|First Published:||November 14, 2012|
|Previous Issue:||Batman #13|
|Next Issue:||Batman #15|
Trapped in a vat of chemicals in the Ace Chemical Processing Plant, Batman calls out to Harley Quinn to let him out, or else the Joker will be able to make his next move. Crestfallen, Harley responds that, maybe, he will be turned into what the Joker turned into; be like he was before he changed. She is gone, and as the chemicals swim up around him, Batman recalls how he had examined the composition of the soup that birthed the Joker, and no matter how many times, he could never see what might have caused that man to survive it. There's nothing in the mixture but death.
Without much time, Batman attaches a protective mask, and creates a propulsion tunnel to blast a hole in the side of the vat, knowing that it could injure him in the pressure-sealed container. The propulsion blast sends Batman crashing through the lid of the vat, and up onto the metal catwalk, his suit melting and disintegrating from the corrosion. He scans for the heat signature of someone who might be watching, still, but his equipment is too damaged. Frustrated, he returns home.
He sends a message to his allies, warning them of the fact that the Joker may be targeting them individually. Getting out of his car, he calls out to Alfred to explain that he sent images of the tire treads outside the plant in hopes of getting a lead. The lack of response makes him worry, and Bruce wanders up into the manor, where he is drawn to the front door by the sound of its creaking. Out on the front step is a package wrapped in purple, and bound with a green ribbon. He tears it open and finds a cassette tape.
The voice on the tape is the Joker's, and he addresses Bruce by name, explaining that he has borrowed Alfred as he's planning something special that requires a servant. Alfred's voice complains of being blindfolded, and the Joker laughs that he hasn't blindfolded him. He has instead burnt his eyes with ammonia. Angry and sickened, Bruce can't bear to listen anymore.
Batman finds Jim Gordon sitting awake on his bed, apparently unable to sleep. He startles the man, but Jim is relieved to see him. To business, Batman explains that Alfred was kidnapped as part of some kind of celebration that the Joker is planning. Jim complains at how random the Joker's acts always seem to be. Other criminals provide some kind of comfort, in that their next move can sometimes be predicted, but the Joker is a different animal. That has changed, Batman reports, explaining that Jim is the Joker's next move. "Gordon" was added as a custom label to the cassette he received. Batman insists on taking Jim to a safe-house, but Jim refuses to leave his men without a leader. As he makes his case, Jim suddenly pauses, realizing that he is bleeding. Batman soon realizes that Jim is bleeding uncontrollably from his pores.
After putting Jim in the hospital with a strong coagulant, Batman meets with Nightwing on the roof outside. Though Jim is stable, there is still the matter of Alfred's safety. Bruce refers to Alfred as "Bruce Wayne's Butler" to the point where Dick becomes angry and accuses him of trying to distance himself from the pain of it by using code-talk. Frustrated, Bruce eventually breaks down and admits that he is afraid to lose the man who had been a father to him for years. In any case, he explains that he wants Dick to keep the fact that Alfred was taken a secret from the others. Though they may all be targets, he doesn't want their responses to the Joker to be coloured by their emotional reaction to the loss of Alfred.
Batman believes that the Joker does not yet know his identity, reminding that the cassette was for Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Alfred and Bruce Wayne are known to be connected to Batman via Batman Incorporated and the Gotham Initiative, so if the Joker was looking for a servant-type, Alfred would be the obvious choice. Bruce admits that he knows the Joker's next move will be at the Gotham Reservoir. The Joker is re-enacting his old crimes, but inverting them somehow. He sends Dick to the Aqueduct while he goes to the Reservoir alone.
On his way to the reservoir, Batman is uncomfortable about the silence. Usually, he would call Alfred before facing the Joker, to go through the motions of assuring Alfred that he'd be alright - but really, it was he who was looking for reassurance. Shaking these thoughts from his head, he focuses on the case. The blood thinner that was given to Gordon is produced by the same company who provides the treatment chemicals for Gotham's water supply. The reservoir was also the site of his first face-to-face encounter with the Joker as the Joker.
In the middle of the bridge to the Reservoir, Batman stops to see the Joker waiting for him. He notes the remote detonator in his adversary's hand, and is reminded of how at their encounter there, the Joker planned to use such a device to release poison into the reservoir. Disinterested with Batman's attempts to get to the point, the Joker explains that he is tired of being all business, and would prefer to take some time to chat. So, he has already taken care of all of the things that they would have done there, otherwise.
Any moment, Batman would receive the call he was waiting for, and make his move by throwing the Batarang he has waiting behind his back. The Joker saves him the trouble of throwing it, and slaps himself in the face, reminding that he would ever-so-quickly push his remote and poison the water, which would prompt Batman to call Nightwing and have him blow the aqueduct. Except Nightwing is completely taken by surprise when the Joker blows the aqueduct for him. Then, typically, Joker and Batman would fight, and the day would be saved. Even so, Joker would still manage to poison those few people who pull their water before it gets to the aqueduct. In the old days, that area had been a slum. Now, it is a condo. Rather than bother to poison them, though, he simply killed them beforehand by drowning them in the reservoir.
So, the water has been poisoned, the aqueduct has been blown, and the people are dead - now, Joker and Batman can talk. He traps Batman with numerous cables, immobilizing him, and then begins his speech. He sees himself as Batman's court jester; the deliverer of bad news. A king will only hear bad news from a jester because he can make him laugh about it. That is what the Joker has always tried to do, and tonight he has some more for him - and he intends to say it loud enough that even the other Bats can hear.
The Joker knows who they are; the identities they hide underneath their masks. He knows their names. He knows their addresses, he knows which soaps they use. And he knows that they're fakers. As much as people like Jim Gordon seem so strong, he is in fact weakened by his care for others. And, like him, Batman is weakened by his care for his allies - and weakened by the way in which he has come to rely on them. So, Joker intends to get rid of them.
Joker claims that Batman knows what his allies have done to him, which is why he has kept a secret from them for a long time. It is the secret that helped Joker to learn all about them, and write it down in a book he has made from the skin of a bat from the Batcave. Batman claims that it is a lie, but Joker insists that whatever the case, all of them will be dead within 72 hours, and the punchline is that it will be Batman who kills them.
"Men of Worship"Edit
Penguin has been invited to an anonymous meeting at a church outside the city limits, but he is horrified to discover that the pews have all been filled with the corpses of top players in all of Gotham's crime families - and every one of them was killed with some kind of trick umbrella.
The Joker reveals himself, and the fact that he has used the umbrella in order to implicate Cobblepot in the murders, thereby starting an all-out gang-war. However, he will accept responsibility for the crime if the Penguin will do him a favour. Begrudgingly, Cobblepot agrees to help the Joker.
- Harley Quinn
- Jim Gordon
- The Joker
- Red Robin (Cameo)
- Batgirl (Cameo)
- Red Hood (Cameo)
- Robin (Cameo)