by Christine Nightstar and Immortalwildcat
Ever since Chief of Detectives Charles Lane had taken a bullet near his heart earlier in the year and hadn’t been physically able to go back to work, the New York Police Department had forced retirement on him. Shortly after leaving the hospital, old Chuck got a party, a plaque, and the promise of a wing of the new Police Athletic League building named after him, all in honor of his forty-plus years of service.
Charlene “Charly” Lane, his sixteen-year-old daughter from his second marriage, didn’t like seeing her normally jovial father so unlike himself. He no longer smiled like he used to since his retirement. He spent a lot of time in his study just poring over old newspaper clippings, remembering his past. Since she had an older father, she had grown up being teased that her dad was old enough to be her grandfather or great-grandfather, but she had always taken it in stride, until now. Ever since he was shot while in the line of duty, her father had aged drastically, and now he really did feel more like a grandfather.
Growing up, Charly hadn’t been very encouraged to take up physical activities, and whenever she had been, they were always gymnastics, cheerleading, dancing, and other activities more befitting a young girl than a mystery-man. That phrase of her father’s, “Activities more befitting a young girl than a mystery-man,” bugged Charlene, because it always stirred up great emotion in her father, and he never explained why. He became almost as emotional at this as whenever someone mentioned her adoptive brother. Her mother knew that Chuck had an adopted son a lot older than she was, but Chuck never talked about him. When Charlene had once asked about her older brother, her father went off like a bomb.
Why was he so adamant about activities more befitting a young girl than a mystery-man, now more commonly called a super-hero? What was the story behind her older adoptive brother, Charles Junior? And how did Stephanie Christians get both quarterbacks wrapped around her finger so completely, when Charly wasn’t even allowed to date yet?
Charlene started digging around her dad’s study one night when her mom had actually convinced him to take her out for dinner. She knew her dad was old, but she hadn’t known he had once been a super-hero himself, the original Jester. She found all sorts of papers, including adoption papers for a street kid that had the same first and middle name as her father, Charles Lane Junior.
But none of those papers shocked her as much as did the newspaper clippings from October, 1955, that read New Jester Goes Bad, in bold type, splashed across seven different newspapers, all saying the same thing with slightly different words. The Jester had become a bad guy. Things started adding up, especially the activities more befitting a young girl than a mystery-man. Her father had known the mystery-man lifestyle and had failed to pass on his legacy to his adopted son, and he didn’t want to see Charlene in it.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Team Justice: 1959: Justice in the Making, Chapter 2: Triumph and Tragedy.]
It was that night that she started gearing her life to become the next mystery woman: the new Jester.
It was several weeks later when Charly Lane decided to make her first outing as the Jester. She checked all her gear, several times, actually. She made sure her outfit was all together, including her Kabuki-style harlequin mask and multiple-colored outfit, and went out.
The night was invigorating until she heard her first call. Someone — a man, by the sound of the scream — was being attacked not two blocks from where she was. She hurried over to the location, the bells on her shoes and her head jingling all the way, only to be stopped by a wall thirty feet high.
Looking at it, she decided to climb it with the grapple she had with her, but it was just one step, two steps, then slipping and falling. She repeated the process several times, failing each time, when a figure about twenty feet away from her shouted something.
“Clown-doll, you picked the wrong time to learn to climb a wall,” said the man with a gruff-sounding voice. “That’s the Black Dragons over there — you wouldn’t stand a chance. Probably end up dead or worse.”
Charly tried to look at the man, but she couldn’t see him clearly in the shadows of the alleyway. Still, from the silhouette she saw leaning against a wall in the alley, she could tell he was a very big man, beefy and muscular. The way he spoke, he sounded like he could be one of her dad’s old buddies. “My name isn’t clown-doll — I’m the Jester, the new Jester.”
“Well, Miss Jester, you aren’t going to get over that wall without any help, and once you get over there, what are you going to do?” the figure said. “Wheeze on them and hope they’ll give up?”
She had to admit that he had a point; she was already panting heavily. “What would you know about being a super-hero, anyway?”
“Not much, truth to tell, but that’s still a hell of a lot more than you,” said the figure. “But if you fully intend to get your shapely teenage keister kicked by a gang of organized criminals, I suppose I can help you through that wall.” At that, the man stood and walked over to the thirty-foot-high wall. It was still dark, but Charly could see the man a bit better. He was, as she had guessed, big and beefy, and he was dressed in a white wife-beater sleeveless shirt, gray slacks, and a gray cap. He also had the squarest jaw she had ever seen, like the original tough guy after whom all other tough guys were modeled.
Looking at the wall, he listened for a few moments, then pulled back his arm and struck it with all his strength, punching through it like it was nothing but tissue paper. It would have been considered property damage, had it not been part of a condemned building slated for destruction.
“How did you–?” gasped Charly as the dust from the broken wall began to settle. “I mean, why aren’t you–?”
“Those are the Black Dragons, kid,” the figure said, pointing through the huge opening in the wall. “Have fun.”
The seven Black Dragons, alerted by the sound of the crumbled wall, looked surprised to see a brightly costumed girl in a Kabuki mask and a musclebound thug not far away from her. Next to them was a blond man cowering on his knees before them, obviously the one who had cried out for help.
“You are going to pay for interfering in our business!” the closest one threatened, trying to sound tough in light of what just happened.
Charly laughed, then ran toward him and the other Black Dragons. Her ten years of practicing capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, had made her an able capoeirista and a fairly good dancer as well. But when she landed her first kick, the Black Dragon’s only response was to chuckle at her.
“Let me guess, kid — this your first time out?” asked the figure who had just destroyed the wall. He had taken his place in the alleyway and was leaning against it again, his arms folded as he watched. Charly just nodded.
“You gonna take the beating for your girlfriend?” one of the Black Dragons asked him pointedly, trying to get a rise out of him but not daring to approach until he was joined by four other gang members next to him. Together, the five Black Dragons went forward, weapons drawn, and tried to attack him.
The big man simply sighed, left the alleyway, and lazily put up his dukes, not even trying to dodge any punches. When the gang tried to attack him with knives and broken bottles, nothing broke his skin. Finally, he thrust out one cedar-like arm with a fist the size of a Christmas ham, and struck all five of them in one blow, sending them flying. After thirty seconds’ time and a couple more well-placed punches, the fight was over. The figure cracked his knuckles.
“Who are you?” asked Charly, completely amazed.
“Someone who saved yer dad’s hide a long time ago,” said the man, “back when I was on the wrong side o’ the law.” Indicating the unconscious gang members on the ground with his thumb, he added, “Y’know, they really oughtta lay off the steroids; it seriously slows them down.”
“They were slow… and on steroids?” asked Charly.
“How do you think they got a professional wrestler afraid of them?” he said, pointing to a balding, blond musclebound man who was cringing on the sidewalk. To her astonishment, she actually recognized the man. It was Bulk Brubaker, one of her father’s favorite wrestlers.
“I didn’t know who it was!” she said.
“You showed courage, kid, even though you were way outta your league,” said the man. “Once you find a way to overcome your shortcomings, you might be able to take on groups like this alone.” Taking a look at her small, slender frame, he said, “Actually, nah. Just go home, kid. Forget about the mystery-man biz. Be the little teenage girl your dad wants you to be.”
“But I’m doing this for my dad,” said Charly, “so that my older brother won’t have ruined the name of the Jester for all time. Will you help me?”
“Not my place,” he replied. “But if you ever find yerself neck deep in trouble again, give me a call.” He handed her a calling card from his pants pocket. “Seeya around, kid,” said the huge man, walking off into the shadows, whistling an old Frank Sinatra standard all the way.
The teenager looked down at the card, and she frowned in puzzlement. All it had on it was a nickname, The Goon, and a number.
Although she kept his card, Charly never did see the Goon again. But when she returned home, her father had already heard through the grapevine that she’d become the new Jester. Thus began several days of being grounded by her father, who at first refused to let her speak about it. And then, after he finally let her recount all the sordid details, Chuck Lane finally realized that Charly wasn’t simply going to drop this idea like he had hope. Like her old man, she was stubborn, and she was going to go ahead with this, no matter what he had to say about it. He couldn’t keep an eye on her at all times, but he needed to set some ground rules down first.
“If you are going to be the new Jester, you’re going to have to learn from the best how to take care of yourself,” her father had finally said. “Let me make some phone calls to some old friends. They’ll get you ready for your path.” Then Chuck Lane laughed an unusual, high-pitched laugh, one that hadn’t been heard for many a decade.
“You’re kidding me, right, Chuck?” Ted Grant stared out the window into the courtyard behind the Justice Society’s brownstone headquarters. “She’s what, twelve, thirteen years old?”
“Sheesh, she’s a tiny one, then. And you want me to train her up into fighting shape?” Ted turned around to look at Chuck and Melanie Lane. “When we worked out in the gym this morning, I had her throw a couple punches. I tell ya, I didn’t even feel them hit. She’s pretty quick, and agile as hell, but she’s all sinew, no muscle.”
Melanie looked at her husband with a smirk. “Chuck was pretty adamant about her activities growing up, ‘activities more befitting a young girl than a mystery-man.'” Ted got the impression that phrase had been oft-repeated in the Lane household. “Dance, gymnastics, drama, but no sports, no physical training. If he could have gotten her exempted from gym class, I think he would have done it.”
“Now, that’s not true. I–”
“I know what you were doing, Chuck.” Ted walked over to a chair and sat down. “You were trying to avoid a repeat of young Chuck.”
“Can you blame me?” Chuck ran a hand through his thinning brown hair. “Marie and I got married, and I adopted him when he was nine years old, then raised him for most of a decade. He decides to revive the Jester name, and his first time out, he lets the Prankster’s daughter seduce him and turn him into a criminal. Broke our hearts, it did.”
“He believes Chuck’s betrayal led to Marie’s heart attack in ’55,” added Melanie, reaching over to pat her husband’s hand. “I can’t say I disagree, either.”
“Neither can I. I can kinda relate to having a kid go bad, and sometimes there just ain’t anything you can do to help it.” Ted was quiet for a moment, thinking about what he had learned of his own long-lost son in the past two years. (*) Then he slapped his palms down on his knees. “All right, I guess that tears it. Charly wants to redeem the name of the Jester, and you’re willing to trust her to my tender mercies in training. How about I go and talk to her, and see how she feels about it?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Nemesis: Beyond Redemption.]