The Iron-Hat Ferris mob was more comfortable with good, old-fashioned bank robberies, but if their iron-masked leader wanted to hit the private home of an antique collector, then who among them dared question the hot-tempered Ferris? “You mugs go in through the patio doors. You three circle around the joint,” he snapped. His gang obeyed. They knew displeasure meant death in Iron-Hat’s dictionary, even if they really had no idea how many crooks had used the alias and mask of Iron-Hat Ferris to pull off their crimes.
Everyone knew the original Ferris was still in prison, and that all of Iron-Hat Ferris’ public crimes had been committed by others wearing that iron mask. (*) It had become something of a tradition for Gotham City crooks to take on the identity of Iron-Hat Ferris, even though the original reasons were long since moot, and many had done so over the last decade.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man in the Iron Mask,” Batman #39 (February-March, 1947).]
Then a bat-like shadow fell across the three as they crossed a lawn. “Oh, no! Not the Batman!” whined S. Olson.
“Worse, the Batwoman!” said M. McCormick.
“Bats! Bats! Bats!” cried J. Plumb.
Then the gold-and-red-clad beauty called Batwoman laughed girlishly and struck them from above. Two swift kicks disarmed them, and a smashing right hook knocked one cold. “You boys should watch your mouths. You’ll give a girl a complex!” she joked.
She spun to kick the hulking brute who had tried to sneak up on her from within the manor. “Sorry, but your aftershave gave you away!” she said.
A second figure appeared from within to flatten the remaining gangsters and give Batwoman a friendly welcome. “Glad I decided to stop by, Batwoman! These goons lack the good manners to greet you properly,” said a smiling Batman.
She smiled and said, “Let’s extend further amenities to Iron-Hat himself!”
They rushed inside Wayne Manor to spot the iron-masked killer standing above a delicately carved, ornate box that held an ancient necklace.
“I’d say drop it, but it might just be easier if we drop you instead!” said Batman.
Iron-Hat cursed. “Of all the luck. Even in the ‘burbs, Batman and his gal show up!”
Batwoman blushed and looked solemn at his phrasing. How she had once wished she was Batman’s gal, but she was a happily married woman and a mother, and he seemed distant these days, as if his heart was also taken.
Batman tossed a batarang that knocked the gun out of Ferris’s hand as Batwoman’s narcotic powderpuff sent him to sleep. “Nicely done!” said the smiling Batman.
Batwoman picked up the little box. “What an intriguing curio! Mr. Wayne has such good taste.” She frowned. “Oh, my! The box was damaged in the fight. It’s ajar.” She suddenly gasped and swooned to the floor as Batman caught her in his arms.
“Great Scott! A needle! Some kind of ancient security measure for the necklace that was undetected all these years! he mused. The fight must have reactivated the mechanism!
As Batwoman’s breathing grew shallow, he shouted, “Mrs. Wayne! We need a doctor!”
Selina Wayne appeared at the doorway. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Batwoman’s been poisoned. I fear she may be dying!”
Power Girl interrupted the tale. “So Batwoman didn’t know Batman had married Catwoman by then?”
“Nope. Bruce had to play it cool with her. There was an attraction between them him still, but he could not encourage her or their flirtation any longer. Of course, Kathy Kane had already been Kathy Carson for quite a few years by then, and a happy wife and mother to boot,” said Red Robin.
“You know, for a loner, Bruce sure had a lot of women! Princess Portia, Linda Page, Selina, Batwoman,” began Kara. “How about the Boy Wonder? Any old flames I should know about?”
“Vera Lovely, to name one!” said Red Robin.
“The ice skater?” said a disbelieving Kara.
“We’d better get back to the story,” he continued. “Bruce’s lab work confirmed the doc’s story. Batwoman was very ill. The box’s poison was unknown and ancient, and a cure was out of the question with nothing more to go on.”
“So how did he pull it off? I know he never failed!” she asked.
“Well, he decided that if no cure was known in our time, then he’d merely go back in time and find the ancient one!” said Red Robin.
“I get it — via cousin Clark?” she asked.
“Nope. He had Professor Nichols send him back.”
Bruce Wayne sat across from Professor Carter Nichols in the wise older man’s study. “Could you possibly use your hypnosis to send me back to… say… the time of this box?” he said casually as he held out the golden box. He had removed the needle trap.
The professor grinned boyishly. “Indeed! That necklace is obviously from the era of the Vikings! My, what courage those rugged mariners must have possessed!”
Bruce nodded. “I concur that the coins that comprise the necklace seem to be of Viking origin.”
Soon enough, with the help of Professor Nichols, the Batman found himself back in the era of the Vikings around the year 964 AD. The amazing method of hypnosis used by the professor literally put the subject back into the era desired, where he was capable of actual interaction with those who lived in the time. Batman had been a traveler many times before via this method. He wished now that Robin was home from college to aid him.
He found himself along a rugged coast where snow reached from high slopes to touch the icy water below. Those ships with the ornate figureheads on the prowls are of Viking design. The professor did it again, he mused as he took off his outer suit to reveal the bold emblem of Batman. He assumed rightly that his costume would be taken for nothing more than a colorful tribal crest.
Approaching a bearded man, he spoke in an old Scandinavian dialect, “Do you recognize this design?” He sketched out the necklace on paper from his belt.
“By the seven-legged steed of Odin!” roared the brutish man. He rushed at Batman with drawn sword before the agile hero spun aside and kicked the blade spinning out of the Viking’s hand.
“I just wanted information. Why does this enrage you so?” he asked grimly.
“That necklace belongs to our jarl’s dead sister!” he cried. “You’ve no right to have meddled with the honored dead!”
“He has the look of one of Father Odin’s ravens!” cried another.
“Take me to this jarl… to your leader,” he said.
Before long, the Batman stood in a long hall before a roaring fire and a long table. The men ate and drank in rough vigor as Batman stood before a middle-aged blond man who wore a cloak with a dragon symbol clasp. His long blond hair framed a face that was both sad and intelligent.
“I am Jon the Viking Prince. Hospitality is not as it should be among my people right now. We mourn for a bright and beautiful maid… my own sister.”
“I’m sorry about your loss,” Batman said. “I seek this necklace that seems to have belonged to her. It was in a box of gold with ornate designs and a wicked trap.”
“The necklace you speak of is the curse of my all too doomed and blighted life,” said Jon. “The foul spawn of Loki himself could never do greater evil than that cursed necklace did to us all!”
“I seek a cure to the poison that guards the box,” said Batman.
“Aye, stranger. By Balder’s bright eyes, so did I!” said the Viking Prince. “For ’twas said needle that robbed me of my beloved sister.”
“You mean she was also poisoned by the trap?” said Batman. “I hoped such work with the runes and all would have been a design known to you, that you had a cure for the poison.”
Jon shook his head. “Nay! A thousand times nay! I’d gladly venture life and limb to rescue her from Hela’s cold embrace!”
“Perhaps I can help!” cackled an old crone who appeared from the shadows of the hall.
The Norsemen parted to allow the bent form of the old woman to enter.
“You seek the herbs of healing to remedy what blighted the fair blossom! Ah, she was as golden as a Rhine maiden!” cackled the old crone.
“These herbs will counteract the poison of the box?” asked Batman.
“Indeed! Why, they would soothe the bile of Midgard’s Serpent!” she said. “But to gain them, you must enter the Jordheart itself!”
“If I can prevent another’s death,” said Jon, “then mayhaps it will ease my troubled heart. Let me join you on yon quest!”
Jordheart? That would be the heart of the Mother Earth figure of their myths. A cavern, perhaps? mused Batman. “Lead us to this place if you please!” he said aloud.
The old crone pointed a gnarled hand toward a grove of stark trees.
“‘Tis in the bower of Garn that you’ll find the path!” she said.
“Friend, I say we can gain little by letting Sol’s light dim upon us,” said the Viking Prince as he reached for a stylized sword.
Batman nodded. “As you say, time is of the essence!”
After they entered the woods, the heroic pair were watched by keen eyes.
The ancient crone peered after them and turned eagerly for approval to a tall man who appeared to be around fifty years old.
“Didst I do well? Are you pleased, father?” she asked.
The man nodded slowly. “Yes, my daughter. This bodes well, indeed. If they retrieve yon herb, then I shall benefit. If they die doing so, then I shall be miraculously revenged upon one I assumed long dead.”
Batman frowned as they entered the gaping hole that lay within the woods. “That tunnel looks to level out into some kind of chamber far below,” he said as he adjusted his night-vision lens.
Jon the Viking Prince said, “You do marvels beyond the powers of Frey himself!”
They swung down on a rope and reached a cavern.
“Growls like the Helhound himself, whose name was given to this place!” said Jon as he drew his sword.
“The herbs that she claims will heal those poisoned by the box must be those fibers on the dais,” said Batman.
Jon nodded. “Aromatic. If only the Norns had been merciful enough to send her to me ere my sister died.”
Batman kept his thoughts to himself. He wondered if he was being led into a trap. The old woman’s appearance seemed a bit too pat, even in a time in which magic seemed more dominant than natural laws.
“By the beard of Thor!” cried Prince Jon as a huge hound appeared to block their path.
“Garm’s offspring, if not the Helhound himself!” mused Jon as he charged the beast while avoiding its foaming jaws.
Batman reached for his belt and produced a pellet. Jon rolled aside as the massive beast struck him down. He rolled back and hurled his gleaming sword. The blade went into the hound, who turned in pain and jumped for the fallen Viking. Then Batman moved and caught up the blond man as he swung by. He dropped the pellet and pushed Jon to safety on a ledge above. The flare erupted, and the dog groaned as its nocturnal vision was seriously damaged by the bright light.
“I figured any creature who made a home underground would suffer if bright light suddenly exploded in its path,” Batman explained.
“The herbs!” cried Jon. “We must retrieve them, and better I die doing so than live anon in misery!” He pushed by Batman and jumped toward the hound. He landed hard and drove his sword deeper into the beast. A final brave struggle ended the creature’s life.
Batman followed him quickly. “You did it! He’s dead. The herbs are ours, but you must not allow your loved one’s death to create such suicidal feelings. Remember her. Mourn and honor her. But… fight onward for her, too. Help others as she would have you do. Save other men’s sisters or daughters.”
Jon smiled sadly. “You speak well. My people are taught from youth to challenge an unyielding fate, even though doing so may prove hopeless in the end. I should have remembered that.”
Batman examined the dried herbs. “These do have a slight aroma that matches that within the box in my day. Perhaps it once held both poison and cure!”
Jon and Batman exited the cavern, only to be met by the tall man and several soldiers.
“Well, Batman, we meet again!” said the man. “You seem not a day older, though it has been over two centuries!”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life!” said Batman.
Jon frowned. “You surrounded yourself with the outcasts and oath-breakers no tribe would stomach!”
The dark man smiled. “I find them useful. Kill them!”
The warriors screamed and charged the heroic pair.
Batman and Prince Jon stood back to back as the army of berserkers attacked them. “I guess we’re on the horns of a dilemma, as as pal of mine might say!” said Batman, grabbing the nearest Norseman’s horned helm and shoving it over his eyes, then following this up with a rapid punch that dropped the warrior into the path of his allies. Batman kicked out and sent a third one falling.
“By Heimdall’s eyes!” said a Viking. “This dark warrior fights with the fury of Tyr himself!”
Jon agreed as he spun and lifted one warrior off the ground to hurl him at his partners. He swung his sword out and brought down a Viking, even as he ducked another’s sword thrust.
“Step back, Jon!” shouted Batman. “I’m taking a cue from a friend of mine called the Sandman!” He dropped a pellet, and gas exploded in the midst of the warriors.
“You astound me!” said Jon as he stepped over the fallen men and approached the dark man.
“Very clever, Batman!” said the man. “I would love to learn your own secrets of vitality, but perhaps you are too dangerous to live!”
“That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” said Batman shrewdly. “From your comments about meeting hundreds of years before, and your interest in the herbs, which I’ve no doubt you tricked us into getting, I see you think they can prolong youth and life!”
“Exactly, although they’ve led me on a mad chase over several centuries and many miles!” said the tall man.
“Who are you?” asked Batman as Jon circled warily.
“In Greece I was mistaken for Tithonus,” he said. “In Egypt I was called Osiris. But I prefer the Roman name: Immortius!”
“Well, undying one, you face one who would dare much for justice!” said Prince Jon.
“Justice is a concept you’ll outgrow if you live long enough,” he sneered.
“The herbs are no longer any good to you,” said Batman. “They’ve lost their potency. They don’t prolong youth. They merely put the user in a deathlike sleep from which he or she may later awake, but cannot die!”
Immortius frowned. “I shall not allow you to thwart me a third time!” He rushed at the Caped Crusader, only to be tackled by Prince Jon.
“Surrender, base one!” cried the Viking Prince. “You would trade the lives of many to prolong your own! No seat in Valhalla awaits one of such petty ambition!”
Immortius frowned and said, “I’ll trade you my freedom for the secrets Batman has guessed.”
Prince Jon shook his head. “He can tell me more than you could ever do with a lying tongue and little honor!”
“Jon, let him up,” said Batman. “Perhaps he can confirm what I suspect. Your sister may be alive, but in a deathlike slumber. The herbs and the poison do much the same, now that time has lessened the potency of the one and preserved the secret of the other!”
Immortius smiled wickedly. “‘Tis true. The herbs originally were said to prolong life, and thus I sought them. The poison you speak of was to guard the box which held them. It originally killed any who touched the needle, though time has reduced its power to that of a sleeping potion. The herbs the box once held were stronger and of a variety to prolong youth. Now, neither herbs nor poison do more nor less than create a sleep!”
Jon gasped and raced for his hall.
“Immortius!” shouted Batman. “He’s gone!”
The wily man had indeed broken free and now raced for the cavern. Batman started to follow, but stopped short as the screams of a man and the howls of a beast mingled below.
“The fool! He rushed to his doom!” said Batman. “Garm himself must have claimed him in revenge for the death of his offspring. If only I could have reached him in time!”
Back at the Viking hall, Prince Jon stood over a lovely pale woman with golden hair. “Could it be true?” he asked. “Could the herbs restore her?”
Batman nodded. “That is my theory. Try.”
“But you needed them for someone you care for as well!” said Jon.
Batman shook his head. “I now know I have other options. You don’t.”
Jon placed the herbal mixture down his sister’s pale lips and marveled as she awoke and embraced him. “You saved her! Praise Odin!” he cried.
Batman smiled and clasped the arm of the Viking Prince. “Well met, my friend,” he said. “I’m glad I could help. Don’t worry about me. I can get more of the herbs by making a side trip.”
Jon produced the golden box. “Ailsa was using it to hold her necklace — a gift from our father, King Rikk. The box was made long ago. We must carve ruins on it to warn all those who come later not to risk the poison hidden within.”
Batman nodded. The box lacked the runes that decorated it in his era. He now knew that while necklace and runes originated in Viking times, the box itself and the herbs that could save Batwoman came from an earlier era.
Back to Professor Nichols and then in search of the box before it came to this land, he thought. Perhaps, back to an earlier encounter with this Immortius, too!