Bruce Wayne sat in the audience at the Hijinx Playhouse, displaying the icy poker face that Batman assumed at JLA meetings. The Hijinx was a trendy off-Broadway blackbox, a holdover from the 60s when Gothamites went to experimental theatre the way they go to restaurants today. It was not the sort of establishment that had private boxes.
Bruce couldn’t help but feel a little exposed, sitting in the middle of a row of people as the woman onstage told story after story about the very private world of Gotham City “After Dark and 40 stories up.”
He knew the woman the program called Selina Kyle was the real Catwoman: The voice was right… the hair, long and dark, that escaped through the bottom of the cowl… the costume was perfect… the body was perfect. It was her. The detective in him insisted he did not know this for certain. She could be an opportunistic civilian who had encountered Catwoman in some way and had an eye for detail and mimicry. But surely anyone other than the real Catwoman would have opted for the look of that absurd imposter in the tabloids. That was the image the public knew. But this…
This was the Catwoman he knew:
Modern architecture sucks, by the way. 87 stories of plate glass—boring. Now the older buildings, Stanford White—beautiful. Neoclassic lines, plenty of curves and molding—and footholds.
She gave her “aren’t I a naughty girl” grin. The audience laughed appreciatively. Bruce didn’t. That was his grin. He didn’t like her sharing it with 98 strangers.
So I’ve got the trinkets. Brunhilda is still snoring away. Cujo, the killer schnauzer, is still locked in the bathroom. I close the safe, restore the power, slide the window back exactly the way it was—8 minutes flat. Personal best for a private residence where I didn’t have the floorplan going in. I drop down to the alley—and there… he… is…The Batman. Caped Crusader. Dark Knight. Guardian of Gotham. Crime Fighter extraordinaire. I am Vengeance, I am Justice, I am in desperate need of a personality transplant… Batman.
In full regalia—looking like Sir Lancelot dipped in tar but not yet feathered.
And he speaks: “I don’t think those jewels belong to you.”
I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective.
The audience loved it.
Bruce couldn’t help flashing on every single time he’d urged her to forego crime and find work in the legitimate world. Somehow this wasn’t what he had in mind.
He sat stunned as this woman who never failed to flirt with and proposition him at every encounter, who seemed to feed on the sexual tension between them—this woman who gave every indication that the attraction and even admiration he felt for her was mutual—publicly roasted him for the amusement of strangers. She critiqued his manner, his voice, his appearance, his vocabulary, and his taste in cars. She called him humorless, paranoid, obsessive, smug, melodramatic, and pompous.
She told, in viciously witty detail, a tale of an early meeting when she had offered herself to him and he turned her down. The audience booed.
She told another that was a composite of several meetings when they almost moved beyond banter, but somehow never did.
She told an utterly untrue account of a time he supposedly used her feelings for him to manipulate and humiliate her.
The boos became hisses.
Bruce felt his cheeks grow warm.
Was this really what she thought of him?
Her taunts and his parries were part of the game, weren’t they? Okay, the game had gone on for a good few rounds, and maybe if you looked at the pattern a certain way, a different and an unfortunate connotation might be… he looked up. Catwoman had stepped off the stage and was walking through the audience on the armrests. She stood now with one leg on his armrest, bent over and spoke directly to him:
I mean, don’t you think I have a nice body?
He nodded. More laughter.
If I came up to you and said “Hey, wild night of passion, no names and no strings, and I’ll even bring the whip if you want.” You’d say, what?
The laughter rose.
“Dear Penthouse…” she prompted.
An explosion of riotous laughter ripped through the auditorium.
So now I’m supposed to have had a thing with Nightwing. Can you believe it? I mean, he’s a nice looking kid and all, but, c’mon, he is a kid. Some folks say he was the first Robin. Remember little Robin? I’m not saying I believe that, but it’s possible, right?
A few people applauded to signal their agreement.
And I’m supposed to be getting it on with this guy. I mean, can you picture it?
She sidled up to a post at the side of the stage and fingered it with a claw as she often did the insignia on Batman’s chest.
“Hey there, Handsome, let’s get dangerous.”
Then she answered for it as if it were the imaginary Nightwing:
“Why Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”
The audience roared.
But seriously, the gossip, it’s a cost of doing business this way, and I try to take it all with a sense of humor as I think you’ve all seen tonight. But c’mon now…
And from the pouch in her costume where she normally stashed her safe-cracking tools, Catwoman produced a copy of the Gotham Post, with a headline in second coming type screaming OFFICER DOWN! She paused while the audience took it in.
I’m sure you all saw this.
In the past year, according to this fine publication, I’m supposed to have been arrested, convicted, imprisoned, tortured, drugged, brainwashed, escaped, kidnapped, escaped again, captured again, driven mad, shot Gordon, forced his retirement, cut my hair, got a new costume, had plastic surgery and a breast reduction.
And all while I’m cleaning my oven.
Well, here I am folks. You can see for yourselves about the hair, the costume, and a-hem, my other physical qualities.
You can also see that I am not currently incarcerated. I hope that you’ll see from our talk tonight that the little chippie who’s supposed to have been caught, drugged, brainwashed, et cetera, et cetera just isn’t me.
As for my mental health, well, I’m not going to stand here in skin-tight purple leather and insist on my sanity, so—Hey, where’s my boyfriend in the fourth row? You there—
She pointed at Bruce, then posed with hands in the air like a gymnast after dismount.
Sweetie, what do you think, am I just as sane as you are?
196 eyes turned to Bruce. What could he do but nod. She nodded back, laughing at him or herself or what exactly he wasn’t sure.
I’m a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted catburglar who taunts my uptight priggish adversary with my considerable physical charms in ways that blur the line between sexual harassment and performance art! Right? Nothing crazy about that!
The audience cheered.
Okay then. Let me say this to Ms. Bronwyn Carlton and her followers at the Gotham Post: If I wanted to make a project of ruining Commissioner Gordon, I wouldn’t need a gun.
She produced another newspaper with a conservative headline and columns of tight tiny type that read: PRESIDENT LUTHOR ADDRESSES FOREIGN DIGNITARIES
This paper, despite its 150-years of service in which it has amassed 84 Pulitzer Prizes, has roughly 1/8 the circulation of the Post: “In Japan, criminals expect to be caught. The closure and conviction rate in Tokyo, a city more than twice the size of Gotham, with no Batman, is 92.4 percent. Gotham City’s 8 year high was 68 percent. 41 percent if you exclude apprehensions by costumed vigilantes. Conclusion: Commissioner James Gordon runs the most incompetent and corrupt police force in this country and may in fact be the most inept peace officer in the Western Hemisphere.” …Wow.
She clicked her tongue and considered the paper in her hand.
That’s really bad. I’d retire too if the President said that about me.
So, now that we’ve established that even though I have big breasts, I’m still smart enough to come up with more creative and less lethal ways to strike at an enemy than shooting them, let’s take a short intermission. And when y’all come back, I’ll tell you about the night the Rogues Gallery went to a karaoke bar.
The lights came up, and a shaken Bruce Wayne retired to the lobby to hyperventilate into a paper bag until the second act began.
To be continued…