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A silent puff of air came from between the Batman’s lips. He opened his eyes as the 30 minutes finally elapsed. He placed his hands on the steel cable in which his ankles had been supporting him, and flipped himself around and downward. An acrobatic triple followed, with a tumble raising him into fighting stance as he struck at the dummy in front of him…  shearing the head clean off.  He stood motionless for a moment. Then calmly spoke out loud to the recording device near his practice area.

“Exercise failed. Excessive damage to dummy indicates either a loss of equilibrium after protracted inversion, or a deteriorated mental faculty due to inactivity. Daily regimen must be increased.”  

He stopped speaking and walked toward the car. “Sloppy.” The word echoed in his head. “You’ve grown sloppy.”  

In the past, periodic lulls in criminal activity made him restless, and he’d channeled the restlessness into longer and more vigorous workouts.  This time, what had he done with the precious boon?  Played footsie with Catwoman.

No, that wasn’t fair.  Romancing Selina was the first non-Batman decision he’d made in a long time that worked out okay.  If his concentration was off—and it most certainly was—it didn’t take the World’s Greatest Detective to work out why:  As the Batmobile cruised downtown the day’s headlines scrolled over a lighted marquee in Gotham Plaza:  FOUR DAYS SINCE ARKHAM ESCAPE!   CRIME WAVE CONTINUES!  POLICE STYMIED…

Batman stymied.

Other than Catwoman, the only criminal he ever felt conflicted going up against was Two-Face.  Harvey Dent had been a friend and an ally.  Dent, Gordon and Batman had taken an oath, like some medieval brotherhood, to draw a line against the evil and drive it from Gotham for good.  Where would they all be now if the acid hadn’t scarred Harvey’s face and shattered his mind before they could even begin the task.

It was never pleasant taking down a friend.  Batman dealt with it by telling himself that this monster wasn’t his friend– Two-Face was the thing that killed his friend. 

Except Harvey Dent wasn’t dead.  Harvey, it turned out, was Selina’s friend.  He dragged her to karaoke bars the way he had once done his colleagues from the DA’s office.  He’d told her the same stories:  the time his fraternity rigged the dance marathon and how he took the bar exam with a hangover.  He extorted the same hopeless wagers from the rogues on the eve of the Harvard-Yale game as he had once done from Bruce Wayne. 

Harvey Dent was very much alive inside Two-Face, and both Bruce and Batman had written him off completely.

Now Two-Face had escaped—yet again.   What the hell were they running at Arkham anyway, a Bed and Breakfast for the criminally insane?  It was less than a month since Dent was captured.  

Now he was free again, and almost immediately he’d embarked on a crime-spree—but not a typical Two-Face crime spree.  There was no Gemini or Janus tie-ins at any of his targets, no 2s in the addresses or dates.

It wasn’t possible.  Obsessive psychotics don’t wake up one morning and simply drop the core symbol of their psychosis.  Something very bad was happening, and Batman knew if he didn’t figure out what, there was going to be a double-digit body count.

What was even stranger than Two-Face’s break from his theme was the peculiar silence of the witnesses.  There were police and lawyers at some of the locations, people who normally remain calm and observant in a crisis, but their recollections were just as vague as the civilians who were too terrified to notice much of anything.

Batman’s reverie was cut off by the appearance of the signal. 

Damn. 

Probably another useless status-report.  Gordon would’ve known not to bother him with trivia Batman could get from news reports.  The replacement hadn’t learned yet. 

As always, Batman neared the roof of Police HQ to observe before making his presence known.  This began as a simple precaution: in the early days, his alliance with the police was uncertain and strained.  He had to be prepared for a double-cross.  In the years that followed, it became his trademark.  He knew Gordon wasn’t planning anything underhanded, but he watched and waited anyway, picking his moment to materialize without warning, like a spirit of the night.

As he watched now, Batman couldn’t quite believe his eyes.  

There was a figure from the past waiting for him, but it wasn’t Gordon… It was Harvey Dent.

  

Fifteen minutes later, Batman understood why none of the law-enforcement witnesses volunteered any details:  They weren’t random by-standers.  Two-Face was deliberately seeking out Harvey’s old friends, allies and colleagues, forcing them to witness his transformation—not into Two-Face, but into a personification of raw rage and pain.

Before Batman could make his presence known on the rooftop, a hapless patrolman arrived on the scene.  Gordon’s mutton-headed replacement couldn’t be bothered to check on the unauthorized use of the signal himself and had sent this rookie.  Idiot.

Two-Face leveled a gun at the rookie’s head, produced his coin to give the condemned man the customary 50-50 chance for a reprieve—but instead of tossing the coin, he railed against the night sky like King Lear, screaming with a passion seldom seen outside of grand opera.

He denounced the hypocrisy of law, grounding tenets of freedom in a legacy of slavery

He damned lawmakers, insulating their own power rather than any upholding any concept of right and wrong

He cursed lawyers that care more about winning than punishing the guilty or freeing the innocent

He denounced a police force mired in racism and corruption…

And then he looked directly at the blackness where Batman lurked and condemned the hypocrisy of vigilantes, claiming to be instruments of justice while violating every principle of due process and constitutional protections…

It might have been an eloquent argument if he was addressing the Supreme Court, or perhaps making the nominating speech at a political convention, but it was a horrifying display delivered only to the moon and stars by a madman.

It was a horrifying display, even to those (especially to those) hardened to the dementia and violence of costumed criminals.  No one who felt any sense of commonality with the one-time district attorney could escape the haunting idea that, but for a wrong move or a quirk of fate, they could become that. 

With a trembling hand, Two-Face held out his coin and screamed that chance was a faithless bitch.  Good side up, he would shoot the patrolman, scarred side up he would shoot himself.  Then he hurled the coin off the roof, and with a lightning move sent the patrolman after it.  Batman acted quickly, firing his grappling line in time to save the patrolman.  Unable to prejudge the arc of descent or the effect of the patrolman’s added weight, the landing on an adjacent rooftop was rough and painful.  By the time Batman recovered himself, Two-Face was long gone.

To be continued...

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