Chapter 3: Idolum
One of the Justice League’s simpler common sense rules was that they did not become involved in a sovereign nation’s internal conflicts. The early violence had a tendency to pop up in the Watchtower Monitor Womb before international media picked up on anything, and the League kept an eye on the disturbing ones, anticipating the moment it would cross a border and be eligible for their intervention. An exception might be made if an indisputably criminal enterprise was presenting itself as a political rebellion for camouflage, as with the recent black market sale of an old Soviet nuke to a “Czech Nationalist” who couldn’t spell Prague but had Vandal Savage, Dr. Ivo, and Kobra on speed dial. Occasionally an atrocity provoked the intervention of another sovereign nation, which technically justified the League involving themselves. But that was a grey area, for sometimes the second country’s outrage was sincerely humanitarian and sometimes it was motivated by political or economic interests. So the League preferred to wait for a condemnation from Amnesty International, the Red Cross or the United Nations, ideally all three, rather than risk taking sides in a war, though of course they would not wait forever when massive loss of life hung in the balance. But the League itself did not issue official on-the-record statements of concern or condemnation, though every few years Diana tried to get them to reconsider the policy. Each time her efforts ended with a new endorsement of Amnesty International. Their agreement with that organization’s publically stated view on whatever subject might be inferred, but as a body, the JLA would act, not speak, and when it acted in matters involving national interests, it would trust the judgment of those organizations recognized as “the world’s conscience.”
Another of the Justice League’s simpler common sense rules was that you didn’t go into Gotham without informing Batman.
That’s it. No exceptions, no gray areas, no offsets or waiting periods. Don’t.
So even though Selina Kyle had invited Kyle Rayner to lunch and even though she was engaged to Bruce Wayne and actually living in his house, Kyle decided to call it in on the theory that “it couldn’t hurt.” The only acknowledgement was a soft grunt on the commlink, which didn’t clear up if the call-in was expected or if Batman found it superfluous or even silly. Arriving at the spot Selina specified to meet, in front of the waterfall in Wayne Plaza just steps from the entrance to the Wayne Tower, he decided on silly. The next time—not that such a preposterous thing would ever happen again—he wouldn’t be such a fathead.
Or possibly he would. Even without his lingering discomfiture from the call-in, Wayne Plaza was all kinds of impressive. The main entrance to the tower, the lobby one had to cross to reach the elevators, and then the private elevator that accessed the penthouse… It went beyond impressive to downright intimidating, punctuated as it was with the memory of embarrassing mix-ups trying to deliver the booze for Dick’s bachelor night. Then there was Selina herself—Selina who was Catwoman, who in her villainous days had only gone up against Hal Jordon’s Green Lantern and of whom it was openly said ‘If it had been Rayner, he’d be dead now.’ The last was not critiquing their relative powers—he was used to being dismissed on that front by everyone who knew Hal in his glory days and he was long past being bothered by it—but referencing the fact that she flirted, that she was incredibly hot, and that she reduced gods and Batmen to gaping mortals who left doors unlocked and forgot their car keys.
Then the elevator doors opened and the penthouse he remembered from the bachelor party sprawled before him. The minor changes to the décor didn’t faze him, but the addition of a butler—Batman’s butler no less—made him feel more out of his depth than any Green Lantern ever should. He reminded himself of the cosmos he’d looked on that made the Gotham vistas outside the windows look like nothing. And it worked! Even when Selina ordered lunch on the terrace and Pennyworth asked about food allergies, he managed to reply coherently, like a sensible adult with a functioning brain that processed all the words being said to him.
And he was, really; there might be just a little delay here and there, but he was doing just fine until that word artist.
“Excuse me?” he bleated.
“We need an artist, and it’s going to require a unique aesthetic and a rather specific skillset, including taking direction, nay instruction, nay orders to a degree that creative people are not inclined. And it’s all extremely high profile, even for the Gotham art world this will be huge, which means a global—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Selina, I’m not that kind of artist. I do a comic strip.”
“Yeah, but other you,” Selina said, pointing to his ring, “No stranger to the world media, right? The feeding frenzies and the press conferences that are more like fire fights. You’ve been in that vat of piranha enough times, you’re not going to freak out at a few hundred cameras snapping in your face.”
“Um,” Kyle said, scrunching his eyes shut as if trying to block out telepathic interference. “So is this a League thing?”
“No, it’s just something we want you to do,” Selina said frankly.
“‘We’ being you and—”
Kyle tried to process it. Bruce.
“But it’s not League?”
“No, it’s a private project that we want you for.”
“Not as Green Lantern of Sector 2814 but…?”
“Kyle Rayner the artist,” Selina said, stressing each word. “The things you can do with light and your imagination are a factor, but we want Rayner the artist, not the Green Lantern.”
“I do a comic strip.”
“Kyle, this is going to be a bit bigger than that. This is the world of galleries that have three spaces just here in Gotham, two in London, and one each in Beverly Hills, Rome, Athens, Paris, Geneva and Hong Kong. This is the world where a buyer will weigh paying the California sales tax while a piece is lent to an exhibit there versus buying it abroad and paying to import it a second time. This is the world where a typo in an email that it’s Series II and not Series III might mean a six figure difference in price.”
Kyle considered asking to use the bathroom. Instead he repeated that he drew a comic strip.
“You have a sensibility we need for this,” Selina said sincerely. “We know that from the portrait you did of Bruce a few years ago. We know because you work with Superman in life-or-death situations and put your life in his hands on a regular basis. And we know… Kyle, we know because you and Effigy were nearly torn to pieces by an anti-meta mob in Washington that time.”
He didn’t hear her. He heard nothing she said after the portrait.
“Bruce really liked that portrait, eh? Oil’s not my usual medium at all,” he glowed. “And I hadn’t done a canvas that big since art school.”
Seeing this was the tack to take, Selina elaborated on the portrait. The portrait Bruce had hung in the reception area outside his office where she herself had noticed and admired it shortly after they began dating. Before knowing anything about his other life in the Justice League and having never heard of his comic strip, she knew Rayner the artist. She’d noted his name. She found his work memorable…
When she figured she’d got all the mileage there was out of that topic, she said lunch would be ready and they could move to the terrace. As they stood and walked, she took his arm and said:
“Of course this would also be ‘not your usual medium,’ unless you count the aforementioned lightplay.” Again she pointed to his ring and gave a coy little smile, and Kyle began to suspect that the whispered judgments were true. If he’d faced her as Catwoman, he’d be dead by now.
Lunch was a haze of déjà vu and some kind of veal. For the second time in his life, a completely life-changing proposition was before him beyond the wildest imaginings of a kid from North Hollywood. He wasn’t sure which was more improbable: the alien Ganthet giving him the power to conjure any form of matter or energy through sheer force of will, or a Gotham socialite making him the kind of artist that breezed into a city and did a million dollar light installation.
“Well since you mention it,” Selina said when he told her, “you do have a decision to make there, and I’m afraid you don’t have long to think about it. ‘Poor kid from North Hollywood’ isn’t an issue, the publicists love that stuff. But ‘comic strip’ isn’t what anybody expects on the resume of someone who does this kind of thing. Now, we can still sell it. It’s a little more work, but if you want it, it’s doable. Rayner the comic strip guy can do this, but there’s no going back if you do. It can’t be the strip one week, then the installation from Gotham travels to Amsterdam and after all the parties and appearances there, you’re back home doing a four-panel for Glitz.”
“What’s the alternative?” Kyle asked.
“Creating a persona. ‘Kyray is acknowledged as a key mover and shaker of the generation of conceptual artists that propelled electronic light displays into mainstream art. The scale and reach of his creative vision—blah, blah, blah—merges the possibilities of digital data analyses with the romance of epic visual display, dominating the attention of institutional and market forces like no artist of the new millennium. His artistic progress—blah, blah, blah—is mapped by a stream of high profile exhibitions—something, something, dark side—awe-inspiring spectacle of his images and the access that they provide to the invisible mechanisms driving the globalized contemporary world.’”
Kyle swallowed. Then he drained his water glass. Then he looked out at the panoramic view and once again envisioned the galactic rim to put it all into perspective.
“Create a persona,” he said finally. “So then I’d have three. I’d be Kyle, Green Lantern, and this guy?”
“If you decide to keep him when we’re done, yes, you’d have three. Is that too much work? I thought you, like, spanked Imperiex.”
“Same week you turned back an armada of space pods or something.”
“Capped a volcano to trap all the lava in a protective bubble and hauled it into space despite the concussive force bottled inside making it like… what was that phrase… ‘like trying to lug a small moon’?”
“I—Yes, that was me, but—”
“And you can’t handle a rented mailbox, a second bank account and cell phone?”
Yeah, he’d be dead if he’d fought her as a villain. No question.
The At-Large list wasn’t exactly getting shorter. The capture of Killer Croc, Roxy, Firefly, KGBeast and Mad Hatter was countered by Arkham’s release of Joker, Blake and Frieze and Jervis Tetch’s subsequent escape. Cobblepot’s operation was as active as ever, and Double Dare were back in town.
“Oh, there you are,” Selina said, and Bruce scowled that he didn’t hear her approach. “Do you want anything from Belgium?”
The scowl expanded to project an aura of foreboding into the criminal soul, warning that a righteous vengeance had come and the Batman would not suffer your making light of crime. It was a reflex when Catwoman flirted, and it usually produced the carefree smile he saw now.
“I knew you weren’t listening last night,” she said. “Recap: This persona we’re creating for Rayner, it’s not the kind of thing you can whip up on the Internet. People in the art world live in the world. Most of them know London, Paris and Madrid better than 14th Street. If no gallery, collector or museum’s ever heard of this guy, no Wikipedia entry is going to convince them otherwise. So we hit a city, hit the biggest—”
“Wait, you’ve been flying with him?” Bruce asked sharply, and again, Selina grinned.
“And you haven’t been listening when I tell you about my day. I’m making allowances because Joker is out there, but this is the trade off. Whether I bitch about it or not, if you don’t listen, you won’t know things. Yes, I’ve been flying Air PowerRing. Best way to go to Milan after breakfast and be back in time for lunch. We hit the biggest gallery like a pair of collectors looking to buy, make some inquiries about this Kyray. They start making calls to the majors here in Gotham or their sister locations in London or Paris. Sometimes we make a few calls of our own and mail out an inquiry so it has a foreign postmark. Pretty soon there’s a rumor in Tokyo that his Empty Vessel 8 is coming on the market in Hong Kong and there’s going to be a very juicy bidding war between Adrian Cheng and Redford Briggs.”
“I see. I assume your fence in Brussels figures into today’s excursion in some way?”
“Kyray’s current works aren’t the kind of thing that fits in my loot sack, but Kyle picked one of his old canvases he’s happy to part with and I’m going to bring it to Igor today. Explain what a big deal the artist is now and the kind of things he’s doing that makes the early, hangable works such a find.”
“You’ll get more credible word of mouth from that than the rest,” Bruce admitted grudgingly. “And Rayner should be pleased a painting of his is deemed ‘cat-worthy.’”
Selina made a face.
“Actually, about that, I really need to do some work on his ego. He’s okay in the galleries where he’s got me and my Birkin bag convincing the salesman we’re there to buy, but at some point I have to start trotting him around town to see and be seen: lunch at the MoMA, drinks at Bemelmans, the artist with an ego the size of a planet and the society patron he tolerates for her connections. But every time we stop someplace for a coffee, he’s just so… sweet, soft-spoken, diffident even. I can’t see him doing it without… adjustments.”
“So? Adjust him.”
“It’s okay? Good, I wanted to check first. Didn’t want to risk some kind of Neo-Parallax who was going to change the gravitational constant of the universe just to prove he can.”
Tim didn’t know if he’d been called to the manor for Bat-business or social reasons, and seeing Dick’s car parked in the front entrance didn’t provide any clues. If it was a case, the added guest meant it was serious. If social, Dick’s presence meant a better chance of fun. Unfortunately, the door opened before Tim could ring the bell and Dick came out carrying a box of Wayne Tech gear he was picking up for his GPD project. He had no idea why Bruce would have sent for Tim.
Alfred walked Tim down to the cave—Bruce’s being there during the day didn’t necessarily mean a Bat-meeting. Nor did the fact that Bruce was studying the At-Large list, nor even his observation that it wasn’t getting any shorter. That was Bruce acknowledging his arrival the same way Alfred offered a soft drink. Announcing what he was working on and sharing his last thought so you could catch up was the Batman version of saying hello.
“You wanted to see me?” Tim said, getting down to business.
“Yes. Does Tim Drake have any use for an arts practicum or art history credit?”
“I have a job for you, escorting a very important—”
“There you all are!” Selina’s voice rang across the cave.
“Alfred,” she said, handing him a glass jar the way she once passed a cache of diamonds to a buyer. “Tierenteyn-Verlent mustard, straight from Ghent,” she said, pronouncing it carefully like a name she’d gone to great lengths to learn.
Then she went to Bruce and kissed his cheek as if she’d just returned from a trip.
“This is for you,” she said, handing him a folded note, which he unfolded, glanced at, and grunted. “And I need to talk to you later,” she added, and then looked at Tim. She clearly hadn’t expected him to be there, but reached into her purse and pulled out a chocolate bar.
“Here,” she said cheerily. “Belgian chocolate, best in the world. Don’t let the Swiss tell you otherwise.”
“Thank you,” Tim said suspiciously, then eyed the candy bar like a particularly obvious Riddler trap. “Um… feel like I’m being set up for something really…”
“Is he still here?” Bruce asked, and Selina nodded.
“In my suite, meeting Whiskers and Nutmeg,” she said and Bruce went off, telling Selina to ‘brief him’ before he left.
“Getting scared now,” Tim said.
“Relax, not eating bird boys today. We have a job for you. A very important artist with an international reputation is going to be doing an installation here in Gotham. You’re going to be ‘his people.’ Follow like a shadow, pop up out of nowhere in the middle of lunch to tell him he has to get going, meeting Mr. Branson at three and he mustn’t be late again. Make sure there’s a bottle of the insanely specific brand of mineral water he drinks waiting on the table to the left side of his chair—never the right—and weather the storm if it’s served with a wedge of lemon instead of lime. You can either do it as his personal assistant from Antwerp, or wherever he decides he’s from, or… it occurred to me that you were awfully good prepping Cassie with that crash course in Chinese art I gave her on the Finn case and you didn’t get anything out of it. If you have any interest in picking up a few arts credits or wanted this experience on your own resume, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do it as yourself. We’d go through Hudson, say Kyray’s assistant is pregnant and can’t fly to the States so we want to borrow a student to take her place. Somebody who can XYZ, whatever requirements get you the job.”
“Thanks, yeah, that’d be all kinds of cool. So this artist, his name is Kyray?”
Selina explained about the project and that it was actually Kyle Rayner, that he was flying her around the world to establish his new cover and they just got back. That’s who Bruce was meeting upstairs.
“Belgium this morning, where you got the chocolate,” Tim said, connecting the dots like a true detective who would have gotten there sooner if anybody had given him half a chance. “So the mustard for Alfred, and… that slip you gave Bruce, that must have been… what?”
“Just think for a minute: Alfred asks for special mustard. Barbara wants chocolate. Tell Bruce I’m going to Belgium, what does he ask me to bring him? ”
“Inside track on cocaine trafficking in the Port of Antwerp,” he guessed and Selina nodded.
“Got him a contact on the weapons pipeline in the New Harbor as a bonus,” she said. “I should get serious catnip at the end of this.”
Clark occasionally received a call to come to Gotham in terms that might be called a summons. It wasn’t openly said but the message got through that if he wasn’t off-world and wasn’t occupied holding back an avalanche, attendance was mandatory—but he’d never been asked to bring Lois. And of course they’d been asked together for social outings, but those were open-ended invitations that allowed for the fickle schedule of two reporters, one of whom was also Superman. They never had that unspoken subtext that this is not a request. So this morning’s call was new.
“There is literally no way to dress for this,” Lois announced standing before her closet. And, as if in answer, the Earth began shifting its plates under the Asian-Pacific Rim, threatening earthquakes, tsunami and an Atlantis colony near Maldives. Clark had to fly off, and she figured that was that. She’d grabbed her drabbest suit and ugliest shoes in an act of celebratory spite and headed in to work… only to have Clark practically land in front of her on the sidewalk in Planet Square.
“Nothing as bad as we feared,” he chirped like a demented sparrow. “We’ve got ten minutes to get to Gotham. I’ll drop you off, check on the Atlantis colony and assuming everything’s under control, join you for the end of the meeting. Or… whatever it is.”
So now she stood in the unspeakably tasteful lobby of the largest and richest corporation in the chicest city in the world, looking like a nun. It was the suit she used to travel to former-Soviet states and interview exiles from the old Eastern Bloc. The shoes she got for the funeral of a cousin she didn’t like. Standing in the presence of time-travelling omnigods bent on obliterating her planet and destroying her race, Lois was fine. She would stand there surrounded by dimensional fissures and mentally organize her notes for the story she would file when they failed. Standing at the reception desk in the Wayne Tower surrounded by black marble however—ulgh! The best she could do was announce her business with the legendary Lane moxie… and then step meekly to the side when she felt the stares of the other man asked to wait. Waiting to see if tachyon could strip kryptonite from a giant mace—fine! Waiting for security to escort her to the elevator to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse where that other guy bleeding urban haute was also waiting—argh!
It was the kind of hauteur that could dress too far up and too far down at the same time and somehow even out carelessly fabulous instead of randomly careless. The unstructured blazer of cotton poplin fit better than Lois’s but looked chosen for comfort rather than style. Worn over a weathered artsy t-shirt and dark-wash jeans that would have seemed woefully inappropriate if not for the top and bottom. No socks, but the shoes—Italian wingtips—were the type that cost more than Lois’s car. The haircut and highlights resembled that of a certain Hollywood director Lois had interviewed who actually made her rethink the proposition that no blonde man could be as sexy as Superman. The tan certainly didn’t come out of a tube, and the sunglasses hinted a price tag that exceeded the Kents’ vacation budget.
A guard in the kind of maroon blazer favored by museums finally came up to the reception desk with the magic keys, and Lois was horrified to see he acknowledged the other man first and was escorting them both to the Wayne elevator. He wished them a good morning and went on his way, leaving her alone with the Stranger of Unspeakable Chic. They rode for about two floors in silence, when he spoke.
Oh god, I interviewed him, Lois screamed inwardly. Who the hell was he? Who that she’d invited to call her Lois, who might be in Gotham going to see Bruce…
“Good morning,” she stalled.
Third floor, fourth… If she could make it to the top, Bruce might not remember the interview (Lord knows she didn’t) and introduce them. It could happen. Bruce could conceivably not know something. Let this be the time it happens, she prayed. Please, please let him assume we’ve never met and introduce us—
“Good flight in? The weather’s perfect for it. The way the sun glistens off the river, never get tired of that. I’m going to paint it one of these days.”
Paint it? How did—
“Where’s Clark? Did he get tied up with that thing in India?”
“The earthquake,” he prompted. “I heard there was barely enough movement to call it that and Arthur says reports from the fish indicate no tsunami heading for land, so—”
“Kyle?!” Lois exclaimed, too loudly for the scant space between them.
He flipped up the lenses in another freakish act of uber-chic and stared at her through the open gold-wire rims.
“Hi. You didn’t know it was me? Damn, it works.”
He made an abbreviated move with his fist, as if congratulating himself scoring a goal in some invisible game—while Lois spent the next ten floors flashing back to her first press conference and that quandary only the greenest reporters are prey to: how to ask the question without sounding like a complete moron. Luckily, the doors soon opened and she figured explanations would now be hers. Instead…
“Kyle!” another female voice exclaimed loudly, thought this one didn’t clang in the confined space of the elevator.
“Selina, mijn schatje,” Kyle enthused… and then there were air kisses.
“Hi. I don’t know what’s going on,” Lois announced with that glint in her eye that made prime ministers and presidents take note.
Selina laughed like she had at LexCorp when she tricked Superman into lifting an elevator into Batman’s path, blocking his pursuit and ensuring her escape.
“It’s okay,” she said, exactly as she had then to ersatz-hostage Lois. “Bruce is waiting in the study; he’ll explain everything. C’mon, I’ll take you in. Kyray, if you’ll go on into the living room, I’ll be with you in a minute. Pennyworth made your special tea.”
He gave a superior smile that stopped just short of condescension. “Very old recipe from Argentina,” he confided to Lois. “Inés Berton blends it. Hard to track down in the States, but what are the rich for if they can’t accommodate a few whims.” Then in a louder voice he announced “Selina, I shall await you on the terrace. The light is very good today. I may, perhaps, be moved to take a snapshot and one day, if you are very lucky, I will immortalize the view from your penthouse.”
Lois took a mental step backward from Him who was About to Be Shredded, but amazingly Selina smiled. She smiled like it was an honor to be patronized by the condescending ass. In Metropolis—anywhere outside of the crazy-is-normal baseline of Gotham, in fact—an explanation would have been offered on the way to the study. Instead, Selina said only that a press release was going out today and Bruce ‘wanted to tell you and Clark in person before it happens.’
There were very few moments in Lois’s life when the considerations of Superman’s wife eclipsed those of the star reporter. Though there were a dozen ways to interpret Selina’s words—most of which would be bad news for Superman, Metropolis, the economy, the Justice League, or the Kent family personally—Lois’s instinctive reaction was to rejoice in the scoop. She personally had a head start on the world, the entire world, including Clark.
In the next instant, the horror scenarios began: maybe Bruce was selling the Daily Planet, or the Wayne observatory spotted another Kryptonite meteor on a collision course with the Earth… Fortunately, she was turned over to Bruce before her imagination could get out of hand. He repeated what Selina already mentioned and then added:
“The digital release goes out in a little under an hour. Full press kits with all the swag should be in tomorrow’s mail…”
That ended the speculation. Bad news didn’t have swag.
“I doubt Perry White will be inclined to spare you both for the actual event. It’s here in Gotham and it’s not exactly what you’d call hard news. So I’m about to call Mrs. Winn…”
And that snapped her out of it completely. Paula Winn, the president and publisher of the Daily Planet, was absolutely terrified of Bruce. Since the day he bought the paper, his presence reduced her to a nervous, monosyllabic lump. Only Perry could fail to notice. He called them ‘birds of a social feather,’ thought they were ‘chummy’ and he would turn bright red at the suggestion of his star reporters putting their names to a reworded press release from society friends of the paper’s publisher. Lois didn’t shrink from an omnigod intent on killing her husband and destroying the planet they called home. She could tell Batman his plan was hopeless.
“Honestly, Bruce, if you call Mrs. Winn with a none-too-subtle hint to give this puff piece special attention, she and Perry will both have some kind of seizure. The only question is ‘Who goes first?’ And the follow-up is ‘If it happens together, can they share an ambulance?’”
Bruce gave the same nod that he did at meetings, pretending to consider the position of someone he respected but who didn’t know enough of the true facts for their opinion to affect his plans.
“Lois, let me tell you what the event is,” he said, segueing into the playboy charm that rarely failed him. “I think you’ll see why it’s important that both you and Clark be there in person.”
He cleared his throat and explained the exhibition ‘A Man’s Reach’ would explore themes about inspiration and achievement. Six artists with unique voices had been chosen to tackle whatever aspect of the question they wished, and one of them chose Superman. In what was sure to be the centerpiece of the installation, Tae-Vrroshokh would aggregate thousands of man on the street interviews, descriptions and accounts from around the world, and present the words people use to describe Superman.
“So it’s a mirror,” he concluded. “A true, accurate mirror of how real people see Superman. I think you can guess the words that keep coming up.”
Lois gave the little smile that was her usual response to very good news when, as a journalist, she wasn’t supposed to care. She was supposed to report “SUPERMAN FAILS, MOON IMPACT IMMINENT” or “OMNIGOD FAILS, WORLD WILL GO ON EXISTING” as if she had no personal stake in the matter. When those moments came, she’d indulge in that one particular smile.
She told Bruce to make the call. She would handle Perry. “You know I’ll come back with a real story. Sit down with Bruce Wayne and a few of his Princeton buddies, something’s bound to shake out besides this art thing…”
Bruce answered with the party smile that marked their public flirting, and the prescience of those empty phrases knocked the Queen of the Newsroom manner out of her like the lurch of a carnival ride. Her eyes and voice softened as the smile faded completely.
“This is really a… hell of a gesture,” she said warmly, her brow wrinkling in puzzled frustration that she didn’t have a better adjective. “Clark has a good friend,” she said, trying again and again feeling the words were inadequate and so hitting the good friend with all the emphasis she didn’t have words for. She cleared her throat, and rather than try and fail a third time, she patted Bruce’s hand and said she’d also be calling Selina later from Metropolis.
“To negotiate,” she grinned. “It’ll placate Perry, showing Mrs. Winn how calls from Gotham should be dealt with. ‘They want the Daily Planet at their Superman shindig, Lane and Kent no less, they’re going to have to pony up with some special access…’”
The week leading up to the opening might not have seen a summer blockbuster level of press, but A MAN’S REACH received considerably more media attention than a late winter release sequel in which nobody had much confidence. The artists were discussed like star athletes, albeit from a sport the guy in the street didn’t follow. Like soccer, it was known to be a very big deal elsewhere, and with banners hung all over the city and ads on every other bus stop and subway platform, most Gothamites were curious enough to listen to a blurb on the news or to read the profiles in the paper. A few factions formed online to debate Ullias vs Kyray, and if Momushan Kim would return to the monumental plaster sculptures of his early career or give them another miniature in Thanagarian gold.
And of course there was the Superman angle. Barry Hobbs, the one museum board member who voted against the exhibit, mounted a Gotham vs Metropolis campaign. Beginning with a letter to the editor, it complained that Superman was being allowed to upstage Batman in Batman’s own city. Sponsored blogs quoted him, questioning why an alien from Krypton should be in an exhibit about human exceptionalism. Superman could fly, melt titanium with his eyes and crush coal into diamonds with his fist. No human could relate to that, and it was only children and simpletons who thought otherwise, dazzled by the color of that silly costume no doubt… The only inspiration to be had would be seeing an ordinary human cut him down to size.
It didn’t generate much of a response, apart from the bus stop ads being vandalized by ‘BvS’ and ‘Batman versus Superman’ graffiti. It made an eloquent indictment of the intellectual emptiness of the view, but an Op Ed from Richard Flay spelled it out for anyone who didn’t see it on their own: “I find it extraordinary that these critics point to a pinnacle of heroism, one of the two or three truly universal themes that have resonated with all human cultures through every age of our history, and attempt to dismiss it as childish while advancing a sandbox cry ‘Our Gotham hero can beat your Metropolis one’ in the spirit of ‘My toy truck can run over yours.’”
Selina closed the Times app on her phone and called Richard right then to say she would bid on as much Georgian silver as he wanted.
The day of the opening, Lois and Clark arrived at the Wayne Penthouse hours before the event would begin. Officially it was to pick up their press passes and get a little pre-event color on Bruce and Selina. In fact, Lois did take two bagels from Alfred’s breakfast buffet and disappeared with Selina to see the dress she had worn to the pre-opening cocktail party the night before. They perused a few pictures from the event too, and Lois marveled again at Kyle’s transformation into ‘Kyray’ posing with Julianne Moore… with Donatella Versace… with Colin Firth.
Her eyes then narrowed with the steely determination that could undo presidents and prime ministers—but barely registered with those who knew Batman—and she asked pointedly what the negative press had been.
“There has to have been more than that Hobbs character in the Times,” she said. “What didn’t I see?”
Selina mentioned the vandalized posters and their insignificance, apart from illustrating the type of mind Batman versus Superman appealed to, and Lois shook her head irritably.
“Not that. You know I’m not asking about that. I’m saying: What did Luthor try that Bruce buried?”
“Nothing that I know of,” Selina assured her. “I know he had something in place, just in case. A few pieces in niche papers and obscure blogs where they’d go unnoticed unless he hit the button and had them shared and promoted all over the Internet. Only necessary if Lex fired first—”
“Same as his protocols when Luthor became president,” Lois noted.
“Except this time he didn’t,” Selina shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine as to why. Maybe he’s just picking his battles. Same policy I have with the Post.”
“Oh yes, I saw you’re bisexual now,” Lois said wryly.
“Only in the fantasies of delusional lesbians,” Selina quipped.
“But I’m still not clear how Bruce could have something ready and out there to neutralize Luthor before he knew what Luthor would say?”
“I don’t know,” Selina admitted. “But the fact that it’s Bruce we’re talking about is pretty much its own answer, isn’t it?”
Alfred knocked before Lois could reply and announced that the man of the hour had arrived. Selina went out to the foyer to assume her duties as hostess; Lois to have some fun. She walked up to her husband and pointed to Kyle as if to a three-headed monkey.
“Did I lie?” she asked.
Though forewarned, Clark couldn’t help but stare. There had been some odd moments since the night he walked into a ballroom to cover the Wayne Foundation ‘League of Nations’ gala without so much as a hint beforehand that Bruce Wayne’s date would be Catwoman, but the sight before him now… The Green Lantern breaking into ‘Selina, mijn schatje’ when he saw her, followed by society air kisses and cries of ‘Divine tan, darling. Did you zip off to the Big Island to freshen it up?’ …outdid them all.
‘Richard Flay will be all over you,’ it continued as Clark’s gaze ping ponged between them. ‘I’ll be all over him after that letter in the Times. What eloquence.’
Kyle then greeted Bruce—with nothing but a smiling nod, Thank Rao, because Clark didn’t think his hold on reality could stand a Fop Off between the pair of them. Then Kyle looked their way, and as he approached, Lois repeated “Did I lie? Did I even exaggerate?”
“The new look, it looks… great,” Clark said sincerely. “Kyle, really, you look amazing.”
“Hot stuff, isn’t it,” he said, caressing the lapels of his jacket and adjusting his sunglasses. Then he led Clark away from Lois and whispered, “Remember the jokes in the beginning about Selina being a corrupting influence? Well it’s true, just not how we thought. They gave me a ridiculous bag of money to do this thing. I mean, between the commission and the grant money, it’s a really nice payday. That I’m supposed to be spending on a NASA-size supercomputer and the engineers to run it and a workshop to build this massive light show. But Bruce crunches the data on some late-model Batcomputer he’s got in the basement, and I’m doing the rest with…” He tapped his ring and left the rest unfinished. “So I’ve got a bag of money and, basically, nothing to do with it.”
Clark tried very hard not to laugh in his face…
“So she starts pushing me to spend some of it on myself. ‘Splurge a little, you’ve zero expenses and no overhead,’” Kyle went on.
… but even journalistic detachment and Kryptonian muscle control have their limits. Clark laughed.
“It does sound like her, yes,” he agreed to make it seem the mirth was spread between the two of them. Kyle took this as encouragement.
“Then she reminds me we’re going here or there on Sunday to see and be seen. Run into ‘Trip’ Cochron at Daniel and Brenda York at Sant Ambroeus. Before I know it, I’m getting a haircut from the owner at the hottest salon in Gotham–and liking it, it’s like a month’s rent but I’m looking in the mirror and I hear it in my head ‘You’ve got zero expenses and no overhead; coffee and dessert at Sant Ambroeus Sunday to see Brenda York’ – and I ask about highlights. That’s an evil woman! Some kind of weird cat-voodoo-inception-witchcraft thing she can do. It should be in her file.”
Clark laughed again, and Tim approached.
“Kyray, Mr. Wayne is calling downstairs for the limo,” he said pointedly. “The party will be ready to move on to the museum in about ten minutes.”
“Tim, it’s just me, Kyle and Lois here,” Clark said. “There’s no one to pretend for.”
Tim lowered his head and lowered his voice.
“Bruce reads lips and Alfred hears everything,” he warned. “Not a good idea to be whispering about Selina.”
“I flew myself to Hawaii to refresh the tan,” Kyle announced loudly. “Couldn’t see the point wasting money on airfare. How about those Lakers!”
The drive to Museum Row was uneventful, apart from passing a few posters marred by Batman versus Superman graffiti which everyone decided not to notice. The final one did challenge that resolve, where the title A MAN’S REACH was ‘illustrated’ by a graffiti’d Bat fist stretching upward past a Superman emblem to punch a too-square jaw. Clark turned to Lois with a look of consternation she read as ‘My chin doesn’t really look like that, does it?’ to which she mouthed the single word ‘No.’
The car came to a stop where the road closed to traffic. The stretch before them was transformed into an open air arcade, like a block party for the glitterati. Giant screens hung at intervals to loom over the crowd 1984-style, but displaying a slide show of the most significantly inspiring works from cave paintings through Picasso. Beneath these screens, pristine banners hung on every vertical post, creating a path like the approach to an Asian temple.
Selina spirited off Kyray almost immediately to reintroduce the VIPs he’d been presented to the night before. Bruce gave Lois and Clark an expanded overview of the information from their press kits:
“Beginning with the line from Robert Browning: ’A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?’ the exhibit explores Inspiration – inspiration that fuels art and scientific advancement, social and technological progress, and materially shapes the way we deal with adversity. All that is best in us begins there, not in fear or aggression or animal passion. It’s the core material of what we use to overcome that. Six artists were given commissions to explore the subject any way they wished. The centerpiece installation Tae-Vrroshokh selects Superman, partially because his abilities are beyond that of humans and therefore literally exceed our grasp, and explores the way the world views him despite – or perhaps because – he represents that unattainable ideal. The work uses state of the art data mining and massive data sorting techniques to aggregate descriptions of Superman from around the world, everything from eyewitness accounts and news reports to man on the street interviews conducted specifically for the project.”
“Tae-Vrroshokh?” Clark repeated.
“Yes, phonetic Kryptonian, I believe, meaning True Mirror. If the Man of Steel wanted an idea of how he appears to the world, he would find a very accurate mirror in these descriptions culled from such a vast cross section of humanity.”
There was a fleeting smile, nearly as subtle as Batman’s lip twitch, which Lois recognized from the times she tried to use Kryptonian terms and got it wrong. She made a mental note to ask Clark later what the words really meant. She also recognized the not-even-slightly-subtle smile that followed, the one where he loved you for making the effort, even though you said you’d hang a stone ear on the wall and light a statue’s incense.
“What an astonishing idea,” he said, finally taming the smile. “I know, from interviews of course, that Superman does consider that question from time to time. I don’t imagine he ever expected humanity to provide an answer.”
Which was true. He could narrow his focus to see individual hairs on Bruce’s scalp, look through skin and skull into the brain itself and narrow focus again to see a single synapse firing, but he could never, ever begin to understand… A snapshot of how the world saw him, to be the recipient of such a gift, it was… Clark felt more was owed than saying thank you.
Bruce led them further down the arcade, their progress slowed by the crowd thickening with board members, art lovers and others eager to say hello to Bruce and then stand there waiting for an introduction as if they hadn’t realized the couple he was escorting was none other than Lois Lane (and Clark Kent) from Metropolis. The world’s most prominent friend of Superman, right here covering the MAN’S REACH opening.
Always inclined to let Lois enjoy her spotlight, Clark faded from his usual unassuming manner to that of a nearly invisible non-entity. Even Bruce seemed to forget he was there, although that might be only a function of his protecting Lois now that she was the center of attention.
He scanned with his super-hearing, as was his habit in crowds at public events, though it was rare for so much of the conversation to be about him when he hadn’t made a costumed appearance. Finding it uncomfortable, he zeroed in on a name dropped at the penthouse—Richard Flay—who was clearly absorbed in artistic matters rather than the Superman angle. That would be a safe conversation to join.
“They speak of simpletons,” Flay was saying (though Clark didn’t realize that he was quoting his recent letter to the editor…) “I say manufacturing conflict for the sake of the spectacle is what’s pandering to simpletons.” (…or that the manufactured conflict he spoke of was the one between Batman and Superman.) “Art is not a Coliseum where ideas do battle to amuse the mob. It’s a sacrament. Man is the only animal privileged to know himself, he is the only animal who concocts these metaphors to explain himself to himself.”
Clark merely thought it was good stuff, very intellectual and academic. He approached thinking this could be a sidepiece. A very cultured one, the kind Perry didn’t care for but knew raised the paper’s profile with the Alpha Readers he coveted.
“We live in a world where ‘a flying space man’ was sent to us, not for our benefit but for his own,” Flay segued just as Clark reached him. “To escape the destruction of his home planet,” he added, turning to include Clark and opening the circle before Clark could turn away. “He was sent by a family who loved him and wanted to save his life. If I knew nothing more of Krypton, I could understand that, couldn’t you? People who live and die and love their children?”
“Well, er, yes,” Clark said, startled at the directness of the question and answering reflexively.
“And because of his alien nature, this man from Krypton has special abilities, which he uses to help us. I see nothing thus far that’s so very unrelatable, that exempts this Superman from being a worthwhile object for human artists to concoct those metaphors. Don’t we all have that urge to help others?”
“That’s certainly what I was taught, yes,” Clark said quietly.
“To improve the world, to fix things. I submit that Superman is completely relatable in that noble impulse, and more than relatable, inspiring. We may feel helpless and small, sometimes too insignificant to affect the changes we would like in the world. Superman is a means to exorcise that frustration, seeing ourselves as exceptional and capable, doing the things once thought impossible…”
Clark nodded but backed away. He certainly couldn’t write the guy up as a sidepiece, but it was nice to hear. He felt he should call Pa when he got home and mention it.
“What a load of happy horse shit,” he heard next, and Clark turned to see a shorter man, lean and balding, perhaps forty. It seemed unlikely that he could have heard Flay’s remarks, so Clark assumed he objected to something on the slideshow he was facing on the overhead screens or else the flyer in his hand.
“Not a fan of the day’s message?” Clark said making his best leading-question approach, which just happened to corner his target and position his bulk to block their escape before he added “Clark Kent, Daily Planet” and offered his hand.
“I know who you are,” the man said, looking at the hand like he might a leper’s. “The man who smeared the greatest president this country ever elected.”
He pushed past Clark roughly and disappeared into the crowd.
“Barry Hobbs,” a familiar voice graveled and Clark looked up sharply. Bruce was still a considerable distance away, doing that trick where he covered his mouth and spoke so quietly into his hand that only Clark would hear. “He’s a great admirer of Luthor’s.”
“So I gather,” Clark said, though it was doubtful Bruce could read his lips at this distance.
“Has a grudge against me since a certain prep school rugby match,” Bruce continued as if it were a field briefing. “Wayne and Luthor are rivals so, by transference, ‘Yay Luthor; Boo Superman.’”
And ‘Yay Batman kicking Superman’s butt,’ Clark thought, remembering the graffiti he pretended not to notice in the car.
“You should catch up with Kyle and Selina in the greenroom,” Bruce suggested. “I’ll meet you at the third banner after my speech.”
“And I said ‘Yes, but at least it wasn’t LexCorp,’” Bruce’s voice echoed and reechoed in the courtyard, distorting as it rose higher and bounced between the walls of the alleyway. It shouldn’t have mattered, there should have been no one but birds to hear it. The lone figure hunched over the miniature satellite dish was no pigeon, but he didn’t care about Bruce Wayne’s words. He was remembering different words as he worked, the unassuming little blog that made the case so clearly. He knew there was something marvelous in the new Superman movies, and it bothered him. Superman was a bully. The greatest of bullies, a super-bully. How could he find that marvelous?
Now he understood. “Luthor’s ‘Alien Menace’ is a creation of Luthor’s own fear.” The movies weren’t about the real Superman, they were Luthor’s Superman. And that was a creation of Alexander Luthor’s fear.
“A child is born this day,” he murmured as he checked the transmitter.
The blogger’s point seemed to be that any specific argument Luthor made should be considered in that light: it was a mirror. It said more about Luthor himself than the thing he was talking about. But to Jonathan Crane, that point was irrelevant. The opening phrase was the Stargate: a creation of Luthor’s own fear.
The Alien was a creation of his fear. The Alien was what the movies depicted. The whole world saw those movies. The whole world! Luthor’s Fear projected into the minds of virtually everyone on Earth. Placing it before them in every nuanced detail, forcing it on them exactly as you envisioned it, not filtered in some unpredictable way as a triggered hallucination and at the mercy of their individual psyches. It was beyond marvelous; it was monumental. It was glorious. Luthor’s Fear had transcended. It had reproduced. Organically, as far as he could tell. Without even a primer dose of toxin to prepare a brain to accept it.
Well, no longer. The babe had birthed itself with nothing but the minor adrenaline jolt of a Hollywood soundtrack and special effects to help it. It would toil no longer alone and unaided. The Scarecrow had come to give it all help it could require.
“Someone asked me coming in here today if I didn’t think it was a bad idea to be associating Wayne Tech with this installation when its theme is so old-fashioned and outdated. If it wasn’t foolish to be linking the name of Wayne Tech—forward-thinking and ever focused on building a better tomorrow Wayne Tech—with an event taking its inspiration from a poem published in 1855 named for an artist who died in 1530. I told him there couldn’t be a better match. Superman’s city is called the City of Tomorrow.
“Before that, it was ‘the City Always Looking Up.’ That was long before Superman arrived on the scene. They were looking up at the first skyscrapers. Buildings are made by people looking up. The optimism, idealism and imagination that built cities like Metropolis isn’t old-fashioned, it’s the life’s blood of progress. It’s the only thing that’s ever gotten things done. In the history of mankind that we see echoed in the artworks over our heads here, nothing has ever been accomplished by the guy who thought it couldn’t be done. It’s the person who can see what isn’t there yet, but might be, who imagines how tomorrow can be made better than today. I said I would be proud to have the Wayne Tech name on every vidscreen here. Because A Man’s Reach exceeding his grasp is how we move forward, and the day that notion is ‘old-fashioned’ is the day we stop moving at all.
“It is the day we lose our ability to adapt, to meet a challenge, to survive. When that young man described ‘not a sadness or an anger’ in his neighbors, ‘not a feeling of helplessness or hate, but a kind of emptiness,’ that is the killer. The want of Hope, the cynicism masquerading as realism.
“The negative things that young man sees are inevitable. The challenges and even the losses are inevitable parts of life, a part of being human. What defines us is the way we rise to meet those moments or become lost in anxiety and fear.
“The writer of Hope looks back and says ‘Every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. We can do what is hard, we can achieve what is great. We can reach for the stars.’ The disciples of cynicism say that’s kid’s stuff. They use words like corny, old-fashioned and outdated. They say Hope is a code word used to keep a people down. And that’s interesting because I say their cynicism never built a city. It never stood up for what is right, it never sacrificed or cared for its neighbors, cured a disease or climbed a mountain. It never wrote a song that made someone smile. It’s never made anyone’s life better.
“But Hope. Idealism. Optimism. Role-models... Heroes. ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.’”
“That was quite a speech,” Clark said as Bruce joined him. “Bruce, not to imply you’re not an articulate and educated man, but—”
“I hired Sorkin to ghost it,” Bruce admitted, sensing that the professional writer was the one aspect of Clark’s character that would not appreciate Bruce using alternate methods to accomplish something Clark could do naturally.
The slideshow had been paused so all the monitors lining the arcade could display the speeches on the courtyard stage. Selina had stepped to the side, and Kyray stood center stage next to a giant breaker box Bruce and Clark recognized as a Lantern Energy construct. As he lifted his arm to throw the switch, small boxes attached to each of the monitors in the arcade appeared to change. As soon as Kyle’s wrist neared the breaker, the black boxes that appeared completely solid a moment before now seemed part hologram. The closer you looked, the harder it was to say where the physical case ended and the holographic projection began.
The word SAVE suddenly sprouted from every third box, falling into the main thoroughfare of the arcade in graceful arcs like sparks from exploding fireworks. HELPFUL came next, while half of the SAVES glowed brighter and half morphed into CARING or NOBLE. DECENT came next, while half the NOBLEs morphed into GENEROUS and half the CARINGs into BRAVE.
“Odd,” Bruce said dryly. “All characteristics of a man, no mention of specific powers or abilities. I suppose we’ll get there eventually.”
“Shut up,” Clark said, managing to keep the emotion from his voice as AWE, INSPIRING and HERO emerged before STRONG finally ushered in the first specifically ‘Super’ description.
It was the right response, manly understatement, but inside, Clark’s pulse raced. First Richard Flay echoing Pa that way. “Clark, we’re born into this world to help our neighbors.” Now Bruce. The characteristics of a man… “Your mother and I don’t love you because you have powers, son. We love you because you’re our boy and you’re a part of this family. Just go on being the young man you’ve grown into, you can’t help but make us proud.” With that he went off to college and, within months, realized how many of the choices he faced had nothing to do with ‘powers,’ but that the principles he’d been taught governed powers and non-power questions just the same.
“Ah, here they are at last,” Bruce noted, though he also noted that Flying, Super-Speed, and Heat Vision were a noticeable size smaller than the non-meta qualities. Krypton was in medium-sized type, along with things like Red Cape, Lois Lane, Metropolis and Justice League.
It was years later, Father’s Day, soon after that first headline of the Justice League saving Ontario. Ma said not to come home to the farm, they were coming to Metropolis. They seemed to like his apartment, though Ma thought the kitchen was awfully small. And Pa had stood over his desk, looking down at the Daily Planet and just tapping the picture under the headline with his finger, an odd, satisfied smile that Clark didn’t think he was supposed to see. He was at the center of the League photo, acting as their spokesman. Clark knew he shouldn’t notice, but he couldn’t help himself.
“You knew,” he’d said. “That it would come to this one day.”
“Nah,” Pa replied. “I knew you’d have stuff to deal with, Clark. We all do. Life equals ‘stuff.’ All we can do is tell our children the truth: we’re all trying, this is the best wisdom our parents and grandparents came up with to make sense of it.”
They went out for a walk, down to Berghoff’s for a beer, talked about sports and the farm, beautiful movie stars they crushed on and even a little politics. Nothing more was said of Superman, but even today, Clark remembered that afternoon as the most wholly accepted he’d ever felt as both Kryptonian and human.
“What does it really mean?” Bruce asked as ‘Alien’ finally made its appearance—in barely legible 8-point type. “I saw your reaction to the title before. Tae-Vrroshokh, what’s it really mean?”
“It could be a mirror, in a very poetic sense. Vrroshokh is Truth, in any context that’s the essence of it: that which is of the realm of reality. But Tae? That’s a question. It’s asking ‘Who.’ So… Tae Vrroshokh… Who is real? Or, if you like, standing in front of a mirror, ‘Who am I really?’”
Bruce shifted his eyes subtly from the matrix of glowing words pulsing brighter and dimmer throughout the arcade, to Clark, the upward tilt of his gaze implying skepticism—in this case, the skepticism of a patient teacher that a bright student was taking so long to see the obvious. Clark realized that Bruce knew the translation was flawed and probably let the error pass—or possibly made it himself in the first place—in order to have this very conversation now. ‘Who am I really?’ he put the words in Clark’s mouth while the world answered ‘Hero’ in every language.
A real hero, Clark thought, should have something to say—to acknowledge—appreciate… The scope of what Bruce had done, he couldn’t, it wasn’t—What do you even say? It was like the first time lifting a volcano, just trying to think where to go, how to position, somehow get… under it.
“Bruce,” he began, remembering the first day on the school paper. Put something—anything—on the page, because the first word is the hardest.
PALADIN bounded down the red carpet towards them, in very small letters, seeming like an impish child or an enthusiastic little dog who decided to hop off the stage and play in the crowd.
“Thank you,” Clark tried again, though the words didn’t seem adequate. He felt numb, but didn’t want to say that.
“I’m sorry, I need a minute to digest this,” he said, knowing Bruce would understand he meant the experience and not the miniature PALADIN bouncing around his shoe. He took a deep breath, and it hit him.
“The first time I brought my father to the Fortress,” he began—and paused as he turned to Bruce and saw he wasn’t listening. His eyes were square, hostile, and focused on something behind Clark’s head. He turned—to see an image out of his nightmares had replaced the feed from the courtyard on every monitor. It was… him… Well NO, it was the actor from the movie depicting him, in that bleak, colorless parody of his costume, standing before a squad of human soldiers who were BOWING AND GENUFLECTING TO HIM like a king or a god.
Clark felt the hot nausea he associated with green kryptonite and the hot rage he associated with red.
“How,” he breathed, then “What is that?”
A woman screamed in the courtyard—followed by a loud crash at the North end of the arcade and a loud pop as a monitor exploded at the south. Tufts of thin white vapor sprayed from the base of each banner, but it was too late for Clark see or care about that. He was in motion before the noise of the crash subsided, and Superman had flown in to lift the collapsed truss from the fellow it fell on. A bone stuck out from his leg and the metal from a suspended light had cut open his forehead.
..:: This man has a head wound and a broken leg at least, ::.. he reported into the Justice League comm as he flew to wrangle the wild, electrified cables snaking from the exploded monitor.
..:: NO! ::.. the comm answered in Bruce’s voice and ..:: You diseased maniac! ::.. in Kyle’s as a giant green energy mace knocked him out of the arcade and down the block to smash the roof of a parked taxi.
Though he’d traveled nearly a city block, the impact didn’t take a second to shake off but the sudden distance he had on the scene was enough to shift his focus to the sound. What had begun as one isolated scream was erupting into complete pandemonium. He flew back—spotting Batman on an intercept at the front entrance.
..:: Something’s happened to Kyle, ::.. he reported, ..:: Whatever’s happening obviously affected—::..
A punch driven by a kryptonite ring smashed into his Adam’s apple, knocking him off his approach and sending him hurling into the pavement to land in a painful sprawl.
“The heck?” he coughed, before a green bubble scooped him up and lifted him. Superman pounded fiercely on the bubble, which slowed its rise but not its forward motion. It continued for several seconds while Superman gave it an ineffective blast of heat. Then the whole thing jostled as Kyle adjusted his hover and swung the bubble several times around his own head to build momentum before sending it hurling into the river.
The screaming had only intensified, and he could easily make out Lois’s among them. He knew he couldn’t make Batman and GL the priority, he just had to work around them. He opted for high speed strikes: flying in faster than either man could see, disposing of the first threat he saw, and flying out again before they knew he was there. That approach took care of an electrical fire, prevented a stampede, transported six of the injured to the closest hospital, and incinerated the four drones that came in from somewhere…
When he found himself…
Over the river.
Over Wayne Manor.
Somehow he kept…
Overshooting Museum Row when he tried to fly back at super-speed.
“Bruce,” he said like a curse word.
As an experiment, he speed-flew directly from Bludhaven to Wayne Manor and found he could do it. But when he tried to fly over Museum Row on the way back, he found he’d overshot Bludhaven and wound up over the Atlantic. How did—
..:: Superman, it’s Oracle, ::.. the Justice League comm announced in what was, at that moment, a more beautiful voice than Lois’s. ..:: I’ve got Batman and Green Lantern’s channels locked out for now. It won’t last if he realizes, but I don’t think he will. He’s got other things on his mind right now. ::..
“I noticed,” Superman said. “Any idea what happened back there?”
..:: Affirmative. The whole crowd is doused with Scarecrow toxin, so whatever stimulus they get, and it seems like he’s given them a nice assortment, they hallucinate into something worse. Nightwing is there now, he can use your help placing gas canisters. With Batman, Catwoman, Robin and Green Lantern in there, and eight museums for people to hide in, it’s the quickest way to get the antidote into everybody reliably. ::..
“Problem,” Superman reported. “Bruce has something rigged up to mess with my perceptions. I can’t get in at super-speed, and when I approach on my own I’m attacked by one or both.”
..:: Well, do the best you can, ::.. Oracle said dryly. ..:: Worst case, you’ll be a diversion. They can’t bother Nightwing if they’re focused on you. But look, when you go back, whatever happens, don’t use your heat vision. ::..
“There are drones,” he told her.
..:: You see drones; they see you taking out video screens with a picture you find offensive. Oracle out.::..
Superman’s lip twitched.
“That was a lucky shot,” he told no one in particular before flying back towards Gotham at his regular speed.
To be continued…