Batman Family: Who Laughs Last? Chapter 4: Virtual Life

by Libbylawrence

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Back at the Batcave, Red Robin sat before a computer and pondered the situation thus far. “Dreemo escaped from jail when Killer Moth II broke into the prison,” he said. “Then the Penguin took the Joker’s body and Dr. Van Winkler. Now, the Joker attempted to pull off a new version of old of his oldest crimes. When we tried to capture him, he vanished, and he did nothing but talk and jump around. He did not attack us personally with his old thousand-volt joy-buzzer or Joker toxin squirt flower. I think he was only there as some type of image. I’d call him a hologram, but Dreemo’s past M.O. suggests something more exotic.”

“I’m not familiar with Dreemo,” said Batwing. “You and Helena fought him once, right?”

Red Robin nodded and said, “His father hosted a radio show that dealt with the paranormal. He was more of a con man than a real threat. The son was born in some type of dream dimension, which shows his father eventually did pick up some genuine metaphysical talents. The birth within that place resulted in his being deformed physically and mentally. He is brilliant but warped. He used a machine to touch Helena’s sleeping mind and bring her into a state that was somewhere between sleeping and waking. There, he turned her into a copy of her mother. She started walking, talking, and acting like the original criminal Catwoman. I freed her via hypnosis, and we caught Dreemo at the old abandoned radio station where his late father used to do his show. (*) I can see that someone, most likely Harley Quinn, could envision using Dreemo’s science to try to restore the Joker. As you know, he was left in a kind of coma after his last crime.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Huntress: Ninth Life.]

The Huntress hurried out of the shadows and said, “I heard everything you said, and it certainly fits my own experience earlier tonight.”

Red Robin turned his swivel chair around to face her and said, “You also had a Joker sighting?”

She nodded and said, “O’Hara reported some of his men ran into the Joker near the home of Adrianna Brady. They managed to scare off his gang before they could abduct her.”

“Adrianna Brady?” said Red Robin. “Her father was Randolph Brady. The Joker killed him! He really is revisiting his old crimes for some reason!”

The Huntress smiled grimly. “Exactly. That’s why I decided to check out the old Monarch Playing Card Factory. That was the scene where a chemist-turned-crook named the Red Hood ended up in a vat of chemical waste. That accident turned him into the Joker.”

“Hold it,” said Batwing. “I never heard of the Red Hood. You say the Joker once used that name?”

“Right,” said Red Robin. “Read his file again. Helena, did you actually run into him?”

“Yes, but not at Monarch,” she said. “I almost swung directly into his gang when I returned from the factory and came closer to here. They were breaking into the estate of comedian Danny Harris.”

“Harris? The Nutty Kid? Martin Deene’s former partner?” said Batwing. “That Harris? I love his stuff!”

“He lives near here,” said the Huntress. “I dropped down on them and started fighting with the thugs when I saw the Joker himself. He seemed to just loom up out of nowhere. He taunted me, and I tried to snare him with my bat-line, but it passed right through him!”

“Did you notice any type of interference in his appearance?” asked Red Robin. “Did he flicker like an electrical signal?”

The Huntress shook her head and said, “No. He just promised that he’d like to arrange a play date between his little girl and Batman’s daughter!”

“That sounds like the Joker really is just projecting his dream self or something!” said Batwing.

“But why revisit or re-stage versions of his old crimes?” asked the Huntress.

“Perhaps doing so is part of some process to attempt to revive him fully,” suggested Red Robin. “Also, why did he avoid some more infamous locations like Monarch, where he was born, so to speak?”

“Could it be a range issue?” said the Huntress. “Maybe he can only project himself or his image within range of the machine Dreemo is using. That’s why he has stick to places within a reasonable distance of one another.”

Red Robin jumped to his feet and typed data into the computer. The screen soon displayed a map of Gotham streets and swiftly altered until certain locales were marked with dots. “The crime scenes all are located near each other. The central spot we can triangulate from where he did strike indicates the old castle on Gotham Heights!”

He hurried to his car as the others hesitated for a moment. “Well, come on! You two are in on this, too!” he said.

The Huntress and Batwing climbed in the sleek car, and the trio drove off into the Gotham City night.


Within the old castle on Gotham Heights, another kind of storm was raging as Lady Crimson, alias Melissa Lyons, grew increasingly jealous as her liege, the Crimelord, displayed his devotion to Harley Quinn in ever more amorous ways.

Melissa had been raised by her father Dick Lyons, who in turn had been a criminal called the Crimson Knight, with a mania for Arthurian lore. (*) Thus the red-haired woman had grown up in a delusional world of damsels and daring, in which all elements of modern culture were lost or altered beneath a façade of fantasy and romance. She had been drawn to the Crimelord with his similar mannerisms from their first meeting. (*) Now she felt lost and adrift as she saw the things she valued and the man she revered become subservient to the giddy Harley Quinn.

[(*) Editor’s note: Although a version of this story takes place on Earth-Two, the original story takes place on Earth-One, as seen in “Batman’s Armored Rival,” Detective Comics #271 (September, 1959); see The Huntress: Night Moves.]

Now, Harley Quinn juggled a series of balls while her liege dozed nearby in his seat at the round table. Doctor Dreemo skulked in the shadows as his machine allowed the Joker’s mind to manifest a garish double of the comatose rogue. The Penguin watched everything closely, and Lady Crimson might have been aware of how the elegant killer studied Dreemo’s every movement had she been free of her own strife.

The Joker laughed madly and said, “You know, when it rains like this, I always think of that line from Karl Marx about putting the roof in the basement in case it leaks!”

Harley smiled broadly and said, “Daddy, I think that came from the Marx Brothers!

The Joker leered and winked and said, “I know, puddin’, but Karl was the one who said it. After all, Harpo didn’t speak, and Chico had that terrible accent, so no one knew what he was saying. Just listen to Daddy, and you’ll do fine!”

At that moment, the trio of Red Robin, Batwing, and the Huntress crashed through the windows to land gracefully before the villains.

“This knight school is finished! Class dismissed!” said Red Robin as he hurled a couple of smoke pellets across the room and saw them explode to blind the criminals. The hero and his partners were wearing their own miniature breathing devices so they could plunge through the billowing smoke with ease. Contacts allowed them to see clearly as well.

Batwing used his staff to block the path of some approaching thugs. He tripped them up and slapped the back of their heads as they fell forward. He knew his partners well, and thus the agile teenager had little need to check on their own movements. He merely concentrated on doing his part as he battled the hired thugs. He tumbled through the air and brought down two more of them as the smoke and confusion worked to give him more of an edge than he needed.

Meanwhile, the Huntress calmly aimed and fired her crossbow at the Joker. He cackled as the bolt passed through his body and narrowly missed the sluggish Crimelord.

“Ha-ha-ha! Trying to give me the shaft, eh, young lady?” he said. “You need a good spanking! Or is it, I need to give you a good spanking? No matter!”

The Huntress had noticed the coffin-like container in which the Joker’s body rested, and thus her action had never been more than a means of confirming their theories about the nature of the seemingly ghostly Joker. That’s it, thought the dark knight detective. I can tell for sure that he is nothing more than an annoying image. The fact is, we need to ignore him and concentrate on his daughter and her goons!

She whipped out a rope and whirled it around until she saw an opening. She tossed the tangling line out until it snared the Penguin’s raised umbrella and ripped it from his gloved hands.

“The nerve of that hussy!” snapped the Penguin. He ran across the room as she followed.

Red Robin had jumped through a crowd of goons to grip the darting Harley Quinn by the arm.

“Tough guy, huh?” cried Harley. “See how ya like this, Ace!” She pushed a huge yellow flower on her costume, and acid squirted out in the direction of the caped crusader.

“Insulated costume,” said Red Robin. “Get with the program!” He shoved her into the slowly moving Crimelord and said, “Your virtual father puts on a good show, but it’s a rerun, and I’ve seen it many times before!”

Harley fell down hard and cursed, only to crawl under the huge table and escape out from the other side. She jumped up and glanced left and right, but she saw no clear avenue of escape.

Red Robin was already swinging toward her, and the Lady Crimson had jumped forward to guard her fallen liege. Crimelord is like a sleepwalker! he mused. I bet Dreemo’s machine has also been sapping his will so he’ll obey Harley!

The Penguin had managed to retrieve another umbrella, and as the Huntress closed in on him, he dropped the outer covering to reveal a gleaming blade. He sliced across her stomach with three swift lacerating cuts, and she gasped in pain.

I didn’t expect him to move like that, she thought. His father was slower, according to all I ever read!

The Huntress ignored the pain and moved forward. She rolled in a tight ball across the room and emerged from her move to grab a sword from the wall of the castle. She gripped it tightly and returned to duel with the bird of prey.

The Penguin smiled coldly and said, “My, what a smashing set of abs you have, my dear! Perhaps you’d like to surrender and become part of my flock!”

The Huntress skillfully knocked his blade from his grasp and kicked him in the nose. “Take that as a no!” she said.

He reeled backward and turned to find a weapon. “I will kill you! I will strip the flesh from your body!” he shouted as his anger and pain robbed him of his normally suave pose.

The Huntress danced out of his path and elbowed him in the back of the head. A quick punch followed and left him stunned at her feet. I’ve read he has a real hatred for women, she thought. I guess I’m number one on his hate list now.

Red Robin saw it all even as he tackled Harley Quinn and cuffed her wrists.

The Joker image continued to shout and caper around the room wildly, but now that the heroes knew it to be nothing more than an image, they could ignore him. “Bats in the house! Who ya gonna call?” he screamed.

Batwing dodged a burly thug and then brought a spinning kick to his chin. He knocked him flat and then turned to see Dreemo slipping out the hallway door. He ran after the frail man and hurled a bolo in his path. It wrapped around the rogue and left him whining on the floor.

“Don’t hurt me! I give up!” cried Doctor Dreemo as Batwing brought him back.

This guy is a real wimp without his machines, thought Batwing.

The Crimelord held his head and said, “Harley, my love, come to my side!”

Lady Crimson scowled and said, “My sword is ever at your command, sire!”

“Aye,” he said, “but my heart belongs to none save the lady harlequin!”

Lady Crimson grew flushed with her own pain and rage, and she spotted her enemy as she lay helpless at Red Robin’s feet. She roared with anger and charged at her with her sword raised. “I’ll slay the temptress and win back my liege’s love!” she cried.

As she drew closer to the startled Harley Quinn, Lady Crimson found herself spinning through the air as Red Robin flipped her over her target, and she crashed directly into Doctor Dreemo’s machine. Sparks flew as the armored woman and her blade smashed into the machine. The impact left her dazed, and the device shattered.

The Joker image flickered away with a last plaintive cry, and Harley shrieked as well.

Red Robin and the Huntress bound the villains, including the beaten Penguin, and led them toward the doorway of the main hall. The police had been summoned by Batwing, and they were approaching the steep hill as the heroes took stock of their victory.

“We captured the whole gang. We ended the pseudo-Joker’s virtual life!” said the Huntress.

Harley Quinn grasped her father’s still hand and cried, “He’s worse than before! You wrecked that machine, and you killed him! I’ll make you pay. Red Robin, Huntress, that punk! You’ll all die for what you’ve done to my daddy!”

“His own madness brought him down,” said Red Robin. “We did nothing.”

The now-free Dr. Robert Van Winkler came out of another room as the Huntress helped him recover from his time of imprisonment. The scientist gazed down at the still form of the Joker and looked up at his liberators. “He’s not dead. He’s just in the state he was in before, although a bit deeper, I’d say.”

Before the furious Harley could reply, she felt energy course through her body, and in a flash of light she was gone.

“Teleportation!” gasped Batwing.

Red Robin nodded and said, “Dreemo knew nothing about that kind of science, nor did he design that tank Killer Moth used to free him. Where did Harley Quinn get that kind of technology?”


Miles away in a secret base, Harley Quinn stood panting in exhaustion before a strikingly lovely if ruthless woman with bright red hair and keen but cold eyes. “You know, Lexie, that Jetson doohickey of yours leaves a gal worn out!” she sighed.

The brilliant woman who had invented both the tank and the teleportation device merely smiled. “No matter, Harley,” she said. “You can rest here, and when the time is right, the heirs of Superman and Batman will learn to fear the new alliance of Alexis Luthor and Harley Quinn!”

Harley smiled and said, “Yeah! Let’s do that little thing! We’ll do it for our daddies!”

The End

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