Azrael, the artificial personality created by the Order of St. Dumas in the mind and body of Jean Paul Valley, did not approve of the latter’s departure from Gotham City. An Azrael did not seek approval. An Azrael did not acknowledge past mistakes, let alone feel the need to make amends for them. And an Azrael certainly felt no embarrassment in the presence of the rightful heir to a mantle he had usurped and disgraced. If Jean Paul, the mortal man born into this body he inhabited, felt such weakness, then Azrael could be tolerant up to a point. He was prepared to tolerate Jean Paul’s need to prove himself to Batman, his desire to make amends for AzBat, and even his awkward avoidance of Dick Grayson and Nightwing.
if Grayson, the aforementioned heir to the mantle, chose to go into business
with a woman who, admittedly, had been present on occasions when the
aforementioned Azrael’s performance was less-than-stellar… so what?
Women were irrelevant. The Dumasian programming taught that they are inferior and beneath
notice. If this particular woman’s presence seemed to bring about
episodes of less-than-impressive bungling…
And this is where the programming that was
the Azrael personality hit a snag. For the chaste crusaders of the Order of St.
Dumas had never thought to incorporate into the hypnotic programming of
their perfect assassin any protocol for dealing with Catwoman. It
simply never occurred to them to create a mindset from whence their assassin
could respond to a seductive woman telling him to his (helmeted) face that
he lacked pheromones. And yet, on that first meeting, this is exactly
what occurred. The absence of any Azrael programming on the matter
left Jean Paul at the helm, and women were not an area where Jean Paul
excelled. Simply put: he choked. The added pressure of being
“Batman” had already begun affecting his equilibrium, the power of the
mantle was going to his head—and suddenly hearing that he wasn’t desirable…
the shock damn near caused him to shift control back to Azrael, resulting in
one sorry, confused fiasco of an encounter.
Since then, things hadn’t gotten any better.
If the Knightly Order of Dumas didn’t think
to program for Catwoman, they certainly hadn’t prepared the Azrael psyche
for dealing with failure. He had no means to process having made a
fool of himself—and so it was that every time he met her again, his
responses froze up. Always anticipating more stimuli to which he would
be unable to respond, Azrael tried to throw control to Jean Paul, who didn’t
want it. The result, invariably, was another blunder that the feline fatale
would add to her repertoire of “Ways you’re not half the man Bruce is
and never will be, you presumptuous imposter.”
Bruce Wayne dating Selina Kyle and Grayson hiring Catwoman, it was all too much and Jean Paul had left Gotham.
But it smacked of cowardice, and Azrael couldn’t stomach cowardice. So he returned.
He returned just in time to see a suspicious pair heading towards the Iceberg
the first said audibly, “We said it would be gauche to rob Bruce Wayne since he was
our host. I don’t know why you thought it necessary to single Selina out
as well. I rather liked those diamond
cats she was wearing.”
“’Tasha,” her companion replied, “the invitation came from her, don’t you realize that? Wayne only asked us to please her. Good god, if she’s not actually living there, the butler sure treated her like she was the hostess. I chose to err on the side of delicacy and decorum.”
It sounded like the pair had robbed Wayne
Manor, a development that excited both Azrael and Jean Paul’s interest.
Azrael saw a worthy foe to battle, and Jean Paul a way to prove himself to
Batman. He followed them as closely as he dared, until they actually
entered the nightclub.
respect, the Iceberg Lounge was no different from other urban nightspots:
there was a core of regulars, consisting of costumed and non-monikered
criminals, and there were the new people. New faces drifted in - henchmen,
fences, bookmakers, working girls, assorted riffraff - they stayed a while,
mixed with the regulars for a few weeks, then, as often as not, they drifted
Oswald Cobblepot had become a bit of a snob about “the New People.” In one sense, this fresh meat was an important factor in the running of his business—both the legitimate business of the club, and the illegitimate fencing and racketeering operations for which the club fronted. But Cobblepot wasn’t some nameless crime boss, he was the Penguin, one of Gotham’s oldest and most established rogues. He didn’t care to learn the names and gimmicks of all these flash-in-the-pan newbies. Hence, when the new couple entered, he barely registered them beyond “Goth woman and her companion who is too tall.” That is…until…
He was showing them to a table in the main
when they dropped the names of two valued customers:
said you would isolate and distract Bruce Wayne, not flirt with him!
him listen to the ‘starlight in the ebon vault’ bit (on a full stomach no
less, poor man). Not drape yourself on him like a Greek toga!”
didn’t want to rob the host; he had to be gotten out of the way somehow.”
“So did Selina. But you didn’t see me
pawing at her that way!”
This statement, uttered as they passed Joker and Harley’s table, brought an immediate response.
“Who’s been pawing Selina?” Joker demanded loudly, for he considered
himself King of the Gotham Rogues Gallery. He addressed the Iceberg dining
room generally as his court, and anyone in it as his subjects.
“NOT AGAIN!” Harley wailed, throwing down her
am sick of you caring more about Bruce Wayne’s love life than your own.”
She stood to leave in a huff, then stopped as she realized the newcomers were
staring at her. They looked… familiar.
“Why look, Natasha, it is the delightful Harlequin who told you of this place!”
The Thief of the Night, forgetting he wore a leotard that make him look like a potato, reverted to his natural manner of Anton, the jet-setting charmer.
“Enchanté pour vous
revoir, Mademoiselle,” he murmured taking her hand, “Enchanted to see you
am Anton duNuit, from the Château, you remember, you were with my brother-in-law
“Heh, heh, it couldn’t have been me,” Harley
squeaked meekly. “I, uh…”
figure it was a different Harlequin?” Joker
husband is confused,” Natasha put in, “He forgets himself and forgets that
the cold names and faces of the day give way to dark and delirious facades in
the alluring shadows of night.”
“Huh?” Joker said.
Thief of the Night failed to introduce himself properly,” Nocturna went
on, deftly removing Harley’s hand from her husband’s. “He is the Thief of the Night and I am Nocturna.”
Joker eyed her suspiciously.
“Lady, you should get some sun. Some of us can pull off that look, but you look like Death on a Triscuit.”
“That better not be who I think it is,”
Nightwing grumbled, looking at a shape several rooftops away.
looked through the binoculars and confirmed, “It’s Azrael.”
that’s JUST WHAT WE NEED, isn’t it. Captain
Lugnut staking out the Iceberg while we’re supposed to be tracking—what’s that
description—‘Morticia Adams and a walking spud.’”
“I looked fine in my tuxedo,” Anton muttered into his glass.
Fed-up with developments in the dining room, he’d sought a cognac and a sympathetic ear at the bar.
tuxedo,” he explained to the pretty, normal-looking woman chatting with the
bartender, “is a classic style of dress for a reason. It endures because it makes a man
look sophisticated, dapper and manly.”
Oswald Cobblepot walked by just then, and Nocturna cleared her throat meaningfully.
“Well, most men,” she put in.
“That is a rude woman,” Oswald grumbled,
returning to the dining room, “with a skin condition,” he added bitterly.
This, unfortunately, was overheard by Poison
Ivy, who was offended, and by Two-Face, who was delighted Ivy now had someone
else to be mad at.
Meanwhile, the pretty normal-looking woman was
working up her courage to meet the newcomer at the bar. “Hi,” she
began boldly, offering her hand, “I’m Doris. And you’re the first one I’ve
seen here that talks sense. Can
I ask you—those outfits—the tights—do they chafe?”
I don’t know what Azrael is doing there. I thought he’d left town.
He’s not on the channel. If you want to know why he’s there, go and ask
him. Maybe he’s seen them!::..
:: Oracle, give me a break. You want me to swing over there, tap him on the shoulder, and
ask Azrael, the vigilante clotheshorse, if he’s seen Mr. Spud? ::
Roxy Rocket stormed out of the dining room and into the bar, forgetting that Sly would be there. That was awkward, but for now, she didn’t care. She ordered a long island iced tea and began to rant:
“The new woman, Elvira-”
“Nocturna,” Anton corrected.
“-is impossible,” Roxy continued, undeterred.
“She’s not here half an hour and the men in there are hanging on her every word,
staring into her eyes like she was the Dragon Lady. ‘The sunless hours are serene and magical,’ she says. ‘The songs of
the nightbirds are sweeter.’ What the holy hell is that supposed to mean? -hic-”
“It means that Nocturna has finished her fifth
champagne cocktail and is persuading that strawman to buy her a sixth,” Anton
Oswald scoffed, “if he’d been half as discriminating about his victims as
you were and not gone attacking Bruce Wayne, he’d have more blood in his veins
Roxy looked daggers at this other newcomer at
the bar—another newbie who somehow managed to leapfrog over her. She was
only too aware that she wasn’t an old-school villain like Joker, Riddler,
Penguin or Catwoman; but she’d worked hard to overcome that and fit in among the
established rogues. How these new
people managed to waltz in and carve out a niche for themselves in one evening,
getting attention from all the biggest names…
“And who the hell is Nocturna,” she asked
is my wife,” Anton answered politely, “And I am the Thief of the Night,
enchanté.” He punctuated this last with a courtly bow over
Roxy’s hand in which his lips gently touched her glove. This brought more
daggers from both Oswald and Sly.
Eddie entered from the dining room with a fascinated glow. “Damn but that
woman can work a metaphor. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hugo
said something about her being pale—and that led to pale moonlight reflected on
the water or something and she took off. It’s
been like twenty minutes on the moon and the stars and the twilight…”
“Another drink please, I’ll be here a while.”
Eddie looked Anton up and down with new awareness, “You’re the guy in gray who told Doris that costumes chafe.”
“OH, REALLY,” Roxy chimed in, but with an
emphasis that meant she was speaking for another’s benefit rather than Anton’s. “So you’re another one of these anti-costumed criminal bigots, are
you? What’s the matter, a shapely
woman in tights too much for you to handle, you gutless wonder?
You gotta have everything dowdy and gray in order to feel safe? Is your lousy manhood threatened by a real woman that isn’t
afraid to act like it?”
“Roxy, for pity sake,” exclaimed a new
voice—and both the bar and the dining room were stunned into silence at the
unprecedented sound of the unflappable Sly flipping out. “How many ways do I
have to say it? Roxy! I don’t
care if you’re a bad girl! I don’t care about the outfits! I just DIDN’T
want to DIE in some freakish sexual daredevil incident that will become ‘a
cautionary tale’ circulated on e-mail forwards for the next six hundred years!”
There was a long, long silence.
Finally, it was Two-Face who broke the silence.
like to hear more about that, Roxy.”
..:: Robin, O. This is a 30-second advance warning, I’m about to tell Nightwing that Batman has extricated himself from the situation at homebase and is now proceeding into Gotham. ::..
..:: Robin, acknowledge. ::..
..:: Clear your throat, cough, do something, kid. ::..
..:: Robin, acknowledge the message. ::..
..:: NOW! ::..
..:: Robin, say something, you’re scaring me. ::..
..:: ROBIN!!! ::..
:: -cough-can't talk now. ::
..:: WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING OUT THERE? ::..
:: -cough-later. ::
Batman proceeding into Gotham. ETA
at your location in ten minutes. ::..
now, Babs. ::
..:: Soon as I open the channel, he’ll expect a report on the perps you and Robin are tracking and-excuse me? Did you say?::..
What’s that noise in the back? NIGHTWING!
..:: Batman, proceed to location now transmitting to your GPS. ‘Wing and Robin are there but- ::..
They’re not responding. ::
They’re responding, but they’re not saying anything
..:: Robin, come in. What is that noise I hear on the back of Nightwing’s signal? ::..
..:: ROBIN! ::..
blip that represented Robin’s transponder hopped a small distance from
Nightwing’s, indicating a move to another rooftop…
Jesus, Barbara, it’s an earpiece, remember?
Do you have to SCREAM INTO IT every time you get EXCITED?
The background noise was Azrael.::
..:: Oh, shit. ::..
‘Wing asked about this pair we’re tracking, Az saw them go into the Iceberg,
‘Wing asked why Az didn’t follow them in, Az asked what ‘Wing is doing
back in ‘his city.’ Zany
Anton had had enough. His wife’s costume
was a Vera Wang. His was a leotard and speedos. She was
flirting her way through the entire male population of the Gotham Underworld.
He was stuck at the bar with a salesgirl, a stuntwoman, and three men who took
turned hostile if he so much as smiled at either woman.
Enough was enough. He tossed Sly a bauble
from the robbery as payment, broke a bottle on the edge of the bar, and stormed
into the dining room.
was prattling to Hugo Strange about “the true lure of darkness and the
mysterious truths hidden in the folds of its languorously pulsing heart…”
WANTON HARLOT,” Anton bellowed, “IF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR INDULGENT WALLOWING
IN THE ATTENTIONS OF OTHER MEN AND THE SOUND OF YOUR OWN VOICE, CAN WE PLEASE,
FOR THE LOVE OF THOSE BEDAMNED STARS YOU ENDLESSLY INVOKE, GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
AND GO HOME BEFORE SUNRISE!!!”
The Iceberg was accustomed to violent
outbursts. This explosion, while more eloquent than most, did little to distract
Joker and Harley from the argument they’d been having since she got fed up
with his Bruce Wayne fixation, and he learned of her dalliance in a
Frenchman’s château. It did little to distract Poison Ivy and Two-Face
from their quarrel, which began with his ill-concealed interest in Roxy Rocket’s
thrill fetish, and escalated when a skirmish between Hugo Strange and Scarecrow
led to some flying dishware—which Oswald assured them they’d pay for—reminding
Harvey of the injuries he’d suffered at Ivy’s hands from the airbourn planter of
the late flytrap Ivan.
In the bar, Roxy and Sly were out-shouting
Eddie and Doris, and in the dining room, another airborne platter hit Hugo
Strange in the head. Again, Oswald assured the perpetrator she would pay
for damages—in this case, the platter had been thrown by Nocturna, who repeated
her earlier remark about Penguin’s lack of sartorial elegance. She
suggested a day at Barney’s might improve his fashion sense.
“A 42 stout, I would think. There’s a
mannequin your size in Window 4,” she sneered coldly.
Jonathan Crane was quick to snicker, then
mannequin, eh,” then he winced theatrically. “Ooh, sorry, Hugo.”
you see,” Selina told MirrorBitch again as she stepped out of
the shower, “this is really not my fault.”
warned them,” she reiterated as she toweled off, “they didn’t listen.”
She poured coffee, sighed at the blinking light
by her phone, and pushed the button beneath it.
have _16_ new messages. ::
Kitten, it’s me. You won’t believe what went down last night. I
can’t handle D’Annunzio’s this afternoon. Come to the house so we can talk
Selina? Harvey. She’s still
punishing me for that damn flytrap, can you believe it!
Free for lunch? Come up the hideout and talk.
Catty, Pam. The men are all shits. We’re having a girls’ night out.
You, me, Harley and Roxy. Call me.
Hi, Selina, it’s Tim. Look, I don’t know what you heard about last night,
but now even Barbara’s mad at me. Look, I stuck it out between Bruce and
Dick, but Dick and JP on top of that was too much. She wants to make that into ‘abandoning my post,’ I can’t help that,
can I? Enough is enough. Can I come over and talk?
‘Lina, Eddie. You won’t believe this. These two Gothic drama queens
show up at the Iceberg last night. This guy who’s way too pudgy to be
wearing tights in the first place turns Doris off on the whole thing.
-beep- Catty, say it isn’t so. If that anemic tramp came between you and Brucie, I’ll splatter her brains into…PUDDIN! PUT DOWN THAT PHONE! NOW! I SAID, NOW…
Sorry ‘bout that, Catty. Girls’ night Thursday. See ya then!
Selina, it’s Dick. Stop by the office today. Had a run in with
‘Pheromones’ last night you won’t believe.
-beep- Selina, this is Oswald. A curious couple presented themselves at the Iceberg last night, using your name as well as that of Ms. Quinn. They caused rather a lot of damage, and I found the woman quite rude. Would you know where I can get in touch?
Selina, Jervis. WHAT HAPPENED? I miss one night at the Iceberg and
I’m behind on all the gossip. Call me! I can’t stand
being out of the loop!
To be continued…