn’t want to diminish the value of the lives lost in that tragedy, so I kept the numbers true to History, with the implication being that Superman could’ve saved some or all of the people who passed that day if he hadn’t felt the need to lecture Batman!Dick about “turning himself in.”
Secondly: There’s a chance I’ll be taking November off for NaNoWriMo.
If I do, I’ll try to still post next week, but if not, you’ll know why.