"Ted Terncliffís all-childrenís network was successful. So successful, that it buried a lot of the competition," stated the Dark Knight. "Barney the Dinosaurís program literally died overnight, and Terncliff refused to sign-on his show to the network. The Lyons Group, whom Garzey was an attorney for, pulled out from Barney and redirected their attention to new projects."
Alfred arched his brow for a fleeting second, then nonchalantly returned to his tea. "All of which made Barney the Dinosaur a very angry, and very penniless celebrity, Iím sure."
"Deadly sure, Alfred. Terncliff and Garzey have paid for their business doings, and I have a feeling this isnít over yet. Iíve learned from Commissioner Gordon that Raymond Gunderson, heir to the Gundersonís department store chain, was abducted recently from his school. The Gundersonís chain used to exclusively stock Barney merchandise. This afternoon is the Annual Gundersonís Department Store Parade through downtown Gotham. And word on the street has it the Joker is dead-set on finding his impostor, and it wouldnít surprise me if heís on the warpath now as we speak."
The Dark Knight stolidly glided to the Batmobile, its sleek, dark outline rumbling quietly in the driveway. "Wish me well, Alfred," he said, climbing into the vehicle, "Iíve no idea whatís going to transpire".
"My best to you sir, in capturing that lunatic lizard."
The Batmobile roared and careened down the long twisting driveway out of the Batcave, speeding like a bullet straight for the heart of Gotham City.
"Golly, Joker, you sure donít look happy to me! Maybe we can play a pretend game!"
Harlequin nervously turned her head and leaned over to the Joker, whom like the rest of the gang, was tied down to a gigantic balloon shaped like Barney the Dinosaur. "Puddiní? I think you may want to wake up."
The Joker groaned, and slowly regained his senses. His florid yellow eyes squinted under the bright lights of the hangar, and he began to struggle under the tight cable tying him against the bright purple balloon. "What--the.....? How dare you!"
Barney clenched his head between his paws and chuckled. "Oh my, it looks like youíre a little Ďstrung outí, Joker!" The purple dinosaur wobbled and jumped with glee.
"Iíll make the jokes here!" hissed the Clown Prince of Crime. "You donít seem to know what youíve done here, eggplant. Let us loose now!"
"Joker angry, like big grizzly bear!" gurgled Baby Bop, "maybe we feed him jar of honey and he shut up!"
Barney patted his green companion fondly. "Thatís a silly idea, Baby Bop, and a suupperr-deee-duuper one at that. But weíve little time. The parade will be starting in just an hour!"
"Parade?" asked Harlequin. "What parade?"
Barney chuckled long and heartily. "Why Harlequin, you need to get out more! Iím referring to the Annual Gundersons Parade, which is slated to start in downtown Gotham today! You and the Joker and the whole gang will get to ride for free on my special balloon, shaped just like me!"
"The only hot bag of air around here is you, Barney," seethed the Joker. "Of all the things you can pillage in this burg, why so hung up on a parade?"
The jubilant bounce and step in Barneyís waddle disappeared, as did the broad smile. "Because, Joker, until last year, the Barney balloon was the highlight of the Gundersons Department Store Parade. I was the star in every young childís heart." Barney then took on a slight scowl and grimace that even made the Joker uncomfortable. "But then they cancelled my program, saying it couldnít compete with all the shows Ted Terncliff produced on his new childrenís network. And then Gunderson....he cancelled ordering my merchandise! He stopped buying my toys! My clothes! My videos! And that little rat-bastard Garzey....Iím glad I killed him! Iím glad I killed them all! Dead, dead, dead!"
The plump purple dinosaur began to shake spasmodically and his entire body changed hue to a deep crimson, which appeared almost black around his face. The murderous rage blazed inside Barneyís eyes and the hateful dementia glistened like a shattered bottle. Then, as if suddenly aware of his appearance, Barney heaved a deep sigh and relaxed his corpulent form. The winsome smile and droopy gaze returned, much to the comfort of his hostages.
"But I digress," added Barney, wobbling casually from foot to foot, "I didnít mean to bore you with that little story. Just so you know, this beautiful Barney balloon is filled with enough nerve gas to strip the minds clean of every civilian in Gotham. Once in the center of Gotham Heights Plaza, Baby Bop here will detonate the charges wired under your feet, and youíll literally be the Clown about Town!"
Barney, Baby Bop, and their henchmen all laughed uproariously at the Purple Oneís remark, then began readying the balloon for launching. Off in the far corner, Raymond Gunderson fidgeted uneasily. He had wandered into the hangar curious to see if Barney wanted to play a pretend game, but overheard the entire conversation of Barneyís plans. Still, he couldnít believe it. Barney the Dinosaur, friend to all, was going to gas Gotham City? The boy was old enough to know that that would be a terrible thing, and he also knew enough to contact the police. Slowly backing away from the hangar, the youth was unaware of the discarded oil can left in his path. He stepped on it the next second, and its crumpling gave the boy dead away.
"This is Summer Gleason, coming to you from downtown Gotham, where the Annual Gundersonís Parade is full swing!"
The monitors opened up with Gleason surrounded by throngs of parade-watchers, as huge air-filled balloons floated above the streets. The balloons depicted a variety of cartoon characters and historical figures, and swayed majestically above the enthralled crowds.
Gleason was joined at the announcerís stand with WGTM-TV anchor, Ken Solly. An older, cherubic man with a balding head and thin moustache, Solly adjusted his headphones and took in the splendor with the younger reporter.
"You know, Summer," Solly began, "thereís a lot of wonderful characters to see today. Some of them I grew up with, like the Gray Phantom and Cheeps the Mouse. But there was some controversy this year about Barney the Dinosaur. "
"Thatís right," added Gleason, "with the nationwide cancellation of "Barney and Friends", it removes one of the more prominent floats thatís been featured since the Gundersonís Parade became tradition."
Solly winked. "Then again, I suppose if you liked Barney, then thatís an issue."
Gleason laughed. "Are you saying you didnít care for Barney? Well.....neither did I. But many people did, and so thereís some disappointment to be had Iím sure."
"Itís away! What a sttuppeenddoussss sight!"
The gigantic, elephantine balloon rose out of the hangar, teetering clumsily into the sky. A thick purple propeller began to sputter and spin from the back of the dirigible, and it immediately began to glide ominously towards the Gotham City skyline.
Strapped to the balloonís port side, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker, cursed and spat angrily. Along with Harlequin and five members of his gang, they were bound captive to Barneyís diabolical plan. Harlequin saw the earth sinking further and further below her, and groaned in despair.
"I just loooveee a parade!" giggled Barney.
"Parades make big boom today! Teach mean people to yank show off the air!" yelled Baby Bop. Standing next to her, young Raymond Gunderson could only clench his teeth in fear. Wrapped tightly in Bopís "blankie", the boy was now a certified hostage.
"You canít hurt people," pleaded Raymond, "I believed in you once. You always taught us to love and to share and to--"
"I said a lot of things," chuckled Barney, "that only meant anything when I had my show. Shut up and take in the reality, brat!"
The gargantuan Barney balloon began to saunter and roll menacingly towards the Gotham skyline. Within the distant city limits, crowds could be heard cheering and laughing.
"You know Summer," said Solly, adjusting his scarf, "the only thing beyond these floats overshadowing this parade is the recent abduction of Donald Gundersonís son and heir, Raymond."
Gleason nodded to her co-anchor. "Yes, very much so. Just yesterday a yet unidentified gang of kidnappers approached Raymond inside McRidge-Bishop Academy, after somehow gassing to death all the adults inside the north wing of the building. Nine casualties reported, five severely injured, yet no children were harmed. Police are still trying to figure out a motive and the identity of the kidnappers."
"We talked to Donald Gunderson this morning," continued Solly, "and he has so far declined to comment on the situation except that he is cooperating with Gotham City Police to find his son. The parade has continued as planned."
A tremor of excitement shook the crowd behind Gleason and Solly, voices excitedly chittering and arms pointing upward. The anchors were confused by the din raised by the parade-watchers, until they too turned around and saw the amazing sight drifting towards them.
It was a Barney balloon, falling out of the clouds. The largest and fastest one they had ever seen.
The young mother cradled her daughter tightly as the smiling, purple dirigible loomed above them, clumsily bouncing across the roofs and arches of the buildings flanking the clogged city street. Like all of the other adults, something about the unexpected appearance of the fat puffy balloon made her suspicious, even frightened.
A street vendor nervously began closing up his hotdog cart, and then hesitated. Were those people strapped to the sides of the balloon?
"Hey Nick!" he called out to a policeman, "look on the side of that thing. You see people tied to it, just above his arm there?"
"Just waitíll I get my hands on that moronic tadpole," grumbled the Joker, working his arms free from under the cable, "if thereís anyone who should be terrorizing Gotham, itís me, not some reject from the petting zoo!"
"Puddin, youíre so beautiful when youíre angry!" beamed Harlequin.
The next instant the Joker wrestled his arms free of the cable and began scaling up the side of the Barney balloon. Searching the scenery for a convenient place to drop, he instead met eye to eye with several of Gothamís Finest, beading their sights on him through their rifle sights. The policemen were lined up on the rooftop of the PrimeBank building, and ready for a fight.
"Heh heh," the Clown Prince chuckled weakly, "is there a problem, officers?"
"This is Detective Bullock," boomed a familiar voice through a megaphone, "give yourself up, Joker, or weíll open fire!"
The Joker winced. "Harley....those bozos think Iím responsible for this!"
Harlequin could only respond with an awestruck gulp.
Bullock turned to his men. "Heís not going to give up easily. Fire a few warning shots into that gasbag so it comes down easy. We donít want to harm those hostages or anyone below."
Bullock turned and saw the Dark Knight, racing towards the squad.
"Nice of you to make it, Batsy. Weíve got everything under control here."
"The Jokerís not responsible, Bullock! Youíve got to call a squad in to the old WGTM-TV studio at--"
"Heís pulling a gun!" yelled a cop. Several men opened fire on the Joker, who had thoughtlessly reached into his coat pocket to pull his deck of razor-edged playing cards, only to find they had been removed by Barneyís henchmen earlier.
"Iím unarmed! Iím unarmed!" yelled the Joker, flinging himself against the fuselage of the Barney balloon. Several bullets zipped and tore through the air, and the screams of frightened civilians below only fueled the chaos.
"Stop firing! Stop firing!" cried Batman, grabbing a rifle from an enraged officer. Unfortunately, an eager rookie fixed his sights on the Barney balloon dead-center, and plunged a volley of bullets into its volatile body before the Dark Knight could stop him.
A loud popping sound cracked the air as the balloon ruptured, and then a low, whooshing noise followed as billowing clouds of sickly purplish gas entered the atmosphere.
"Oh poopy," grimaced the Joker. "Many years of devious crime sprees, and I end it here on the dumbest doomsday machine this side of Toyland."
Click here for Chapter Four of Batman vs. Barney.....