Batman Family: Who Laughs Last? Chapter 3: Return of the Clown Prince of Crime

by Libbylawrence

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A few weeks later found Charles Bullock recovered from his wounds and sitting behind his desk in the law offices of Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne. The young black man was reading a newspaper, and he was visibly disturbed by what he read.

He crumpled the paper up and hurled it into a trashcan as an attractive woman in a short blue skirt, high heels, and a matching blouse and jacket with padded shoulders entered the office and frowned.

Helena Wayne crossed the room and sat on the edge of Bullock’s desk. “You read the piece by Tawny Young?” she said. “I’m sorry. She was pretty abusive to you.”

Charles nodded and closed the door. “Helena, you’ve been great with all the help and equipment you’ve given to me and Meg, but this trash-talking journalist makes me wonder if all you’ve done has been a waste of your time and money!” he said.

“You are capable at what you do,” said Helena. “Your motives for doing it are beyond reproach. You can’t blame yourself because someone as deadly as this new Penguin caught you by surprise. The original Penguin had Batman and Robin at his mercy more than once, too.”

Charles paced restlessly and said, “I appreciate the fact that you, of all people, understand that my whole Blackwing identity is designed to do nothing more than pay homage to all Batman stood for and for all he did for this city. I wanted to help folks like he always did. I’ve tried. I honestly have tried.”

Helena placed one hand on his arm and said, “You and Meg have done a lot of good. Think of all the ordinary crooks you’ve brought down. Now, I admit that you two had a close call, and you are both lucky that the police arrived in time to get your proper care. Still, you’ve never been the type to back away from peril.”

“Oh, I’m not scared,” said Charles. “I’m angry. Tawny Young says that, as a black woman, she is insulted by the fact that I copied a white hero for my role. She says I reinforce the old racist ideas that a black man can’t be anything more than a lesser version of a white man. That’s garbage! It makes me furious! I’ve never believed that. I wanted to honor Batman. That’s all I ever wanted!”

“Perhaps the best way to counter her line of thinking is to create a totally new identity for yourself that has no connection to any previous hero, be he white or black,” suggested Helena.

“Yeah?” said Charles. “Maybe that would silence her big mouth or her clattering keyboard!”

“Charles, this actually ties into something I wanted to talk to you about,” said Helena. “I’d like to help out a free legal clinic in Bludhaven. I think you would be perfect to run the operation. It is small, but you could truly help poor people like you always try to do. Perhaps you might even give that nearby city a hero of its own!”

Charles Bullock nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve got some heavy thinking to do, but I like the idea. It would still be close enough for me to see my family and help you out when needed. Yet it would give me a chance to spread my wings, so to speak, and fly on my own.”

“Exactly,” said Helena. “What about Meg? She once said she’d like to open a P.I. practice. Maybe Bludhaven would be the perfect place for her to make a new start, too!”

Charles smiled and said, “I hope so. She means a lot to me.”


Later that night, Charles Bullock sat in his car in Bludhaven and talked with animated eagerness to Meg O’Connor.

“Meg, your arm is healing fine, and your leave is almost up. This makes it a perfect time to make a change,” he said. “Would you consider relocating here to Bludhaven? We could even get you a rental office near the new legal clinic. You know you always wanted to be more independent of the force. This might be the solution.”

Meg smiled and said, “I agree that I would rather not return to the force, since I have grown to love the freedom we’ve been experiencing in our costumed roles. In fact, I have something to tell you as well. I whipped up a few sketches of a pair of costumes that might serve as good replacements for our bat identities. How about Night and Noir? We keep the dark avengers of the mean streets theme, but we lose the direct bat motif.” She showed him two pieces of paper, and he nodded in approval.

“I like the names,” said Charles. “We can work out the costume details later. So, are you willing to relocate, partner?”

Meg nodded slowly and said, “It’s a deal, partner!”

“Then it’s official,” said Charles Bullock. “Blackwing and Redbird are dead. Long live Night and Noir!”


Meanwhile, within the castle in which Crimelord’s Round Table of Crime held their meetings, two of his peers were engaged in a private discussion.

The Queen of Cats gazed down at the Penguin and said, “Harley has become far more than the Crimelord’s jester. He is centering all of our own jobs around her needs. He had Killer Moth break Doctor Dreemo out of jail for Harley. He had you bring the Joker’s comatose body here so Dreemo could use his weird science to revive him. Dreemo was my ally, but now he only has eyes for Harley. I can’t imagine why he has been spending so much time and effort on a lost cause. The Joker has not blinked since he was brought here. His mind is dead. (*) That’s my opinion. Why are we all serving Harley’s bizarre needs? I am no catspaw!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robin: Auld Lang Syne.]

The Penguin nodded and said, “You are correct! Purr-fectly correct, if I may say so, but why tell me of your complaints?”

“I am telling you because I refuse to serve that tacky clown!” said Michelle Kyle. “The Queen of Cats is leaving with her share of the loot! Are you with me?”

The Penguin bit down on a cigarette holder and said, “No. I respect your desire to please yourself. All kitties are selfish and spoiled like that. Still, I am playing a game of my own. I will let them think that I am their dutiful pawn until I feel like taking over. I will play their game, but the Penguin always plays to win!”

The Queen of Cats sneered as she flounced off into the night with her men and her share of the loot. He is so egotistical that he thinks he can fool the Crimelord and Harley and gain some private benefit from their schemes, she thought. I have a healthy respect for myself, but I believe in the value of knowing when to retreat. I’ll find a nice sunny spot in which to catnap until I need more money, then I’ll prowl again! Poor Penguin. I almost feel sorry for him.

The Penguin returned to the main hall, where Harley Quinn sat beside the Crimelord, while Lady Crimson scowled at them both with jealousy and resentment etched upon her pretty face. “Well, how is your project going?” he said. “My pater was a devoted friend of the Joker’s! I hate to see him so helpless.”

A piercing laugh echoed through the hall as candles flickered, and a bizarre figure appeared and jumped upon the round table. He smiled in a ghastly way as he capered around the table.

“Your old man was amusing, but he was always a second banana!” he cackled as he glared down at the startled Penguin. “Still, for the sake of old times, I’ll take you under my wing and make you into a man worthy of being adored by sugar babies everywhere!”

The Penguin dropped his cigarette and gasped in surprise. “The Joker! They’ve really managed to revive him!” he whispered.

Harley smiled at her father with obvious devotion as the Crimelord nodded in approval. “Aye! ‘Tis passing strange, but ’tis so!” he said.

The Penguin frowned as he thought, Perhaps the Queen of Cats had the right idea!


Days later, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd mingled with a group of elegantly dressed guests at the Wainwright Estate near their own Wayne Manor.

Jason pulled on his tie and said, “You know, you didn’t really have to bring me here. I know Karen is out of town, but I’m not that much of a substitute for a blonde bombshell like her.”

Dick smiled and said, “You don’t have to tell me that! Still, it is good for you to gain experience at social functions like this one. Someday, you may have to take part in this kind of thing as part of your place in society!”

Jason shrugged and said, “Me? I doubt it.”

Dick turned to the lad and said, “Seriously, Jason, you will someday inherit part of my estate, and along with any kids Karen and I might somehow have, you’ll be expected to carry on our traditions.”

Jason smiled and said, “Let’s hope you’ll be around for a long, long time! I still can’t tie one of these crazy things! My neck feels like I just finished that fight with Frank Crane, although that happened weeks ago!”

Dick nodded and said, “We’d better join the other guests for the entertainment. No more shop talk.”

They filed down a wide hallway and reached a small stage where the Wainwrights had set up an rough performance area.

Jason yawned and thought, I bet they’ll bring out some blue-haired D.A.R. lady to sing opera. But he sat up straighter as the curtains parted to reveal a group of oddly dressed men and a woman who certainly didn’t belong to the Daughters of the American Revolution or know any arias. “Circus performers!” he said. “They hired a circus troupe!”

Dick nodded and said, “This group may manage to keep you awake.”

The guests clapped politely as the group’s suave ringmaster stepped forward and said, “Welcome ladies and gentlemen! Welcome! I am delighted to be able to entertain you with the help of my comrades. I direct your attention to the dazzling acrobatic of the Bailey Boys!” He gestured to where two young men in black and gold outfits began executing a series of graceful flips through the air.

Dick frowned as he observed the entire group. The strongman and the clown waited to one side, along with a knife thrower and his lovely target.

Holy déjà vu! he thought. This group is almost exactly like the Circus of Crime that the Joker used to rob high society parties over forty years ago! (*) Ever since his body was stolen from the lab of “Rip” Van Winkler, I’ve had a bad feeling that he might somehow be restored to his rotten old self. This smacks too much of his old scheme not to raise suspicions.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Case of the Joker’s Crime Circus,” Batman #4 (Winter, 1940).]

Dick gripped Jason’s arm and gently eased the boy through the crowd and back into the shadows at the rear of the huge room. “Forget about boredom. I think we need to change clothes now!” he whispered.

Jason nodded and followed his mentor out of the room. They slipped into their costumes and returned silently as Red Robin and Batwing. By now the strongman was captivating the crowd by lifting a heavy set of weights.

Red Robin caught the eye of the clown, who stared at him balefully. “That clown is the Joker! I know him, even though he is wearing a slightly more innocuous look than we’re used to seeing on his twisted features!”

He raced forward as the knife thrower hurled a dagger at his head. Red Robin caught the weapon and hurled it back with the end reversed. The hilt slammed into the attacker’s chin, and he staggered backward into the arms of his female aide.

As the crowd gasped and surged aside from the onrushing heroes, the clown shimmered and then stood revealed in the purple suit and with the frightening features of the Joker.

“The former Boy Wonder and his faithful companion! How thrilling!” he said as he laughed shrilly. “This moment moves me to tears, or to homicidal rage. I always get those emotions mixed up!”

The strongman jumped forward and hurled the heavy weights at the pair, who darted left and right to avoid them and then closed in on him with skilled precision.

Batwing kicked him in the leg and smiled as the big brute crashed to the ground. “The bigger they are, et cetera, et cetera…” he said.

Red Robin slapped a pair of handcuffs on the fallen man as the acrobats jumped into the air. He twisted aside and grabbed a small table where drinks were resting. He spun it into the air and nodded grimly as the projectile struck one acrobat directly in mid-leap. The other man dodged aside and gasped in pain as Red Robin clipped him with a batarang.

“Joker! I don’t know how you managed to revive yourself, but then I never expected you to be gone for good,” he said as he closed in on the villain. “You never do stay dead for long, do you? Good men die, but your madness just keeps on going!”

Batwing tackled the suave ringmaster and bound him effortlessly as his partner prepared to grapple with the Joker. Robin is really grim, he thought. I guess the Joker is one foe he won’t treat with any levity!

The Joker grinned and said, “Call me the Timex of crime!” He stood his ground as Red Robin drew closer, and he leered at the caped hero with mad delight.

“Ha-ha-ha! Are you angry? Are you too mad to pun?” he cried. “What has become of the laughing young daredevil I used to know? Seeing you all dark and dangerous makes me want to laugh!”

Red Robin tackled him, only to pass directly through him and land on the empty stage behind him. He whirled around and found no trace of the mad clown.

“I took care of the knife-hurler and his gal,” said Batwing. “What happened to the Joker?”

Red Robin frowned and said, “I don’t know. He vanished like a bad dream. In fact, considering the fact that Doctor Dreemo escaped from jail not too long ago, I think that might be exactly what just happened!”

“Huh?” said Batwing. “You mean he was an illusion?”

“Not exactly,” said Red Robin. “One thing I know for sure is that he’ll be back!”


Back in the castle of the Crimelord, Harley Quinn broke into an impromptu dance as Doctor Dreemo stood by a machine and her father’s still form. “You did it!” she cried. “Daddy’s sleeping mind actually is responding to your dream do-hickey!”

Dreemo nodded and pulled his cloak tighter around his deformed face and withered body. “I thought I could wake up his mind, but all I could do was communicate with his sleeping one,” he said. “I am shocked still that any man could exert such a powerful mental influence through my machine! He almost seems to be in control of it instead of me!”

Harley placed a wet sloppy kiss on the Joker’s brow and said, “That’s my daddy! At least he can make his thoughts real through your machine. Seeing that mental projection from his brain was as good as seeing the real deal!”

Doctor Dreemo nodded and said, “Yes. He can project a mental manifestation of himself within a limited range of the machine. It does seem to be doing his vital signs some good.”

“Having him lead a new version of his old circus gang out on a crime like one he pulled long ago may be just the right medicine for my daddy!” said Harley. “The best part is that nobody can touch him, since all he has to do is just make the dream image of himself fade away if Red Robin or the cops get too close!”

The Crimelord smiled and said, “Harley, milady, it does my regal heart good to see you so radiant with pleasure!”

Harley kissed him and said, “Right back at ya, kingy!”

Lady Crimson scowled and sharpened her sword as she eyed the amorous pair with anger.

The Penguin merely smiled as he observed the scene, and then he nodded in approval. “Most satisfactory!” he said.

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