by Starsky Hutch 76 and Anubis8
Red Robin and Batwing rode down the dark Gotham City streets in the latest edition to their arsenal — the Red Racer. It was a modernized edition of the old Batmobile, only more aerodynamic and with updated equipment. Its body was a deep crimson hue, or — as the criminal element put it — the color of blood.
“When the time comes to pick a team leader, I think it should be you,” Red Robin said.
“Huh?” Batwing said, reacting with surprise to his mentor’s unexpected show of confidence in him.
“You’re the most qualified. Clark’s boy is just as new to this game as you, but he’s a product of the suburbs. Until the Crisis, he was completely sheltered. The same goes for Jay’s kid, only to an even greater extreme. He’s smart as a whip, but his head’s so far in the clouds, he’d never be able to focus on the here and now long enough to lead.”
“How about Coral?” Batwing asked.
Red Robin let out a snort. “I’ve been around debutantes enough in my life to know her type. A spoiled princess, if I’ve ever seen one. Putting her in a position of authority would be a mistake.”
“At the least, he’s in the same position as Clark Junior and John, according to his story. At the most, he’s an unknown element and too risky to lead. Your upbringing has helped you to develop cunning and survival skills. You know how to handle yourself. That makes you the best suited for team leader.”
“Thanks,” Batwing said.
“Don’t thank me. I’m simply looking out for the interest of my team. Since they’ve chosen to carry out this experiment, I want to see it work.”
“OK, then,” Batwing said, smiling inwardly to himself. He knew by now how tight-lipped his mentor was with praise and was able to recognize it even when it was thinly disguised as practicality.
Batwing’s gaze drifted out of the passenger-side window and then up into the night sky. “There’s something you don’t see too often anymore.”
Red Robin looked to see what his protege was referring to and saw the Bat-Signal dancing across the night sky. “What in the hell?” The Red Racer came to a screeching halt.
“Where’s it coming from?” Red Robin growled, staring up at the Bat-Signal.
“Don’t those usually come from the police station?”
“I think it’s coming from that building over there,” Batwing said, pointing to a mid-sized building.
“Club Nouveau,” Red Robin said. “One of the oldest nightclubs in Gotham.”
“You know it?” Batwing said, raising one eyebrow.
“I’ve been a few times,” Red Robin said. “When your mentor keeps up the persona of a millionaire playboy, it can’t be helped.”
“I guess I wouldn’t know about that,” Batwing said with mock sadness.
“And you never will.”
They pulled the Red Racer into the alley behind Club Nouveau, passing several people staring and pointing into the sky along the way. They stepped out of the car and fired their grappling hooks up to the top of the building. Once they’d scaled their way to the top, they discovered a costumed woman standing next to the spotlight.
Red Robin gestured to the cutout bat symbol on the spotlight. “Get that off of there,” he growled. She reached down and pulled it off, returning the club’s spotlight to normal.
“Hello,” she said, walking toward them. “I’m the Catwoman.”
“I knew the original Catwoman,” Red Robin said. “You’re not her.”
“Of course not,” she said. “Different age. Different race.” She pointed to her latino complexion. “But the name fits certain abilities of mine, and no one was using it. I’m also not a burglar.”
“So you don’t pull crimes,” Red Robin said, “just pranks.” He gestured back to the spotlight.
“That was no prank,” the Catwoman said defensively. “I was desperate to get in touch with you. I knew the owner of the club and asked him if I could use the spotlight.”
“Really?” Red Robin said. “What was so important that you felt the need to risk throwing Gotham into a panic?”
“It’s the Joker!” she said with a look of fear and desperation in her eyes. “He’s planning something truly horrible!”
“Helena, is that what I think it is?” Power Girl said as she and the Huntress flew through the clouds on the outskirts of Gotham City.
“Oh, my God!” gasped Helena Wayne. “That’s impossible! No one has dared shine the signal since Dad passed away!”
“Well, Huntress, I guess that it’s a good thing that you decided to put on your costume before we left Paradise Island.”
“I suppose,” said the Huntress. “That was to protect my secret identity while we were flying home. But I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any action upon my return.”
“Well, let’s say we get down there and see if we can figure out exactly who or what’s behind this?”
“Sounds good to me, Kara. Let’s land on that rooftop over there,” she said as she pointed to her friend’s left. “That way I can find a safe place to hide my bag, and we can get down to business.”
Power Girl quickly zipped them down to the rooftop, and as the Huntress quickly spotted a dark corner of the roof to hide her things, Kara Zor-L used her super-vision to take a quick scan of the city below. Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of a dark red car making its way toward the signal’s point of origin.
“Huntress!” she called out. “Hurry up! I just spotted someone who’s already on top of things.”
Soon, the Huntress and Power Girl were airborne once more, following the tire tracks the dark red car had left behind.
“Nice wheels,” Helena said to her friend. “It seems as if Dick’s already making his presence known here in Gotham.”
“You’ll get your chance to tell him yourself shortly. I just locked onto the building that the signal’s coming from,” Kara said. “Hold on.”
“I recognize that building,” the Huntress said as they got closer to the signal. “It’s the Club Nouveau. Dick told me about the times that he and dad would go there back when he had to keep up that whole playboy image. There’s Dick. But who’s the boy? And more importantly, who the hell is that person dressed up like my mother!?” she asked her friend. “Take me down! Get me down there now!”
A brief glance passed between Red Robin and Power Girl as she and her companion landed in front of the three atop the roof of the Club Nouveau. It was one of the few times Batwing had ever seen a crack in the normally steely demeanor of his mentor in costume. The moment was quickly broken by the woman he recognized from the papers as the Huntress.
Without taking a moment to address Robin, whom she hadn’t seen since the darkest days of the Crisis, she turned to the woman in the cat-suit and shouted angrily, “Who are you, and what are you doing in my mother’s costume?”
“Madre? I don’t understand,” the new Catwoman said. “I knew your father was Batman, but–”
“Wait a minute,” Power Girl said. “You’re that reporter from the press conference! Yolanda Montez!”
“You looked through my mask!” Catwoman said, outraged.
“Yolanda Montez?” Red Robin said. “Ted Grant’s goddaughter? I’ve heard him talk about you.”
“Great,” Catwoman said. “Everybody knows my secrets, but I don’t see anyone rushing to share theirs.”
“Looks like they’re keeping the cat theme in the family,” Red Robin mused.
“This isn’t funny,” the Huntress said. “Ted Grant’s goddaughter or not, I still don’t see where she gets off usurping the name!”
“Hello?!” Catwoman said. “I’m standing right here!”
“Ted’s always said good things about her,” Red Robin continued. “Almost like she was his own kid. It seems like it would be a good thing to have someone like her carrying on the name as a heroine rather than wait until someone else adopts it to establish a criminal rep.”
“Funny. I seem to remember you feeling quite differently when I told you about Blackwing. And he wasn’t even using the same name. I guess you got over that, though, since you brought in the kid, here,” the Huntress said, gesturing toward Batwing.
“Hey!” Batwing snapped.
“This kid, here, is ten times more competent than Blackwing was,” Red Robin growled. “That man was a joke. Batwing has a much better chance of doing justice to his memory. Just as Yolanda does to Catwoman’s memory.”
“Perhaps,” the Huntress reluctantly acquiesced, turning toward Catwoman. “But I’ll be watching you.”
“Do as you wish,” Yolanda said, throwing her hands up. “It makes no difference to me! I had planned to take the name of Wildcat in honor of Uncle Ted after he fell in the Crisis, but now he’s up looking spryer than ever.”
“Why does it have to be a cat name?” Power Girl asked.
“Because,” Catwoman said, leaping to the top of one of the concrete corner towers and then somersaulting into a crouching position by the brick wall next to the stairway entrance to the club below, “it fits me.” She raked her claws against the brick wall, sending up a shower of bits of stone.
“I see,” Power Girl said.
“Wow,” Batwing said, impressed.
The Huntress merely stared. No matter how many people might be willing to vouch for this new Catwoman, she doubted whether she would ever feel as confident. The Catwoman had brought pain to her mother at the end of her life. She wouldn’t see this new one disgrace her after her death.
“What’s her problem?” Catwoman said from the backseat of the Red Racer. “It’s just a costume. It’s not like I’m actually pretending to be her mother! Does she really think anyone would mistake me for someone who was active in the 1940s? It’s not even the same costume!”
“It’s pretty close,” Batwing said.
“The Catwoman wore a dress. This is a bodysuit.”
“You could have at least changed the look a bit more than simply baring your legs and adding some longer boots,” Red Robin said.
“Why is everyone jumping all over me over a simple name?”
“Not everyone is,” Red Robin said. “After she reformed, I came to consider Selina Kyle a friend. I think it’s a fitting tribute that someone like you will be carrying the role as a heroine. But the Huntress won’t be the only one watching you to make sure you don’t screw up.”
“Feel free,” Catwoman said. “But you’ll be bored. Both my father and my Uncle Ted were fighters who made sure I was well-trained. I can take care of myself.”
“Nothing against Ted,” Red Robin said. “I know how good he is. But I’ve heard Blackwing was trained by him, too.”
“There’s a difference between being trained a few months and being trained your entire life. Blackwing wasn’t ready. I am.”
“I’m sure you are,” Red Robin said.
“You sound reasonable,” Catwoman said. “Why is the Huntress being such a hardass?”
“I know a lot of people who would say it’s usually the other way around,” Red Robin said. “The first thing you should know is that her mother died wearing a version of that costume you now have on. A former henchman blackmailed Catwoman into committing new crimes by making her think she once killed someone and ended up getting killed herself. The event traumatized her daughter, and that’s why she’s now the Huntress.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “From Each Ending, a Beginning,” DC Super Stars #17 (November-December, 1977).]
“Wow,” Catwoman said. “No wonder she hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” Red Robin said. “She hates the costume you’re wearing. It will take some time for her to be able to look past it.”
It didn’t take Power Girl long, Catwoman thought, shuddering at the thought of Kara Zor-L’s x-ray vision being used on her mask. Dealing with people with such powers would take some getting used to.
The Red Racer pulled into an alley near the warehouse where the Joker’s gang was hiding out. Power Girl and the Huntress landed by its side.
“That’s the place you spoke of?” Red Robin asked.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“It doesn’t look like much,” Power Girl commented.
“It wouldn’t be a good hideout if it did,” Catwoman replied.
“This isn’t the same hideout as before,” Batwing commented. “We tried to find it.”
“They moved a while back, after — are you that kid?” Catwoman gasped. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 2, Chapter 1: The Joker’s Daughter.]
“What kid?” Batwing said innocently.
“Never mind,” Catwoman said warily.
“There’s no sign of activity,” Red Robin said. “We’re going in. Batwing, Catwoman, and I will go in the front. Power Girl, you and Huntress hit ’em from the roof. If anyone’s in there keeping watch, we’ll have them sandwiched between us.”
With precision timing, Red Robin blew open the lock and burst through the front door with Catwoman and Batwing at the same second that Power Girl and the Huntress crashed through the window at the top of the warehouse.
The sight that greeted them was about the last they had expected. The warehouse was empty, except for a table in the center of the room. On the table sat a jack-in-the-box.
“I’ll say it again — doesn’t look like much,” Power Girl said.
“Where is everyone?” Batwing asked.
“They must’ve known you were watching them,” the Huntress said to Catwoman. “You must’ve done something to let them know you were there.”
“Impossible,” Catwoman said indignantly. “I trailed them from one hideout to the next. If they knew I was on to them, don’t you think they would’ve lost me sooner? Maybe that jack-in-the-box is some sort of clue.”
She went to move toward it, and Red Robin grabbed her arm. “Don’t touch it. It’s probably some sort of trap.”
The arm of the jack-in-the-box began to turn by itself, playing, Pop Goes the Weasel. A recording of Joker’s voice said, “Congratulations! You said the magic word!”
“Dive!” Red Robin commanded. Everyone but Power Girl hit the floor as the clown sprang from the box and spewed gunfire around the room from a small gun barrel projecting from its mouth. The girl of steel casually walked forward, grabbed the clown by the head, and ripped it from from the box.
Red Robin rose to his feet. “Do you recognize these projectiles?” He held out a small metal object in the thumb and forefinger of his black-gloved hand.
“It — it’s one of the bugs I planted!” Catwoman gasped. “They must have found them!”
A factory warehouse somewhere in Gotham City:
“Damn that Red Robin!” the Joker sneered. “He’s taking all the fun out of this by discovering my plans too soon! Harley’s going to be so disappointed. She always did love fireworks, ever since she was a little girl.”
“At least we got away,” Franko Morelli said. “We can always pull it off later.”
“Later, later!” the Joker yelled. “We’re not exactly young men, Franko!”
The two of them suddenly turned at the sound of a cane tapping against the floor. Out of the shadows walked the Shade.
“No, you’re not,” the Shade said. “Which is the point of the whole endeavor for the benefit of which you were released. You keep him busy, just as others of our group would be doing with other members of the JSA. Not only did your plan make the word overkill a monumental overstatement, but it places this very same endeavor in jeopardy. Good Lord, man. Don’t you even bother to pick up a newspaper or a magazine?”
“Why, whatever do you mean?” the Joker asked.
“Your actions would leave the hounds baying inside our door — unable to exit it, in fact! Gotham is now a hotbed of super-hero activity. No longer do you have simply Red Robin to worry about. The entire JSA seems to be making Gotham a regular haunt instead of simply showing up for meetings. Especially their newfound proteges, who can be seen regularly at the JSA Brownstone.
“Because it’s such a hotbed, Gotham will now be integral in our move against the JSA. Most of our actions will be within Gotham. If you were to do to this city what you were planning, this plot could be foiled. I shudder at the thought of our forces trapped within the city walls with an angry and desperate JSA.
“Instead, I ask you to join us. After all, we all work better when our plans don’t conflict with one another. Who knows? Your talents for mayhem could be very helpful. Your plan could still be of use… at the proper time. And best of all, you will be rewarded with a visage rid of crow’s-feet and laugh lines.”
“I like my wrinkles,” the Joker protested, striking a dramatic pose. “They give me character.”
“Surely, you wouldn’t want your Harley to one day have to go through this world without her beloved father, would you, now?” the Shade coaxed. “It’s obvious the poor girl worships you. She’ll probably be crushed when that day comes, but it’s your choice to make. I’m not one to tell you how to live your life… or care for your offspring.”
“My… puddin’?” the Joker said with a quivering lip. “Alone?” He rested his arms on the table before him. “OK, Shade,” he sighed, losing his trademark maniacal grin. “You have yourself a deal. We’ll do this your way. I’m in.”
“Good show, old boy,” the Shade said, clapping him on the shoulder. “You won’t be sorry. Imagine what a new, youthful Joker could be capable of. When this is over, there will be no JSA, and the world will be ours for much longer than many of our number could ever have anticipated.”