Elsewhere, a group of six rough-looking men assembled around a table in a waterfront bar. Their leader had wild eyes and a scruffy goatee.
“Fleeter, what’s the point of bringing us all together again?” asked a gaunt man with long brown hair. “If it’s another job like the one with the IRA–”
“Don’t say that name,” growled another man. “I never want to hear about the IRA or Prince Charles, for that matter, ever again! My brother’s still rotting away in a UK prison because of them.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 1, Chapter 7: The Bacchanalia.]
“Well, my point is that we went to England to get away from the Sentinels and all the other costumed geeks here in the States,” the gaunt man continued. “But there are more action-heroes around now then there were back when we first started the gang.”
The leader, known as Fleeter, grinned crookedly and said, “I know. I hired Suzaki to create a gizmo that will boost our natural abilities. He died, but I know his work ethic. I’d say he finished it and it’s waiting in his shop. I say we break in and claim it, and then once we replicate it, we’ll be better than ever.”
A black man who wore a leather jacket smiled and said, “Sweet! We’ll be able to beat the Blue Beetle at his own game.”
Fleeter nodded and said, “That’s my plan. So it’s agreed? We hit the Suzaki shop, and then the new and improved Madmen will live again.”
Several days later, Rei Suzaki found herself feeling both angry and a bit shocked. The day had started with what had become normal for the young woman. She was a bit sleepy and sore from her previous night’s crime-fighting activities, and yet she was exhilarated by the memories of those activities as the Joker.
The good feelings had changed rapidly when she was abruptly summoned to the library director’s office, where a stern and impossibly condescending woman stared down at her with a combination of smug certainty and callous indifference. “Reire, due to budget cuts beyond our control, I am afraid we are going have to let you go. I’m sorry, and I know this must come as a shock to you, but finances being what they are, there’s no other option.”
Rei’s agile mind and quick tongue had immediately thought of replying, “Well, considering how much you spend on office furniture, I’d say you’re right.” However, she made the more ordinary responses of quiet regret and dismay before completing some paperwork and packing her belongings.
She was upset and felt she had been treated unfairly, brooding over it until she reached her home. “What a bunch of garbage! If the director would use money for things like staff salary and new books instead of blowing it on office decorations and meetings for local big shots, this wouldn’t have happened.” Inside, she slumped down on her couch and kicked off a pair of high heels.
As Pepsi raced over playfully, she reached down to rub the little dog’s head, and she tried to make plans for the future. “I know in spite of my dislike for the director, most libraries are suffering from budget shortages. Finding a new job in that field will not be easy. Maybe I should try something entirely new.”
Rei sat up abruptly, startling the dog so that he yelped and ran around the apartment in one of his usual odd little circles. “Maybe dressing up like the pin-up girl from Circus Monthly has gone to my head and driven me nuts,” she said to herself slowly, considering a new idea, “but what if I used grandpa’s old place for a store of my own? I could open a book store and forget all about library work.”
She smiled broadly and let out a loud cry of, “Whoo! I’m going to do it. I can swing a small business start-up services account with a place downtown and then just maybe be free from my tiresome shelf-life.”
As she eagerly made plans for a new career, Rei little realized that her other new hobby would soon lead her into a fight for her very life.
The next evening Rei, dressed as the Joker, returned to the store and had begun to slip around to the rear entrance when she spotted several alarming sights. The lock is broken, she thought. Plus, I can see movement inside the store, but I can’t make out any detail. Clearly, cleaning the small window over the back door should become a priority.
She used the extending punch-line to haul herself up until she managed to find a precarious perch above the door itself. I can just fit through that narrow window, she thought with a smile. Lucky for me and my legions of male fans that my exo-skeleton is so compact. Otherwise, I’d be one of the clunkiest action gals around.
As she swung outward, she raised her high-heeled boots and smashed through the window. Her momentum enabled her sail inside and land gracefully in front of six wildly costumed men. Each intruder wore a leotard of a single vivid color. Each man’s face was painted with equally bright make-up. One of them had a scruffy goatee.
“Am I late for the reunion?” she quipped. “‘Cause I sure see a family resemblance.”
The Madmen hesitated for a moment. They were experienced criminals, but they were completely caught by surprise by the Joker’s daring entrance through the narrow window, as well as by her bizarre appearance and mannerisms. “Get her!” Fleeter yelled finally. He was the team leader, and he relished his power. Giving orders to the other acrobatic crooks gave him a sense of superiority.
The Joker laughed wildly and leaped into the air to dodge the rushing crooks. She flipped backward three times and landed on a table. “So I’m the black sheep of the family,” she said. “Well, I can take a hint. I also take most major credit cards.”
She lifted herself on one arm and spun around to kick a blue-clad Madman as he reached for her. “All hands, huh? Well, I’m not that kinda girl! At least not this early in the evening. You have to buy me dinner first,” she joked.
The Joker twisted aside as a yellow-costumed Madman leaped at her and passed just to her left. She hooked his collar as he passed and guided him directly back into his friends. “Stee-rike!” she bellowed.
Fleeter said, “Little girl, you’ve made me angry. No one makes us look like fools!”
“Of course not — you already look like fools! Ahhh, give us a kiss!” she squealed. The Joker pursed her bright red lips and blew a mocking air kiss at him as she deftly squirted him in the face with the inky black oil she had taken from the gear created by her late grandfather. Fleeter roared in anger as the inky substance blinded him.
The others waited for a second, then charged at the costumed girl. She rolled forward and bowled them over before reclining on one elbow and looking up at them as they scrambled to their feet. “Nope! Forget about that dinner remark. I wouldn’t be seen out with any of you,” she said.
They divided up, and a purple-costumed Madman tried to help their blinded leader while the other four circled around the Joker’s prone form.
She sat up and crossed her legs in a demure manner. “Now, gentlemen, I am afraid the sight of such an assembly of manhood has given little ol’ me the vapors,” she cooed in a mock Southern accent. As they drew closer, she shattered a pellet that she had removed from the inner lining of her jacket. Gas filled the room and caused the startled crooks to choke and cough as they fought for air.
The Joker had dived away and left them to fight the fumes. She took a deep breath and rested against the outer wall as she listened for their approach. They may make it out, she thought. They look like dopes, but they’re smart and capable.
Beneath her party girl mannerisms, the young Asian-American was worried that she might not be able to handle such a group on her own. Still, Rei loved every moment she spent in costume, and she felt that being the flamboyant Joker had given her new freedom to express herself.
Thus, she waited and then released the punch-line as the first Madman staggered outside. The impact was sudden, and he dropped like a rag doll at her feet. She retracted the line and repeated the action as the second one emerged. “Like shooting fish-faces in a barrel of monkeys,” she said.
She gasped as heavy hands wrapped around her body, and she was slammed into the wall from behind.
“We went out the front door,” hissed Fleeter as he and two of the remaining Madmen grappled with her.
The Joker received several harsh blows and then lashed out to break free. The lining makes me stronger than they are, she thought.
She gave a high kick that sent a green Madman reeling, and then she rammed her knee into Fleeter’s stomach. As he doubled over, she grabbed his hairy chin and yanked with both hands. He screamed and then gasped as she brought his head around and crashed it into the other blue Madman.
Finally, she caught her breath and counted them. “I did it! Whee-hoo!” she cried.
She tied them up and casually tossed a rock through a neighboring store window. Alarms sounded, and she knew the police would arrive soon. I’m sure glad I moved all the remaining gear out of the place earlier this week in order to start prepping it to be a book store, she thought.
The Joker bounded away and hugged herself in glee as she savored her victory. “As long as I’m the best-dressed crime-busting clown princess around, the laughs are gonna be on the punks and goons of the world who cross my path,” she said before giggling madly and vanishing into the night.