In the elegant part of Gotham City that housed eateries, clubs, and private pleasure spots enjoyed by only the wealthiest citizens, the Gardens loomed regally over the city. This fancy bistro was so exclusive it was known to turn away members of the Fortune 500, and that seemed perfectly appropriate to Lenora Vandergilt. She enjoyed the luxuries social status alone could buy. She was a refined blonde who had just finished a meal and had a waiter dismissed. It had been a good night for the oil heiress.
That would change abruptly.
She prepared to signal the parking valet to bring her car around, when she was approached by a demure woman in an elegant gray gown. She moved with the easy grace of youth, displayed an attractive figure worthy of a model, and carried herself with an air of superiority. Lenora assumed she was worth speaking to because of these social graces and costly attire, even though her odd lace veil seemed a bit out of place.
The woman delicately raised one evening glove-clad hand, and a rapid ray beam struck Lenora. She gasped, and her eyes widened in shock. She hesitated, then watched vacantly as the woman in gray raised her dainty veil to reveal Lenora’s own features.
She stepped into Lenora’s arriving limo and had the driver depart. As she did so, the real Lenora stepped out into the street and wandered aimlessly off into the Gotham night until furtive figures found her and led her down streets she had never known of, even by rumor.
“Mademoiselle Fantome has done her work well,” said a rough man.
“She always does! Come along now, doll,” said his pal as a staring Lenora followed them down mean and darkened streets.
The Batcave was a wild place to hang out. Young Batwing had been there for a year now, but even he still didn’t know what everything was for, or better yet, why it was stored in the cavern.
He approached the Huntress as she worked at a lab table one day and asked, “Say, what did Batman do with that antique taxicab?”
She smiled as she replied, “Wayne Manor didn’t pay for itself, you know!”
“Seriously, what was it for?” he continued.
“Dad had an alias, Barney Collins,” she said. “Barney was Dad in a disguise, one of several personas he used. He took that old cab out and picked up information when needed.”
Batwing grinned. “So, conceivably a punk could have spilled his guts directly to Batman and never realized it!”
She frowned and said, “Well, as you so Bogartly put it, that’s right.”
“We should try that! I could be a punk rocker — Spike or something!” he joked.
Helena said nothing, simply mused for a few moments. Dad was the best, she thought. His methods are not out of style. Just maybe I’d better look into trying to create a role or two all my own. Mother certainly made use of makeup and disguises often enough.
In a rented office, a lovely woman with long blonde hair who wore a shockingly short skirt and silk blouse brooded over some files. They were patient referrals. She was an attractive young psychologist named Stephanie Strand, or so her framed license read. She tossed aside one case after another before smiling wickedly over a couple.
Her frazzle-haired secretary Sally said, “Dr. Strand, you could get all of your business from wealthy and disturbed old bats. You get most of it that way. Why fool with low-paying nuts like this ex-janitor?” she said, stabbing one red nail at a file.
Stephanie smiled winningly. “Call me a people person! And don’t say bats. I loathe that expression.”
As the woman departed from her employer’s office, she thought she heard Stephanie talking to herself. She glanced at the phone, and no lights were displayed. No one on the phone, and I take all her dictation, she mused. Doc Strand’s going nuts herself.
Inside Dr. Stephanie Strand’s office, she whimpered like a scared little girl. “Please, Daddy! Don’t scold me! I’ll make you proud this time! I’ll kill the Batman’s daughter! I promise you!” she said almost tearfully in the empty office.
Alfred Beagle was a good man — reliable, brave, loyal, and caring. He was the kind of man any woman would be thrilled to share her life with in any manner. Thus it had always seemed odd to Helena Wayne as she matured that her beloved Alfred devoted all his life entirely to serving the Waynes. She knew he was private, too, and she just assumed that any old flames he had enjoyed no longer burned within his secret heart. Thus she was a bit dismayed one morning to find him gazing sadly at a faded but obviously cherished photo of a pretty woman.
“Oh, Miss! I did not hear your approach,” he said. “You share that stealthy stride with both of your late parents.”
She kissed his cheek. “Sorry, Alfred. Uh, Alfred… who’s the lady? I hope you don’t mind my asking. Curiosity is also something I inherited from both of them.”
“Not at all, Miss!” he said. “This was Shirley Holmes, a dear old friend. She served your godfather, the late Commissioner Gordon, well for years as the single most decorated female officer in the history of the male-dominated Gotham force. We were very close once. Sadly, we drifted apart. She married another and died in the line of duty.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Helena. “Was she the first woman officer in Gotham?”
He nodded. “Well, certainly one of the earliest. She had an unfortunate teen relationship with a most unsavory type. He returned years later, and they renewed their romance. I tried to warn her. He claimed he had reformed, but it was a lie. One night his gang encountered her, and gunshots were exchanged. To his horror, he accidentally killed Shirley — his own wife — in the darkness and the fear. He killed himself afterward. Deliberately attracted her partner’s fire. It was most tragic!”
Helena nodded. It reminded her of her own past. Her beloved heroic father and her reformed mother had also had a fatal and accidental exchange that had resulted in the death of one and the breakdown of the other. “Did they have any kids?” she asked softly.
“Indeed! A son. I believe he turned out rather badly. Ward of the court and so on,” said Alfred sadly.
Helena shivered as if someone stepped upon her grave, according to the old wife’s saying.
Dr. Stephanie Strand crossed her legs and listened as her patient speak in tones both harsh and emotional.
“I worked for the Gotham Police as a janitor for my whole adult life,” he said as he paced nervously. “I made friends with the police. They were good Joes! Some were rough street fighters. Some were college men with theories on prevention of crime. Still, all of them wanted to make a difference. That’s worth dying for. Fighting crime is the highest of all vocations! I see the punks running loose today. It hurts me! I want to do something — anything!”
“Mr. Barrows, what can one man do?” she asked.
Barney Barrows ran a hand through his thinning hair and said, “I… I don’t know. Once, I could have told you. Once I could have gone out into those streets and wiped the mocking grins off of the faces of every hood I saw! But I was young then. I’d had an accident. It made me a genius! I was smart enough to force Batman to help me fight crime. (*) He was too soft on them… rest his soul.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mental Giant of Gotham City,” Detective Comics #217 (March, 1955).]
Stephanie leaned forward. “He was too soft. Why, he had the resources to make this city a paradise… with your help! Perhaps he was jealous of you — your superior mind, your physical prowess. Hmmm?”
Barrows shook his head. “No… yes! I can’t say. It was so long ago! I’ve been coming to docs like you ever since. I lost my gifts, and he — Batman, that is — helped me adjust to my old way of life as a janitor, but I feel the old rage building up inside me again. Look at the headlines; Sharon Davenport — the millionaire’s wife — she vanished! She just disappeared! If a wealthy lady like that is not safe, then who is?”
“Mr. Barrows, I have a theory about you,” said Dr. Strand. “That accident didn’t give you your powers, and Batman never could truly take them away. They were and are yours by birth. Have you heard the word mutant? It is quite the vogue these days. Still, I think you are a mutant. You can give yourself the mental gifts you once displayed if you wish to do so. You can also overcome the weakness of a noble old age if you put your mind to it. Plus, you can gain great powers of body as well. Or are you going to let crime ruin this city and make the Gotham Police Force a mockery?” she said insistently.
“No!” he yelled. “I will make a difference! I will stand for justice! Better still, I’ll stand for vengeance!” He seemed to grow in size, and muscles broadened and developed as a gleam came to his eyes and his voice grew firmer.
“Dr. Strand, I do have a second chance, thanks to you! I see my old gifts are back and better than before! Not just mental like before, but physical, too, like you said! Thank you. Now, cancel my sessions. I’ll be busy from now on!” he said as he rushed out.
“Perfect,” said Dr. Strand, smiling to herself.
That night, Barney Barrows designed and made a dark costume of red and black. He donned a deathly white face mask and held a blade in one hand. “Like some dread figure from a nightmare, Vengeance is born!”
Sally, the secretary for Dr. Stephanie Strand, did not like the special cases her willful employer elected to treat. Sally preferred that her boss would cater only to the rich and harmless. However, some perverse streak within the brilliant blonde led her to take on odd patients like that tense old janitor, who must have been working out since his last session, and the current young punk in the office. His voice was loud, and Sally strained to hear more through the closed door. At least she’s not talking to herself again, she mused.
“Look, Doc, my old man was Jake Bishop,” said Jake Bishop, Junior. “The gangs called him Tiger. Even Batman respected him. He could have been a big player. He was as tough as Wolf Brando and as smart as the Penguin! He had a racket that would have made us rich. Ma was a cop. She didn’t know he was still in the gangs. When he pulled his last job, she was there, and somehow both of them died. If she had not been with the pigs, we’d be on Easy Street. Instead, I grew up an orphan, and I’m only here ’cause of social workers. I blame all the pain I’ve faced on the system. It was Ma’s job that led to her death!”
Dr. Strand reclined slightly and said, “Tell me more.”
“My mother, Shirley Holmes Bishop, died in the line of duty, and what did that get her? Nothin’!” continued Jake. “She lost her life — I lost her — all ’cause of justice, an idea no one can really attain in this rotten world. Dad was right. You make your own justice, and the cops are just the system’s storm trooper! Well, I won’t die like they did — victims of the system! I’ll fight it. I’ll destroy it!”
“It?” said Stephanie. “Surely you know you cannot kill or fight a system. You need a face for an enemy. You need humans to fight. They are the system’s representatives.”
Jake nodded as his eyes seemed to glaze over. “I’m good with my hands. I can fight. I learned to shoot, to track, to stay alive. A real super-villain named Crusher Crock owed my old man a favor, and he taught me things. Plus, I’m good with machines and tools. I tinker around a lot. I’m gonna use my talents to kill every cop in Gotham!”
“And you tell me this?” said Dr. Strand.
Jake smiled. “Yeah! You want me to do it! You’re playing mind games with me. I don’t know why, but I know you’re a real manipulator. Like I said, I’m smart!”
He walked out as she nodded approvingly. “My, you are clever.”
She closed the door and went down on her knees. “Please be proud!” she said madly to thin air. “I may have used the name Strand to get my position, but I’m worthy of your name, father. I’ll use these pawns to crack the daughter of the Bat… all for you! Then you’ll love me!”
It was a grim Commissioner Clancy O’Hara who stood by on the roof of Gotham Police Headquarters as Sgt. Harvey Hainer activated the Bat-Signal. He was a heavy man, and his broad shoulders never seemed to carry more weight than they did this night.
The Huntress swung down to a perfect landing and said, “You needed me?”
O’Hara started and smiled. “That I do, lass! That I do! It’s a sorry business. Three of my men were murdered earlier this night. They were not on a specific case. One was walking home. They were all butchered like animals! Nothing connects them except the fact that they were uniform men. The sheer violence of the attacks links them, of course.”
She frowned. Her father had led this force as Bruce Wayne and had rescued its members countless times as Batman. She took the suffering of the men in blue very seriously. “A serial cop killer! I’ll stop him. You have my word. Any witnesses?” she asked as she placed one hand on the weary man’s arm.
“Not a one! He struck as swift as a fleeting shadow,” he said. With those words, he was alone. “She’s as silent and certain as her late father, bless his soul,” he mused.
Alexandra Riverton calmly withdrew her jewels from the family safe and loaded them into her car, where her designer wardrobe, furs, and maxed-out credit cards were already stored with various bonds and documents. Her red head was curled tightly around her plump face, and she wore an old-fashioned, yet stylish gray gown. She drove off toward the less-fashionable part of the city, and when she was out of sight of the old manor, she raised the dainty lace veil that concealed her face to reveal a different, almost featureless countenance entirely. This was appropriate for the aristocratic woman called Mademoiselle Fantome. She had successfully stolen the rich woman’s features and identity long enough to steal all that she possessed. The true Alexandra had been given to her associate, who now ruled a small army of amnesia-ridden blue bloods far from the manors and penthouses of the elite.
However, this regal young woman in the gray gown felt all she did was justified. For was she not nobility herself? Her bloodline could be traced back to the glory days of Charlemagne himself. The Duchess smiled, if a face devoid of any unique characteristic could be said to display any emotion.
Jerry “Mad Dog” Haines imagined his career in crime would be a long, bloody one full of Cagney-style glory. He was wrong. The punk robbed one 7-11 before he ran directly into the looming costumed form of Barney Barrows.
“You have sought wealth. You have found Vengeance!” said the white-masked man as he grabbed the punk around the throat and lifted him off the ground. “You rob the helpless. You pay the price!” he said and snapped Jerry’s neck with disdain.
Vengeance had begun his career, and criminals everywhere were now marked men.
Elsewhere, Jake Bishop Junior tossed a bloody badge into a box where others lay. He wore a purple and red costume with a cape that mimicked Batman’s, as did the cowl he wore.
“Ma, your brethren in blue will die for letting you believe their lies,” he said. “Dad, they’ll regret ruining your dreams! I promise this. As the Wraith, I’ll avenge you both on every cop in Gotham, including the Huntress, since she is one of them with official status in the eyes of the law. ‘Course, her costume’s all her own.”
Thus, two angry men waged war on the streets of Gotham City, with the Huntress caught in the middle of a web spun secretly by Dr. Stephanie Strand, a woman who lived with madness and hated the sign of the Bat.