by Martin Maenza
In a small suburban community in Upstate New York about an hour and a half north of the city, a gray sports car slowly drove up one particular street. The man behind the wheel of the vehicle was its owner. He was in his late twenties with dark brown hair; he wore a dark blue suit, a light blue dress shirt, and a red-and-blue-striped tie. “I really appreciate you doing this for me,” he said.
Seated in the passenger seat was a beautiful young woman with blonde hair tied back in a bun. She wore dark, wire-framed eyeglasses, a tailored brown blazer and skirt outfit with a taupe blouse. “I still don’t know how you talked me into this, James,” she said.
“Oh, come on, now, Harl,” James Dillin replied. “You’ve been out in California so long that I knew you’d jump at the chance for a free trip to New York in exchange for a favor.”
“Hah,” Harleen Quinzel laughed. “When you proposed this little idea to me, I thought it was a first-class offer all the way. The seat you got me for the flight here wasn’t what I’d call luxurious.”
“Sorry about that,” James admitted. “I’ll see if I can get you an upgrade for your return flight. How’s about I make it up to you tonight? We’ll go out for French — my treat. You still like French, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” she replied. “But don’t think a fancy dinner will make up for this situation you’ve put me in.”
The car stopped in front of an A-frame home with a stone face on the lower portion and large windows in the upper white painted portion. A long walkway wound through tall pine trees to the front door. “I read you loud and clear,” James said. “Thanks for helping me out on this one. From the day we met back in medical school, I always knew you’d be the kind of person I could count on in a tight situation.”
Harleen Quinzel started to open the door of the vehicle to step out. “You just remember that, Jimmy-boy,” she said playfully. “You’ll owe me a favor.”
“Promise,” James said as she closed the door. The window was still down on the passenger side. “I’m sure you’re the right woman for the job. Just give me a buzz when you’re finished, and I’ll come pick you up.” He shifted the car into drive.
“I don’t know,” Harleen said as she started to lean in toward the window. “You know I’m a criminal psychologist and not…”
James pulled off in a hurry before she could finish her last statement.
“…a marriage counselor,” she said to herself. Harleen Quinzel shook her head, adjusted the small briefcase under her arm, and marched up the walk as best she could in her high-heeled shoes.
She glanced at the other houses nearby as she made her way up the walk. “Hmm,” Harleen quietly said to herself. Most of the homes on this street were large, with well-kept landscaped lawns. “Who says crime doesn’t pay?” She approached the front door and gave the bell a single ring. Inside, she thought she heard a loud crash and some muffled voices. This concerned her.
Harleen was about to step over to the curtain-drawn window to see if she could peek inside when the door suddenly flew open. A woman in her mid-thirties with shoulder-length, wavy black hair and deep green eyes answered the door. She wore a black skirt and a pink top with animal print stripes. “Oh, hello,” the woman said. “You’re early.”
“Sorry about that,” Harleen started to apologize as she stepped toward the archway.
“Down!” the woman yelled, grabbing the blonde by the shoulder and forcing her to the floor in the doorway. Suddenly, a bowling pin-shaped object whizzed over their heads. It would have hit them squarely in the skulls had they been a second slower.
“You beer-swilling, uncouth swine!” the woman shrieked as she sprang to her feet. She dived for a decorative wooden chair near the front door, swung it in front of her, and charged across the room with it, legs first. “Can’t you see we’ve got company?!”
She lunged at a man of similar age with short red hair. His face was long and chiseled, and he wore a white polo shirt and khaki pants. “Sorry,” he said to the newcomer. “That projectile pin was meant for my numbskull wife, here!” He lunged for a trophy that hung on the living room wall, using it to defend himself against the chair his wife wielded. “Back off, baby, or I’ll have to stab you with this swordfish! Then maybe I can have you stuffed and mounted like it!”
“In your dreams, tiger!” the woman replied as she forced him back against the wall like a cornered animal.
“Every night, girl,” he retorted, “every night!” He banged the point of the fish at the wooden seat, trying to knock it away.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel sighed. And here she thought she’d be taking a break from the lunacy at the Sinister Citadel. Now she had to deal with these two. She figured she’d best break it up; the sooner they started, the sooner she could get out of this madhouse.
Harleen slammed the front door. “Excuse me!” she shouted, loud enough to get the attention of the two combatants. “Dr. James Dillin asked me here to talk to you two, not to referee a death match! So, if you want my help, can you two call a temporary truce?”
The couple looked at one another, then back at their guest.
“Can I get you something to drink?” the woman asked with an out-of-place sweetness in her voice. “Coffee, tea?”
“Or me?” the man added with a predatory grin. His wife smacked him hard in the shoulder. “Oww!”
Dr. Harleen Quinzel and the woman sat on opposite ends of a leather sofa. The man sat in a matching recliner across the way.
The psychologist had her notepad out and was taking down information in her special shorthand notation. “So,” she said. “Let me make sure I have down the basics. You’re Paula Brooks — kept your maiden name.” The dark-haired woman nodded. “And you go by the first name of ‘Crusher,’ right, Mr. Crock?”
“Just Crusher,” he said. “No need to be so formal, toots.”
“Right,” Harleen said flatly. “And together, you two collectively go by the reputation of Mr. and Mrs. Menace, the Huntress and the Sportsmaster.”
“Guilty as charged, my dear,” Paula Brooks replied.
Harleen folded her hands before her. “Look, I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I really don’t know that much about you two. I’ve been involved in the criminal psychology arena for the last four or five years now, and I haven’t once run across you two, even in readings. Why’s that?”
“That would be my wife’s fault,” Crusher said. “Seems I can’t convince her to pull any jobs anymore. Been like that for the last year or so! I tell you, this keeps up, and I’m going solo!”
“You wouldn’t last two seconds without me, you lout!” Paula said as she bolted to her feet.
“Yeah?” Crusher said as he slammed the recliner forward and stood as well. “Care to bet on that, sweetie? Or are you chicken? Bwak-bwak-bwak!” He put his hands under his armpits with his elbows out, gesturing like a bird.
“I’ll gut you here and now, you turkey!” Paula snarled.
“Stop!” Harleen said, putting herself between the couple. She held her arms out to get them both to back off. “We won’t get anywhere with you two fighting. Now calm down.” The couple each glared at one another before sitting back down.
Harleen took a deep breath, straightened her skirt, and sat back down. “OK, then,” she said. “Now, would one of you care to tell me about the last time you did go about in your costumed roles?”
“Well, there was that time last year that Star Sapphire recruited us and a bunch of others in a team called the Forgotten Villains,” Crusher explained.
“Forgotten is right!” Paula said. “We were barely together for a few hours before we ran afoul of Captain Comet and a bunch of third-string heroes.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Forgotten Heroes: The New Guardians.]
“Star Sapphire, Captain Comet,” Harleen repeated. “Interesting.” She made a mental note to discuss it in session with Sapphire when she got around to her. She recalled that Sapphire and Comet had a bit of a past, one that bore exploring in more detail. “So, I take it that didn’t work out.”
“No way,” Crusher said. “It was over faster an Olympic hundred-meter track event. But at least my wife managed to keep us from being incarcerated, right, kitten?” He shot her a wink.
Paula smiled and blew him an air kiss in return. “I learned early in life to always be prepared,” she said. “So I kept some knockout pellets handy. A couple of those at the police station, and we were born free again.”
“I see,” Harleen said. “So, how about the time before that, then?”
“That would be during the Crisis,” Crusher said.
The world known as Earth-X had quickly been taken over by lush, jungle-like vegetation thanks to the work of Poison Ivy, Jason Woodrue, and others. The heroes of that world, the Freedom Fighters and their allies, had been tracked down and trussed up per the orders of their arch-enemy, the Silver Ghost. The rest of the villains who had been recruited to take over this world were enjoying the spoils of victory. That is, they were until a squad of heroes from Earth-One and Earth-Two decided to break up the party.
From the roof of a shelter in the small park where they’d been stationed, the couple watched as the red-haired woman in blue and purple was fighting in vain against a gaseous cloud with a face across the way. The man wore a baseball jersey with the number 01 on back and a loose white mask that draped his face from his eyes down past his chin. The woman wore her usual yellow tiger skin outfit with cape.
“Damn!” the Sportsmaster said. “Looks like this game’s gone into extra innings!”
“Perhaps we should help Syonide,” the Huntress replied. “Her poisonous weapons seem no match for Metamorpho’s freakish form.”
“I think you’ve got other things to worry about,” a child’s voice said.
When the Sportsmaster turned to see the source of it, a green-booted foot slammed him in the face. The villain fell down, angry he was caught off-guard. When he turned to see who had attacked him, he had to laugh. Before him was a young lad with black hair. The youth wore a black domino mask, a red tunic with green sleeves and shorts, and a yellow cape. The villain didn’t need the telltale R-logo on the tunic chest to know whom he faced.
“Well, well, well,” the Sportsmaster said. “Looks like someone’s been shrunk! This must be that little league replacement Robin!”
“I may be small, but I’m more than capable to take out the likes of you,” the Boy Wonder replied as he hurled a batarang at the villain.
The Sportsmaster whipped up an aluminum bat from near his feet, knocking the projectile away. “Not bad, kid,” the villain sneered. “But not good enough, either. Now hold still while I go for a home run on your skull!” He whipped the bat back, then swung it through.
Robin instinctively leaped out of the way with acrobatic ease. “You’re slow, you old coot,” he quipped.
“Get back here, you!” the Sportsmaster said as he raised the bat once more. “I’ll show you!” Suddenly, a small metal bolt struck his left hand, its sharp point digging into his flesh. The bat fell to the ground. “Owww! Damn it!” He glanced at the projectile that had drawn blood. He was familiar with the make, having seen them around his home often enough.
He spun his head around toward his partner. “What’d you do that for, baby?” the Sportsmaster asked his wife. “You getting all ‘fair play’ on me again, are you?”
“I didn’t do anything!” the Huntress exclaimed in self defense.
“She’s right,” a female voice said from a large tree branch above. “I did it!”
Robin looked up to see a young woman with long black hair dressed in a costume of purple. He recognized his rescuer in an instant from some files his mentor kept in the Batcave. “Huntress!” he exclaimed. “Thanks for the helping hand.”
“No problem, kid,” the heroine from Earth-Two said. “The Batman family has to stick together.”
“Huntress?!” the villainess in stripes exclaimed. “How dare you take my name, you witch? I’ll kill you where you’re perched!” The woman hurled a pair of daggers at the heroine.
The daughter of Earth-Two’s Batman easily avoided the attack as she leaped to the roof. “Honey, I’ve got news for you! You weren’t the first to have that name. So if anyone’s a wannabe here, it’s you!” The two heroes continued their attack on Mr. and Mrs. Menace.
“Right,” Dr. Harleen Quinzel said as she wrote on her notepad. “I remember hearing about this so-called Villain War. It happened when Brainiac and Lex Luthor tried to take over a number of various parallel Earths.” (*) She glanced over at the couple. “So, I take it this other Huntress and this younger Robin bested you two in combat.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
Crusher Crock glanced away. Paula got an angry look in her eyes just thinking about that other woman.
“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Dr. Quinzel said. “So, Luthor managed to entice you two back into costume as part of his conquering armies?”
“Yeah, he did,” Crusher said. “We’d met Luthor a number of years before. He helped us out with a little something, so we agreed to return the favor.”
“I see,” Harleen said. “How exactly did you meet up with him the first time?”
“That was all thanks to his harebrained idea!” Paula said.
“My idea?!” Crusher exclaimed. “Who was the reason behind it, anyway? I seem to recall it was thanks to you and that tired old refrain you’re constantly throwing up at me.”
“And I was right!” Paula boasted. “You were wrong — admit it!”
“Your side got a lucky break is all!” Crusher said.
“Lucky, my eye!” Paula retorted. “Your side cheated!”
“Yours did, too!”
“But you started it!”
“Will somebody please,” Harleen said in a loud voice, “tell me about that! Without so much yelling, if you can.”
“It actually started out right here in this room,” Paula said.