“The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone. The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech.”William L. Shirer
Corrupt Simplicity With Delicate Ferocity
The Devil himself wore all black, stood seven feet tall, and looked every bit the menacing ruler of hell portrayed in William Blake’s The Number of The Beast is 666 (currently on display at the Gotham Fine Art Museum). The Beast’s coming was foretold by the sudden power outage, and it stood, in front of the elite of Gotham with its wings spread behind, lit only by starlight.
It beat its leathery wings, and with glowing eyes, it cast judgment upon the assembled through a sudden hole in the side of the home of the luxurious Silverwood Barrens estate of Carmine Falcone, also known as The Roman, and Gotham’s untouchable criminal kingpin.
His guests tonight had come together to pledge money to Mayor Basil Karlo’s re-election campaign.
This didn’t feel to anyone like an auspicious omen, but then, neither did having Bruce Wayne, the adoptive older brother of Mayor Karlo’s presumed opponent, as a guest. Bruce had never donated to Karlo’s campaign, but Falcone insisted there were “certain courtesies that must be observed.”
Speaking in a somehow thunderous whisper; its voice only clear above the ringing in the ears of the assembled guests because of the shocked silence of the party.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you have eaten well, and drank deeply,” The Devil whispered. “You have eaten Gotham’s spirit, its resources, and its people.”
One of the dinner guests, Gianna D’Ellaroso, felt faint, and slipped, barely being caught by Bruce Wayne, and set gently into her chair in the darkness.
The butler eventually felt his way to the silent alarm, pressing it three times in rapid succession. This sequence would tell the house staff to lockdown Carmine Falcone’s study, and send a message to the Shamrock Home Electro-Lock security offices, who would in turn send armed security guards and alert the Gotham City Police. Their closest outpost was almost ten minutes away.
The Devil continued to judge the assembly.
“Your feast is nearly over,” it whispered. “From now on, none of you are safe.”
The Devil spread its leathery wings, and flew into the night.
Two blasts of gunfire illuminated the dark dining room in flashes, one discharged by Gotham Police Commissioner Peter Grogan, and the other by his body man, Detective Arnold Flass. Both ran after the demon, looking around and even up, but saw nothing but the blinding brilliance of Gotham moonlight overhead.
Carmine Falcone shook his head, hitting himself with the butt of his palm in the temple to attempt to relieve the tinnitis from the blast to his wall, and stared a hole in Mayor Karlo, who shot a look at Grogan and Flass.
The Roman collected the mayor, the commissioner, and the detective, and, with an emphatic apology, dismissed his dinner guests.
Homes in Silverwood Barrens were far enough away from one another that a small enough explosion was unlikely to alarm the neighbors, but this didn’t keep The Bat’s evening rendezvous with Gotham’s wealthy elite from the headlines.
WINGED FREAK TERRORIZES GOTHAM GUESTS
The Gotham Globe was a legitimate newspaper, and even Skip Freeley made a discussion out of it in his Gotham Gossip column, positing that this “Batman” was Gotham’s sinister reflection of its sister city’s Superman.
Bruce Wayne set down the newspaper, looking up at his adoptive younger brother, Dick Grayson, and taking a sip of his coffee.
“What are we, English? Who keeps serving beans and mushrooms with breakfast? When is Al coming back anyway?” Dick complained, rubbing his right deltoid with his left hand.
“Soon enough, but you don’t love his cooking either,” Bruce remarked.
“Anything beats this,” Dick said, allowing a stream of baked beans to drip off of his fork.
“When is Barbara getting here?” Bruce asked, chewing a mouthful of mushrooms.
“Any minute now,” Dick replied. “I have half a mind to cancel though. I thought I wasn’t gonna need to work nights anymore?”
“I needed to be able to accept that invitation to put us above suspicion. Anybody in Gotham who can read will know that I was at Falcone’s last night,” Bruce held up the paper, pointing to it with his free hand. “That invitation was sent before you announced, and I’m pretty certain I won’t be invited to the next one.”
Dick rolled his eyes, and continued massaging his shoulder.
Lieutenant James Gordon was standing in front of the police officers in the operations room of Gotham Police Central District.
“Commissioner Grogan is on administrative leave, so in the interim, while Mayor Karlo tries to get approval for a new commissioner, I’ll be the acting top cop,” Jim explained, privately annoyed that Grogan would be getting paid for getting canned, which probably meant he wasn’t long for the world, or that he had too much dirt on Karlo and Falcone.
“Where’s Flass?” Asked a thirtysomething detective, one who Gordon was pretty sure he’d seen take protection money from a shop owner in Gallery West.
“He’s on leave too, but I’d guess he’ll be back sooner tha-–”
“He’ll be back,” interrupted a heavyset older officer lurking in the back of the room, with thinning dark hair. Bullock, Gordon identified the voice. “Talked to Flass this morning. He’s just taking a few days to figure some things out. Rumor has it he’s being interviewed to be the next commish,” Bullock supplied with a shit-eating grin.
Jim couldn’t think of anyone worse for the job than Flass. He was hotheaded, violent, and certainly in too deep in the various rackets that plagued the police department. Gordon himself was certainly the favorite of the papers, and the one most likely to be confirmed by the city council, but he didn’t think he stood too much of a chance if Mayor Karlo was doing the appointing.
Acting Commissioner Jim Gordon gave out assignments, and headed to his office. One way or another, he was expecting a call from the mayor.
In 1920, Yiannis “Johnny” Gelio, age seventeen, was collecting his younger sister, Althea, age six. She was playing with her friends in the alley below to their walkup tenement.
Johnny’s well-worn boots needed new soles, but he hadn’t had time to get to the cobbler, so he could feel every creaky wooden step beneath his feet as he descended.
Johnny’s older sister, Cassandra, had died in the Ace Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 when Johnny was only eight years old. Althea was born three years later in 1914.
Johnny could hear his parents fighting in their native Greek over the mistake that they surely wouldn’t be able to afford. But when Althea was born, Johnny’s papa smiled the biggest smile he’d ever seen through tearful eyes.
Johnny’s mama told him and a three year old Althea that papa had been called off to France in 1918, and handed each child a gift from their father, wrapped in a plain paper package with a bit of twine.
For Althea, a porcelain Kewpie, with a simple note “Be careful you don’t break her.”
For Yiannis, a book called A Bunch of Yarns by F.J. Cahill – a collection of funny stories from the stars of vaudeville.
Johnny didn’t get a note, and he was more than a little suspicious that the note accompanying his sister’s gift seemed to be written in his mama’s hand, but his mother insisted through streaming tears that their father was off to fight for freedom in Europe.
Johnny had done his best to keep Althea and her Kewpie doll safe, and, much to his surprise, his little sister managed not to break her favorite toy in the intervening years.
When he appeared at the top of the alley, (they lived in subsidized tenements near the arts district just outside of Gotham’s Coastal Park neighborhood, in what would, in just a few weeks, come to be known as Crime Alley), Johnny saw his sister and her friends digging through soot and muck beside a dumpster, and jogged over to them to investigate.
“Kewpie! She fell!!” The girl screamed in a panic at her brother. Johnny shooed the younger children, who all marveled at their dirty hands, and scanned the area near the dumpster, hoping to see a glint of bisque to avoid digging through the disgusting runoff.
A tiny, smiling face appeared just behind the waste bin, and Johnny slid into the space between the wall and the dumpster to retrieve the doll.
He was unexpectedly sad when he noticed that it was cracked – the toes on the left foot had broken off – he spit on his hanky, wiping the doll more or less clean, and emerged, trying to put on a smile to avoid alarming his kid sister.
“Almost as good as new,” he handed the doll to Althea who smiled brightly and squealed at her older brother, the hero. She kissed the doll, and Johnny took her sticky, disgusting hand, and walked out of the alley with the kids, sending his sister’s friends to the neighboring tenement building while he and Althea climbed the stairs in theirs.
On the last step before their floor, Johnny stepped on a protruding carpet tack which punctured the sole of his shoe, pricking his big toe, and causing him to curse in pain.
“Wash your hands Althea. And wash Kewpie, too,” Johnny commanded. He was annoyed and frustrated and dirty, and he trudged down the hallway to the common bathroom to scrub himself clean, trusting Althea to get washed up for dinner by herself.
Weeks later, Althea was diagnosed with the poliovirus that would eventually take her life. That day at the doctor, Johnny’s back spasmed for the first time.
Althea’s death took a toll on mama’s sanity. She would mutter to herself about her sweet angelos, and Johnny, just before turning nineteen, took the money he’d been hoarding in his top drawer and ran away from home, determined that he could build a better life for himself without mama’s inconsolable breakdowns.
And he succeeded.
Starting out as a night security guard at a museum in Trenton, he was eventually promoted to manager, and from there he was recommended into the police academy, working his way up the professional ladder from patrolman, to detective, to sergeant, to lieutenant, of the Trenton Police Department.
On a dark, stormy night in 1932, Lieutenant Yiannis Gelio, age 29, kicked the door of an illegal bootlegging operation off of its hinges.
None of the bootleggers were armed, though there were submachine guns on the wall behind them. The tip had been good; Johnny’s men caught the bootleggers completely unawares, playing poker around a card table.
“There was one guy in the back, he’s mumbling something in some language I dunno, sir,” said an officer, dragging an older, olive complected man out of his hiding hole.
There was an optimistic familiarity in the man’s eyes as he looked at Johnny, breaking free of the younger officer’s grip and charging at the lieutenant.
“Γιάννης? Γιάννης! Αγόρι μου! Παρακαλώ, πρέπει να καταλάβετε, αυτοί οι άνδρες εδώ, απήγαγαν–“
A gunshot, and the man collapsed on the floor, coughing blood out of his mouth.
“I am not your υιός,” Johnny spat. “Bob, get him in a bag.”
Johnny had long ago moved past any notion of feeling guilty about dispensing criminals.
Officer Bob Barber didn’t breathe for a full ten seconds, then surreptitiously inhaled a sharp, single breath.
“You all saw it. He was charging me. I had to defend myself. Get all of this cleaned up and lets get these scumbags downtown.”
The next day, Johnny was promoted to captain.
And just over a year later, he got a collect call from a friend of his a couple towns over, a cop. Arnold Flass.
“Your mother’s not doing too well, Johnny. Might be time for you to make your peace.”
Johnny liked Flass because he got results, but he didn’t quite respect the guy’s mind. On the take? Sure. But who wasn’t on the take in Gotham. Flass didn’t pull punches, and he knew how to get his men to look the other way. Loyalty was something Johnny valued, but he knew that Flass’s methods were anything but clever. He was a beat cop in every sense of the phrase, and he really should never have been allowed to investigate anything.
“By the way, Johnny, I think I might’ve spoke too soon about that commissioner gig,” Johnny searched his memory, then remembered. Flass as commissioner would be a disaster. It would mean Gotham was a lost cause. And anyway, you don’t get promoted to commissioner from detective, not even in Gotham.
“They’re looking for an outside hire,” Flass continued. “But the smart money’s on Gordon.”
“Gordon’s a good cop,” Johnny said, inwardly chuckling at the irony of such a Boy Scout being Gotham’s top cop. “Or at least, that’s what the papers say.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Flass said. “But if you’re coming home, I got someone I’d like you to meet.”
The arrangements were made, and, for the first time in more than a decade, Johnny Gelio returned to Gotham City to, with any luck, become the new commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department.
“Already?” Dick was flabbergasted at the news from Barbara, but she did have a bit of an inside source.
“Nobody’s more surprised than me. I kinda assumed my father was just being pessimistic, but he wasn’t even interviewed,” Barbara explained.
“Yeah, but this guy came outta nowhere, right?”
“Well, yes, but he grew up in Gotham. And he turned Trenton completely around. Dad says he’s reserving judgment, but only because he knows Flass – he’s one of the detectives that my father insists is corrupt,” Bruce had walked into the small banquet room where Barbara and Dick were working on his schedule for the day.
“Here’s a pair of co-conspirators if I ever there was,” Bruce glanced over at the pair who were sitting inconveniently close to one another at such a large table.
Both of them briefly looked up at Bruce and rolled their eyes.
“Look, I know you don’t want to do the publicity stunt thing,” Barbara began, loud enough that Bruce could hear, “but I think it’s time we thought about saying something on the topic of these dead children.”
Arnold Overlea had been the first in what would become a series of unsettling deaths. Three bodies in three consecutive days.
“GPD and the mayor are doing a presser tomorrow morning,” Bruce interjected. “If the campaign releases a statement today, it’ll run in the stories covering the press conference.”
“Do we know what they’re going to be talking about?” Dick asked. “What if it’s not these killings?”
Bruce and Dick both looked at Barbara, hoping she could fill in some blanks.
“Dad didn’t tell me what it’s about, honest. I –“ Barbara paused, then, “I don’t think they’ve even told him.”
“Hmm,” Bruce pondered aloud. “We can probably narrow it down though.”
“Right,” Dick added. “There are only really two things they could be discussing: the killings or the new commissioner.”
“It’s probably both, right?” Barbara suggested. “‘We brought in this hometown kid to fix things!’ seems like a good story for the papers and a good way to get the mayor a publicity bump.”
“‘Both’ sounds correct,” Dick said. “That’s what the statement should reflect.”
“Okay, but how do we turn the murders of a bunch of children into a good thing?” Barbara asked, vexed.
The trio searched their thoughts in silence for a time, each scribbling down notes.
“I think I’ve got something,” Barbara finally broke the quiet with excitement. “We don’t want to give the mayor a win –“
“– Or the police,” Bruce added.
Barbara rolled her eyes.
“So, what if the campaign paid for funeral expenses for the murdered children? A lot of these kids don’t come from wealthy families, and a funeral can be expensive, and create a lot of additional stress at the grimmest time in these people’s lives,” Barbara explained the developing idea. “It doesn’t incentivize more killings, and since we don’t know the killer’s motives, there’s even a small chance it prevents further deaths.”
Bruce thought it over, while Dick started writing.
“And the police?” Bruce asked.
“What if we just say that we hope the new commissioner is more competent than the mayor’s last appointee?”
“That’s really good!” Barbara said.
“Let me read it before you send it out,” I’ve got to get to the hospital.
Bruce left the hall, fastening a deep blue tie around his collar.
“Hospital?” Barbara asked, confused.
“The Foundation has been funding the remodeling efforts of the sanitarium down on Arkham Island,” Dick explained. “Bruce believes he would’ve benefited from a mental health intervention after his parents were…anyway, he thinks counseling and social work is a good way to keep crime down.”
“What do you fellas have against cops, anyway?”
“It’s kind of complex, but a lot of it has to do with seeing how Alfred has been treated by police. The guy’s one of the three richest men on Earth, and he’s been pulled over and beaten up for the crime of ‘driving a nice car,’” Dick searched for a pithy conclusion. “You’ve read about the Gotham Renaissance? Well, when that started, it was called the Gotham Black Riots, if you can believe it.
“The police were brought in, not to protect the black families buying houses and moving into The East End, but to scare them off. They protected business owners who refused to serve colored folks, and when they found out that Wayne Enterprises was providing them good union jobs with worker protections, they started union busting at other companies that weren’t so worker-friendly.
“Police don’t really stop crimes, either,” Dick continued.
“Are we just pretending that detectives don’t exist?” Barbara asked defensively.
“Detective work is important,” Dick retorted, “but the only crimes those potentially stop are future crimes. A crime has to have occurred in the first place for a detective to solve it, which is to say nothing of all the times they get it wrong. How many people are in the Jersey Penitentiary who didn’t do anything except ‘fit a description?’”
“So you want to get rid of jails, too?”
“There’s a humane way to separate people from the rest of society,” Dick reflected after a moment. “But the way jails are now, ain’t it.”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong, Dick, I just want to know what I should do if I get mugged or worse? And I have read about the Gotham Renaissance, what about the drugs that flooded into The East End?”
“Cannabis? Oh come on, Barbara. Are you telling me you think cannabis is dangerous? It wasn’t the cannabis, that was just a convenient excuse to raid The Silk Room. If dope was so dangerous, why isn’t every college campus in America getting raided every day?”
“But violence, who would stop violence? You still haven’t answered the question of who stops me from getting mugged?”
“The police have a monopoly on violence, Barbara. Are you getting mugged in a world where people are getting paid fairly, have a roof over their heads, and a hot meal to eat? Where they have a professional to talk to if they’re feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders? Where they have a community that supports them? Where they have schools that teach them more than just how to be a slave to wealthy people?”
“Big talk from a ruling class guy who never wanted for anything,” Barbara chuckled.
“That’s my point, Barb,” Dick laughed in reply. “You don’t see me, or Bruce or Al committing mugging anyone, do you?”
Barbara sighed in annoyed defeat. He did have a point, but still.
“Let’s get to work on this statement, huh?” Barbara picked up her pen; Dick smirked and followed suit.
Mayor Basil Karlo was flanked by his interim police commissioner, Lieutenant James Gordon, Jim’s partner, Detective Selina Kyle, and the mayor’s new appointee, Commissioner Johnny Gelio. Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne stood among the crowd of onlookers and press; Barbara Gordon was there, too, but stood on the other side of the assembled.
Also in attendance were the parents of the three murdered boys: Billy and Etta Overlea, Joe and Trina Todd, and Gus and Maria Harper, though, Bruce noted, none of them were standing in places that indicated any kind of esteem or reverence from the police.
“…I want to thank interim commissioner lieutenant James Gordon for his continued, unparalleled service to the people of Gotham. He has been invaluable in our mission to make Gotham a safer, healthier, and wealthier city. And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Commissioner Johnny Gelio!”
Bruce also noted that the mayor’s tone was uncomfortably pleasant, given the circumstances; Bruce also thought it significant that the guest of honor was much more severe from the moment he approached the lectern. The dark haired man with the neatly pressed dress uniform had a number of muscular tics: his eyes, mouth, and shoulders occasionally twitched; it was unsettling to witness, but Commissioner Gelio ignored it. Tetanus, Bruce filed it away as a likely cause in his memory.
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. People of Gotham, terror has ravaged our once rising city!” the new commissioner began. “The sons of Gotham lie dead in our streets, and a police department made impotent by manifold efforts to undermine our work have been left in need of resources to bring the criminal responsible for this – this madness to justice.
“I feel the pain of the parents of Gotham who have experienced these grievous losses. I know that feeling of hopelessness all too well, because I have comforted mothers and fathers, including my own dear mother, when her soul was crushed with the burden of burying two daughters.
“The mothers of Gotham shudder, fearfully in their homes, begging with trembling hands to our smoky skies, asking ‘who will save us?’ and the so-called leadership has washed their hands of the matter entirely, paving the way for The Devil to answer their prayers.”
Gelio’s eye twitched as he held up a newspaper from earlier in the week. The Gotham Globe. Mayor Karlo’s face had hardened into a grimace. He nodded along with Gelio’s speech, even if, at points, it seemed as much a criticism of him as anyone else.
“Metropolis has their own vigilante. An alien in a red cape and blue tights. And yet, even now, bombings have crippled our sister city, and the so-called Superman has been powerless to prevent death, grievous injury, or the destruction of businesses.
“We must not confuse terrorism with heroism. The real heroes of this city are the citizens who risk it all to serve and protect you every day, and I am proud to serve as their new commander.
“I introduce to you our new campaign against a common enemy. The mayor has assembled a task force, the same crackerjack team that investigated and brought to justice the oriental menace has been working silently and tirelessly to answer the question of ‘who is killing our sons?’ and ‘who is assaulting and threatening Gotham’s job creators?’”
Throughout the audience, there were scatted claps, cheers, and cries of “hear, hear!”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am joining and will be leading this task force, and I am committing to you, today, that we will expand that operation tenfold until our common enemy has been defeated and brought to justice.
“I have given a name to this city’s pain,” Gelio took a deep breath, pausing dramatically for a beat. “And it’s ‘Batman.’ This criminal superhuman is a grave foreshadowing of what even Superman could become! We must prevent this at any cost! The Man of Steel didn’t prevent the death of Arnold Overlea, and didn’t provide comfort to the boy’s grieving mother when he arrived and quickly vanished, leaving a heartbroken family feeling more hopeless than before!”
The scattered cheers once more resounded, with a few more voices this time.
“We cannot allow super powered crooks to dictate the lives of law-abiding people of Gotham. We’ve heard he’s bulletproof. We’ve heard he can fly. And we’ve heard he can be in multiple places at once. The mayor and city council have ensured me that I will have the full support and resources needed to bring dawn upon this dark night of terror. Humanity itself may depend on our ability to demonstrate how to fight back against these caped horrors.
“‘The dawn is all-powerful. You cannot prevail over it. It is coming. No! It is come. Within it is the day-spring of Gotham’s irresistible light.‘”
“Hugo,” Bruce muttered to Dick.
“Victor Hugo?” Dick asked.
“It seems our new commissioner is an avid reader.”
“The Batman is, from this moment, the most wanted criminal in Gotham City. He is our primary suspect in the murders of Arnold Overlea, Jason Todd, and Gus Harper, Junior. He has twenty-four hours to turn himself in, before facing the full force of this Gotham City Police Department.”
Once more, a chorus of cheers filled the air at the proclamation.
Gelio again held up The Globe, pointing, as punctuation, at the headline of the newspaper, reading it aloud to the growing crowd.
“Winged. Freak. Terrorizes,” boos and hisses filled the air, even from members of the press corps, who were quickly being won to Gelio’s cause (whether for ideological reasons or because of the sensational headlines, Bruce was unsure). “Wait ’til he gets a load of me.”
Raucous, angry cheers sounded at the abrupt close of the speech, and Commissioner Johnny Gelio shook the mayor’s hand, gathering Lieutenant James Gordon and Detective Selina Kyle and vanishing into a police squad car.