Anyhow, Lux and Ivy are (I just can't get used to referring to Lux in the past tense, and I'm going to quit trying. Somehow, somewhere, the man lives. And we are here, are we not, to keep it that way.) HUGE Batman fans.
I mean, why wouldn't they be? I never once heard them say they weren't, did you?
--Chuck Miller, Boy Genius
An Untold Tale of Bruce Wayne
By Chuck Miller
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.' " -- from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"You better ask my mama how to make a monster." -- Lux Interior
"Bruce Wayne believed in the green light ..."
SCENE: NIGHT, a short ways outside of Gotham City. Wayne Manor. All is in shadows. There is one lighted window in an upper story, and in it, a young boy, his face a white blur: "DAD! LOOK! IT'S HIM!"
Now we are inside the room. Young Bruce Wayne is sitting up in bed, pointing at a small, green light in the sky. "IT'S HIM." Thomas Wayne, standing beside his son's bed, smiling indulgently. "HMMMM. NO, SON, I THINK THAT'S JUST AN AIRPLANE. SORRY."
Bruce slumps back on the bed, smiling. "NO, I'LL BET IT WAS HIM. ON PATROL." We see now that there are a number of small items of Green Lantern memorabilia in the room. An action figure stands crookedly on the night stand.
Bruce picks up the figure. 'HE'S PROBABLY AFTER THE SHADE OR THE GAMBLER OR ONE OF THOSE GUYS."
Thomas Wayne leans over to kiss his son goodnight. "YOU MAY BE RIGHT, BRUCE. GOOD NIGHT."
Bruce, still holding the figure: "NIGHT, DAD."
In Smallville, Kansas, a young boy about Bruce's age sleeps and dreams a recurring dream of crystal spires beneath a hazy green sky.
In Memphis, Tennessee, a sick and dispirited King takes shaky aim at a television screen with a gleaming silver .44-caliber revolver and squeezes the trigger.
In Central City, a boy named Barry, up late in defiance of parental injunction, carefully places an inverted colander with paper wings taped to the sides on top of his head, in homage to his favorite hero.
In Washington, DC, the most powerful man in the world decides that it is time, once again, to tell the world that it won't have him to kick around any more.
On the West Coast, a boy named Hal sees a green light in the sky and knows it is an airplane and dreams of the day he will fly one himself. Green Lantern never enters his mind.
In a middle-class suburb of Gotham City, a man named Joe finishes off a pint of inexpensive bourbon and tells himself that the thing he is planning to do will turn out okay, and then he will go straight forever after...
Thomas and Martha Wayne prepare for bed. Thomas is a large man, almost beefy, with incongruously slim and sensitive-looking hands. He is a wealthy man, and he wears light blue silk pajamas carefully laid out for him by his gentleman's gentleman. His wife wears an elegant white nightgown, trimmed in expensive lace.
Thomas Wayne yawns and stretches and says to his wife, "Bruce thought he saw the Green Lantern tonight. It was an airplane landing light or something. He was as excited as I've ever seen him. I wish he'd show as much enthusiasm for his schoolwork."
"He's a boy, Thomas," Martha tells him. She is not beautiful, but her face is good and strong and kind. "That's what boys DO."
"I know, I know ... But I don't want him thinking that flashy super-powers are the answer to life's problems." Wayne is a pragmatic man, a self-made doctor, a believer in self-reliance. He was born to wealth, lots of wealth, but never coasted on it. He put himself through med school and established a small practice in Metropolis, where he met his wife, before returning to Gotham and Wayne Manor.
"Oh, it's a phase," his wife tells him. "I'll bet you went through the same thing. Unless that old Hourman costume Alfred found in the attic belonged to your sister."
"I know that, too. I just don't want Bruce growing up with wild ideas. Sure, I loved the Justice Society. Every kid did. But they disappeared. Copped out. They did some good, yes, but in the end they were unreliable. Everybody has to grow up sometime. You can't go through life expecting Green Lantern or the Flash to come save the day."
"Do you think it was ever really that simple? For THEM, I mean? They must have had their share of problems, and I'm sure they didn't win ALL the time."
"Maybe. But Bruce doesn't see any of that. All he knows about Green Lantern is what he sees on that ridiculous television program."
Thomas refers to The Adventures of Green Lantern, a show popular in the 1960s, known for its appalling special effects and even worse scripts. Produced locally by the Gotham Broadcasting Corporation, it starred a young Canadian actor named William Shatner, whose career never managed to crawl out from beneath the weight of his most famous role.
"Well, we've plenty of time. You're a good Father, Thomas. You'll guide him the right way. He'll be fine as long as he has you -- us."
"Yes ... Yes, I suppose you're right." He kisses his wife and they settle in for sleep.
Joseph Leslie Chileskewicsz, known as "Joey Chill" back in the day when he ran with the sad old remnants of Boss Moxie's gang in Metropolis, a green and stupid kid among a bunch of aging, also-ran gangsters. Stupid Joey Chill, who did eight of a 20-year sentence on Stryker's Island on a robbery conviction, who never ratted out the men behind him, who learned things in the joint he never wanted to know. When he got out he promised himself that was it, he'd go straight. And he did. He changed his name legally, shortened it to Chill, left Metropolis, moved to Gotham where he knew no one. He got a job and he got a wife and they had a kid but the kid died before it was a year old. It was a boy and they called him Joseph Leslie Chill, Jr., and they buried him in City Cemetery in the rain in a coffin no bigger than a shoebox. Now the wife was pregnant again. The doctor said the baby looked fine, everything would be okay. Then Joey lost his job. The company he was working for sold out and the buyer closed up the operation. Bills kept coming in, though. You can't just go out and get a job like snapping your fingers when you got a record, especially when you did hard time.
When times are hard, you go back to what you know. Joe Chill talked to a guy who talked to a guy and he gave a hundred of his last $250 for a snub-nosed .32 with the numbers filed off and he would do this thing one last time, just to get enough to tide his little family over until he found someone who would hire him, and no one would be hurt by it.
SCENE: Thomas Wayne is seated in the comfortable private office of his old family friend, Alan Scott, owner of the Gotham Broadcasting Corporation. The two sit in comfortable plush chairs on either side of a small wooden table, sipping drinks.
WAYNE: I've been a little worried about the boy. I suppose it's really nothing. He's going through one of those "hero-worship" phases. All I hear is Green Lantern this and Green Lantern that.
SCOTT: You don't say.
WAYNE: Yeah. I know I worry too much, but ... All that was a long time ago. Those costumed heroes had their place, sure, and I'm not saying they didn't do a lot of good. But they're gone now. A man has to be able to rely on himself. I don't want Bruce growing up thinking magic rings and super-powers are the answer to everything.
SCOTT: I suppose you're right. In my day -- prehistoric times, Thomas, when your father and I were boys -- We idolized the old movie heroes. Tom Mix, Douglas Fairbanks ...
WAYNE: I know. That's normal. At least those guys were ... well, HUMAN. They had to rely on their wits and their own strengths.SCOTT (a little smile touching his lips): And the JSA weren't human?
WAYNE: Well, who knows? That was the point, wasn't it? We didn't know anything about them, not really. And then they were gone! Anyhow, that's not why I came today. I wanted to ask you for a little help. You've done so well with Gotham Broadcasting, you've diversified into other areas ... I'd like a little financial advice, actually. I want to set up a foundation, something to help people, scholarships, grants, that sort of thing. I need some assistance with my capital. I invest, of course, and my accountants are good -- but I've seen what you've done with GBC and your other projects in just the last 10 years. That's the kind of return I want to see. Wayne Enterprises is doing well, and I want to put a portion of the profits into this foundation. Truth, Alan, I hope someday Bruce will take it over.
WAYNE: Of course not. But I want him to have something worthwhile to do, if he wants it. I wouldn't dream of forcing him into it.
SCOTT: Oh, of course not.
WAYNE: I don't like the way you said that. You think I'm --?
SCOTT: Thomas, I know you wouldn't try to force your boy into anything. Just like your father didn't try to FORCE you into real estate. But he wanted that for you and he let you know it. Even though he never stood in your way, you knew he was disappointed. He would have happily paid your way through medical school, but you would have known he'd rather be paying for something else. That's why you did it yourself, isn't it?
WAYNE: Hm. Alan, am I turning into my father?
SCOTT (laughs): No, but I think he is still very much with you. You want him to be proud of you. You miss him. I miss mine, too, and he's been gone for more than 35 years now. Every boy wants to make his father proud of him. I hope mine is. You know, he hoped I would go into the ministry like him. But I wanted to be an engineer. And he let me know that I had done well, before he died. "Never be cruel, Alan." I don't know how many times he told me that. "Never hurt anyone on purpose, and try to do something good every day." I don't know that I've succeeded 100 percent, but I like to think ... I like to think I've done some good. One thing I hope you will do, which your father didn't quite succeed in doing for you is -- whatever Bruce winds up doing with his life, I hope you'll let him know it's good enough.
WAYNE: Well, you've given me something to think about. And I promise you, I honestly will. But I still want to look into setting up and financing this foundation.
SCOTT: Oh, that's an excellent idea. In fact, I have just the man for you. Name's Lucius Fox. I'll give him a call this afternoon.
WAYNE: That's great!
SCOTT: No problem. Say, listen ... about what we were discussing earlier? The old movie heroes? Well, you know, GBC recently bought the old Gotham Grand Movie Palace. We're going to close it down at the end of the year, turn it into a television studio. But from now until December, we're showing a double-feature every Saturday night. This week it's Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro. Why don't you bring Martha and Bruce? On the house.
WAYNE: Hm. Yeah, we just might. The Mark of Zorro, huh? I remember that one ... What's the other one?
SCOTT: Beg pardon?
WAYNE: You said it was a double feature. What else is showing?
SCOTT: Oh... One of Bela Lugosi's old B-pictures. I think it's called The Bat or something. I wanted to get Dracula, but we couldn't find a decent print.
Gotham City, Park Row, night. Joe chill huddles in the doorway of a small tea shop. He is on a side street around the corner from the Gotham Grand Theater. He has his eye on a silver Rolls Royce parked in front of the tea shop. Checks his watch. The movie lets out in five minutes. Just wait. It will turn out fine. He fingers the gun in his pocket. He won't have to use it, other than for show, but it is loaded just the same. There's absolutely no sense carrying an unloaded gun. A lesson from his misspent youth.
The Waynes exit the theater. It is a nice, warm summer evening. They decide to cut back through the alley to where the Rolls is parked on a side street.
"So, what did you think of Zorro, son?"
"Oh, he was OKAY ... But he was kinda boring, you know? I mean, all's he has is that sword. It's not as good as a power ring. And that black costume! You can't hardly even SEE him. I still like Green Lantern better."
Thomas Wayne sighs. He is about to speak when a figure steps out of the shadows, brandishing a pistol.
Thomas steps forward. "Leave my wife alone, you --Wait? Why, is that ... Joe? Yes, by God, that's you. It's me, Doctor Wayne. You remember me, don't you?" Doctor Wayne prides himself on his formidable memory for faces. Tonight, it will cost him.
"Why, man, you don't have to resort to this! Here, let me ..." He reaches into his jacket, a gesture that hits Joe Chill in the viscera. For a moment, thought suspends itself and something like instinct takes over.
Joe's first shot clips the upper edge of Thomas Wayne's left eye socket, the impact pulping the eyeball, then takes a downward trajectory through his brain and exits through the back of his neck. His hand, clutching a billfold, not a pistol, jerks out of his jacket as he falls. Martha, meanwhile, has lunged at Joe, arms outstretched. He crouches down quickly, moves the hot muzzle her way and squeezes the trigger again. The bullet punches its way between two ribs, tears a hole in the side of her heart, goes through a lung, and leaves her body below her left armpit. Thomas has hit the ground by now, dead already though his heart will beat a dozen more times, pumping blood out through the hole in the back of his neck. And Martha goes to her knees, lung filling with blood, blood spurting from her mouth and nose as she tries to say something. This all takes less than three seconds, and it is done before the two surviving human beings in the alley fully realize what has happened. Martha tumbles onto her back, eyes gone cold, her head only a foot from her husband's, and lies still. The echoes of the shots and the smell of cordite fill the ears and nostrils of the man and the boy and their vision is identically blurred by afterimages of the muzzle flashes.
Bruce has watched the whole thing, unable to move, unaware for the moment that he has a body that can be moved. He looks up at the gunman. Fear all over the man's face. Bruce is afraid, too, but there is something else, something being born, and it scares the gunman.
"Stop ... Stop looking at me like that, kid." He considers, for less than a second, shooting the kid. The only witness left. But he can't do it. Joe, Jr. ... He can't do it. he turns and runs.
SCENE: NIGHT, a dark alley, seen from above. A young boy stands staring at the ground, the bodies of his mother and father on either side of him.
Suddenly, Bruce sees a green glow from around the corner of the alley. Thinks it's his hero come to save the day. He shouts for help as the mugger runs off. Bruce runs toward the green light. "GREEN LANTERN! HELP! YOU GOT TO HELP MY FOLKS!"
Before he reaches the end of the alley, the green light turns red. Stunned, he steps out into the street and stares at the traffic signal. He face goes from anguish and surprise to anger and finally to dead, cold calm.
Green Lantern drops from the sky, ring glowing green, to land silently in the dark alley. He hears and sees the yellow police tape flapping in the wind, sees the chalk outlines of his two friends. When he read about the Waynes' murder in the paper this morning, he took the Ring from his office safe, and for the first time in six months, touched it to the Power Battery and recited his oath:
"... And I shall shed my light over dark evil, "For the dark things cannot stand the light, "The light of the Green Lantern!"
Now, in the alley, he sets his jaw and orders his ring to show him what happened the night before.
Alan Scott is unaware of the exact mechanism by which the ring does this. Long ago, he stopped wondering about such things and learned to accept. In fact, the ring emits a small storm of tachyons, subatomic particles that move backward through time. They envelop him and the patch of ground he stands on, bending time, allowing him to view the past.
He witnesses the shooting in fuzzy, shadow form, like a bad TV broadcast. Sees the mugger run. Follows him. Watches the man make his way to the suburbs, where he takes the gun into a garage behind a small house and smashes it to fragments with a sledge hammer. The Green Lantern, a living ghost in this dead and changeless world of the past, notes the man's address.
Fully in the present again, he prepares to pay a visit.
Joe Chill's little suburban cottage. A dark figure with green fire on its hand drops from the sky and lights on the street in front, walks around to the kitchen door. Joe is seated at the table, drinking bourbon from a pint bottle.
The Green Lantern tells his ring to open the door, and not to be gentle about it.
The green fire lashes out at the door, bounces away harmlessly.
Of course. The door is wooden. His ring doesn't work against anything made of wood. He doesn't know why. Green Lantern steps forward and opens it himself, with his foot. Chill turns his head.
"You," says Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, his voice as cold as the cold green fire on his finger, "You killed them."
Chill stands up, knocking the kitchen chair over. "I -- No, I didn't -- I ..."
"Yes," says the Green Lantern, stalking slowly toward the frightened man. "I know. I know." He holds up his hand, the ring's terrible power throbbing there. "THIS told me. It never lies. You can't lie."
Chill is perspiring freely. His eyes are wide and moist. "I didn't -- I didn't MEAN to.... I only wanted to ..."
The Green Lantern grabs Joe Chill by his shirtfront, popping off a button. "I don't care what you meant or what you wanted. You killed two people."
Chill finds a small spark of defiance somewhere in his soul. "You -- You can't PROVE anything. The gun was cold, and it's gone now. It doesn't exist any more. No one saw me but the kid and he's just a kid. You got nothing to take to the cops."
The Green Lantern laughs and Joe Chill almost empties his bladder. "Cops? No, no cops," he says in a conversational tone. "Just me and you." He tightens his grip on the shirt, raises his other hand, his ring hand, to Chill's eyes. "And this." The little kitchen is painted green with the light.
"I can do anything I want to," he continues, releasing his hold on Chill's shirt. "But first, I'll show you how I did it in the old days, before I learned what this ring could really do."
The Green Lantern hits Joe Chill in the face. Only moderately hard to begin with, but enough to knock him off his feet.
"Get up," says the Lantern. Chill does, slowly, blood and small fragments of broken tooth dripping onto the linoleum from his puffed-out lower lip. The Lantern hits him again, a bit harder this time, blood splatters in an arc over the floor and table. The rest of the broken tooth goes. Chill goes down again.
"Get UP!" says the Green Lantern, hauling Chill to his feet once again. He holds the man by the shoulders, stares into his eyes. "Now, you son of a bitch, you're going to tell me WHY. WHY did you shoot them?"
Chill's jaw moves, he spits blood onto the floor between the Lantern's feet.
"Got scared. Th' guy, he KNEW me, knew my name. Seen him in Metropolis, YEARS ago. Lost m' head, pulled th' damn trigger. Goddammit, I wish I didn't do it!"
"That doesn't answer my question. WHY?"
"MONEY, goddammit," Chill says through terribly swollen lips. "The hell you THINK? Wife's havin' a kid, and I lost m' damn JOB!"
"Lost your JOB!" grits the Lantern. "That's your excuse? You lost your JOB?"
"YES!" screams Chill, defiant again, "I lost m' JOB! What does that mean to YOU? Guy with a damn magic ring. Drove a truck f'r five damn YEARS f'r Ajax an' I lost my JOB 'cause the company sold out and nobody'll hire me."
"Truck ..." The Green Lantern loosens his grip on Chill's shoulders, allows him to stand by himself. "Who ... bought the company?" Silence. "TELL me! WHO bought out the company?"
Chill wipes blood from his face with the back of a hand. "Goddamn outfit called Kinestra Investments. Bought Ajax then turned around and closed up, gonna sell the trucks an' th' warehouse to someone else."
Now the Green Lantern is silent. Alan Scott is silent, and he can hear his own heart beating in his chest, beneath the red shirt he wears, the red shirt that won't show the blood of Joe Chill spattered on it.
Kinestra Investments. A wholly owned subsidiary of the Gotham Broadcasting Corporation.
"No," says Alan Scott, eyes narrowing behind his purple mask, "NO, this isn't MY fault, you can't turn it around on ME like this."
Joe Chill, squinting into the angry face, puzzled. "Th' hell you TALKING about?"
Alan Scott grabs Joe's shirtfront again, pulls him close. "You're SCUM. You're GARBAGE. Killing people -- " The ring flares, illuminating the little kitchen. "I'm going to ..."
From the kitchen doorway, a woman's voice, frightened but strong. "Joe? Honey? What -- ?"
POV: We are peeking over BARBARA CHILL'S shoulder, looking at the scene in the kitchen, seeing what she sees. Her husband in the grip of a fiend. Green light, green fire. A terrible thing clutching at Joe's chest, killing him. She SCREAMS, takes a step forward.
In this moment, the ring does something its wearer has not willed it do to -- it takes from Barbara Chill's mind the image of him as she sees him now and shows it to him: a cold, arrogant monster, as terrible and bloody-minded as Solomon Grundy, the Shade or Per Degaton ever were.
Still reeling from what he has just seen, Green Lantern turns his head just in time to see a short and very pregnant young woman slip on a little puddle of blood, lose her footing and land hard on her buttocks. She flops over onto her back, head striking the floor, crying like a small child.
Scott releases her husband and sprints over to Barbara's side, using his ring to check her vital signs and those of her baby.
"You're okay," he tells her, "and your baby's fine, too. But you should still ..."
"GET OUT!" The ring is supposed to automatically protect him from harm, but Barbara Chill's small white hand catches him hard across the jaw, almost knocking him over.
"Ma'am," he says, righting himself, "I don't ...You -- "
"JOE! CALL THE POLICE! GET THIS THING OUT OF OUR HOUSE!!!"
"Please, ma'am, I can help you. I can ..."
Joe Chill's hand on his shoulder. He speaks softly to his recent tormentor. "Please, man," he says. "Just go now. I'll take care of her. You can come back later, do whatever you want. You can take me to the cops or ... whatever. I won't run and I won't fight you. But let me take care of my wife. PLEASE."
The Green Lantern just nods dumbly and takes his leave.
Joe Chill will spend every day of the rest of his life wondering if today is the day the Green Lantern will come back for him.
In spite of the summer heat, young Bruce Wayne has built a large fire in the main drawing room at Wayne Manor. He is now master of this house, and may do as he wishes. The smell of burning plastic fills the room as the boy, still dressed in the suit he wore to his parents' funeral, feeds his toys to the fire. Green Lantern burns in effigy time and again.
"My word!" exclaims Alfred, rushing into the room. "Whatever are you doing, Master Bruce?"
"Getting rid of some things I don't need," the boy says blandly.
Alfred wrings his hands, afraid for the boy's sanity.
Alan Scott's ringless fingers, working quickly, solder shut the small metal container. Later on today, he will take it to his bank and place it in his safe deposit box, until ... Well, just until.
For the time being, at least, he intends to stop playing with fire. He needs to keep a closer eye on what his companies are doing. It's the only proper role for a man of his age.
And he has still other concerns. He has learned that Thomas Wayne, in a very recent codicil to his will, has made Alan Scott one of the administrators in charge of his estate. Plans for the Wayne Foundation will proceed.
He stands up from behind his desk, walks to the ornate fireplace on one wall, and, in spite of the summer heat, builds a fire. Once it is sufficient to the task, he feeds it from a brown grocery bag. A red shirt, a purple cape, green leotards, a purple mask.
His secretary, drawn by the aroma of burning cloth, enters.
"Mister Scott! What -- What are you doing?"
"Getting rid of some things I don't need," the man says blandly. "That will be all, Miss Needham."
"Yes sir ..."
"Is this really, ABSOLUTELY necessary, sir?"
Bruce Wayne pulls the cowl over his head. When he speaks his voice is hard and cold. His true voice, Alfred realizes with a shudder. The voice, the persona of Bruce Wayne are the disguise, not this hideous mask. "Yes," he says shortly.
"There must be something else, sir," Alfred Pennyworth implores. "This is ... It is madness, sir. There, I've said it. Your father, your mother, they don't blame you for what happened. No one does except for yourself, sir."
"This isn't about blame, Alfred. This is about keeping other people safe. This is the best thing I know to do."
Alfred shakes his head. "Your father would not want this for you, sir. Bruce. Please."
"I'm sorry, Alfred. Thank you for your concern." Pulling on the black gauntlets. "I don't know what my father would want. Whatever I do ... Whatever I do, it will never be good enough."
Alfred sighs. "Thomas Wayne died many years ago, sir. And, forgive me for saying it, I sometimes feel that BRUCE Wayne did so that night as well."
A moment of silence from the inhuman figure. Then he -- IT turns to regard its factotum with blank eyes.
"No, Alfred," says the Bat slowly, "that was the night I was born."
"That," says Alfred without flinching, "is precisely what I mean, sir."
The Bat may or may not nod slightly before it gets into the absurd, supercharged automobile and tears out of the underground cave. Alfred turns and ascends the steps to Wayne Manor.
"He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. ... and one fine morning -- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." -- from The Great Gatsby