DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm trying a little something different with this piece in that instead of "chapters," you'll get "issues" of particular comic books [albeit slightly outside the current DCU continuity]. Each comic will naturally be from a particular character's point of view, with all of it moving in a coherent arc. It also builds in some wiggle room for me so I can have "stand alone" issues that may not necessarily advance the plot, but do flesh out character. But I've tried to set it up so that if you have no idea who most of these people are, you can still follow along and (hopefully) enjoy it. Sex/Violence Warnings: I recently discovered that (canonically) Gotham City has a Hedonist Society. All of these women are skilled fighters and are usually armed to the teeth. So, the answer to those warnings is "Yes" and "Yes." If necessary, more detailed warnings will accompany each individual issue.
SPOILERS: Just call it post-"Final Crisis: Revelations," pre-"The Return of Bruce Wayne" with none of Renee's Second feature stuff in "Detective Comics" or a reunited (comic-verse) "Birds of Prey."
FEEDBACK: Welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Gotham Again: Issue #0
By Sharon Bowers
The harsh cacophony pressed its advantage from all sides-- sirens and horns strafed her ears, exhaust and carbon dioxide stung her nostrils, reverberations from helicopters above and subways below rattled through her lean frame. All the stuff of everyday life in this urban landscape. Driving rain pounded against her until she entered the tenement, soaking through clothing to flesh and adding a layer of stultifying humidity to an already oppressive heat. Passersby had kept their eyes averted as they hurried along their way, not even bothering with a muttered excuse when they brushed against her. Everyone here knew that a wrong word, even an apologetic one, could lead to a beating or even worse from a stranger. And sometimes, on bad days, even from a friend. Used to be there were unwritten rules-- the freaks and the one who hunted them all wore costumes and came out only at night. Not any more. Now evil lived and breathed here constantly in all its most banal states-- so much so that the freaks had been forced to take their games up a notch or two just to get noticed. All the cops at Kelly's had raised a round in celebration the night the Riddler had been bumped from the lead on the nightly news by someone whose face they could actually see during the perp walk. The celebration had turned into a wake as one-by-one they realized the citizens were now doing it to themselves. No costumes or capes needed. She'd like to think that No Man's Land had been their crucible, the conflagration that had changed everything. Daughter of the city that she was, however, she knew better. The crime, the violence, the corruption-- hell, even the rain-- it was all a part of Gotham. Always had been.
And now here she was again.
"I'll take it," Renee Montoya said brusquely, holding out a sheaf of bills in one hand. while hefting her knapsack higher on her shoulder with the other. Slivers of water were still dripping from the brim of her hat, and she felt like she was being parboiled in her leather jacket. No matter though, she wasn't about to take the thing off. Giving the horny old goat in front of her a free wet tank top show would do nothing to enhance her mood-- which was already something more than irritable but still slightly less than violent. If the bastard didn't hand her the keys in a minute, that very well might change.
The super looked her over once more, his eyes saying things that would earn him a broken jaw if his mouth were stupid enough to utter them. She returned his appraisal with a derisive glare of her own and a cock of her head that seemed to settle the books for him. Her column was checked: predator not prey. "Third floor, first one on the hall on the left," he finally said, jerking his thumb towards the stairs. "You'll haveta take them, there ain't no elevator."
"Color me surprised," she replied dryly, exchanging her cash for a set of keys she wouldn't be using past the length of time it took her to purchase new locks. The super would be pissed, but she didn't exactly care. She had more important things besides her underwear that she didn't want him riffling through.
After the nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine steps it took to reach the monks at Nanda Parbat, three flights up rickety tenement stairs were nothing, and in no time at all Renee was up them and into the two rooms of squalor that were now her home. It remained to be seen just how long she would be staying.
She had left Gotham over two years ago with the intention of never coming back, told herself that she was chasing the Dark Faith only to stop them, to protect her lover Kate who was her lover no longer and who, if she were being honest with herself, didn't need her protection any longer. If she ever had in the first place. She had been back in town for less than a day and had already heard whispers that the signal in the night wasn't just for Him any more.
She shrugged off the thought, leaving it on the floor beside her battered jacket. She took a bit more care with the fedora, however, gently shaping it back into its proper form before settling it to dry out on a cock-eyed table. The table was accompanied by two equally precarious looking chairs that she supposed marked some sort of demarcation between the kitchen and the living room. A hot plate and an ice box of dubious origin staked one end of the room while a couch with several wicked-looking prongs visible through the cushion marked the other.
All the comforts of an apocalyptic home on a shoestring budget.
Retrieving her knapsack, she discovered that the bedroom was no more inspiring-- tiny and windowless, housing nothing but a mattress and box springs that Renee had no intention of resting upon. She didn't have overly high standards and sleeping raw on the snow-covered ground might have been cold and hard, but at least it was cleaner than this. She sighed, dropping her bag on its surface and rummaging through it until she pulled out a towel and some clothes that were not completely soaked. Then she stepped through the doorway into a bathroom that would have been laughable were it not so squalid. It took her less than a second to take it all in. Present and accounted for were a sink, toilet and shower stall, all with just enough room to turn around in. She thanked a random Higher Power-- because who knew what or who was in charge Up There anymore these days-- that there was a half a roll of toilet paper left. Added that necessity to her mental shopping list. Jagged brackets were all that remained of the mirror, but she didn't mind. She had confronted herself in so many places and in so many ways over the last few years her reflection no longer mattered-- she had looked from the inside out and knew that the Self behind the eyes was so much more important than anything else. That first answer had only paved the way for so many more questions.
She turned on the water in the shower stall and stripped off her clothes impatiently, not seeing the random scars-- some old, some new, some healed by means best not thought about-- that were scattered across her muscled flesh. As she waited for the water to run clear, she ran a hand through her soaked reddish brown hair, pushing loose tendrils away from her face. The short, tousled cut suited the indignities that the weather and the nature of her business inflicted on her far better than the longer length she had worn since she was a girl, but she still hadn't quite gotten used to it. Growing up, her mother always told her she had beautiful hair and would have brushed it for hours if Renee had allowed her, but no-- Renee was always in a hurry, going up, going out, going somewhere. And her mother so proud of it all.
It had been four years since she had last seen her mother. Four years since the woman who always wanted to brush Renee's beautiful hair told her that her daughter was dead to her. Told her to leave her childhood home and never come back. Obedient daughter that she was, Renee had complied, and the piece of her heart that had been broken had never healed in the aftermath. She had only spoken to her father once in all that time and to her mother, never. But she had never stopped keeping an eye on them. Even at the bottom of the pit she had dug for herself-- so deep and dark it could barely be called a life-- she had made sure that none of the freaks ever touched them again. She had kept only a few contacts in Gotham, but those who remained knew how to find Renee if she were needed. Needed, if not wanted.
Shaking her head to clear the eddies of the past, Renee took a few deep breaths and stepped into the shower, baptizing herself in the waters of Gotham once again.
Now she knew why the Gotham cops called them freaks, Kate Spencer thought, staring through the one-way mirror at the former District Attorney turned well... freak... named Harvey Dent. His name was Two-Face now. To Kate, everyone in this god-forsaken city seemed to have aliases and secret identities, and the irony that she was no exception did not escape her. It was a bit simpler in Harvey's case though. Acid burns smeared one half of his face into that of a monster while the other half remained as smoothly handsome as when he had stood on her side of the mirror. A flip of an equally scarred coin dictated out of which side of his mouth he was going to speak and as often or not whether the person he was speaking to was going to live or die. Monster or man-- who would it be today? Kate took a deep breath and entered the interrogation room.
"Glad to see you survived the fireworks, Ms. Spencer."
Looks like it will be the man, Kate mused before sitting the chair across the table from Dent. Her well-tailored suit-- not Armani but close enough-- was every bit as much a costume as the one she put on at night, and she was just as grateful for its protection. "Indeed, Mr. Dent," she replied calmly, her voice betraying none of the roiling anger in her gut. "Not everyone was so lucky. Too bad you didn't stick around to find out whom." Her case against him had gone ass up when Jane Doe had recanted her testimony against Dent and then compounded the indignity by blowing the damn courtroom up. In the ensuing chaos both Jane and Two-Face had escaped, the latter using his freedom to murder the judge that he himself had bribed and the former... well, who the hell knew? The lesson of that little escapade had been: never trust a woman who literally has no skin. Although, in her defense, she hadn't had much choice in the matter. Jane had murdered the previous District Attorney, and Kate-- as the newly appointed one-- had no desire to share that fate. Harvey-as-mastermind behind the whole thing made perfect sense, except for one small flaw. By believing Jane, Kate had forgotten the cardinal rule.
In Gotham City, nothing made sense.
Picking up the present tense and leaving further ruminations about her adopted city for later contemplation, she offered Harvey an ugly smile. "Care to tell me what you were up to while I was helping haul bodies out of the municipal building?"
"I'm a very busy man, Ms. Spencer. My unfortunate incarceration set back a number of obligations that demanded my immediate attention." His expression was bland enough, if one could ignore the wicked gleam in his left eye that bespoke his madness. "But as you can see, I have surrendered myself to your tender ministrations in order to finish clearing my name. Which I assume will be done posthaste, considering what Ms. Doe shared with us."
What Ms. Doe had shared with them was that Two-face wasn't behind anything, that Black Mask had orchestrated the whole operation-- the extent of which they were still trying to figure out. Further complicating matters was the fact that this Black Mask wasn't the Black Mask than the one everyone knew about because that Black Mask was supposedly dead. Or if he wasn't dead, he sure as hell didn't seem to mind that Jeremiah Arkham had assumed his mantle and was busy implanting chips into the back of the freaks' necks so that they were no longer just freaks but freaks that he could control.
And yes, that Arkham. Arkham Asylum Arkham. Turned out that the guy who was supposed to be fixing the freaks was making them even more bat-shit crazy.
She gave herself a mental shake. She didn't need to get started about Bats and this damned town.
"I'm assuming that's already in motion."
It occurred to her to tell him oh the hell no it wasn't, just to see the look of surprise on his face. She wanted to tell him that far from being a free man, instead new charges were being filed concerning the untimely and grisly death of Judge Van Dyke. Unfortunately, however, only one person would have any way of knowing that Dent was responsible-- and outing herself as the newest vigilante on Gotham's crime-and-cape ridden landscape was not on her current list of things to do. Justice, she had discovered in L.A., was blind. Here, it wasn't just blind; it was deaf, dumb and downright autistic as well. For that reason, Manhunter was going to remain her secret for as long as she could keep it here in Gotham.
Good fucking luck with that, Kate, her inner voice chided.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Dent, it appears so," she confirmed, opening her briefcase and withdrawing the motion papers. "Since you've been serving as your own attorney, I assume you'll want these. Your appearance is scheduled for tomorrow at nine in Judge Router's chambers. I'm sure that's one courtroom you won't want to be escaping." Or judge you won't be murdering, she added to herself. She glanced around at the gray walls of the interrogation room. "I'd say I don't want to see you in these rooms again, but I very much want to, Mr. Dent." She fixed a steady glare on him, forcing herself to remain oblivious to the fact that he was greedily surveying every inch of her face-- from her light green eyes to the lines of her cheekbones and the severe reddish-brown bob that framed them. "And I have a feeling I will." She rose from the uncomfortable chair and snapped her briefcase shut, still refusing to take her eyes off the twisted sneer that covered half the man's skull. "Next time you won't be walking out."
His reply barely reached her ears as the door shut between them. "Looking forward to it, Kate. I can call you Kate, can't I?"
Ignoring the urge to step back through the threshold and kick the living hell out of Dent-- who, when Harvey was home, was more of a thinker than a fighter-- she instead smiled wearily at the man waiting for her on the other side of the walls. "It really is like a mobius strip around here, isn't?"
Police Commissioner James Gordon returned her smile with a slightly less exhausted one of his own. "Seems that way sometimes, doesn't it? Either that or God has His hand perpetually on the re-set button where Gotham is concerned."
"I wouldn't be too hard pressed to believe that, given some of the time-space continuum crap that I've been hearing on the news lately." She didn't want to contemplate the possibility that there were 51 other versions of Gotham City out there in the universe. Dealing with just one was hard enough.
"I've learned not to plan too far into a future that may or may not be there," he agreed, taking her arm and guiding her lightly out of the observation room. On another man, the gesture might have seemed patronizing or presumptuous, but on Gordon it merely seemed courtly and suited the rather Old School air about the man in the same way his snow white hair and mustache did.
"Is it planning too far in advance to ask if we're still on for that drink?" she asked, referring to the invitation she had proffered and he had accepted shortly before the courtroom had exploded yesterday. She wasn't sure on what level he had interpreted her invitation-- hell, she wasn't even sure herself, but there was something about Jim Gordon she liked and trusted. He was certainly different than he ex-husband-- who was admittedly less of an asshole now than he had been when they were married-- and she wanted to get to know the police commissioner better. She knew that he had been widowed during the year Gotham had been rendered-- foolishly, in Kate's opinion-- a No Man's Land. He and his wifealso a police officer-- had been two of those who stayed and tried to maintain some semblance of law and order. For Gordon's trouble, half his cops had mutinied on him and his wife had been murdered by the Joker. The same Joker who had shot and paralyzed his daughter before raping her and taking pictures of the whole sordid mess. She had seen some of those pictures on a snuff website she had shut down when she was an ADA in Los Angeles. If that clown bastard had done even a tenth of that to her son... well, she knew that the wheels of justice wouldn't have begun to turn before she would have put him down. And she wouldn't have worn a mask when doing it either.
"Sounds like a wonderful idea," Jim was saying as they paused by the door for her to retrieve her raincoat. "We're going to miss the Happy Hour prices, but three fingers of Cutty Sark might just wash the taste of this afternoon out of my mouth."
"Think three fingers'll be enough?" she replied, not exactly kidding. Privately she thought a few rounds of 'pound the perp' would be far more effective, and that was exactly what she planned to do later tonight. Providing, of course, she added wryly to herself, It ever stops fucking raining.
The reason she had taken the penthouse-- which was actually three floors deep-- was because of its rooftop access. While the realtor had been marveling at the admittedly spectacular view it offered of the newly rebuilt Gotham, Kate Kane had been thinking of some slightly different benefits. Such as its access to neighboring rooftops. Nothing like easy egress from one's own home at suspect hours of the night in increase a place's curb appeal for her. She was standing on that rooftop now, protected from the downpour outside by the elegant-- and newly bulletproofed-- greenhouse that was the centerpiece but not the only highlight, of the rooftop design. An outdoor kitchen and a recessed band stage practically begged for parties, barbeques and gatherings to be held there. Since Kate had taken up residence, she had played host to more than a few, mostly to keep up appearances. More rarely to simply have a good time. Not this evening, however. Tonight, rain slashed ineffectually at the windows while inside, orchids preened in the climate-controlled environment.
Kate merely waited for another inch of darkness to fall.
In any other city, the weather would be a deterrent to most of the petty crimes that infested all urban landscapes. And maybe tonight it would be no different in Gotham. Those predators weren't, however, what Kate would be seeking this evening. Instead she was hunting for information, and only the men who could provide that would be her prey. Frustrated by time's slow passage, she finished her tea and descended the short spiral staircase to the main floor-- the only floor anyone saw-- of her loft. She had always hated enclosed spaces, even as a child, even before... she shook her head... well even before things better less thought about. Elegant Byobu screens cordoned off her sleeping area and three-quarter walls added privacy to the bathroom and guest room. Not that she'd had many overnight guests there in the five years since she had taken up residence, and the few she did had shared her bed. All of them in fact, except Charlie.
Except Renee. Who had come there to watch over him while he died.
Circumstance and a whacked-out cult called the "Religion of Crime" had brought her first love back into her life. When Renee had first told her about them and their fixation with her-- "the twice named daughter of Cain--" she had scoffed, mentally asking herself, "Who the hell calls themselves the Religion of Crime?" When she had gotten a look firsthand at their shape-shifting followers and their penchant for murder, however, she had started taking it seriously. When they kidnapped her and stabbed her in the heart-- well, that was when she started taking it personally.
Currently the "Dark Faith," as Renee referred to it, was in a state of disarray. Having lost two High Madames in as many years, it wasn't hard to understand why. Recently, however, she had heard rumblings that Intergang-- the actions and operations arm of the church-- was back in Gotham and headed once again by Bruno Mannheim. She didn't know why she should be so surprised to learn that Mannheim had survived the knife Batwoman had buried between his shoulder blades. She had been bleeding out from the sucking wound in her chest at the time, so it hadn't exactly been her best throw. Still, it had been enough to save Renee's life and bought them enough time for Renee to return the favor and get her to a hospital. In the chaos Mannheim had disappeared.
And then so did Renee.
Absently rubbing the scar between her breasts, she contemplated her I-phone. "Must've been up there longer than I thought," she muttered, registering the number of missed calls. Systematically deleting all messages from her stepmother, her cousin Bette, and most of all her father, she stopped only when she came to a number listed as UNAVAILABLE.
"Hi Kate..." She recognized the woman's deep, resonant voice immediately. "It's Maggie Sawyer. We met at the Gala the other night and I had intended to call you sooner, but well..." A light chuckle punctuated her words. "I'm a cop and this is Gotham, so this is the first opportunity I've gotten..."
Kate liked that; Maggie acknowledging the time passage but not apologizing for it.
"I know it's short notice, but I don't get many evenings to call my own. If you're free, I'd like to take you out for a drink tonight. Maybe finish that dance we started..."
An unconscious smile playing over her lips, Kate continued listening to Maggie rattle off a couple of numbers where she could be reached. "Maggie Sawyer..." she murmured. As Captain of Gotham's Major Crimes Unit-- more frequently referred to as the Freak Beat, Maggie's purview was to police and apprehend the worst the city had to offer, and it took a formidable cop to handle that responsibility. In her roles both as a citizen and a cape from what Kate had seen, Maggie was more than up for the task. It didn't take much effort to conjure up a memory of the other woman-- tall and strong, with close-cropped blond hair and intensely blue eyes. That she was also obviously not afraid to make the first move... well, it all sounded good to Kate. Selecting the Call Back option, Kate decided she could use a little good in her life right about now.
"It's not just the five families any more, Huntress..."
"You think I don't know that, Oracle?"
"I'm not calling you stupid..." As if reading the thought bubble over her head even though she was dozens of rooftops away.
Huntress landed with a soft whuff on the adjacent building, her knees flexing to absorb the impact of a three story drop that was as easy for her as skipping down the stairs. "But..." she prodded.
"But you do tend to get a little tunnel-visiony when it comes to the Gotham Underground."
"Did it occur to you..." Grunting in satisfaction as the grapple she had launched anchored itself in the building across the way. "That I might be tunnel-visiony, as you call it, for good reason?" Swinging across the filthy alley far below without a second thought to the fire escape two stories below the roof.
"Is not a word in our vernacular," she interrupted, dropping her voice and cat-footing it up the rusty stairs. "Hold that thought." It was a little earlier than she liked to be out hunting, but in this god-awful weather it was as pitch black as the darkest night, so she figured she might as well finish her sweep as soon as. Apparently she wasn't the only one to whom the idea of getting out of the muck had occurred because her quarry was just over the rooftop ledge, not three feet away and looking as wet and miserable as she felt. Small time gang-bangers barely registered on the freak beat, and usually only then when they were grunt-working for a bad cap. But that was exactly all she had been finding in her patrols lately, and tonight was no exception. Thanks to Arkham's microchips, all the big boys were preoccupied with making sure that their heads didn't play Pop Goes the Weaselwhich in turn should mean that the more traditional families should be jockeying for the vacant places at the trough. But that wasn't happening.
Huntress wasn't much for logic problems, and she still couldn't diagram a sentence to save her life-- even though she had once been an English teacher-- but when things didn't happen with the mob that by rights should happen, she tended to get little worried. Because other things tended to happen to fill the void left.
Things like the massacre of her entire family when she was just a child.
So yeah, maybe she was a little tunnel-visiony when it came to the Underground.
A cross-kick, a couple of backhands, and one leveling of her cross-bow accompanied by a look of malevolent intent scattered the bangers with minimal effort. She supposed she should rope them up-- complete with one of those little smartass Sailors' Knots that Robin liked to use-- but she wasn't feeling particularly generous towards the GCPD this evening. Besides, given that the state of the judicial system in Gotham was even more skewed than usual these days, Huntress figured she was doing everyone a favor.
"Now..." she returned to more pressing matters. "As I was saying..."
"You let them go, didn't you?"
Of course Oracle would want to dot that particular "i." Funny how the most notorious hacker in the world could be such a stickler for the letter of the law. Make that the letters of the law that suited her best. "Oracle..." she ground out.
"Just saying you're going to have to do this all over again tomorrow night, but only from a different rooftop," the voice in her ear replied placidly.
"I've been doing this all over again every night for the last three months," Huntress pointed out. "Ever since the superfreaks started acting well... freaky... even for them. And the five families..."
"Maybe if we knew why they were..."
"I heard Intergang's back."
"Isn't as dead as we'd hoped."
Neither is Batwoman... Huntress started to say before thinking better of it. That was one particular Bat her boss was not fond of at all.
"Is that whack-job cult back with him?" Because really, Gotham did not need any more spiritual conundrums right now.
"Unknown. Why don't you come back to the nest and I can show you what I've come up with so far."
She launched another grapple into the night and began swinging her way back to Oracle's new base of operations. While it didn't have the panache of the old Clocktower, to Huntress, it quite comfortably housed the most important asset of all.
Detective Comics #1
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