In a small law office sat a tired old man named Cicero Di Rossi. He was a criminal lawyer, literally. He gazed across his desk at the four clients who eagerly awaited the reading of their late father’s will, studying them with a keen eye. He knew people, and he could read them, so to speak. He took his time and formed opinions about the Crane heirs. Their old man had been a crazy scholar who lived like a pauper because of a mania for books. He also had a second mania; it was an obsession with inflicting fear and studying how people reacted to it. He had fathered these children late in his life due to the fact that so much of his time had been spent behind bars due to his constant duels with the Batman. Crane had been a gaunt, stark man whose physiology made the nom du crime of the Scarecrow particularly fitting. And now he was dead, supposedly at the hands of Red Robin, though the hero had been cleared of any wrongdoing. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Infinity Inc: A Question of Trust, Chapter 1: Framed for Murder.]
His oldest child was his namesake. He had his father’s looks — jumpy, nervous, a bit close to the edge. He seemed to lack a certain something shared by his siblings, who even sat closer together and apart from Jonathan Crane Jr.
Kid lacks guts, mused the lawyer.
The second son was a brute. That was the accurate assessment. Frank Crane was a muscled giant. He could easily have snapped his sibling in half, had he the mind to do so. Ah, that was a key phrase. Had he the mind to do so. Apparently, Frank lacked much of a mind at all. No doubt he was a disappointment to the old man, though he did have the cruel look his father the professor had displayed on his face.
The third child was a sleek, lithe brunette named Lilith Crane. She had brains, beauty, and attitude. Di Rossi figured old Crane had been proud of this one. She looked the part of a super-villain’s successor.
The final son, Nicholas Crane, was harder to pin down. He had a physique somewhere between the gaunt frame of Jonathan Jr. and the bulk of Frank. He also had a keen look about him; no, not so much keen, as hungry. Nick Crane might prove most deadly, too. He carried a certain insanity in his manner. Di Rossi felt a bit afraid of the youngest son of the Scarecrow. The man idly toyed with a insect on one of the office plants before coldly ripping off its wings.
“Your late father was a client of mine for forty years,” said the lawyer. “He left me detailed instructions about his last wishes. He left little to chance. I must admit that I’ve never encountered such a will in my career, and that’s saying quite a bit, since I once wrote a will for the Joker!”
“That would have been shortly before your… shall we say… breakdown,” said Nicholas calmly.
“Eh, yes. Rather. Now back to your affairs,” said Di Rossi.
“What of your affairs? My notes indicate that you are having one with the wife of the Crimesmith himself,” said Lilith as she smoothed her floor-length black dress.
A flustered Di Rossi said, “How dare you? My business is–!”
Frank leaned forward and said softly, “Don’t raise your voice to my sister. Say you are sorry.”
He gulped and did so, and Lilith crossed her legs and smiled smugly.
“Listen, Mr. Di Rossi, we don’t mean anything,” said Jonathan Jr. “It’s just we’re all so upset about Pater!”
“The terms of the will state that his entire fortune will go to the one of you who fulfills his last wishes most accurately,” said Di Rossi.
“What were his last wishes?” asked Lilith.
“Hah-hah! I can bet!” sneered big Frank.
“So can we all, you hulking great lummox,” said Nicholas.
“They are spelled out in this attachment,” said Di Rossi. “No lawyer other than myself would ever countenance such terms, since they involve bloodshed and destruction!”
“Oh, how wonderful!” replied Lilith darkly.
Dick Grayson turned to his fiancée Karen Starr and said, “You know, I think it would be nice if we invited the other Batman to our wedding… that is if Doctor Fate and the others can remove that barrier between the worlds by then.”
Karen frowned. “I thought you did not care for him, that he gave you a bad feeling… being so much like your Bruce and all.”
Dick nodded. “I resented him at first… right after Bruce died. But I mean, he is Bruce… in every way that counts. Maybe a little darker, but deep down he is the hero I revered all my life. It would be almost like having the real thing there.”
“Weird,” said Karen, alias Kara Zor-L. “I don’t see Superman of Earth-One as anything like my cousin. He’s more modern, more liberated in his thinking. I don’t think he believes all women need protecting.”
“True, but he’s from another generation,” said Dick. “Give Clark a chance. He cares for you so much that he just acts a bit overprotective. He’s like that with the whole world.”
Kara grinned. “I know. I’m just being the mixer you fell in love with!”
Dick kissed the blonde. “That’s why I love about you — you’re never dull.”
Kara smiled. “And living the sedate life you do, you need excitement!”
The Bat-Signal blazed across the sky, and Alfred Beagle’s gentle cough stopped their play.
“Duty calls,” said Dick, smiling.
“To the Batcave!” said Kara. Alfred and Dick exchanged glances. The blonde placed her hands on her hips and said, “What? I’m family now. I can say it!”
Sergeant Harvey Hainer Jr. watched the skies from the roof of Gotham Police Headquarters. He had been the keeper of the Bat-Signal ever since his father retired from the job. Like his father, Harvey could never be certain just where Red Robin would arrive.
He liked the hero and had seen him fill his own mentor’s role as Gotham City’s guardian to perfection. Like the late Batman, Red Robin was a friendly, thoughtful man who remembered to make small gestures of kindness like birthday presents and making a point of knowing the Hainer childrens’ names.
Red Robin dropped from the shadows to greet Harvey. “Good evening, Sergeant Hainer. What can I do for you?” he asked.
“How’s it going, Harv?” said Power Girl.
He gulped. The powerful and dominating Kryptonian was harder to relate to. Why, she once mouthed off to the commissioner himself. “Fine, Miss,” said Hainer. “We need your help. As hard as it is to believe after the recent situation, well, he’s back!”
Red Robin frowned. “Which one? They all come back eventually. Has the Joker recovered?”
Sergeant Hainer shook his head. “Mister Zero!”
Power Girl shrugged. “Who is he? I don’t recall his name from the Bat chronicles.”
“Mister Zero wasn’t active much since before Batman’s retirement,” said Red Robin. “He makes effective use of cryogenic technologies for crime — freeze-rays and such. He was smart, tricky, and ruthless. We also believed him to be dead. His funeral was only about three weeks ago.”
“Unless his body was found, he faked it,” said Power Girl. “Standard super-villain routine, yadda yadda yadda…”
“Right. But a body was found,” said Hainer. “He died from natural causes — cancer from the unshielded devices he used for so many years.”
“A copycat?” she suggested.
“Most likely,” said Red Robin. “I don’t see Zero as the kind who could pull off a body switch. He was bright, but limited to his field. So let’s put him on ice!”
“That line was a riot back when you probably first used it back in ’45 or so,” said Power Girl as they went down to Commissioner O’Hara’s office for details.
Red Robin nudged her. “Batman always loved my material.” She rolled her eyes affectionately.
Commissioner Clancy O’Hara greeted the pair and explained the situation. “Good to see you, lad. You too, miss. We found a body belonging to one Dot Wilson near the old refinery. Her body showed marks of hypothermia,” he said with a shake of his head.
“And though it is November, it’s been too warm for winter,” said Red Robin. “Sounds like a Mister Zero device, all right. Any motive?”
“None,” said the old man. “She was homeless. One more thing… she had no blood left in her corpse!”
“Well, that’s a sick twist!” said Power Girl.
Red Robin nodded. “Definitely a new M.O. from what we knew of the first Mister Zero.”
At an old castle outside Gotham City, a regal man lounged on a throne. At his right side stood a devoted redheaded woman in armor. His name was Crimelord. Her name was Lady Crimson. Before them in mock Camelot-styled splendor was a round table. A gathering of rogues filled most of the spots.
“‘Tis well done indeed, my perfidious peers,” said the man on the throne. “Our serfs have succeeded in their petty crimes, and thanks to your stellar protection, the bailiffs have failed to stop them.”
Lady Crimson, alias Melissa Lyons, tossed her red curls and said, “We live to serve you, noble sire!”
Crimelord grinned at her adoration. “Right well said, milady.”
A dapper youth in a tuxedo smirked and daintily wiped at his chair before sitting down. “This abode could use some cleaning,” he sniffed. “What it gains in Medieval atmosphere, it more than loses in terms of creature comforts.”
“Sir Penguin, my apologies!” said Crimelord. “We be a rough and ready bunch here. Your refinement may inspire us all to the nicer things of life.” The young man nodded in genteel agreement.
Next to him sat a redheaded woman in armor shaped in an insect pattern. Her name was Valerie Van Cleef, the new Killer Moth. “Ozzie, you need to loosen up a bit,” she said. “I could show you a good time.”
He snorted in disdain. “My good woman, I sincerely doubt that. And never again refer to me by that insipid diminutive!”
A sultry blonde in a black skintight cat-suit purred in amusement as she reclined on top of the table.
“The Queen of Cats is amused!” said Crimelord.
Michelle Kyle smiled wickedly. “Birds are so entertaining. Still, I prefer a more personal and physical form of cat and mouse games!” Lady Crimson frowned as the flirtatious successor to the late King of the Cats charmed their master.
A solitary woman with platinum blonde hair, reddish eyes, and a dark costume watched in silence. She sat a bit back from the table near a roaring fire.
“Frostbite, my dear, you could sit with the others,” said Crimelord.
“My needs make it essential that I stay near the fire,” she insisted.
Killer Moth shivered in spite of the heat. “She gives me the creeps!”
Penguin covered his mouth with a spotless white glove and said, “For once, I do agree with you.”
The Queen of Cats merely appeared to groom herself. The vacant seat then caught her green eyes. “Who is to occupy the final chair at our little catty corner spot?” she said.
“That chair has not been earned as yet,” said Lady Crimson. “It is to be given to that criminal who proves most worthy by proving most foul!”
A straw emblem was on the back of the empty chair.
Aaron Pressman had been a truck driver for fifteen years. He liked the feeling of the freedom of the open road. Thus he felt nothing unusual as he drove his rig through very foggy streets.
“Man, what a pea-souper!” he mused as Hank Williams Jr. blared on the radio.
The damp moisture seeped inside the open window of the big rig, and he began to feel strange. He began to sweat, and his pulse raced as the idea of the terrible speed and power of the truck occupied his mind.
“I gotta stop! This thing is a deathtrap!” he gasped. “The speed is too much. Can’t breathe!”
He swerved off the road and gasped for air, then opened the door and stepped down.
“Gotta calm down. I’m outta the truck. I’m OK!” he said.
Maniacal laughter echoed out of the dark woods along the lonely road. The lights of Gotham City seemed far removed from the foggy scene. The weird sound was not muffled by the heavy fog. It seemed to be magnified.
The trucker turned to see a strange and terrible figure of the night. His masked face showed a jagged thread-formed grin below cold eyes. His suit was a straw-ridden patchwork out of a nightmare.
Aaron gasped, “What are you?”
The straw man said, “I? I am the only thing you have to fear!”
The trucker fled in the night as the laughing Scarecrow drove off in the chemical supply truck.
“Fear itself!” cackled the driver as he made off with the vehicle and its cargo.