News of a larger threat filled the Gotham City news the next morning in 1975 as headlines proclaimed that the Joker had escaped from his cell and was at large in the city. Tim Harris and his mad killing spree seemed less important when compared to the news that the maniac who had haunted Gotham City for decades was loose once more.
The next night found Tim Harris skulking in the shadows of the Ace Novelty Company. The name of the company, with its connection to playing cards, as well as its stock of joke items and gimmicks, seemed a likely target for the clown prince of crime. Hours passed, and Tim hoped he would encounter the Joker.
“If I could take him down for Batman and Robin, it would make up for my first night’s mistake. I’ve got to get him. Everything I learned from Mr. Crockowski should enable me to defeat him,” he said as he recalled the gym teacher who trained him before vanishing from the city.
He smiled as a maniacal laugh echoed from within the closed company. “He’s inside! Somehow he got past me. He must be more agile than I dreamed!” he said, crashing through a window to confront the purple-suited, white-faced criminal.
“Well, well, well! What have we here? A gentleman caller!” cackled the Joker as he stood over an open safe.
“You won’t be laughing when I snap your neck!” hissed Tim.
“Batman doesn’t kill,” said the Joker. “He would not want more blood on your hands!”
Tim reached for the villain and shook his head. “No! I can’t believe that! He has to welcome me to his team. I’m his successor!” he shouted.
A new figure entered the room and caught Tim in a whirling rope. “Actually, I’m his successor,” said Robin. “You need to calm down and listen to me. You have the wrong idea about us. We do not want to see our enemies die. We want them to get better. We want to help you, too!” He now wore a costume of red, yellow, and green. It was similar to his famous original costume, yet it gave him a more mature appearance. Still, he was unmistakably the former Boy Wonder and Batman’s one true successor.
“Robin! You have to help me,” said Tim in an emotional tone. “We’ll kill the Joker for Batman. He is my hero. He is my only hope. I have to earn his trust. I need to become your partner. I’ve done all I’ve done for you two!”
The Joker turned his back to the pair, wiping his face and removing the chalky makeup that gave him such a pallor. He tossed down a green wig and pulled a cowl over his head. He had remained in the shadows before, and the cowl had not been visible folded back behind the wig.
“Batman!” gasped Tim as he fell to his knees.
“I am Batman. “I want you to do as I say, son. Come quietly with us. We need to talk and learn just what you were trying to do. We heard you via tape recorders we hid around this place. You said you had to get the Joker for us to make up for your first mistake. That would be the death of Norman Waters. He died from the gunshot that went off when you hit one of his muggers. His wife told the police about you and your costume and his death. You wanted to copy us. It all went wrong. But we can help you!”
Robin stepped forward and said, “Come with us. We’ll make things right.”
Tim pulled back and said, “No! You don’t understand. I want to be one of you. This costume represents what I need. I need to be your ally. We’ll fight crime together! I’ll make you proud! Just give me a chance!”
Robin jumped forward as a frantic Tim snapped the rope that held him and lashed out at the hero. He dodged and grappled with Harris as Batman slipped out a pellet and clasped it over Tim’s face. The gas left him dazed, and the dynamic duo brought him down after a struggle.
“He was like an animal,” said Robin. “He could have been even more dangerous had he not lost his head. He showed some real skill with those martial arts moves.”
“He should,” said Batman. “I heard him say he was trained by a Crockowski. I’d wager that gym teacher was an incognito Sportsmaster — ‘Crusher’ Crock.”
The days that followed found the city embracing the news that the Joker was back in his cell and that the fake Robin was also in a secure cell. Only the prison authorities knew that the Joker had never truly escaped. The story had been planted in the media in order to draw Tim Harris to the clown’s likely target and Batman’s trap.
Police Commissioner James W. Gordon and Robin appeared before a crowd of reporters and TV cameras to explain the events that led up to the murders.
“Tim Harris has told us about his past,” said the elderly commissioner. “He is a sick young man who fell victim to delusions of a fantasy world that could never be. His murders came from a twisted desire to fight crime and copy Batman and Robin.” He gestured to a watching Bruce Wayne and said, “His care will be financed by the Wayne Foundation as part of our efforts to give the best medical care to those in need.”
Robin stepped forward and said, “Batman and I want to make it very clear that under no circumstances do we advocate murdering criminals or taking the law into one’s own hands. We are duly authorized police officers, and this status is recognized around the globe. We act with the lawmen of the world, not in opposition to them. I also want to announce the fact that I will no longer be wearing the gray costume. It now has associations with the murders and poor Tim Harris. Plus, as a friend reminded me, I have established myself as a helper to those in need and a defender of justice in these colors. I want folks to know me as Robin and take comfort in the fact that I’ll be out there trying to make things safe like Batman and I always have done before!”
Cheers echoed as the hero stepped down from the stage. He smiled at his mentor, who gave a slight nod of approval.
In the present, Red Robin turned to Blackwing and said, “Harris never did respond to treatment. His mania became worse as he felt betrayed by us. He developed a hatred for all costumed heroes, and I’d wager, since he is loose, that he is our man. The addition of the slash to his costume over my old emblem just shows how much he does hate me.”
During his story, Red Robin had carefully omitted telling those memories that would have compromised his secret identity. He had merely explained to Blackwing that Harris had been the fake Robin from over a decade ago, and that his hatred came from motives deep within his sick mind.
“You seem to know where we’re headed!” said Blackwing.
Red Robin nodded. “Right. I did a search of just who owns land out here on Gotham Ridge. It took some doing, but I found one name that brought back old memories. Roger Rodan owns a mansion in the woods. That alias was once used by an old foe of mine. His nom du crime was the Thinker. He never received the press that the guy who fought the Flash and the JSA under the same name did. This Thinker only battled us once. (*) He served his jail time and then used money from patents to buy the mansion. Apparently, he has lived there for around thirty years. He was a genius and could easily be equipping the Scourge. I wish circumstances had led me to do such a check years ago. I wager the Thinker could have supplied many of our old foes with weapons and gear all this time. We wondered in the past how some of our less scientifically minded foes could have acquired their various gimmicks.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Citadel of Crime,” Detective Comics #125 (July, 1947).]
Blackwing whistled. “This could be big. While I’ve read about the more infamous Thinker, Devoe, I’ve never even heard of this Thinker! You and Batman sure ran into a legion of crooks. If you’re right, this Thinker may be behind dozens of crimes in terms of creating the means by which they were carried out.”
They reached a narrow drive and stopped. “That’s the house above us,” said Red Robin. “I suggest we enter separately. You wait a few moments, then follow me in.”
Blackwing nodded. “Sure. You’re the boss. Just save a little something for me. I’d like to get Scourge as well.”
By this time Red Robin had vanished into the woods. Blackwing waited and hoped that he would not make a fool out of himself in front of the experienced hero. Man, I must seem as bad as Harris. My costume mimics Batman’s. I’m lucky Robin doesn’t order me to quit my hobby altogether. Luckily, the Huntress is in my corner, he thought as he slowly moved closer to the house.
The house was a large one with a brick façade and wide windows. The grounds were isolated enough that Blackwing could well imagine it being used as a shopping center of sorts for the criminal element. He glanced up and saw a figure move by one window. A caped man, he mused. I suppose that’s the Scourge. Of course, if Red Robin is right, then any number of costumed villains could just happen to be inside getting weapons or gear. I hope we’re up to this task.
Blackwing swung silently upward and frowned as he detected no security system. Odd, even normal folks who live this far out would have traditional alarms. I’ve seen no trace of wiring or monitors.
He heard a rumble from within and crashed through the window in disregard of any manner of caution. He raced down a long hallway and peered over a railing to see a lower landing below and a scene of battle and madness.
A barrage of metal spikes erupted from a metal device on wheels. This firestorm of lethal projectiles kept Red Robin busy as he dodged them and carefully timed his next move. An old man in a motorized wheelchair sat in a shielded booth with a window of some strong but transparent substance. He directed the attack, smiling coldly as he did so.
“You know, I equipped Scourge purely to lure you here,” he cried. “I knew his mad conduct would be careless enough to lead you here. I lived well here for decades, but now I’m very old and have little time left. I want to see you die before I do. I will see you die!”
Red Robin rolled under the latest barrage of spikes and slid a batarang between the wheel and the base of the rolling device. It flipped over and erupted into flame as he crashed inside the booth and confronted the Thinker. “You still do good work, but a machine can’t defeat the human spirit,” he said. “Men will always triumph over machines. That lack of insight helped us defeat you last time.” He moved closer to the Thinker as Blackwing waited.
“Ah, but I have something you lack,” said the Thinker. “I have a willingness to die to achieve my goals!” He pressed a button on his chair, and the chair exploded into flames.
Red Robin reeled backward and staggered away as the entire house was engulfed in flames and rubble. He managed to clear the initial cloud of fire and rubble before a crashing beam struck him and left him dazed.
Blackwing gasped and hurled himself through the smoke and haze, ignoring the sting of metal shards as several grazed his body in passing. He grabbed Red Robin and hauled him out of the burning house.
“Can’t believe I was so careless,” muttered Red Robin as he pulled free of Blackwing’s arms and gestured to show that he was unharmed. “I knew I could handle Thinker’s toys, but I never realized he was willing to take his own life to get to me!”
“I’ll finish his work!” cried a voice from above as the Scourge emerged from the woods and charged toward the pair.
“This time, I’ll be the one with the victory, not you!” vowed Blackwing. He tackled the Scourge, and they fell to the ground. The Scourge did have wonderful fighting skills, and his time in prison had not dulled them, as he had worked out constantly. He clawed at Blackwing and pounded him mercilessly as Red Robin waited to lend a hand.
He saved my life, Red Robin mused. I can’t let him get hurt, but the Scourge may be too much for him!
Blackwing brought his knees up and flipped the Scourge off his body. The gray-costumed maniac rolled away and emerged from the shadows again with a raised arm and a razor-sharp projectile in the shape of a bat. “I’ll end your life, and then I’ll kill Robin! I’ll make you regret your betrayal of me all those years ago!” he shrieked. He brought the weapon down on Blackwing, who snared it in his cape even as it ripped it to shreds. Blackwing kicked Scourge and circled him warily.
Red Robin looked at the villain and said, “Tim, Batman would not approve of this. He would never want you to hurt anyone!”
The Scourge looked up at Red Robin and saw the man he had wanted to be. He saw his self-control and his compassion, and he felt uncertain what to do next. “Batman hurt me. Batman should have been proud of me! I can’t stand to see you carry on in his name if I can’t join you. I have to kill you all!” he said with a shudder.
Blackwing rolled across the ground and brought down the Scourge. “Listen, man, I’m like you,” he said. “I wanted to be like Batman. I still do. I can’t live up to his standards, but I try. You can still try, too. Just surrender, and you’ll be taking the first step. I know the effort it takes to try to be like Robin and Batman. I know it all too well, because I’m trying to make such an effort even now.”
The Scourge nodded slowly. “You are like me. But I won’t live with failure. If I can’t be one of them, and I can’t kill them, then I’ll end my own misery!” He ran for the burning house, only to be caught and bound by a waiting Red Robin. “It’s not fair. I can’t even die the way I want!” shouted the irate man.
Red Robin secured him tightly and led him to the car below. “The Thinker died instantly in that blast. There’s nothing for us here. We need to get him to where he can be helped,” he said sadly.
Later, after Tim Harris had been taken in, the pair of heroes sat next to each other in the Red Racer.
“Blackwing, I want to thank you for all you did,” said an earnest Red Robin. “I also want to apologize. I’ve been guilty of seeing you as a pretender, if you will. I regret that. I now know that you are worthy of my respect, and, what’s more, Batman himself would be proud to call you friend. I hope I may as well.”
Blackwing clasped his extended hand and said, “You know it! Having your approval means a lot to me. I really am like Harris was in the sense that you and Batman are my heroes!”
Red Robin smiled and said, “Batwing is out of town. I’d be honored if you’d join me on patrol.”
Blackwing agreed readily. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot!”
They drove off into the Gotham City night, and a new friendship was formed.