Days later, within a fashionable villa above one of the nearly fifty beaches of Marseilles, France, an odd assortment of colorful characters met in what was a very strange convention, even in the seaport city famous for hosting over 140,000 such conferences per year. The large house was an oddity for several reasons. Although it boasted a traditional, if not classical, architectural style, it was clearly very new. No doubt in a city in which twenty percent of the population were under the age of twenty, there was always a desire for the new and the modern, even if it took the slightly incongruous form of an old-style beach chateau.
Gotham gangster Boss Morgan bit down on his cigar as his every move was flanked by two burly goons and a decidedly suave blond man with a more graceful physique. He enjoyed the feeling of power having a gang gave him, and even at a supposedly secure private home, he liked to flaunt his power via a display of hired muscle.
Across from him, curled up seductively on a divan, reclined a strikingly pretty woman with midnight black hair and eyes and a chillingly cold demeanor. She clearly looked upon the American gangster in the same way she might have looked at a disgusting bug. In spite of her stunning petite beauty and elegantly styled clothing, the woman all in black and ermine was more than capable of killing a man like an insect. She was known and feared in France for her ruthless power. She was rumored to control more than half of all gangs in the south of France. Her name was Cecille du Poingniac, but her more infamous nom du crime was La Belle Dame sans Merci — the Beautiful Lady Without Pity.
She stared disdainfully at Morgan through eyelashes that were heavily veiled with mascara and ran one hand across her legs toward her own multi-pocketed belt. She was rumored to carry more than one lethal weapon with the pouches that hung in what could only be called a stylish manner across her hips. She looked with interest at Morgan’s blond hireling, and a very demure smile seemed to play briefly across her lips.
Before she could speak, her host entered and smiled in his customary obsequious manner. He was fat and bald, yet his broad features beamed with warmth and welcome as he spread wide his thick hands and said, “Welcome! Welcome! It does my heart good to see two such notable figures in the business brought together under my humble roof. With this kind of unity, I am hopeful that we may achieve great things. Mademoiselle, you are the a living embodiment of all that is beautiful and noble about the Old World, while Mr. Morgan, here, is certainly the personification of New World ambition and, shall we say, efficiency.”
Boss Morgan grinned and said, “What Gascon, here, means is that we could make beautiful music together. You supply me with heroin, and my organization can distribute it across America at great profits for us all!”
The woman lowered her head, allowing some of her long dark hair to fall forward across one eye. This also masked her expression as she kept her head turned slightly away from Morgan. Thus, he could not see her reaction and was left to his resources to anticipate her feelings. As a crude and egotistic man, he naturally assumed she would be thrilled with attention of the professional and personal kind from a man like himself.
She replied in a deep and throaty tone that seemed as devoid of warmth as her icy gaze. “That remains to be seen. You will kindly submit the details I requested about the mechanics of your operation, and then and only then will we discuss my possible involvement. I do nothing without first taking into account all known factors!”
Morgan cracked his knuckles and said, “Sure, sure! I like a doll with brains. You can look over the facts. My boys put the data together, and I’m sure you’ll find it real interesting bedtime reading!”
“It’s a final resting place you should worry about, you swine! I’ve come a long way to kill you and your foreign allies!” said a muffled voice as a masked figure dropped down through the skylight above.
“The Black Spider! I heard you rubbed out some of my boys! Boss Morgan don’t take kindly to punks messing with his family!” cried the mob boss as he dived between his hired thugs. The portly pair whipped out guns while the blond man crouched ready to spring into action of another kind.
The French woman known as La Belle Dame sans Merci scowled and leaped gracefully away from the divan even as she reached down for her belt pack.
“I know coming here on yer own was a gutsy move, but don’t worry none, my boys will protect ya, too!” said Morgan.
The fat host Gascon looked green with fear as he ran for cover, and the Black Spider laughed coldly. “Anybody who shelters killers like these deserves to die! You should have shown a little of that famous French inhospitality!” he said as he leveled his wrist laser at the running man. The two thugs started to fire their own guns, but the agile moving Spider dodged with phenomenal speed and left them wounded from one another’s weapon fire.
The blond man tackled the Spider before he could fire again, and with an impressive show of strength, he wrestled the purple-clad killer’s arm down and to one side. He pinned his arm to his back and held him in a tight grip that prevented him from firing his wrist-weapon, since it was aimed at his own body.
“Gascon, you promised us security!” said Boss Morgan. “What else did we pay ya for?”
Cecille said, “Oui! The American is right for once!”
Gascon wiped his sweaty brow and said, “And I shall deliver upon my promise. The House of Gascon is more than it seems, as is its owner!” He said, “Allow me to demonstrate why Gascon promises nothing that he does not deliver! The Magnificent Cosimo himself desired this deathtrap!” He hit a wall fixture, and the room tilted wildly while the floor opened up to send the Black Spider and the blond thug into a wide opening that contained a tank.
“I fear I had to place your man in peril. I hope he is replaceable!” said Gascon.
“Uh, sure, sure!” said Morgan. “His name was Henri Gerard. He only joined up with us a couple days ago. I’m sorry to lose him, though. He’s got a real rep in these parts.”
As Gascon, Morgan, and La Belle Dame sans Merci exited abruptly, the floor slid into place once more, leaving the struggling Black Spider and Gerard trapped below in the flooded tank.
“They will die, and you will enjoy a successful venture as Gascon vowed!” said the fat man.
Below, within the sealed trap, Gerard fought to subdue his foe and get both to safety before they died. Batman had traced Morgan to France and had swiftly assumed the role of Henri Gerard, a well-known French criminal who would have made the perfect agent to act as a contact between Morgan’s brash American gang and Cecille’s French organization. Now he realized that he had not been the only one to anticipate a visit from the Black Spider.
This place is full of water! The floor is solid steel, and I can’t gain time to cut through it until I get the Spider to stop trying to kill me! he mused as he elbowed the criminal in the face. I’ve got my own laser plus plastic explosions or any number of means to a speedy exit in my own utility belt, but I broke Spider’s wrist laser in our fight upstairs!
He knew the Black Spider was no fool, but the vigilante’s desire to destroy drug dealers seemed to be driving him to try to murder Gerard even before trying to preserve his own life.
Batman, still disguised as Gerard, slammed the Spider’s head against the sealed top of the tank and nodded in approval as the angry killer slumped into his arms in a stunned condition. Before Batman could slap his own breathing device into place and begin to cut his way to freedom, the floor slid open, and La Belle Dame sans Merci pulled him to safety as he towed the Spider in turn.
She placed her hand to her lips to indicate silence and then helped him carry the Spider out a hidden doorway. “Now we may talk freely. Morgan and Gascon think I retired to calm my fragile female nerves,” she said.
“I thought you might try to slip back and help us,” said Batman. “I appreciate it! I didn’t expect my disguise to deceive someone with your combination of skills and awareness of the French underworld.”
She nodded. “Correct. My sources of information made it all too clear that you could not truly be Gerard. He was almost killed days ago by the renegade French vigilante known as Harrier. As for your disguise, it was remarkably well-done. “
Batman smiled slightly. “No doubt you deduced a fake Gerard accompanying a Gotham City mobster could only be that city’s guardian.”
She frowned and said, “All very true, but why would Batman expect La Belle Dame Sans Merci to break a nail helping him?”
“Just as you saw through my disguise, I also have known for a long time that La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a largely fictional creation, inspired by John Keats, of Fleur-de-Lis — France’s national heroine and mistress of many skills, including disguise and role-playing. It is nice to finally meet you, Mademoiselle Avril.”
She gasped and then took off her black wig to reveal shorter, platinum blonde hair. She unzipped her black outfit to expose a tight red jumpsuit decorated with a white flower –the fleur-de-lis. “You humble me! I had no idea anyone knew of my little ruse! I should have known nothing gets by the attention of the great Batman.”
As she inclined her head in a polite movement of admiration, Batman replied, “Don’t worry. You’ve fooled the rest of the world. I’d wager few people can get the best of you, either. I know you learned of my methods from your former allies in the Global Guardians from our past cases together. Green Arrow speaks highly of you, Miss Avril.”
“Now that I’m in my costume, please call me Noelle,” she said. “I gave up my secret identity when I left the Guardians.”
Batman nodded and said, “That would have been around the time you changed costumes and dropped your previous use of differently colored wigs!”
“True. I came here to get Morgan’s organizational data. Now that I have secured it, I can shut down one of the gateways the French mobs use to spread their heroin to the USA!”
Batman nodded. “I came here expecting to have to protect Morgan from the Spider. I didn’t expect the gang to already be prepared to deal with him. I also didn’t expect to fall into a deathtrap designed by Cosimo, no less!”
“My old foe has become a man for hire,” Fleur-de-Lis said. “He lost his former lucrative role as a master of escape when Mister Miracle shamed him. The criminal record that followed his efforts to kill Miracle didn’t smart as much as being bested in his chosen field. He thinks of himself as an artist when it comes to traps. He now creates them for use by various European criminals.”
“I fought him once as well by the side of Mister Miracle,” said Batman. “And I’ve read about your own encounters with him. “
“Now shall we round up Morgan and turn the data he gave La Belle to Department Gamma?” she said.
“I’d like nothing less,” said Batman. “Only first we have a larger problem to deal with.”
She frowned and then said, “The Spider? He is beaten, oui?”
“This one is,” he said. “However, I’ve reason to believe he is not the true Black Spider.” He ripped off the stunned man’s orange mask and revealed a brutal-looking white man. “David Jackson. He was a trigger man for the mob. His wife died in a shoot-out between his employer and another drug lord. He’s hated all drug dealers since that tragedy. It looks as if the Black Spider has done some recruiting.”
“Then we better get back to the real Morgan fast!” said Fleur-de-Lis.
The pair of champions raced back inside and found a scene of chaos. Morgan’s two already wounded thugs were now dead, and two men dressed as the Black Spider stood over a cowering Morgan and Gascon.
Fleur-de-Lis hurled a throwing star through the air and neatly blocked one Spider’s wrist laser. He cursed, and his accent was clearly French. “You are but another pseudo Black Spider, and this time is it my web into which you have fallen!” quipped the heroine of France as she flipped through the air and emerged from a series of spins to bring both high-heeled boots down on his chest. He fell flat, and a swift punch from the strength and agility-enhanced heroine dropped him cold.
“Batman, I found a couple other guys who wanted to see the super-flies die!” said the Black Spider. “You could have been one of us had you been willing to kill!”
“Needham, your logic is as faulty as your sense of morality,” said Batman. “I hate crime. I war against it daily. I’ve trained others to carry on that same battle. That doesn’t mean I hate criminals. I’d rather reform them. I’d rather turn them into solid citizens. Taking a life is not part of my campaign. Life is sacred.”
The real Black Spider said, “You’re a hypocrite! I told you before that every time guys like the Joker and Two-Face take a life, you share their guilt. You could have killed them long ago!” He hurled a pellet in Batman’s path, but the Caped Crusader was moving too fast for the smoke pellet to slow him down.
He gripped the Black Spider as smoke obscured the room, and he brought his knee up into the killer’s stomach. The Black Spider’s grunt of pain echoed through the smoke, and Batman connected with a second punch.
Meanwhile, Morgan stood up and started to reach for another wall sconse. Before he could touch it, Fleur-de-Lis had tackled him and knocked him flat. “No more traps! I will not allow it!” she said.
Morgan cursed as he tried to get up. The petite beauty held him tightly, and the big gangster could not comprehend his own weakness. “You’re some kind of freak!” he said.
Fleur-de-Lis shook her head. “Non. I am merely a girl of many talents!”
She recalled the day that a madman had experimented upon her and filled her veins with a chemical that gave her enhanced speed, strength, and agility. She had already possessed remarkable abilities in fields of martial arts, acrobatics, equestrian sciences, and computers. The added physical gifts made her perform at the peak of human capabilities. She did not see these gifts as coming from any other source than God, since she was a devout young woman who had been raised to cling to faith and public service, but she did wonder briefly at the odd concept that she owed her powers to a drug.
The chemicals that made me Fleur-de-Lis were illegal. The evil genius who created the potion was little more than a glorified drug dealer in some ways. I was experimented upon against my will, but it is ironic that what ruins so many lives has made my own something unique! Perhaps that is why I hate the traffic of drugs so much!
She heard Gascon trying to slip away, and she jumped up and kicked him with a spinning move that would have made Richard Dragon proud.
Elsewhere, as smoke filled the room, Batman struggled with his own foe. “I’m shocked you and your team didn’t wire this place as well.”
The Black Spider rammed his head into Batman’s chin and said, “Didn’t need to destroy the place. I wanted to get ahold of Morgan’s data. I could use it to track down his whole mob!”
Batman received a stinging blow from his enemy and then connected with a swinging uppercut. “We have the data. Morgan’s gang is finished! Why don’t you surrender, too?”
The Black Spider shoved free of Batman’s grip and started to run when his exit was blocked by Fleur-de-Lis. “There is no escape for you!” she said firmly. He swung at the platinum blonde heroine, but she ducked and then rolled aside as Batman jumped forward to deliver one final knockout punch.
“Is this truly the original Spider?” asked Fleur-de-Lis.
“This is the original,” said Batman. “He started the madness. I hate to see it spread to others.”
“Morgan and Gascon and the fake Spiders are out cold,” said Fleur-de-Lis. “They think La Belle Dame Sans Merci escaped. That will give me opportunity to use that ruse again, should the need arise.”
Batman nodded and extended one hand. “Thank you again for your help. I enjoyed working with you. You may no longer be associated with the Global Guardians, but you serve your nation well!”
Fleur-de-Lis smiled and shook his hand as she said, “Merci! I try to do so. It is something of a family legacy!”
“And what of Cosimo?” asked Batman. “Would you like any assistance tracking him down?”
She shook her head and said, “Non. I appreciate the offer, but if I need help I have several allies, including Manhunter. We will not allow the escape artiste to elude us for long.”
Batman nodded and said, “I’m glad Mark Shaw has turned his life around. I suspect you have helped him considerably.”
“Mark is determined to make the name of Manhunter stand for justice once more as he initially believed it did, until learning about the power and motives of the robot cult,” she said. “I know he will value your good opinion. He remembers your strife during his time as the Privateer.”
“That’s a thing of the past,” said Batman. “I meant what I said to the Black Spider. I’d rather see any old foe become a better person than end their lives in some futile gesture of revenge.”
As time passed, the two heroes continued to talk as they secured their foes and awaited the arrival of the proper authorities. Although he was something of a loner, Batman was glad to spend some time with another crime-fighter and exchange ideas and other concerns common to their missions. He vowed to keep in contact with the lovely French woman and perhaps share various resources in the future.