|First Published:||October 10, 2012|
|Previous Issue:||Batman #12|
|Next Issue:||Batman #14|
Commissioner Jim Gordon has been trying to quit smoking for a while, to the point that he offered a prize - a day off - to the officers who could find all of the places he had been hiding cigarettes on the premises of Gotham City Police Headquarters. His daughter Barbara has been involved as well, though he is sure she will never find the hiding place he keeps in his own home. This quest to quit smoking has been a distraction to Jim, while a series of bad omens in Gotham City have convinced Harvey Bullock that whatever the next big crime is, the people of Gotham will claim that the commissioner should have known it was coming.
As Jim and Harvey return from the roof, where yet another of his hiding places has been emptied, the lights in the station suddenly go dead. Calmly, Jim explains that the generator will kick in at any moment - and it does - but in that brief moment of light, his eyes fall on a figure standing in the doorway of the bullpen, and he is instantly filled with fear. As quickly as they returned, the lights go out again. The cheerfully grim voice of the Joker moves unpredictably around the room, as he tries to tell a joke. Each time he starts the opening line of a joke, one of the police officers to whom he tells it begins crying out in horror, prompting him to kill them and start over.
Filled with outrage, Jim demands that the Joker turn his attention to him alone. The Joker remarks that he missed Jim, and Batman, and Barbara too. He is disappointed, though, in Jim's tendency to hide things - particularly cigarettes - like the cigarettes he's been hiding under his bed, where the Joker admits to having spent many a night lying underneath it, listening to Jim breathe. As the Joker's voice seems to be getting closer, Jim can stand it no more, and discharges his weapon.
Suddenly, though, the lights come on, and the Joker is nowhere to be found. Jim sits surrounded by the dead bodies of every police officer that had been in the room. Batman has arrived, and the two of them rush to the evidence room to check on the detached face that had been on ice there for a year. It is gone, and the Joker with it.
Later, Batman runs several traces for on previously collected samples of Joker Venom to see if any was found on the scene at police headquarters. Damian Wayne is skeptical as to the threat the Joker poses, but Batman warns that the madman's prolonged absence, and the removal of his face were not signs of weakness, but worrisome acts that point to a more horrifying plan - as yet unknown.
Slowly, each of Batman's allies begins to call in, demanding to know whether it is true that the Joker as returned, and gravely, Batman confirms it. Though they offer their help, he urges them to stick to their own business. Whatever grudge the Joker is acting on, it is between he and Batman alone.
Suddenly, Alfred Pennyworth draws Batman's attention to a local news broadcast in which a man has been made up to look like the Joker, and speak for him, while the Joker's own arms perform grandiose gestures in accordance. Struggling to follow the script without cracking, the victim warns that the Joker will kill Mayor Hady that night at midnight, for no particular reason. With the message delivered, the Joker takes a gun in one hand, and places it to his victim's temple, making it look as if the man is committing suicide - and then pulls the trigger on live TV.
Voice recognition determines that the victim was the voice of John Claridge, son of Henry Claridge, who was the first recorded murder by the Joker, several years ago. Claridge had been killed in the same way that it was threatened Mayor Hady would - only the Joker had poisoned him hours before he had delivered the warning. There was nothing Batman could do to stop it. Surely this time, there would be a similar gag.
Grumpily, Mayor Hady allows the GCPD to guard him, despite the safety measures already in place at City Hall. He urges them to stay out of his office, as the officers' shoes will scuff his recently cleaned floors.
Gordon, meanwhile, reconnoitres with Batman, who has, as yet, found no traces of Joker Venom on or in the Mayor, nor in the water supply or the vents. Batman can see from his readouts on Jim's vitals that his friend is full of fear for his friends, his coworkers, his daughter. As commissioner, he puts on a brave face, because that is the only way he can stand up to the Joker.
The Joker, on the other hand, seems to be meaner and angrier than before. The brutality of his methods this time is notable. He snapped several police officers' necks with his own hands, when traditionally, he has left that work to others. Re-enacting his previous crimes, likewise, is unlike him. And mention he made of a calling card that he left with Batman is perplexing.
Suddenly, Batman realizes how the Joker has got the better of him this time. Rushing out into the hallway, he discovers that not the mayor, but all of the GCPD officers sent to protect him, have been poisoned. Within moments, they are all dead, and only Batman, Jim, and the Mayor are left standing. Analysis of the toxin indicate that it was a two-part compound. The first component was infused into the officers' clothes, while the second - the activator - was in the Mayor's floor-cleaner. Just as troubling, the Venom has been altered to produce a disturbing rictal frown, as opposed to a smile. Alfred notes that the computers have found three additional non-active chemicals: Aspirin, Chlorine, and Ethane. A, C, E. Batman realizes that the Joker is sending him back where it all started; to A.C.E. Chemicals.
There, Batman spots his adversary waiting for him, dressed in the garb he wore when they first met; that of the Red Hood. The Joker explains that he left Gotham because he felt that Batman wasn't himself anymore, and now he's returned to make things right. Angrily Batman growls that whomever he is speaking to is not the Joker, but as he leaps forward, he is knocked aside by a massive wooden mallet. The device sends him tumbling into an empty chemical vat, which closes on him, before he can escape. The voice continues that Batman has become lazy, having allowed the Court of Owls to roost in his city without his noticing. The Joker has returned to make Batman more vigilant - to strip him of those who have made him weak: his family of allies.
The red mask is removed, free of it, Harley Quinn calls out to Batman tearily that the Joker is not the same as he used to be. What he plans is almost beyond her own ability to go along with, were it not for her fear of him. Desperately, Batman calls out for her to tell him where the Joker is, as a chemical bath pours into the vat, rising to his knees.
At Wayne Manor, Alfred hears a strange scritching sound at one of the doors, and opens it to find a deformed lion cub, born with two heads - one of the ill omens Bullock had warned of earlier. Suddenly, the Joker steps out from behind him, brandishing a hammer.
After a year without him, Harley Quinn has been called by the Joker to the Ace Chemical Processing Plant. Though she misses him, he won't step into the light and reveal himself to her. He has given her a large role in the beginning of his plan, and he hopes that she is excited to help.
He demands that she take off her clothes, which she does, dutifully. From just outside the light he tosses her a suit to wear. As she gets dressed, she realizes that the padding in the suit, and the platforms on the shoes will make her seem to share the Joker's exact height and build. That is the idea, he explains, finally revealing his face, which has been strapped back on grotesquely. Unfortunately, her face doesn't match yet.
He brandishes a straight-razor, speaking of how she is his greatest creation, and that now, he has to make her perfect. Eyeing the razor, Harley is hesitant to go along with the plan, if it means being disfigured. Timidly, she asks if he would still find her beautiful. Jeering, he asks when he ever said he found her beautiful. Harley lets a tear fall down her cheek before deciding that it wouldn't matter, and asks if it would hurt. Laughing, he responds that it will hurt tremendously, and urges her to close her eyes while he gets started.
She screams as he lunges at her with the razor, but when she next opens her eyes, she realizes that she didn't feel a thing. It was all a joke. Her face is still intact. However, she must now prepare to activate the hammer he Joker has set up for Batman. He leaves her there in the dark, wearing the garb of the Red Hood, wondering if he is still out there.
- James Gordon
- Harvey Bullock
- The Joker
- Officer Bradtree (Only appearance; dies)
- Officer Guadalupe (Only appearance; dies)
- Officer McCabe (Only appearance; dies)
- Alfred Pennyworth
- Red Robin
- John Claridge (Only appearance; dies)
- Sebastian Hady
- Harley Quinn