Stanwick was in Hermoine Heaven. As
the secret identity of Gotham’s most illustrious society columnist, Martin was
experienced in angling for invitations. If
there was a party, a race, an opening, or a gala that was the place to be, he
made it his business to be there. But
it was rare for a hostess to call out of the blue and ask him to lunch. A last minute fill-in for a dinner party, yes.
But a luncheon intime to meet the Princess of Themyscira!
That was unprecedented.
had presented himself at D’Annunzio’s promptly at one o’clock and was surprised
to learn the royal reception wasn’t hidden away in a private room.
He was told “the ladies are already seated” and followed Giovanni
into the main dining room. He
gasped on seeing just how intimate the luncheon intime really
was: Four ladies and an empty chair for him.
one in the tiara was certainly the Princess.
Next to her, Martin’s internal dictation began…
shown Martin to the table, Giovanni gave an odd sniff before returning to
not convinced Diana is really a princess,” Dinah Lance confided.
“We’ve been laughing about it.
Seems royalty doesn’t dress that way back home.”
is Amazonian ceremonial garb,” Diana insisted.
“He’s miffed because he got suckered,” Selina explained. “Giovanni is Italian and he’s breathing. You walked in dressed like that - he ogled. Then he found out who you were. He’s embarrassed, so he takes a position: royalty and cleavage, it isn’t right.”
think it’s lovely,” Bunny Wigglesworth said, feeling that good manners meant
making the guest feel comfortable. She
defended Diana’s outfit, “And as for what royalty does or doesn’t wear,
I’m buying this painting - Selina can tell you, she’s advising me - it’s
of Cleopatra and, my dears, her dress, if you can call it that, is positively shocking.”
advising you, all right,” Selina answered, “I’m advising you not to buy it
unless they admit it’s Victorian, not 17th century, and then cut the
sure?” Bunny asked.
positive. Look, Cleopatra lived
two thousand years ago. What we know about
her, it hasn’t changed. There are two sources: Plutarch, who gave us the Roman
Roman view,” Diana interrupted, “was Augustus Caesar’s propaganda machine,
the party line of her enemies after they’d won.”
okay, that’s quite true,” Selina broke in quickly.
She’d heard from both Bruce and Barbara how Diana would take over the
conversation if given the opening. The
Amazon Princess did have a role to play in this particular conversation, but she
had to be led to the right spot. “The other source,” Selina continued, “is
Flavius Josephus. He was closer to the action in Egypt.
He tells more about her actual rule in between the affairs with Julius
Caesar and Mark Antony that everyone else focuses on.”
Selina paused and saw Diana smile approvingly, then she went on.
“Now, whatever you think of the bias on either side, those two works are all
there is to go on. Every
century goes to that same fixed pool of information, zeroes in on some aspects,
ignores others altogether, and comes up with a completely different Cleopatra.
To the 17th century, she was a romantic heroine dying for love. Your
painting, Bunny, is ‘the Nile slut,’ a man-eater that seduces an innocent
young pageboy each night, and then has him killed in the morning just to be evil.”
preposterous,” Diana interrupted, “I knew Cleopatra; she wasn’t
promiscuous. On the contrary, all
the Ptolemys were so obsessed with their Greek lineage, they wouldn’t dilute
their blood with that of the Egyptians they ruled.
They married brothers and sisters to avoid doing so.
The idea that Cleopatra would sleep around goes against everything that
made her Cleopatra!”
was Selina’s thought. Diana
couldn’t have chosen her words better if she’d been given a script.
of these versions tell you about the real Cleopatra,” Selina brought the point
home with a cat-like smile as Giovanni showed an expected 1:30 reservation to
their table. “Not one of them.
They just reveal the people telling - or making up - the story.
Bunny’s painting, the man-eater? That’s painted by a Victorian. The
artist has a screaming fear of female sexuality, so he needs to demonize it.”
paused, wondering if this was enough. She
decided to continue, not because she feared Martin wasn’t getting the point,
but because Dinah hadn’t had a chance to contribute yet.
Selina had invited Dinah as a backup if Diana didn’t come through - for
Ra’s al Ghul had also known Cleopatra and boasted about it to Black Canary.
If Diana refused to provide the relevant information, Dinah could easily pick up
the slack. Diana had come through, so it was a moot point.
But Selina could see that Martin was quite taken with Dinah. It would be a shame not to let her shine. For in Selina’s
experience, men of substance enjoyed having the women they admire demonstrate
their smarts and understanding. It
was only the inadequate ones, the Millers, the Cookes, and the Brubakers, that
needed to think such women were foolish, stupid, or confused.
remember hearing something similar,” Dinah picked up the Cleopatra theme
exactly where Selina had left off, and Martin leaned in to take in every word.
“After the, what was it you said, the ‘man-eater’ era, the next
group, also unable to cope with her sexuality, made her childlike: naïve, a
pawn, manipulated by political forces she didn’t understand.”
Leigh played that version,” Martin cut in, anxious to support Dinah’s
position. “You’re right, I
never thought of that. They had to
remove her sexuality altogether. How sad, when it was such a vital part of her
Selina could have kissed him.
“Well, don’t feel too bad.
She got it back.
But not until the mid 20th
century, the Elizabeth Taylor movie. By
then, they could handle the notion that she was a politician herself, and a mother, and an
indeed. That library at Alexandria was her baby,” Diana put in, feeling that
far too much time had passed since she had been listened to.
“And an aristocrat, descended from a 300 year old dynasty.
Frankly, she looked down her nose at those upstart Roman generals whose
fathers were, what, farmers?”
in each Cleopatra,” Selina timed the closing just as her prey noticed Bunny Wigglesworth and was readying to step into the trap,
“you’re not seeing Cleopatra. You’re seeing a commentary on the person
that choose to show her this way. And what kind of a sorry excuse for a man
needs her to be…
Oh, good lord, is that F. Miller sitting over
there? Bunny, I know he was at your party, and I’m sure he’ll want to say
hello. Frankly, I’d rather not meet him. Excuse
me, dears, I’ll just go powder my nose.”
man who was so ill-bred as to wear red Chuck Taylor tennis shoes at
D’Annunzio’s never recognized the elegant brunette in the Ferragamo pumps that
cut him so coldly as she passed. No matter,
Martin thought, Miller would learn her identity soon enough.
From Hermoine’s column.
Wayne sat at his Batcave workstation, trying for Batman-mode and failing.
He stared at the monitor displaying costumed criminals at large, as if
willing it to do something:
Not a short list. Yet none of them were doing anything. Batman did not WISH for crime to occur. It was just that, for each and every one of them, it was only a matter of time until they would do something. So why not get one out of the way now?
Joker, he thought, fondue forks? Losing your edge, Clown. Let’s have it out, once and for all, while you’re fixating on melted cheese instead of mass murder.
Scarecrow, that was an emasculating scene at the Iceberg with Hugo; no urge to take it out on the bullies?
Ivy, the new flytrap has
to be trained sometime, doesn’t it?
Two-Face, be a pal. You know what
she’s like. Do something.
object of his torment came up behind him and nuzzled his neck.
worked up,” said the hot breath tickling his ear. “Come and play.”
really should study this. Almost everyone’s free right now.”
one is in the city, it’s too hot. It’s
quiet. Come and play.”
restless. Work out with me.”
tried that; it doesn’t work. Sparring
turns into petting which turns into…”
wear the old suit you like, with the skirt, slit up to-”
you’re killing me.”
can’t help it,” Selina moaned, exasperated. “I’ve got all this pent up energy.
I’m not like Oracle; I hate sitting tight away from the action, just waiting
to hear the reports.”
appreciate that, my love. I’m the same way. But
in this case, you’re going to have to wait until-”
miss,” Alfred announced from the landing, “Ms. Lance has arrived upstairs.”
you,” Bruce answered with ill-concealed relief, “Alfred, we’ll be right
left Bruce, Selina, and Dinah in the east drawing room. He expected that, by the
time he returned with the tea tray, Ms. Lance would be well into her report.
He was sorry he would have to miss so much of the story.
Only Dinah could tell what happened at the restaurant when Selina left the
table, and what Martin Stanwick might have said when he walked Dinah home.
This was not idle curiosity, Alfred assured himself.
He had contributed more than a little to Selina’s overall strategy.
Batman and Catwoman were brilliant tacticians in virtually every arena of
combat. Yet for the kind of subtle,
social warfare that is waged in places like D’Annunzio’s, they thought to
consult a greater expert: Alfred
Pennyworth. It was he who worked
out the timing for each development to have the desired effect, and he would be
disappointed not to hear firsthand how it had all played out.
was therefore surprised to find the trio waiting in the most respectful silence
when he returned with the tea. It seemed they had waited for him
Bruce nodded as the butler began laying out the tea things, and finally Dinah spoke.
“It was wonderful. Miller
no sooner said
‘Hi,’ and the other one came in. Cooke, I think.
He was late for the reservation. Giovanni
was furious. Ah, but he had such a
good excuse. It seems his book
signing went to hell!”
head tilted back as she emitted a low rippling purr.
love it when you do that,” Bruce murmured.
had your chance before,” Selina replied. “Go on, Dinah, please.”
you know this winner has a new trash wallow out, cut from the same cloth as
Miller, so he’s on the book-signing trail.
Today, he was at a Barnes and Noble in Chelsea and—tsk tsk—this
awful woman brought him coffee and spilled it, piping hot coffee, all over the
front of his
Doris!” Selina cheered.
cursed a blue streak,” Dinah resumed. “Even though this woman kept apologizing and
trying to make it right.”
rubbing it in, giving the scalding coffee maximum time to burn and
stain,” Selina guessed.
Dinah confirmed, “and, unfortunately, they just happened to have seated him
right next to the children’s section. Many
irate moms complained:
horrible man. Such language. Our children should not get their ideas of how to behave from
people like that.’”
was about it until Martin escorted me home,” Dinah went on.
a minute,” Bruce interrupted again. “What
was Diana’s take on Miller?”
said he’s a perfect example of why the Amazons left Man’s World and founded
Themyscira in the first place. Anyway,
Martin took me home. We walked
through Gotham Plaza, as planned. And
there it was! Barbara’s timing
was impeccable. She’d dug up the
worst reviews on all of them, also their high school yearbook photos, and had
them plastered on the JumboTron. There
it was, in colored lights, four stories high:
‘To say Brubaker is a bad writer is to insult hacks, incompetents, and poseurs
around the world.’
‘Written in a bland, moronic style reminiscent of Look and Learn.’
‘A lack of imagination surpassed only by smallness of mind and banality of
‘Amidst all the dross there is the occasional outburst of really dangerous lunacy.’
all the dross there is the occasional outburst of really spectacular ignorance.’
all the dross there is the occasional outburst of really spectacular
‘The greatest villain in this man’s world is the high school guidance
counselor who did not urge him to forget writing, an activity for which he
clearly has no skill, and pursue a career instead in the growing field of VCR
“And my personal favorite:
‘There are too many pages between the covers of his books.
Paper that could have been used to wrap fish, print jury summons, or on which Marietta Klenofsky might have
Xeroxed her lovely derriere at the next office party. Better still, this paper might have been used by Marietta’s
son Jonathan. Jonathan is in the 6th
grade. He could have used some of the pages squandered on the
printing of Brubaker’s latest effort, to write a paper on the most fundamental principles of storytelling, which would
demonstrate that a bright 12-year-old has a better grasp of those principles than
does Mr. Brubaker.’”
hell,” remarked Selina, “and I thought I didn’t like him.”
what I saw, plenty of people dislike all four of these losers,” Dinah
replied, “but the droogies always shouted them down, so they stopped speaking
up. Now you never hear from them unless you go looking. Barbara
But something was bothering Bruce.
“The JumboTron is big, but not that big.
How did Oracle ever make it display those long reviews?”
sentence at a time,” Dinah laughed, “Martin was fascinated, being a writer
himself. He made us stay and read
the whole thing.”
the middle of Gotham Plaza? In traffic?”
waited in line at the TKTS both. By
the time it was over, we had tickets for STOMP.
Which reminds me, I’ve gotta get back.
Meeting Marty for drinks before the show.
Selina, I was wondering if I could borrow that pretty green dress? With
the low back?”
folks who find themselves in the country are always startled by how dark the
night really is. In a city, one
never realizes how much glare the cars, the streetlights, the advertisements
and the rest of it really do create. Not until they leave the city, look up, and see a sky so black it seems to
have mass and texture, a blackness too thick to be the vacuum of space, a black
that must be velvet, or liquid, or pudding. And spattered in that bowl of impossible black are more stars than can possibly
it could not be said that the condition through which F. Miller walked home was
at all the “dark and stormy night” of fictional cliché.
It was through midtown Gotham he walked, and Gotham City—despite the
insistence of cliché-bound fiction writers—is never that dark.
stormy it most definitely was. The rain began at four o’clock, coating the streets with a greasy slick
that extended rush hour until seven, when the tourist traffic, the
theatre traffic, and the nightclub traffic took its place.
By nine o’clock, the air was thick with car exhaust and bad temper.
The rain let up, but the winds promised it would return harder and
wetter than before.
a miserable night. And Miller, like any sane human being, was in no hurry to
walk into it. He lingered at
Kane’s Bar & Grille, not especially caring that some Cal Tech pranksters
hacked the JumboTron, reminding ten million Gothamites of the review calling his
sequel “a slap-dash fever dream only written because he drunk up the
proceeds of his earlier efforts.” It wasn’t true. And he wasn’t
going to let such charges force him from the dry shelter of Kane’s into that
hell of a storm on a night when there was no chance of getting a cab.
was his thought from midnight until last call.
Then the reality had to be faced. He’d
hidden in Kane’s as long as he could. It was time to face the storm.
He headed downtown through the wind tunnel that was South Sprang Blvd, too
intent on the rumblings of nearing thunder to notice that he was being followed.
first crack of lightning erupted when he was still six blocks from home; the
downpour began two blocks later. He reached his door, wet and agitated. He
dripped into his entranceway, dripped on his evening edition of the Gotham Post,
dripped onto his unopened mail… and dripped onto the ominous shadow growing from
the floor beneath his window.
“F. Miller,” Batman growled, emerging from the darkness, “We need to talk. We need to talk about why you tear down heroes. We need to talk about what a normal human being can achieve with drive and determination. We need to talk about bravery, intelligence, and strength both physical and of character. We’re going to get to the bottom of why you tell people heroes don’t exist.
“There are individuals out there
with initiative, ability and vision, who develop their gifts for the sake of
being the best people they can be. There are people who give of themselves, who risk their lives and their
happiness, to make the world better.
“Does that make it easier to live with being a petty, selfish parasite?
“So what if you’ve never done anything worthwhile with your setbacks: it’s okay, it’s just that you’re not so damaged and stunted as some. You’d have to be real messed up to care so much. You’d have to be one pathetic and limited individual to step up to the line and give of yourself to make the world better.
“I see what you are, Miller, you and those who emulate you, and
those who insist your sick vision is the way things are.
It’s sick, and it’s sad. But
if it stopped there, it would be no concern of mine.
“But when innocents start believing your twisted version of things, when they think THAT is realistic, when they think the notion that men and women can achieve great things is a childish fairytale… then it is very much my concern. Because there are heroes in this world. One person can stand up and make a difference. And if one person stops believing that because of what you’ve written, I will rededicate the rest of my life to destroying the rest of yours.
“Be out of my city by sundown
this is certainly inspirational. :)
On the fear issue, pens and toilets are very amusing, I’m sure. But, as a writer
myself, I believe I have a better notion than any that occurred to your ‘think
tank.’ Please ask if it would be
possible to instill a debilitating fear of the letter “M.”
* From Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, and Distortions by Lucy Hughes-Hallett.