Batman: Ornamental | Issue 9 – Catwoman and Robin by Drew Van Dyke

Image source: Korina Hunjak, of Croatia. (Their work can be found at https://korinahunjak.com/.)


“Wayne Enterprise stock prices continue their unprecedented nosedive….”

            Static. “BUY! BUY! BUY!”

Static. “…down another 12 cents today…”

*     *     *

Her boot slams the pedal to the floor.

“I’ll take land.”

*     *     *

Static. “…following news that billionaire company owner Bruce Wayne has, once again, come up missing…”

            Static. “…missed multiple engagements…”

*     *     *

In a jet of flame, the Catwoman burns her tires.

*     *     *

Static. “…insiders say the company’s shareholders are expected to present a vote of ‘no confidence’ at next month’s quarterly board meeting…”

            Static. “SELL! SELL! SELL!”

            Static. “ongoing issues…”

            Static. “…previously vacated duties…”

*     *     *

“We can ride with you,” Dick says.

*     *     *

Static. “…no bylaws regarding ownership transfer to an adopted ward…”

*     *     *

 “No, flyboy,” she says. “I need you overhead…”

*     *     *

Static. “…know, he could be on some Siberian—”

“Hal.”

“What? Like, a cruise or something!”

“An…expedition, Hal?”

“You might be right; but hell, he could also be dead in a ditch or chopped up in a barrel at the bottom of Gotham Bay, for all we know, Vicki…”

*     *     *

Leaves claw marks down the man-made earth.

Grins over at Barbara. “Both of you.”

*     *     *

Static. “…disappeared…]

*     *     *

Jason kicks the starter. Revs the throttle. As the motorbike engine vibrates the seat beneath him, he eyes the helmets to his right. 

*     *     *

Static. “…disappeared…”

*     *     *

Red and black. 

A perfect pair. 

A perfect pair. 

A perfect pair…

*     *     *

Static. “…gone.”

Issue 9 – Catwoman and Robin

{DOWNTOWN GOTHAM CITY. NOW.}

Catwoman is out of the car before Jason arrives. She’s killed the fire. She is approaching the building as wind-song; as a vagrant chime. She is invisible, save for the low, uneven clap of her heels that approach the building, pass the front entranceway, leap and cartwheel up the shadows of the hallway, through a streetlamp puff, to a faux brick wall, to a ramp that veers down the side of the building – runs along it, parallel.

            “Huh,” he pulls up to the alleyway. Pulls off the helmet. Shrugs his shoulders. “Honestly…fair enough.” Lets it rest on back the seat and looks around and above him before he follows behind.

            When he comes upon her again, she is bent near-double. Her claws are extended, but in attack. Jason sees her ear press up against the false wall. Her metal tips dance across an uncovered access panel, searching codes for just the right sound.

            He clears his throat. Taps his foot as the time ticks by. “So…um…”

            “Yeah, Jay-bird?”

            “How ya doin’, there?”

            “Been better.”

            He points at the control panel. “No, um…that.”

            “Like I said: been…” She strains her ear – presses herself harder against the wall. “…better.”

            Jason nods. “You know—?”

            “What, Jay-bird?”

            Stands up a bit taller. “—I’m a bit of a locksmith, myself—”

            Her fingers are flying over the keypad, now

            “—and maybe I could—?”

            “No.” The taps begin to come with stops. They start and stop at odd intervals. They become more…

…Rhythmic? he thinks.

“Is that the beat to…?”

She rips the panel from the wall, dislodging multiple wires from their circuits in small blue and gold sparks. Smiles as a door behind them slides up, revealing the secured access to the New Iceberg Lounge PLUS. 

“’Rockin’ Robin,’” Selina says. “Oswald’s actually quite a fan of yours.” Shifts her night-vision goggles down over her eyes. “Use that as you will.”

*     *     *

{GOTHAM NARROWS. ONE HOUR LATER.}

“Hot…Rods…?”

            Jason and Selina look up at the flashing phosphorescent sign over the sliding garage door. Roaring flames under a chrome skull and two welding torches set up perpendicular to look like a pirate’s Jolly Roger. They look at each other.

            “Come on!” Jason says. Throws both arms up at the sign. “HOT Rods?”

            “Hey, this is the address Mayor Cobblepot gave to you,” Selina says.

            “Former Mayor,” Jason says. “And politicians lie. It’s what they’re best at.”

            “Ah, but Penguin was a mob boss long before that.”

“Oh, yeah!” Jason says, feigning delight. “That totally makes it better!”

She doesn’t answer. They look between one another again.

            A siren whimpers four blocks down. A crash. Breaking glass and mixed and molted brick dust. The city’s toe clippings, scattered about.

A light breeze lets the hanging white letters for the slummed Dumas Drive yawp; howl. The siren stops. Jason looks back down at the slip of paper in his hands.

“I mean… I guess it’s a fair cover,” he says. Shrugs his shoulders. Squints up and around, hands on hips. “Fire esc—?”

            She cuts him off. Points. “Fire escape.”

            “Uh huh.” Bends his head around to the left. “See a… basement window…? And…”

            “We could always just knock,” she says. Looks down at her black claw nails. Adjusts the utility belt across her torso like a band of battalion artillery.

            “Vent ducts, maybe?”

            “Mmm.”

            “Yeah. Too… loud.” He taps his metal sole on the concrete. Traces shapes in the blown trash with his toe. “Oh, OH! Secret door! Does he have one of those, too?”

            Selina unfurls her whip.

“Let’s do the fire escape,” she says.

They climb the urban jungle on swaying metal branches, rust-bark coming free in their grasp. On top of the world, the wrappers play out like some rainbow autumn canopy – dead and dying, changed, falling away.

*     *     *

{HOT RODS AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR SHOP. MINUTES LATER.}

Selina’s goggles click – glow neon green over Jason’s shoulder, then a crackling fire orange. She points across the pitch-black garage – points to the deep blue and black object she sees moving by infrared around the wall, dulled, in the next room.

            “What?” Jason hisses. He quickly crouches down, low to the floor.

            She points again.

            “Yes,” Jason says. “It’s…um…the dark.”

            The blue mass shifts and bubbles outward in a thin line. Selina puts a finger to her lips, then points again. Puts a finger to her ear, taps, then points.

            “Sounds liiiiiiiiike…?”

            A leaking pipe pushes red heat out at the darkness in a crying thread on the righthand side. She groans, shakes her head. Crosses her arms in front of her chest, but the young boy is looking up at her, head cocked and just so damned innocent. She rolls her eyes beneath the goggles, and wraps her arms around her tighter; pretends to shiver.

“…Freeze?” Jason says. “Sounds like ‘freeze’…? Is it…Mister Freeze?”

            A clattering comes from inside the next room – the sound of an individual raised at a rather hurried pace. A sound of hurried startle. From what Selina can make out, it is inanimate black – the man’s workbench; the clattering, his ricocheted tripod stool. Standing, it is more humanoid – the figure – with a place for elbows and ankles; all of seven humanoid feet – four wide – with a thick, dark circle in a blue halo, like a dead-light bulb, atop the shoulders.

She brings her fingers around the belt still hung about her person.

  “Yes, Jay-bird,” she says, rather rushed. “It is Mr. Freeze.” The shadow limbs move in some alien manner; turn and bend now, scooping and thrusting like pieces of laboured construction equipment.

            Calculated.

            Rolling on ball bearings and chains and wire…like a crane had taken some spider to mate – birthed this hulking abomination.

            “Knew it,” Jason says. Not even looking, he launches his grapple gun through the doorway with a grin. (The sound of it go gives Selina flinch.) As the lumbering metal giant comes to view in between the frame, the Boy Wonder hits the button, kicks away, and, with a backward yank, throws his whole bodyweight through the brilliant, glistening kneecaps of Victor Fries, like a fist through two crooked, teetering front teeth, screaming out war noises the entire way.

Held up in his two timid, shaking palms, the handgun flees Freeze’s steely grip for the black air upon initial strike – bounces off the sidewall of his shop and then from the floor like a child’s rubber ball. About the tip of the barrel comes a sudden violent cracking – a vibrant blue radiance that lights the whole dreary space from corner to drawer and knob and ceiling – and then the darkness steals it back and a cold white line sprouts like an alchemic vine, and the temperature in the room dips 10 immediate degrees. The ice grows thick, roaring, over Selina’s shoulder and head, and spreads the elements all over the back wall as it spins to a stop, covering the entire way from which they had just come.

Sealing them inside with the beast.

            From her dip, Selina hits a hard roundoff, and ducks her toes just below the still-shot beam. Takes to sprinting in a wide semi-circle as Jason rips free of his own guide rope – leaves it hanging sideways from the wall – and takes a pair of brass knuckles from the slot on his belt. He flips up onto the man’s chest and let his hands cascade down upon Freeze’s hollow frame, throwing out deep vibrations like heavy cymbal clatter.

            “I’M,” he says.

            “Rah!” Freeze says.

            “MISTER,” he says.

            Freeze swings his arms up like a backed turtle, trying to shove the boy away. Jason easily bats them back, and continues his onslaught.

            “HEAT,” he says. “MISER.”

            Selina slides by the pair and claps her heels down just behind the spewing freeze-ray for traction, inside the workroom. The steel screws hold. She stands for a moment, flexing her hands and looking around the weapon for the best angle from which to approach.

            Jason’s hands birth deep dents in the armour, and Freeze gasps and struggles more.

“St—…–op!”

Jason does not stop.

            “I’M,” he says.

            Selina cracks her knuckles. She pauses. She reaches for the handle.

            “MISTER,” he says.

            In one last, desperate attempt, Mr. Freeze collects his waning bits of strength and mechanized power to grab hold of the boy.

            “SUUUUUUUUUUUUN!” Jason shouts, as the villain heaves him across the room, and into the eye of the forming glacier.

            Just as he falls through the gun’s sight line, Selina’s finger detaches the stuck trigger, and she raises the weapon at Freeze.

            Jason collides with the ice wall.

            “Ow,” he says.

  “Don’t move!” she shouts, as Freeze leans up on his elbows and tries to bump out the claustrophobic caves in his hull. His arms move slowly – weighed down by the excess gravity, like the action is, in some way, a new or foreign concept to his body. He rolls over onto his knees. He leans up on his workbench for support, and begins to push himself upright.

            “Vic, I said don’t move!”

            There is a rustling back in the shadows.

“I think you mean—” Jason says, and he limps over to stand beside her, his discarded grapple gun in-hand. “Ow,” he says again. He presses the retraction button, and the line, the hook, and a (sizeable) piece of dislodged wall concrete all come barreling back from under the villain’s legs, knocking him, again, to the ground with a shout. “—freeze.” When the hook reaches the barrel, Jason knocks it against his hip, dislodging the bits of rock, then blows off the talon, spins it once upon his finger, and clips it securely at his side.

Freeze roars in anger – falls about in a rage as he, again, takes to his feet, where he presses at a hidden button on his wrist. The gun flies from Selina’s fingertips and rests back comfortably in his own, outstretched. He just holds the barrel, shakily, pointed between the two heroes. His finger grazes the trigger. His breathing is ragged – a quaking clatter of adrenalized lungs that cannot find enough air to satiate him.

“I…HAVE DONE NOTHING…WRONG!” Freeze screams after some time – his booming voice muffled ‘neath the seal of his shatterproof bathysphere. “You must assume that, because I was nearby when some tragedy occurred, that I was the one who forged it. That prejudice simply cannot stan—!”

            “Vic, please,” Jason says. “Just…chill.”

            “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” Freeze slams his mechanized arms clean through the solid oak table. In the increasing blue hue emanating from his suit, they can see shrapnel rain down upon the dull concrete like hailstones.

“Maybe lay off him just a bit, Robin!” Selina says.

“Your welcome is growing rather—!”

            “—cold?” Jason says, and shoots his grapple again – this time, through the ceiling – soaring into the air on the wings of his yellow sun cape, as though daring the man to chase after with a line of ice.

            Freeze looks for a moment to catch the bait – his eyes down the sight follow the boy in a looping arc, leaving Selina un-watched, grabbing for a smokebomb on her new chest adornment. 

But then Freeze sighs, and he hangs his head. He turns and slumps down onto the floor. Slowly collecting the pieces of his crumbling desk around him, he arranges them neatly onto his lap. Stares at them.

            “—tired,” he says, dejectedly.

            Jason still hangs by one arm from the ceiling, and he exchanges a look of worry with Selina. She closes the flap on the utility belt. The boy pushes the button on his gun, and slowly, is lowered back to the earth.

            “You mean,” Jason says, when his feet hit the ground, “you don’t want to send us back to the Ice Age?”

            “That is rather…impossible,” Freeze says. “My field of study is genetic engineering, not quantum physics. I would rather like to maim you in some way, though, Boy Wonder, because you are…how do they put it?”

            “Dashing?” Jason says.

            “Short?” Selina says.

            “Annoying,” says Mr. Freeze. “But what good would that do anyone in the current situation?”

   “Good call,” Selina says.

“Thanks, guys,” Jason grumbles.

“I’m working on anger management with my Arkham therapist,” Freeze says. “It is what always seems to get me into the most trouble – my temper. Most other times, I am – dare I say it? – a rather fun person to be around.”

            “You dared, alright,” Jason says.

            “It is how I came to be like this, you know,” Freeze says. “Purely anger.”

            “And all that lighter fluid, but yes.”

            The man looks up from his pile of matchsticks – turns his entire trunk toward the boy, so that his head can face him. His brow furrows over red spectacles in confusion.

            “I…do not follow,” he says, slowly.

            “The night you got caught rerouting power from the Wayne Enterprise building…well…that first time,” Selina says.

            “Before you attacked the city,” Jason continues, “when you blew up Harvey Dent’s narc squad? Ringing any silver bells, here, Father Christmas?”

            Freeze shook his head. “Is that the reason why you are here?” he says. “World’s Greatest Detective may be a bit of a stretch…My thing is ice, as you have so readily pointed out, child.” He begins to sort the pieces, filling them in like a puzzle. The motion is quick, like a savant on his Rubik’s Cube. When he finishes, he pulls up his gun. Jason reaches for his belt, but Selina waves him off; points for him to watch. The mechanical man gently pulls the trigger – lets out a fine stream of chemicals that bind the table grains back into place; then he holds that solid piece up from his spot, cross-legged, on the ground, and carefully freezes it back into the tabletop from beneath. The finish is seamless. “Why-ever would I resort to something so rudimentary as a weaponized incendiary?”

            Jason’s mouth is agape. He quickly rights it with his hand. “Maybe you were…angry,” he says.

            “Maybe,” Freeze says. Raises his finger. “No. I shall rephrase: ‘Most definitely.’ I am not to cross hairs. It is a better way of dealing with my emotions, my therapist says: to face them head-on, with no excuses—”

            “Cool,” Jason says.

            “Yes, indeed,” he says. Grins at the boy. “Very cool.”

“Buuuuuut…?” Jason says.

            “Yeah, Vic,” Selina says. “Not really sitting on an all-day situation, here. Did you blow up the damn building or not?”

            “Well, of course not,” he says, motioning down to his shining chrome suit. “That explosion confined me to this monstrosity when it took my Nora from me. Why in the hell would I want any of that?”

            “Maybe you were angr—”

            “Hush, Little Wing,” Selina hisses.

            Jason crosses his arms.

            “He is…fine,” Freeze says. “Sold me with that rather clever ‘Father Christmas’ line.”

            “Don’t encourage him.”

            Freeze nods. “My anger is what caused me to attack our fair city. But, see: there has to be a cause before there is an effect, yes?” He stares down the end of his frost pistol. “I always assumed it was Harvey Dent who set the explosives. Nora was the only living person who ever understood me – who could ever put up with my…who could get past my…” He stops. Taps it on the front of his helmet glass. The blue light fades slowly back. “Let’s just say, the man in question always loved his comeuppance narratives.”

            “But blowing up his own men in the process?” Jason says. 

“Yeah,” Selina says. “Harv’s dumb, but I don’t buy it.”

  “Chess pieces,” Freeze says. Waves his hand, searching for the word: “Pawns, a narcissist might say.”

            “And that makes you, what?” Jason says. “The king?”

            “Perhaps, so. I do move rather little.” He chuckles, then looks up to Selina and Jason. His jovial grin drops away. “But I wasn’t the only one there that night, now, was I?”

*     *     *

{GOTHAM CITY LIMITS. LATER.}

“So, his excuse is willful ignorance,” Dick’s voice comes through the multi-com. 

Holy willful ignorance,” Jason corrects him, as the cycle zips sideways, then intentionally hops a raised curb, up onto the sidewalk.

“Super.”

“I believe Vic when he says something like that,” Selina chimes in. “He has absolutely no reason to lie about this.”

“Other than being a hardened criminal,” Jason says. “No biggie. Just maybe he’s a pyro. The guy tried to take down the city once. What’s a couple police goons?”

“Sounding a bit cowardly and superstitious over there, Little Wing,” Dick says.

Barbara cuts them off: “Okay, we’ll table Freeze for now. But he hasn’t told you what we’ve found on our end yet. Pretty spooky stuff, actually…”

“It was all Barb,” Dick says. “She’s a real wiz when it comes to checking records.” Barbara tells him to ‘stop it’ offline, blushing.

“A holy real wiz?” Jason says.

“Lip-zip, Jay-Bird,” Selina says. “And get back on an actual road.”

Jason mouths the words “an actual road” in a disgusted mask of grimace, and veers around a parked taxi, into a lane of oncoming traffic. He bypasses several honks and a shaken fist, and waves back to them friendlily.

“Yeah, so,” Barbara says, “we—” Dick points to her. She shoves him away. “—I did a cross-reference of the men assigned to Dent’s detail the night of the Freeze bust with the current GCPD roster. Turns out…none of them work for the department anymore.”

“Interesting,” Selina says, “if not entirely unsurprising, considering.”

“Oh, it gets better,” Dick says.

“So I did individual searches for each person,” Barbara says. “Turns out…there are missing persons reports on each and every one of them.”

“An evidence wipe!” Jason says.

“A holy evidence wipe,” Dick snickers.

“Thank you!” Jason says. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for that…”

Selina redirects them. “So, they’re all on the lam. Doesn’t paint a good picture for… well… literally any one of the people involved.” 

“Yeah, if you’re missing long enough in Gotham, you’re pretty much just dead,” Jason says. Shakes his head. “…just like Shoehand Sam.”

“Is there a story behind this guy,” Barbara says, “or—?”

“Nah,” Jason says. “He was basically just my hero. And he smelled like cabbages.”

“The missing individuals?” Selina says. She shifts down a gear. Sits in the late-night traffic. Lets the car gargle like an empty belly. “Were their reports filed sporadically, or—?”

“Ah, a woman who asks the right questions,” Barb says. “I can see why Bruce likes—” She pauses, noticing her mistake. “—liked…you.” She clears her throat. “They were all filed within three weeks of one another.”

“How many on the squad?” she says.

“Seven.”

“Wait wait wait,” Jason says. “Seven guys on duty with one another at one point go missing – seven cops – and nobody notices a thing? Does that not strike anyone as…um…wrong?”

“Well…” Barb says. “Let’s just say that I’ve heard dad talk about each and every one of them before. And he doesn’t make a habit of talking about good guys when he’s at home…”

“Still, though…”

“Some still worked on the force, but were suspended at the time,” Dick interjected. “Some were kicked off the force long ago. Some quit, and were working elsewhere. One of them was living at the local men’s shelter.”

“And the timetable,” Jason says.

A pause. “Right before Harvey’s death,” Barbara says. “Picked off, one-by-one.”

The light changes, and cars begin moving again. Selina pumps the clutch and rolls the stick back. Heaves forward with a guttural pitch.

“That doesn’t look too good for our old buddy Vic, does it?” Jason says. “Whole bunch of ice chips go missing, then the ice cube, then toppling the iceberg? All associated to the night his wife was murdered, and he was confined to that metal lung—?”

“Alright,” Selina says, suddenly. “That’s enough for tonight.” The coms grow quiet. “Go home. We’ll pick this up tomorrow…” 

She cuts their lines entirely to the Batmobile, just a suddenly. Knowing she can’t be known in her part of town with the car, she cruises the rest of the way to Wayne Manor in low gear – goes back by the longest route she knows to take. Denies herself the inevitable sight of possible stragglers in the cave, and the detachment of a quick return. She just sits in her grief. 

Sits, and ponders it all.

*     *     *

{WAYNE MANOR. LATER THAT NIGHT.}

“Holy hairpins, Batman.”

Jason shakes his wet hair and looks down the hallway – left, then right, then left again – like he is crossing a busy roadway. He has only barely muttered the phrase the first time. He clears his throat, then takes a step closer to the door. 

“Totally not dumb, Jason. Totally. The clues were all there. You just followed them and…” Says it again – louder, faster this time: “Holy…HOLYHAIRPINSBATMAN.”

The latching mechanisms click and whirl, and the door shifts in its hinges, falling back, and granting him access to the master bedroom.

“Took you long enough, Chum,” says the voice from within – a free grin over muted television screens that kept blinking, flipping between the various local and national news stations.

A shadow on the precipice, Jason quickly shuts the door behind him, then runs, full-tilt, at the bed, and its occupant: a slightly-bandaged, wholly-smirking, and very-much-alive Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy. 

The small boy leaps up onto the bed, and wraps my neck in a hug he must have known would hurt me, wetting my stubbled cheek with his rolling tears of anger and joy.

“And you’re not a ghost, or a robot, or a clone, or an alien, or a creepy doll, or a zombie, or Alfred in a costume, or your evil twin brother, right?” he says.

“No,” I say. I hold him. God, I hold him so very close. “Mostly…just…choking,” I laugh, pulling him back a bit, “and missing you.” Jason curls up into a ball on my lap, and I wince at the pressure on my still-fresh, searing wounds. His eyes are heavy from the night, but I point to the screens in front of us. Hand him a folder from the bedside table. 

“Shall we have a nap?” I ask him. “Or shall we solve this case?” 

TO BE CONTINUED…

in BATMAN: ORNAMENTAL 

Issue 10 – Finality, Part 1 


C.D. DyVanc currently lives in the Midwestern United States. He is an award-winning journalist, and, in his free time, enjoys jumping out of airplanes, reading comic books, and being the epitome of the living dad joke with his wife and stepson. His works have appeared or are upcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Rue Scribe, Dream Pop Press, and Five:2:One’s #thesideshow. His chapbook, rhi(n.)oceros, won the 2017 Midwest Chapbook Contest, and is currently available through Greentower Press. You can find his horrible use of GIFs on Twitter (@CDDyVanc), if you’d like. 

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