by Starsky Hutch 76
Rex Tyler, alias Hourman of the Justice Society of America, could hear the aggravation in Dick Grayson’s voice from the other end of the secure JSA phone line. “Is it really so bad?” he said, trying to calm his old friend’s frazzled nerves.
“There was an intruder in the Batcave, and Alfred took him up to the mansion and made him a sandwich! Of course it’s that bad!”
“Some might call this providence.”
“How so? Finding a juvenile delinquent using Bruce’s old headquarters as a crash pad?”
“I seem to recall Bruce taking in another kid who was a little rough around the edges,” Rex said.
“That was different. This kid was brought up on the streets. He’s a punk. He steals to get by,” Dick insisted. “Can someone like that really be trusted?”
“Some people might say the same thing about a kid raised by circus folk. The carny has a certain reputation, too, you know,” Rex said. He heard Dick sigh from the other end. “Let me ask you this,” Rex continued. “What did Jason do with your ninety-something-year-old butler once he made him a sandwich and turned his back on him?”
“Well, they chatted for a while, and then Alfred grew tired, and Jason helped him to bed.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Rex mused. “Real bloodthirsty, that one. And that collection of antiques and works of art Bruce had in there that would make the Smithsonian jealous? What did he do with that?”
“Nothing. He came back down to the Batcave. It looks as if he slept on one of the cots, and then I found him working out this morning — just an hour ago.”
“Doesn’t sound like a real criminal. From what you told me, he wasn’t even looking for the Batcave.” Dick could hear Rex pause as laughter crept into his voice. “He just sort of fell into it.”
“Yes, running from the Joker’s daughter,” Dick finished. “Harley Quinn and a large henchman. Apparently, he’d stolen quite a sum of money from them. I’ll have to make sure that hole is sealed up, or the cave could be compromised. Luckily, it was quite a distance from Wayne Manor. He must have slid a good ways. He’s lucky not to be hurt. According to him, it was to be his one big haul so he wouldn’t have to steal anymore.”
“He’s probably telling the truth. Joker’s daughter — that’s news to me!” Rex exclaimed.
“She’s the daughter of him and a sidekick he had briefly in the ’50s named Harley Quinn. She probably didn’t get out much, seeing as she inherited his hair and skin. Poor kid.”
“Sounds like she inherited more than that, according to Jason’s story,” Rex said. “So what are you going to do with him?”
“Well, I can’t just cut him loose. He knows everything. At least I don’t have to worry about him running off to tell friends what he’s seen. He seems to want to stay here, too. So, now I’m going to have to figure out what to do with him.”
“Well, you did say he’s very good at gymnastics and martial arts.”
“Oh, no!” Dick exclaimed. “I’m not looking for another partner.”
“After all the times we’ve teamed up, I should be offended,” Rex laughed.
“C’mon, you know what–“
“Whether you wanted one or not, you’re stuck with the kid. Like I said, this could be providence. If anything, this incident has shown that you need help. Taking care of Alfred alone should be a full-time job. But you’ve also been turning up the heat on Gotham’s underworld. I’ve seen the papers — Red Robin.”
“That’s a name the papers have been calling me. I’m not sure how I feel about it.”
“Has a nice ring to it,” Rex said. “It reflects the new attitude. Well, I’d better be running. Think about what I’ve said. ‘Made him a sandwich’… now I’ve heard everything.”
“You might be right, Rex. See you at the next meeting.”
Dick stepped away from the console and walked back to the area where Jason Todd was delivering a series of roundhouse kicks to a heavy bag. He was wearing old sweats of Dick’s from when he was the boy’s age. Back then, Bruce would put him through hours of grueling workouts. Jason seemed to do it voluntarily.
“You push yourself very hard,” he said.
“You have to if you’re going to survive where I come from,” Jason said, grunting as he kept delivering kicks. “That guy Franko had it in for me. The green-haired chick, too. I’m gonna be ready for them.”
“This place is a fortress,” Dick said. “They wouldn’t have found you. What’s the other reason?”
“Well,” Jason said, stopping his workout and growing somber, “when I saw all this stuff not being used — and because of where I come from — I thought maybe one day I could be the new Batman. Help out some of the people I know.”
“First that clown Blackwing and now you! What is it with everyone trying to be the new Batman?!” Dick exclaimed.
“Some people might ask you the same thing!” Jason said, pointing to the cowl Dick now wore.
“This?” Dick said, reaching up to the mask. “This is my way of paying tribute to the man who taught me everything he knew. Some might say I have more right to the title than anyone. There was only one Batman, though, and I could never hope to replace him. All I can do is hope to honor his memory. That’s all any of us can hope to do.”
He slid back the cowl, revealing the face of the boy Jason had seen in the photographs inside the mansion upstairs, only much older — the face of a man who had seen and done many things since those pictures were taken. “I think we’re beyond secrets at this point, Jason. I have a proposition for you.”
Clark Kent Junior looked at the slip of paper with his class schedule, trying to find his way to the next room number on the list. It wasn’t easy trying to read the list with one hand and hang onto his books with the other while trying to dodge the students rushing back and forth through the hallway to make it to their next class before the bell.
He wished that Jemi and Jimmy attended the same school. Then at least he would have a couple of friends here. Suddenly, he saw a familiar face.
“Laurie!” he called out.
The blond girl turned around and smiled, recognizing him. “I remember you. You’re… you know, I don’t think I ever got your name.”
“Clark. Clark Kent,” he said, smiling and holding out his hand.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Clark,” she said taking his hand. “We don’t get too many new faces around here.”
“Hey, Bash! Is that new guy coming onto your girl?” a scraggly looking boy in a Judas Priest T-shirt said, tapping on the shoulder of a large teenage boy an a muscle shirt. Bash was busy adding more mousse to try to make his flat-top stand up just like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
“Hey! You’re right,” Bash Bashford said, turning from the mirror in his locker door. “Watch my stuff. I’ll be back.” Bash marched over to where they were standing. “Hey, you!” he snarled. “Just what the hell you think you’re doing making time with my girl?”
“Stop it, Bash!” Laurie yelled. “I’m not your girl!”
He grabbed ahold of Clark’s shirt and jerked as if he were attempting to shove him into the lockers. A look of frustration and rage came into his eyes when Clark wouldn’t budge.
Clark Junior was tempted to let Bash wear himself out when he remembered Superman’s warning about secret identities. Aw, hell, he cursed internally. With Bash’s next shove, he let himself go and crashed hard into the locker beside him with his shoulder.
“Let that be a lesson to you!” Bash yelled.
“Are you hassling my cousin again, Bash?” a voice from behind said sternly.
“Stay out of this, Ross!” Bash warned. “This ain’t got nothing to do with you!”
“You hassle my family, you hassle me,” a blonde youth said. He didn’t look as large or menacing as Bash, but the bully was obviously wary of him.
“It wasn’t me he was hassling, Pete. It was Clark,” Laurie said, reaching out to Clark Junior, who was rubbing his shoulder as if it ached. He was enjoying the attention. “Look what he did!”
The crowd who had milled around oohed at the dent in the locker.
“Jeezus! You OK, kid?” said Pete Ross.
“I — I’m OK,” Clark groaned.
“What in the hell were you thinking, Bash?” Pete snapped.
“I didn’t shove him that hard!”
“C’mon… Clark? Laurie and I will help you find your next class.”
Bash called out, “I didn’t shove him that hard!” as the three of them walked off toward the next number on Clark’s list.
“There’s no way I shoved him that hard,” Bash growled to his scraggly headed friend. “He set me up to make me look bad in front of Laurie. It ain’t over between him and me.”
“The new costume looks good on you,” Lois Lane Kent said as Clark Junior stepped out of his room.
“Thanks,” Clark Junior said, looking at himself in the mirror. The new suit was similar to the old one except that there were no trunks, and he had a red collar in place of the cape. He also sported red gloves and a red belt. “It’ll be good to have my own look. I know it probably would make more sense to wear the old suit, though, so people might think I’m Superman in case I’m spotted before you guys are ready to reveal my existence.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that,” Superman said, stepping out of his room in his own costume. “You don’t have quite the middle-age girth that I do.” He patted his stomach for emphasis.
“Says the man with the body of someone just over half his age,” Lois said, mussing his hair.
“You don’t look so bad yourself, Mrs. Kent,” Superman laughed. “Don’t worry, Clark,” Superman said to his adopted son, “everything’s pretty much situated here. We’ll be ready to let everyone know about you soon. We’ll probably do it in Gotham at the Justice Society Headquarters.”
“So how was your first day of school?” Lois asked.
“Great,” Clark Junior said. “I made a couple of friends. I met this world’s version of my girlfriend from back home, Laurie Lemmon, and her cousin, Pete Ross.”
“Pete Ross?!” Superman exclaimed. “I was friends with a Pete Ross back when I was in school. It must be his grandson. The subject of our ages could come up.” He let out a weary sigh. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“He didn’t talk about his grandfather,” Clark Junior said. “He may not still be around. Pete’s something else. He’s on both the football and baseball teams. I played back at my old school, too. I was thinking about going for the team here.”
“You know you can’t do that,” Superman said.
“Why not?!” Clark Junior exclaimed.
“We’ve already had this talk. Secret identities.”
“So because I play baseball for Smallville High, people are going to assume I’m Superboy? I guess Pete and a bunch of other guys will be suspects, too!”
“You’re still learning to use your powers,” Superman said. “Accidents could happen. You could send a ball into orbit in front of the team. Even if you didn’t, you’d have an unfair advantage over all the other players. How sporting would that be?”
“This isn’t fair,” Clark Junior said.
“No, it isn’t,” Superman sighed. “I wish I could help you deal with this.”
“Well, what did you do when you were Superboy?”
“I was never Superboy. My powers started showing themselves when I was about your age, but I didn’t have the option of a whole lot of extracurricular activities, anyway. It was the Great Depression, and I had to help keep this farm from going under. I can keep it going by myself now, but you have your own set of restrictions. Kal on Earth-One was a Superboy, though. Perhaps when we see the Justice Society, we can use their equipment to get a message through to him. It might do you some good to talk to him, to see how he handled having to hold so much of himself back from the world.”
“If I have to act like some kind kind of nerd, Laurie’s never going to want to go out with me,” Clark Junior groaned.
“I know it’s hard,” Superman said. “I’ve been there.”
“Just be yourself with her,” Lois said.
“Lois…” Superman cautioned.
“Well, he should,” Lois said. “It wasn’t until the Wizard cast that spell making you forget you were Superman that you started being yourself as Clark Kent instead of playing a role. That’s when I finally became interested in you. If not for that, we probably wouldn’t be married now. (*) He can still do that without drawing attention to himself.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman Takes a Wife,” Action Comics #484 (June, 1978).]
“Maybe you’re right,” Superman sighed. “We’ll discuss it more later. Superboy and I have to go out on patrol.”
As Superman and Superboy walked toward the back porch, Clark Junior leaned in toward Lois, kissed her on the cheek, and whispered, “Thanks,” before the two of them stepped outside and flew off into the night sky.
As she watched them fade off into the distance, Lois reached up to her cheek and said to herself, “I think I’m going to like being a mom.”
Over the next week, the man the papers were calling Red Robin was a veritable slave driver to Jason Todd, pushing him even harder than he’d ever pushed himself.
At first, he had been encouraged by the fact that Dick Grayson was letting him stay. Often, though, his words were discouraging. “So you want to be the next Bat, huh?” he said to Jason, easily knocking aside Jason’s punches as they sparred. “Well, you’re not there yet.” Jason lunged forward, and Dick easily dodged the blow, using his own momentum to send him sprawling. “You’re more like a wing. It’ll be a while before you’re a Bat.”
“Well, I’ll settle for being just a batwing,” Jason had said, looking up at him, “for now.”
“There’s no settling in this business,” Red Robin said. “You’re either in this all the way or not at all.”
Jason repeatedly asked Robin to take him on patrol with him, but he was repeatedly turned down. Instead, when he wasn’t training, he was helping Alfred Beagle keep up the pretense that he was caretaker of Wayne Manor despite the fact that the ravages of time said otherwise. Finally, after he’d helped Alfred to prepare dinner, wash and put away the dishes, and then helped him to bed, he went down to the Batcave and discovered Dick waiting on him. He was holding a bundle that he threw to him.
“Suit up, Batwing,” he said. “Tonight you go on patrol.”
“All right!” Jason said, tearing into the package. He opened the bundle and found a mask similar to the one Robin had once worn in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was standard sidekick fare, though this one was black with more of a Halloween Gene Simmons sort of look.
What surprised him was the dark bodysuit. He could feel his heart pounding as he lifted it from the brown wrapping paper. From here on out, he would have to push himself harder than ever before to prove himself — to live up to the tradition. On the chest of the costume there was a large yellow bat symbol very much like the one Batman himself once wore. Perhaps, Dick thought, there was hope for him after all.
“I feel bad leaving Helena behind,” Jade said to Lyta Trevor as they flew back home in the invisible jet piloted by Wonder Woman.
“She’ll be fine,” Wonder Woman said. “My sisters will take good care of her. She’s already much better than she was. They simply want to make sure she is up to full strength, considering the sort of double life she leads.”
“They certainly took good care of you!” exclaimed Lyta, alias Fury of Infinity Inc. “I can’t get over it! You and I could pass for sisters now!”
“I know,” Wonder Woman sighed. “I’m worried about what your father will say. The difference in our aging was drastic enough as it was. How will he take this? Your grandmother was very cryptic on the matter. All she would say was that it was all taken care of.”
They rode in uncomfortable silence for a while until Jade’s gaze drifted to the distant sky.
“Someone’s coming this way,” she said. “Is it Kara? I didn’t expect us to pass her on the way. She isn’t supposed to visit Helena for a few days.”
In the distance, they could all see a figure moving toward them.
“I don’t think it’s her,” Lyta said, squinting. “The hair’s blond, but it’s definitely a man. Still, there’s something about him — an aura, almost godlike. Mother, is that Apollo?”
Wonder Woman’s newly rejuvenated Amazonian eyes were able to see farther than the other two women in the plane. She focused in on the smiling face in the midst of the long blond hair whipping about wildly in the high-pressure winds.
“Great Hera!” she exclaimed. “It’s your father!”