Life After Death
|First Published:||December 2009|
|Previous Issue:||Batman #691|
|Next Issue:||Batman #693|
Batman comes across one of Black Mask's new False Faces wandering by themselves on the outskirts of Gotham. Quite a peculiar sight to say the least given that the brainwashed mutes almost always travel in groups of four or more. Unfortunately, much like the rest of his False Face brethren, his brain has been turned to mush by Black Mask's brainwashing techniques. The only information the henchman seems capable of putting forth is a series of numbers - geographical coordinates leading Batman back to Devils Square, the area of Gotham where Black Mask has his compound. Ever since the Arkham explosion, the National Guard has been perched over Gotham City, They've successfully chased Black Mask into Devil's Square and every day they get more and more anxious to simply finish the job. But as Dick arrives at the swampy river-side section of Gotham, it looks like someone else may have beaten them to the punch. Five False Faces, unmistakable in their trademark black gas masks, lay dead in the tall grass. The only thing left behind other than the countless machine gun casings is a strange red pill and one brown fedora. Not much to go on to say the least. No one, not even Dr. Arkham, seems to be able to break the mental hold Black Mask has over them. What's worse, not every False Face apprehended is a hardened criminal. Take for example the case of Trish Gumbracker who was among the Faces apprehended at the scene of an exceptionally bloody bank heist. Until the day when she fired the first shot inciting the shoot out blood bath, Ms. Gumbracker had lived a quiet life as a divorced elementary school teacher. Which brings to light the startling possibility that Black Mask is abducting and brainwashing ordinary citizens to serve in his brigade. Nevertheless, Batman finds himself working with a ticking clock with the National Guard and presses on.
Two days later, Dick has arranged a meeting with the only person he believes might have an in inside Black Mask's camp - Catwoman. Having recently aligned herself with Poison Ivy, one of Black Mask's former henchmen, Dick believes Selina may be able to get some information out of Isley as to Black Mask's intentions. As it would turn out, she can't. But she does pass along the rather interesting news that someone has been setting up shop out in unincorporated Gotham.
His name is Mario Falcone - one of the last surviving members of Gotham's notorious Falcone clan. Long thought to have been driven completely insane by the string of tragedies that befell his family, Falcone appears to have returned to Gotham with plans to set up shop in the mansion located on the property. And whatever operation he has going on inside there, he isn't taking any chances. Armed guards patrol the area and the field surrounding the mansion is rigged with trip-wires, one of which Batman accidentally sets off.
The explosion alerts Falcone to his presence forcing Dick to retreat but the distraction serves Catwoman's purposes just fine. The feline burglar had already made her way inside the Falcone mansion and was pilfering the family's stash of jewelry and other valuables when the explosion went off. Though she makes it out of the house unscathed, it seems that at least one member of the Falcone family did manage to catch a glimpse of the thief. Young Kitrina Falcone (herself a fan of cat-themed wardrobes) watches silently as the Catwoman disappears into the night. She says nothing of this development to her overbearing uncle when he bursts in to chastising her for being the one he believes led Batman to their location. It's clear that she isn't too pleased with being holed up in the dusty old house alongside Uncle Mario.
Meanwhile, Black Mask's Ministry of Science continues to grow as he brings Fright and Dr. Death into the fold alongside Professor Hugo Strange. But this evening he is about to add perhaps the most dangerous member yet. His name is Dr. Grant Gruener. Though he technically died of a heart attack some time ago, Strange has been keeping his brain function steady for years while he continued to genetically modify Gruener's body making him stronger and more durable than any other candidate. Gruener is considered delusional at best, but it's believed that the 'good Doctor' will be able to somehow strengthen and improve Black Mask's mind-control therapy.
As he re-awakens, Gruener's mind flashes through dark and painful memories of his upbringing inside a Nazi concentration camp. The Star of David pendant his father gave to him shortly before he was murdered in front of his very eyes. The corpses he hid beneath in an attempt to escape punishment. And the unspeakable visions of horror... outlined in the shadow of a very familiar pair of bat-ears.
- James Gordon
- Black Mask
- Mario Falcone
- Kitrina Falcone (First Appearance)