The towers of Gotham Cityís skyline were shrouded in a low, rainy fog. Dawn would arrive in only a few short hours, and already the moon began to sink further and further towards Gotham Bay, to sink into its icy waters for another night.
Commisioner Gordon was as not interested in the poetic landscape as he was fascinated by the corpses lying at his feet. Bullock and Montoya flanked the elder policeman, as a coroner scrutinized the bodies with a penlight. The bodies themselves were not particularly disturbing to the officers; they had seen their share of death in its many forms while working the city. It was more the expressions these corpses wore. All five of them had their faces retracted to form wide, grisly grins, conveying a sense of lunacy and dementia.
"Yíknow," began Bullock, flicking a spare chunk of salami from his upper teeth with his fingernail, "Iíve seen the Joker pull some pretty mean stunts, but this beats them all."
"How so, Detective?" replied Gordon.
"We got four stiffs here, Commish. A young couple and their two kids, grinning dead-eyed, and nothing of value taken. Even if he is a lunatic, the Joker usually has a point to his schemes. This is a pretty senseless murder, even for him."
"What makes you so certain itís the Joker?"
The three officers spun around, startled. Bullock was the first to notice the silhouette of the Dark Knight, overlooking them from the warehouse awning.
"Do you have to keep doing that, Batty? Youíre gonna give me a heart attack someday!"
"Iíve looked over the bodies and the crime scene before the police arrived," said Batman, gravely, "and thereís no trace of Joker-toxin in any of the victimsí bloodstreams. And furthermore, the Joker always leaves his calling card at the scene of the crime. He wants as much credit for his atrocities as the next super-villain. But thereís none to be found here."
"But Batman," began Montoya, "we have witnesses who say they saw a purple and green minivan leaving the area just before the bodies of the family were found. Thatís the Jokerís primary colors. Those and the death grins, they canít be anyone elseís M.O, can they?"
"Iíd say Gotham City has an impostor," said Batman, "and when the Joker finds out, thereís going to be hell to pay. With innocent bystanders caught in between."
"Iíve heard enough," said Commissioner Gordon, lighting his pipe, "Bullock, I want you to establish and verify the identity of this family, and any connection they might have had with the Joker and his gang. Montoya, keep searching the warehouse area for further clues and witnesses. And Batman, I want to know........." The Commissioner turned to where the Dark Knight had stood a moment before and saw only empty air.
"Hate it when he does that," grumbled Bullock, "gives me the creeps something fierce."
"Inexcusable! Unthinkable! Iredeemable!"
The gaily-colored henchmen jumped nervously as the Clown Prince of Crime slammed the morning newspaper furiously upon the table. What trace of fiendish mirth and frivolousness he had worn previously was now obscured by blind, seething, anger.
The Jokerís loyal sidekick and moll, Harlequin, tenderly ran her costumed fingers through her loverís green, tossled hair. "Now Puddiní, donít get all mad. Weíll find the creep whoís impersonatiní ya. Now just let olí Harley fix you some breakfast. Do you want cherry or blueberry poptarts--"
"Iím not hungry!" snarled the Joker, baring his broad, yellowed teeth at his terrified companion. Even his hyena-companions, the "babies", reeled back in timid fright. They were quickly joined behind the couch by Harlequin, who found it wise to leave her "Puddin" alone for the moment.
One of the henchman, a 300-lb. former linebacker adorned with rainbow-suspenders, floppy shoes, and a whispy orange wig, leaned over and looked at the Gotham Gazetteís front page. In blaring block letters, the headline read:
"Gosh boss," began the henchman, "how could you have kilt a family last night when you wuz with us robbiní the JewelPoint Gallery?"
"I wasnít, you gibbering boob!" hissed the Joker, swiping the newspaper out of the henchmanís hands, "someone in this town is trying to copy me, and I donít see anything to laugh about it!"
"Gee, boss, donít they say that `Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?í"
The room grew deathly still. Only the frightened titterings of the hyenas behind the couch broke the morbid silence. The henchman fumbled his fingers nervously as the Joker slowly turned his scowling face towards him. Another instant the scowl melted into a whimsical smile.
"Why Creampuff," chuckled the Joker, wrapping his lanky arm around the henchmanís shoulder, "how very insightful of you. I had not thought of that. Indeed, I am feeling quite flattered. And you know what, Creampuff?"
"Uh, whut, Joker?"
"I think itís time for you to do a flattering imitation yourself. Through this window!"
Before the henchman or anyone else could react, the Clown Prince leeringly pushed the stocky man through an ornate, multi-paned window. Amidst the din of the shattering glass and the poor manís horrifed screams, the Jokerís hysterical, icy laughter filled the air, as his surviving henchmen and Harlequin cringed in terror. Taking in a deep breath of the cool city air, the Joker leisurely strolled over to the broken portal and peered down several dozen stories below him.
"No, no! Youíre not flapping hard enough," chided the white-faced villain, "youíll never get your license if you donít work at it.....oh....drat. Youíd think a birdbrain like his would make an excellent flyer."
When the sounds of approaching sirens and the screams of alarmed pedestrians were heard from the streets below, the Joker turned to his gang and grinned. "Well, I think itís a good time as any to move on, kiddies. Creampuff wonít be joining us, Iím afraid. Crooks, these days. Once on the streets, they stay there!" Upon saying this, the murderous clown burst out in another fit of laughter.
"Uh, where to now, Mr. J?" asked Harlequin, cautiously moving towards her beau, dragging the "babies" close behind her.
"I think itís a good day for a field trip," grinned the Joker, "time to see who our playful little impersonator is. Weíll meet, weíll have a few laughs, and then........"
"...and then what, Mr. J?"
"Oh Harley, darling," cooed the Clown Prince fiendishly, "never, never, NEVER deliver the punchline too early."
Minutes later, on-lookers gazed up towards the Wicker-Snacker Cracker Factory and saw a purple and green helicopter soar out from a secret hangar towards the city center, maniacal laughter heard over the thumping rotors of the engine. The helicopter loomed over the crowd before disappearing into the thick morning fog.
"Alfred, cancel my appointments today at WayneCorp. Iím breaking a new case today."
"Will this include your dinner-date with the effervescent...ah....."Bunny", Master Bruce?"
"All of them, Alfred," replied Bruce Wayne. "Seems like thereís someone new in town, trying to copycat the Jokerís modus operandi."
"Do tell," said the butler dryly, "Outside of his gang, I wouldnít suspect him of having much of a following".
"The family I discovered this morning turned out to be Ted Terncliff and his wife, daughter, and son. Terncliff was the up and coming television tycoon who just launched an all-childrenís network. I think someone had a grudge against Terncliff and wants to pin it on our cityís most notorious villain. The dead, idiotic grins, the purple and green colors...almost a carbon copy of the Jokerís style....but not quite. Itís time to see whoís behind this."
Wayne activated the Bat-Caveís master computer, which ran a series of profiles of Batmanís most notorious villains. The master detective and his butler flipped through a series of criminals, all dedicated to lawlessness and evil.
"Ras Al Ghul has the backing to pull this off...but he would never imitate another villain...in his eyes, theyíre all below him....the Riddler also wears the colors of purple and green, but he never pulls a caper like this without leaving a series of riddles or puzzles in his wake....Poison Ivy mightíve injected a lethal toxin indiscernible into the bodies of that family, but this type of crime doesnít fit her......the Scarecrow may have subjected these victims with his fear-gas, but itís never produced physical symtoms like this before....and besides, he only operates with a goal in mind. There was nothing gleaned from these people before or after their deaths."
Bruce Wayne turned to Alfred, wearing a worried expression that both surprised and disturbed the servant.
"Alfred, I donít know who this killer is."
"Master Bruce," began Alfred, "in all the time Iíve known you, youíve never given up until the guilty are brought to justice. If a new villain has come to Gotham, you will find them and make them pay for what theyíve done to that poor family". The butler cordially gestured towards the winding stairwell. "Now come upstairs for some breakfast. Youíre mindís too strapped to be much use now. Come along."
The crime-fighter wearily nodded and accompanied the butler towards the upper level of the BatCave, towards the dining area of Wayne Manor. A flock of bats fluttered and skittered above, fresh from a night of nocturnal wanderings. Through the panes of an immense window flanking the dining table, the early rays of dawn poured into the room, illuminating the men in a warm, yet discomforting glow of magenta.
"Oh God, no, get away! Iíll give you anything you want! Anything!"
The young man, dressed in an expensive business suit, shook and quivered in fright, as he fretfully clutched the briefcase to his bosum. He watched as a fat, reptilian body waddled down the fire-escape, itís felt-like paw reaching out to him.
"Why Mr. Garzey, thereís no need to run away! All I want to do is be your Special Friend! And Special Friends donít keep secrets from each other, do they? Now tell me how much of my money is inside your pretty briefcase, and you and I can sing a happy song!"
Garzey gazed down at the street below. They were thirteen stories high, and at the bottom of the fire escape he could see henchmen clad in purple and green jumpsuits gathering at the end. Several had already begun climbing up the fire-escape towards him.
"I want...I want to be left alone...no more happy songs....please....no more happy songs!"
"Why Mr. Garzey, donít you like to feel happy? I know I do. In fact, I think Iíll sing one right now!"
"Nooooo!! Donít! I beg you, nooo!"
Garzeyís assailant only giggled and blew a single note on a harmonica. Clearing its throat, the blubbery figure began:
I love you, you love me, weíre a happy family.....
With a great big hug and kiss from me to you...
A minute later, a taxi driver collided into a passenger bus as he stared astonished at the spectacle before him. A young man, plunging through the air and into the street before him, had sung a curious song on the way down. Though he had only heard it for a few seconds, it sounded like the falling man had screamed, "Wonít you say you love me too?" just before impacting the pavement. And a more disturbing recollection, thought the driver, was that along with singing the song, the man appeared to be grinning. Widely and moronically.
Click here for Chapter Two of Batman vs. Barney.....