by Doc Quantum
Barbara Gordon took a sip from the cup of café mocha she held in her hand. She often liked to have something to sip while she did her thinking. And this one was a doozy.
It had already been a few months since Kara died, but it still pained Babs to think of it. She had been one of her dearest friends, perhaps her closest.
And she was a hero — a true hero. Her idealism and steadfastness as Supergirl had inspired Barbara even before she began her own career as the second Batgirl. They had become close friends over the years. But Barbara could never think of herself in the same league as Kara Zor-El.
And now this — a chance to be a hero again. Perhaps retiring Batgirl for good was the wrong idea.
Or was it?
Barbara Gordon picked up the phone, dialed a number, and said, “All right, I’m in. But not as Batgirl. From now on, you can call me Batwoman.”
Batwoman watched from the monitors in the other room as the others gathered in a makeshift headquarters in the supposedly abandoned warehouse. Sure, it was a cliched place for criminals who had much to hide to gather, but it provided just as much cover for heroes with a clandestine mission.
The mysterious heroine known as the Black Orchid was the first to arrive, closely followed by Rory Regan, also known as the Ragman. While they began to talk, Onyx — a mysterious martial arts expert recommended by Green Arrow — arrived, and finally Kirk Langstrom, who had the power to change into the Man-Bat, came into the room.
Barbara listened for a while to the conversations breaking out between each of them. Although they were more or less aware of each other’s reputations, none of them had met or worked with any other, save for Ragman and Man-Bat, both Gotham natives. And she waited until the right time to make her own entrance, simply studying this assortment of people. After a while they began to get restless.
“I wonder what the hold-up is?” Onyx said to no one in particular. “When Green Arrow told me about this important mission, I was pretty hesitant at first, but it seemed like a good way to honor the memory of my master, who trained me back at the Sanctuary in Star City.”
“I was asked by the Batman himself to come,” Langstrom said. “My unique abilities may prove useful.”
“Personally, I’m more concerned about Gotham right now,” said the Ragman. “If I can make a difference for my city in this group, I’m glad to be a part of it. But what is there to wait for?”
“How about you, miss?” said Onyx to the Black Orchid, who had remained silent. “You haven’t said much of anything since we arrived.”
The Black Orchid only smiled enigmatically and leaned back in her chair.
Then the new Batwoman entered the room. “Welcome to you all. I’m glad each of you could make it. These are dire times for Gotham City, and your abilities and areas of expertise will definitely be of use.”
“One question,” Langstrom said. “Where’s the Batman?”
“We’ll be getting to him in just a moment. For now, I’d like each of you to have a look at these files I’ve got for you.” She handed each of them a couple of files, which contained photos and documents. “The photos you see within are of our targets. Each one of them is a so-called super-villain, and many of them indeed have super-powers and are to be considered very dangerous. We’ll be going over them each in a moment. For now, watch the monitor screen before you.”
Onyx turned to Black Orchid and said, “All business, isn’t she?”
A dark figure slowly began to take shape on the monitor screen. It was the head of a man, wearing a cowl with pointed ears at both sides of the head. The eyes were white and squinted, devoid of any noticeable pupils. The nose was covered and drew to a point. It was only the mouth and lower part of the face that was uncovered. And this was in shadows, lit on either side of the head and to the back.
It was the Batman.
The cowled face of the Caped Crusader spoke on the monitor screen. “You may be wondering why I brought you all here.”
Kirk Langstrom muttered, “I’ll say.”
“As you know, Gotham City has seen its share of grim times lately. First, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which wreaked havoc all over the world. We had only a couple of months to recover from that when, more recently, the entire inmate populations of both Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane and Gotham Penitentiary were set free by my old foe, Ra’s al Ghul. Many of the worst were captured, but most are still free, out there to wreak havoc once again. Ra’s al Ghul himself is believed to have died in an explosion, but he has been known to have ‘died’ in the past and come back despite everything. Shortly after this, the creature known as the Swamp Thing brought chaos to Gotham City after his lover was arrested and brought to trial, when he turned the entire city into a greenhouse out of control. Although the Swamp Thing was seemingly destroyed by some kind of ray-gun, the aftermath of this incident still affects Gotham, which remains in many ways a literal jungle.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Resurrection Night,” Batman #400 (October, 1986), “Home Free,” Swamp Thing v2 #51 (August, 1986), “Natural Consequences,” Swamp Thing v2 #52 (September, 1986), and “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Swamp Thing #53 (October, 1986).]
“Can’t be all that bad,” the Black Orchid said to herself, smiling.
“My first and foremost purpose is first the apprehension of the criminals still on the loose, and then, should you be needed once again, those the law can’t touch by conventional means — criminals you will defeat by holding them up to public ridicule and mockery, hence my forebear’s name, Mockingbird.”
Mocking-who? Onyx wondered silently.
“This is to be your first mission: The criminals shown in the dossiers given you are still on the loose. You will hunt them down and recapture them. Your leader is Batwoman. You are the Secret Six.”
“Secret Six?” Ragman remarked, looking around. “There’s only five of us here — that is, unless you’re considering yourself to be the sixth member?”
The screen faded to black.
“No, Ragman,” Batwoman responded. “Our sixth member is already on his mission. We will be rendezvousing with him at a later time.”
“There you go, just a little further… yes!”
Batwoman quickly put her collapsible binoculars into her utility belt and leaped off the roof she was on into the alleyway below. Somersaulting off the walls of the narrow alley, she landed smoothly on a pile of flattened cardboard boxes and hit the ground with a sprint.
Each of the members of the newly formed Secret Six had gone off on their various assignments, given with respect to their skills and abilities, and Batwoman had drawn one of Batman’s lesser criminals, Signalman.
Signalman’s real name was Phil Cobb, and he had been a small-time crook who aspired to the big-time, deciding to build up a reputation with super-villain-like gimmicks. Thus he became the Signalman and used signals to give Batman clues to his crimes. Not all that smart, but hey, all the super-villains were doing similar things then. He ended up getting a reputation, all right. Except it wasn’t one he wanted to have: “The guy Batman put in jail.” He followed this up with a stint as the Blue Bowman, now with gimmicked arrows based on those of Green Arrow’s, but this short career fell flat as well. He soon returned to being the Signalman, and he was one of the many villains who were broken out of prison through the schemes of Ra’s al Ghul.
It hadn’t taken much more than a glance through the phone book and a few telephone calls for Barbara Gordon to discover that certain unusual equipment was recently being purchased, by a private source using cash only, from some Gotham electrical-supply companies with goods damaged in the recent Swamp Thing debacle, the likes of which only marijuana-growers — or super-villains with a signal or light gimmick — would need. After a couple of days of staking out and keeping an eye on some electronic stores that sold items of the harder-to-get kind, she had soon found her man.
She’d allowed Phil Cobb to walk to his current place of residence, then waited for him to don his colorful costume as the Signalman before making her move. These things had to be done a certain way.
Batwoman ran silently toward the Signalman but accidentally kicked an empty Coca-Cola can sitting on the street. The noise alerted Cobb, who presently began to run like hell toward the warehouse district.
Surprisingly enough, the Signalman gave Batwoman a good chase, keeping a lead on her just long enough to slip into one of the many abandoned warehouses in this area. Batwoman followed cautiously.
Stepping into the darkened warehouse, she called out, “Cobb! I know you’re in here! Give yourself up!”
She quickly stepped sideways and crouched behind some empty shelving as she reached into her utility belt and pulled out some infrared goggles. She put them on as she rose again, and she saw the Signalman dashing away on the other side of the large room. She pursued him again. Her vision was blocked, however, by several shelves, some of which were full of empty boxes.
Batwoman moved slowly now, keeping her eyes wide open for any movement in the narrow red field of vision her goggles allowed her. She heard a noise and suddenly turned her head to the left, seeing something move just out of sight as she looked that way.
She leaped from her spot and raced after the figure, but as she turned around the corner to continue her pursuit, the Signalman merely stood there and turned on a blinding white light in her eyes, causing her to lose all vision immediately.
Instead of crying out, she continued her pursuit blindly, but the Signalman had already vanished by the time she got there. Her goggles were useless now, and would be for the next couple of minutes until the spots before her eyes went away.
“Ah-ah-ah,” someone said from behind her as two strong arms grabbed her.
Just as suddenly, she grabbed those arms and threw the man over her, knocking him to the floor. He groaned, but just as she began to come down on him to knock him unconscious — the only option she had left — she was struck on the back of the head by a blunt object.
Batwoman began to pass into unconsciousness just as she heard another voice say, “Well, you almost screwed that one up, Cobb.” Babs recognized the voice as that of Crazy-Quilt. She should have realized the Signalman might have an accomplice.
Then she passed out.
She woke up about twenty minutes later with a sore head and a bruised ego. She’d have to tell Ragman now that she not only lost her current target, but one of his as well. Oh, well, at least those two bozos hadn’t tried anything funny while she was out. Thank heaven for small favors.
Her return to crime-fighting was definitely not going the way she’d hoped.