Neither Batman, greatest detective of the 21st Century, nor anyone else in the past four or five thousand years has had the capacity for observation of self and nature exhibited by the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks didn’t just see, they grabbed onto the things they saw and chiseled them into the cornerstones of Western Civilization.
Here were a people that saw a specific ratio in nature. They noticed it occurring over and over again, replicating itself in strangely beautiful ways. They called it the Golden Mean, and once they identified it, they pulled and tore at it until they extracted the founding principles of mathematics, music, architecture and physics. Not content with that, their greater thinkers worked the Golden Mean into a philosophy of beauty, thought, and the meaning of life. Meanwhile across town, other thinkers were mapping out the foundations of democracy, rhetoric, teaching, and theatre.
Theatre, of course, came in two varieties: Comedy and Tragedy
The core of most Greek Tragedy is the principle of hubris: the Pride of the Great. When a mortal man, whether king, general or poet, achieves a certain level of success, he is apt to get a mite full of himself. Inevitably, this honks off the gods. And the gods promptly knock him down to size. What contemporary man often fails to realize is that the mythological gods are just a metaphor. Man is a self-righting creature. He doesn’t need a real Zeus or Apollo to keep him in line, the Proud will find ways to destroy themselves.
You’d think someone who actually knew Euripides and Aeschylus, who could have attended the first readings of the Iliad or the opening night of Oedipus Rex, would realize the essential truth of the Greek’s observation that Pride goeth before a fall. But Ra’s al Ghul had the special kind of arrogance that could fully appreciate the principle of hubris, could recognize it as a useful failing in his enemies, but blithely assume such human folly did not apply to him.
Talia had inherited all of her father’s hubris. She believed that Luthor appointed her head of LexCorp for her strategic brilliance. Her mind could not conceive of any other possibility. Just as she couldn’t conceive that she’d stepped into a trap in the matter of Wayne Enterprises surveillance, that the information her agents downloaded daily from the WE intranet was exactly what Bruce wanted her to have. It wasn’t merely that she didn’t consider the possibility, she couldn’t. It was no more possible that her beloved could deceive her than it was that he could love another woman.
It was vexing that he allowed the cat to advise him. Talia was sure moving the divisions had been Selina’s idea. Probably too, the restaurant and shopping arcade that flooded her observers’ records of the comings and goings at the Wayne Building with so many prominent names and faces that it was useless as an espionage tool. But Selina, so Talia believed, was too full of herself and her cleverness to recognize how well Talia knew her beloved’s mind. When the divisions were moved, she’d simply hacked the computer system they’d use to communicate with the main office.
She longed to confront the miserable thief and rub her nose it in: how, because of Selina’s own strategy, Talia could now eavesdrop on this important part of Bruce’s life. She longed to taunt her beloved with her rival’s failure, and impress upon him how she could read him in ways Selina never would. She wanted to go to him with some tale of her father’s schemes and make him believe in her again, to demonstrate once and for all that she could control Batman against his very reason as no other woman every would. But that wouldn’t do. To benefit from her victory, she had to keep it a secret.
It was most vexing.
Batman was staked out on a rooftop near the waterfront, waiting for an expected drug shipment. It was a bad time to be an underworld stooge in Gotham City. The Bat had visited no fewer than four seedy bars tonight, and the informants had become desperate (not to mention bruised) trying to figure out what the hell he wanted. He seemed more intent on beating information out of them than in actually hearing the information. As the bottom feeders witnessed one stoolie after another spill their guts and get tossed out the window anyway, they became more complete and creative in the information they supplied. The panicked recital of every criminal enterprise, real or rumored, on the lower east side had given Batman an assortment of leads to follow up. He’d chosen this one: drug-dealing scum were just perfect for his mood. No conflicted impulses there, no murky ambiguities—just pure unadulterated evil. And their jaws would make a very satisfying crack when they hit the concrete.
For some bizarre reason, he had assumed his conflicted feelings about Catwoman were behind him once they’d become a couple. How naïve was that! Sure she’d devised this brilliant system of defense for his company, and even made some equally wily suggestions to improve the Batcave’s security, but damnit, she’d violated his private sanctum.
No, that wasn’t it.
She’d betrayed his trust.
No! SHE hadn’t trusted HIM. That was what stung. In the past, every time they’d declared a truce and tried to work together, she’d complain, sooner or later, that he didn’t trust her. But this time, she’d made it very clear that the only reason she was letting Bruce Wayne know anything at all about her plan was because it was his company and it couldn’t be helped. She stated, to his face and in the most unambiguous language, that Batman could not be trusted with information that was to be kept from Talia.
“Wonderful, you and Dick should get together. You can belittle me in stereo.”
“Dick is a very bright kid. And you–”
“Can be intensely stupid when it comes to letting bad girls into my life.”
It was a vicious and hurtful thing to say, and he regretted it immediately. But the damage was done. He steeled himself for the equally vicious shot she’d take in return. She wasted no time.
“Let’s get something straight: What I am, I am by virtue of my talent and personality and the choices they’ve led me to make. If you think I’m threatened by comparisons to some little twinkie that has nothing that wasn’t given to her by some big strong man, then you have absolutely no idea who you’ve been fighting with all these years.
“And speaking of that… Y’know, my opinion of old man Ra’s has always been that he’s a bush league schmuck that gives sociopathic megalomaniacs a bad name. And the only reason anybody on, say, my or the Joker’s level even knows his name is because you go to pieces every time he’s mentioned. If you didn’t take everybody to DefCon-4 just because an al Ghul comes to town, he’d be just another bad guy with a bad haircut.”
It stung. It was a speech she’d obviously been saving for the right occasion, because it was far too eloquent to have been composed on the spot. There was no denying Catwoman was as deadly with words as she was with her whip. Much as it killed him to admit it, it wasn’t the violation that was pissing him off; it was the bodyblow to his pride. Selina had beaten him in a fair fight on his home turf. She’d outmaneuvered Talia without breaking a sweat, simply because she didn’t have the exaggerated opinion he did of the Demon-crowd’s abilities.
“Sulking? That’s not like you.”
He didn’t turn.
“I really don’t want to talk to you right now,” he said flatly.
As if he’d said the precise opposite, Catwoman came closer and curled up beside him.
“Lucius is so happy he sent two dozen roses along with my check. A Miss Cleghorn in public relations is so giddy with the reviews the restaurant’s been getting, she’s got cover stories on deck in like seven magazines. And my spies tell me the guys in finance sing songs about me.”
“Is this your idea of not talking?”
“I just figured I’d get a ‘thank you.’ I don’t think that’s so much to ask.”
“This conversation has outlasted my interest in it. Go away.”
“Come to think of it, I’ve NEVER gotten a thank you. I helped you stop a plague, I kicked Prometheus’s ass when he’d taken out the entire JLA, I let you use me as bait to catch the Joker, and I have never gotten so much as a–”
“You didn’t let me use you as bait. I had to trick you into it.”
Catwoman bit her lip. That was not how she liked to remember it, but it was a fair description of the event.
“And when you met Prometheus you were at the WatchTower to steal the Storm-Opals. I’m the only one that knew that.”
“And,” Batman moved in closer, feeling much better now that he’d refreshed his ego with a recitation of his victories over her, “I did get you a little thank you for this latest thing. But I’ve decided not to tell you what it is or where it’s hidden. When you figure it out, you let me know.”
Dick had changed out of his Nightwing costume, double-checked that the cave was finally secure, and entered Bruce’s study from the hidden panel behind the grandfather clock at the same instant Tim came in from the dining room. They looked at each other for a brief second… and both burst out laughing. After a few minutes, they collected themselves, glanced at each other, then began again. Dick gasped, wiping a tear from his eye, and fought to avoid any eye-contact with Tim that might set him off again. As a mantra to focus his thoughts and get control of himself, he recited a particular passage memorized in his theatre history class:
“The Farce is a classic and enduring form of humor, relying as it does on the comedic ramifications of a lie or deception. Comedy of errors is often introduced with multiple characters appearing in the same costume or one character appearing in many guises, attempting to be two or more people at once. It is always presented in a grand house where corridors of identical doors escalate the confusion as characters come and go at an increasingly frenetic pace…”
Tim gaped unbelievingly, and soon both were laughing again as Dick sputtered the footnote: “Bruce has had this coming for a long, long time.”
One Hour earlier…
The party was in full swing. Once a year, Wayne Manor hosted a fundraising gala to benefit the Foundation. Because Fate is the only cosmic force with a tragic sense of humor, some costumed villain usually made an appearance and Bruce was forced to vanish from his own party so that Batman could foil the crime.
Tonight’s event was no exception. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn had descended with the apparent intention of doing as much property damage as possible while robbing the house and guests, and spritzing the wealthier men with Ivy’s hypnotic pheromones for future subplots best left to the imagination.
Considering the gala’s history, it was a depressingly predictable turn of events—with the unfortunate wrinkle that this time, when Bruce ducked into the study to get to the passageway behind the clock, he discovered Vernoica Vreeland making out with that tall sportscaster from Cable Sports.
Bruce backed out of the room and went round to use Alfred’s elevator in the butler’s pantry, only to find the caterers embroiled in a battle of their own (about the temperature of the crab puffs) that was not be set aside just because some psychotic plant-women were taking hostages in the dining room.
Though it was risky, Bruce decided his only choice at this point was to go upstairs and climb down the drainpipe outside Dick’s old room. Ridiculous as he knew he would feel, the great Dark Knight reduced to shimmying down a drainpipe, he was sure Dick had used this as an unofficial exit for years without ever being caught.
Reaching the bedrooms, he spotted a figure already hanging halfway out one of the windows. It was Catwoman. Selina kept her costume in her room, not in the cave, and she’d obviously snuck up here to change as soon as Ivy and Harley made their appearance. Assuming she’d had the same idea of using the drainpipe to get out of the house, Bruce joined her at the window just as she pulled herself back inside abruptly, clamping a hand over her mouth and pointing down.
The Joker and two henchmen were at the base of the window, hiding in the bushes and looking through the French doors at Harley and Ivy’s antics inside. Joker was in a quite a state. For a man with bleached skin he looked positively purple. He kept gesturing excitedly to the henchmen, pointing out some new outrage going on inside.
Amusing as the Joker’s jealous rage might be under other circumstances, there were people in danger downstairs and Batman had to save them. Bruce motioned to Selina to go round to the landing and wait for his signal. Then he went out the window and, instead of climbing down, he went up, across the roof, and finally used a tree on the far side of the house to work his way to ground level and the cave.
He shook off his dinner jacket and shirt and began fumbling with the cowl when a pair of slim, cool arms wrapped round his waist. “It’s been so long, my Beloved.”
This was a nightmare.
Talia was no more than two sentences into her usual story about her father—angered by her betrayal, yadda yadda yadda, sending agents to kill her, yadda yadda, and begging his protection—when a click at the top of the stairs warned that someone had opened the passage behind the grandfather clock.
Good News: Veronica and SportsNight had left the study.
Bad News: If that was Selina coming down the stairs, there’s no way this would end good.
He unceremoniously flung Talia into the costume vault, slammed the door shut, and leaned (casually) against the hinge with every ounce of his weight. The foot on the stair was not Selina’s, however, but Alfred’s.
“Sir, the situation upstairs is becoming critical. The Joker has arrived and, quite apart from the criminal proceedings, the exchanges between he and the harlequin woman have become embarrassingly personal.”
“I’m on my way, Alfred, just… hang on as best you can.”
Alfred turned with a shrug… just as Tim arrived from the outside entrance Bruce himself had used. Bruce saw to his horror that he was expecting to open the costume vault.
“Tim, I ah, need you to go back upstairs—as yourself, don’t change into Robin. I can take care of Ivy… and Harley… and Joker. I need you to, ah, get the caterer out of the butler’s pantry.”
Tim just blinked as Bruce physically spun him round and propelled him back out the door. The Caterer? Unless there was a new pastry chef criminal he hadn’t heard of, this was the worst insult ever. Hell even if it WAS a pastry chef criminal he was being sent after, it still wasn’t exactly a compliment.
Of course, the moment Bruce turned back, Talia was letting herself out of the vault prattling “How quick your mind is, Beloved.”
A lesser man would have gagged.
Bruce was not a lesser man.
He somehow managed to stifle the words “obsessive stalker from hell” and corralled the clinging female long enough to finish changing into Batman. Returning to the party was another matter. If he left her alone in the cave and Catwoman found her here…
He didn’t finish the thought. He’d undoubtedly see what would happen in such a scene the next time Scarecrow nailed him with that fear toxin that made you hallucinate your worst nightmares.
He’d have to get Talia out through the mansion without Selina seeing… and if in the process he could somehow stop Harley, Ivy, and Joker from killing his guests, so much the better.
He dragged Talia roughly by the wrist back towards the clock passageway, but checking the monitor he saw that the study was occupied again: Ivy and Catwoman were both there—with Harley Quinn—conducting what appeared to be an intervention.
“But Red, you don’t understand, he said he LOVES ME.”
“Harley, for pity sake, he just tried to KILL YOU—AGAIN!”
“Every relationship has its ups and downs.”
“Damnit Quinn,” Catwoman broke in, “you used to be a psychiatrist. You ever hear the AA definition of insanity: It’s doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. How many times are you going to go back ‘cause that psychotic loon says he loves you, only to have him try and kill you all over again.”
The subtext was inescapable.
But Batman had no time to ponder the ironies of Selina speaking these words while he had Talia blowing on his neck talking about her need for his protection from her father… Just how many times had Talia betrayed him while all the while proclaiming her love? For that matter, how many times had Catwoman fought along side him—rescued him even—while they were ostensibly still enemies? When the chips were down, the one woman could be counted on to stand by him as surely as the other would betray him.
It was a long discussion for another day. Tonight he needed to extract himself from this Rube Goldberg Machine that was becoming his life. The study wouldn’t be free for some time. He tried Alfred’s elevator next. On reaching the butler’s pantry, he saw Tim had indeed dispatched the caterers, but the room was now occupied with Nightwing pummeling the Joker. That was at least manageable. He waited until Joker’s back was to the elevator door, quickly opened it, and smashed a crock pot into the madman’s temple. Laughing boy would be out at least until the police arrived.
“Leave him,” Batman ordered as Nightwing started to tie him up, “I’ll take care of that; you take care of this.” He pulled Talia from the elevator. Whatever Nightwing was thinking, he knew better than to speak it.
He tried marching Talia out the back way, but outside the kitchen door Tim was involved in some kind of heated exchange with two crazed Frenchmen.
That left the front door—but he could hear the sirens of two squadcars pulling into the main drive.
The French doors in the Dining Room!
He peeked in and saw Catwoman, having given up on the intervention, was helping soothe guests still hysterical from the original Harley and Ivy mess.
He pushed Talia behind the draperies and, catching Catwoman’s eye, mouthed the words “Cops are on the way.”
Desperate not to be involved in the official aftermath of this event, she dashed into a handy closet to change back to Selina’s evening dress. As the closet door closed behind her, Nightwing escorted Talia out the French doors, just as Bruce emerged from the study—tuxedo cuffs smudged with bat guano from the cave—and Officers Montoya and Bullock walked through the front door.
To be continued...