Superman and Batman: Of Mainframes and Timeframes, Chapter 2: What Might Have Been

by Libbylawrence

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While his possible daughters were having their adventure, Superman himself was indeed battling his own double. He had done this kind of thing before; in fact, he had done it more times than he wanted to recall, even with his super-memory. It was always unsettling. A man just can’t face his own image very easily, he mused.

He had been on patrol when the flying figure in red, blue, and yellow had crashed into him. He reeled from the impact of strength equal to his own.

What the–? The clone is still living as an ordinary newsman, so it can’t be him! he mused as he stopped his fall. He referred to a clone made by his old foe, Lex Luthor. The double had ended up living his own peaceful, powerless life as a newsman named Dan Reed. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “If I Can’t Be Clark Kent, Nobody Can,” Action Comics #524 (October, 1981).]

“It’s not the Kryptonoid!” he gasped as a flurry of blows kept him moving. He referred to an alien merger between man, machine, and bacteria that he had fought in the past. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Attack of the Kryptonoid,” Superman #328 (October, 1978) and “I Have Met the Enemy, and It Is Me,” Superman #329 (November, 1978).]

“Who are you, friend? We can settle this little disagreement peaceably, I’m sure! We seem to have enough common ground to begin with!” he said with a grin.

The other Superman instead scowled. “Common ground? That is why I’m here. You are the source of all my misery. You led to the loss of all I held dear!”

Superman caught his foe’s left hook and slugged him back. “I don’t understand. I’ve never willingly or knowingly harmed anyone who wasn’t a threat to others.” He gripped the other Superman’s cape and tugged him skyward.

They reached space and continued to battle.

Great Krypton! He’s raving mad. He’s no robot, either. What can he mean I cost him all he valued? Superman wondered.

The other Superman flew in and out of a passing meteor storm and used each hunk of space rubbish he found as a missile. He hurled, kicked, and batted them endlessly toward Superman.

Got to block or melt or smash them all. Can’t let even one reach Earth below! thought a rapidly moving Superman. Good thing I can really pour on the speed when needed! he thought as he weaved amazingly in and out, deflecting all of the deadly rocks.

Deciding to end the fight by feigning defeat, Superman crashed down on the Moon and awaited his attacker. The other Superman landed and approached slowly.

He knows I’m unhurt. He scans me with the same super-senses that are at my disposal! thought Superman, rising and extending both hands in a gesture of peace.

The other Superman drew back a fist and hesitated. His facial features ran the gamut from anger to confusion to regret. He slowly lowered his fist and turned away.

Superman watched and detected the signs of anxiety, grief, and pain. He’s distraught over this loss, he realized. Does he mean Krypton’s doom? Lexor’s? What drives him so relentlessly? Losing one’s world is not something many outside of myself and Vartox can identify with from past experience.

Leading the other Superman into Earth’s atmosphere, he said, “Please, tell me your story. If I can right some wrong, I’ll gladly do it!”

The double nodded. “I know. I recall this of you from history. Nothing you ever did was motivated by less than a desire to do good — selfless good. First, let me explain my rage. I lost my wife, my child, my entire culture when the only world I’ve ever known died a terrible death at the hands of a madman. A foe of yours destroyed my world because of hatred of you. In my grief, I foolishly journeyed through time to kill you. All I can say is that I thought if you were dead now, then maybe he would leave my home alone.”

“Who destroyed your world?” asked Superman. “Luthor? Brainiac?”

The double said, “Mr. Mxyzptlk destroyed my people. He robbed me in your time of my future. I come from a world called Orr, which was originally called Htrae. You may call me Bizarro-Omega, for I am the last son of Orr.”

“Great Krypton! You’re from the Bizarro World’s future!” gasped Superman. Quickly thinking back on his many cases over the years, he said, “Listen, I remember now that I once journeyed into the far future. Htrae had become a round globe again, and all the people on it were normal in manner, thought processes, and looks. The Bizarro factor had evolved away.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Hunter and the Hunted,” World’s Finest Comics #181 (December, 1968).]

Bizarro-Omega nodded. “Exactly — my forefather was the Bizarro-Superman you knew. His kind became normalized over generations until we were just like your Earth people, except I alone inherited his powers, if not his looks or manner.”

Superman frowned. “I see your dilemma, and it raises a greater one. Bizarro World was destroyed a year ago by the imp, as you said. Yet I did indeed once journey to the far future of that world that you come from! How did your possible future survive when the world died long before it could ever come about?”

“It is as you said,” stated Bizarro-Omega. “My world had many possible timelines, as do all worlds. In the one that you know of as real, the world died. In the one you once visited, it did not. I slept last night in the world I knew and that you once visited, the world no longer called Htrae but Orr. I awoke to find myself floating amidst the rubble of Orr. I saw in horror that my past was gone — altered weirdly in the manner you know of! Thus I had somehow left my world for this one and this time and sought to change what has been written unalterably on the stars. I see now I was wrong. But what fate is in store for me? I can only return to the doom that has become my future.”

“Wait,” said Superman. “We’re both victims of a universe in which time has been cruelly twisted. Natural laws are distorted. Let me think of something!”

Bizarro-Omega shook his head. “If I live or if I die, let it be with those I love. Goodbye!” He vanished, and Superman was left alone.

That’s odd! I cannot detect if he somehow faded out of existence since his possible future was no more, or if he managed to somehow return to the era and conditions he knew! Either way, I feel a real injustice has been done. Plus, a mystery puzzles me, he mused.

***

Alfred Pennyworth was very good at his job. In fact, he was very good at numerous tasks, since as butler to Bruce Wayne and ally of Batman (Wayne’s other role) he did far more than merely dust the manor and lay out evening suits. Over the years he had seen it all. He had treated his master’s wounds, laughed at Dick Grayson’s puns, and fought a villain or two on his own. He’d even been a villain once or twice, through no fault of his own.

Thus, when the dark-cowled form of Batman emerged from the shadows, followed by a smaller figure in a brighter costume, Alfred was hardly startled in spite of their near-soundless entry to the Batcave.

“I trust this night’s patrol went well, sir? Mister Midas shall trouble the city no longer with his gold-themed crimes?” said Alfred as he placed a tray of sandwiches on the table.

Midas? Didn’t know he was loose again! We did stop Professor Pneumo and his Air Raiders!” said a voice altogether different from that of either Bruce Wayne or the modified tone he used as Batman. He removed his cowl, revealing the smiling features of a handsome man of around thirty-five.

“Master Dick? But how?” gasped Alfred.

Next to the Batman-clad Dick Grayson unmasked a puzzled youth who resembled a teenage Bruce Wayne. His Robin costume of green shorts and red jerkin nearly matched one Alfred believed to be recently retired. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman: Gotham Knights: Chapter 2: Unmistakably Robin.]

“What’s wrong, Alfred? Say, did you dye your hair?” asked Bruce Wayne Jr. as he reached for a sandwich.

“My word!” said Alfred.

Dick Grayson steadied his old friend as he sat him down in a chair. “Alfred, your younger features and that calendar reveal to me that I’ve stepped back in time somehow. Obviously back to the days when Bruce was Batman and I was still Robin!” said a concerned Grayson.

The lad called Bruce Jr. said, “Let me get mom. She’ll help. She’s a real pro at medical things.” He rushed upstairs.

Moments later, Bruce Jr. returned with a beautiful, raven-haired woman in a green gown.

“Alfred! Bruce Jr. said you were sick!” said a worried Kathy Kane Wayne.

Indeed, Alfred Pennyworth almost swooned as he felt a sense of unreality surrounding him. These were older versions of people he knew, and people he had once known, but they were also the characters of short stories that Alfred himself had once written. Those stories had detailed the possible future lives of Batman, Robin, and Batwoman, in which Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane had married and had a son, Bruce Jr. Later, Dick Grayson took over the role of Batman, while Bruce Jr. became Robin. They even met the Joker’s adopted son as well as the original Bat-Girl, who became the new Batwoman. Alfred had penned six of those stories before finally giving up the hobby. (*) And now here they were, his creations come to life.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Second Batman and Robin Team,” Batman #131 (April, 1960), “The Return of the Second Batman and Robin Team,” Batman #135 (October, 1960), “The Son of the Joker,” Batman #145 (February, 1962), “Danger Strikes Four,” Batman #154 (March, 1963), “The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne, Jr.,” Batman #159 (November, 1963), “Bat Girl, Batwoman II,” Batman #163 (May, 1964).]

“If he’s feeling a bit dazed, it’s with good reason,” said a newcomer as Batman entered.

“Master Bruce! Thank heavens!” said Alfred.

“Great Scott! These people — obviously otherworldly counterparts, or something more,” muttered Batman.

“We’re from the future,” said Dick. “This has to be unsettling to you, but imagine how we feel. We just came home from patrol and found ourselves in the past — and apparently a past not like the one we know!” he said as he stared at a photo of Nightwing. “That looks like me when I was younger, but that costume is like nothing I ever wore, not even when I became Owlman that one time!”

“In our world, in this timeline, you passed the Robin role to another,” said Batman. “You took that costume and name — Nightwing.”

Dick frowned. “Like Superman’s Kandorian role? Odd. I’ve always dreamt of carrying on your role. In my time, you married Kathy, here, and your son, young Bruce Jr., became Robin II to my Batman!”

Bruce Jr. gazed up at the man who was his father in another timeline. “Gosh, Pop! You mean you haven’t got a Robin in this era? But that’s crazy. Dick, here, was Robin until you retired. He gave me his old suit with your blessing,” he said.

Batman reached for the boy and casually ruffled his hair. “That’s OK… son. You must not let the differences between this timeline and the one you know rattle you. Be a brave lad, and calm your mother,” he said slowly.

Kathy caressed Bruce’s face, and he stood still as his thoughts raced. “Bruce, darling, you look so young — like when we married. If we’ve entered some other dimension, then help us get back home! Our Bruce may need us!” she said.

Holding her hand for a minute, he softly replied, “Yes, of course. Let me do some checking for something — some energy trace that might explain how you got here.”

He worked a machine as he fought feelings that were all too powerful, even to one who tried to shield his emotions with a demeanor of stolid professionalism. I’m getting that feeling I had when I met the Earth-Two Batwoman a while back. (*) It all makes me painfully aware of what might have been, he mused.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Interlude on Earth-Two,” The Brave and the Bold #182 (January, 1982).]

Alfred sat silently, understanding what his friend and employer was feeling beneath his placid expression. I never dreamt that Master Richard would ever adopt any role other than Batman eventually, either. Seeing this double — older, yet so devoted to and a part of his Batman — makes me thankful for the signs of healing and reconciliation that has returned to the Bruce and Dick I know, he thought.

“You came here without warning or intent,” said Batman. “The cause is unknown, but the manner in which it occurred is clear to me. Something has altered the very workings of the universe. Time has been manipulated randomly. What may be now is. What could not be according to what I know, now apparently is possible again.”

Eyeing the son he might have had in another lifetime, he said, “Your father — he retired from his role as Batman to raise you. Is he a good father?”

Bruce Jr. smiled broadly. “He’s the best. He teaches me so much. He’s always got a smile and a kind word. A guy couldn’t want a better dad.”

Kathy nodded. “Or a better husband. You — I mean he — is so loving and attentive, like a romantic hero out of some book, yet real; caring, warm, and a blessing to all who know him.”

Dick noticed the expression or look in this Batman’s eyes. “Listen, we should be able to return to our proper time with the help of Superman, perhaps, or Prof. Nichols,” he said.

Batman nodded. “True enough. Still, I fear the rules of time travel as we know them may be altered by whoever is behind this sudden flux.”

A flashing phone caught their eye.

I’ll get it!” said an eager Bruce Jr. He answered, “Commissioner O’Hara? Oh, sorry. I mean, Commissioner Gordon, how can we help you?” He listened for a moment, then said, “We’ll be right on it!” He put the phone down and said, “Something odd is going down at Sprang Center for the Arts!”

“Then I’ll handle it,” said Batman. “You three stay here.”

“Yes, Bruce Jr., you don’t know this weird world,” said Kathy. “You best just wait here with me.”

“Awww, Mo-om!” said the disappointed youth.

“I’d like to work with you — if I may,” said Dick.

Bruce hesitated, then said, “Fine.”

***

As they raced through the night in the Batmobile, Dick Grayson gazed around him at this Gotham City. It was different from the one he knew in many ways. It differed also from his memories of this year in his own past.

Bruce is grimmer than he ever was. I can’t believe the Dick of this timeline would give up the Robin identity. This makes me want to get back home as fast as I can, he mused.

Batman steered the car toward the Sprang Art Center, where he immediately saw the bright lights of police cars. “Come on!” he said as he looked toward the other Batman, who was so like the Dick he knew. Is this the way it should have been? Should Dick have always been Robin before taking my role? Kathy’s dead in our time. Selina’s — what? What are we to each other? he wondered.

“Those glowing circles seem to be coming from the art wing. Valuable paintings stored there would attract any thief,” mused Batman. He referred to bright disk-like objects that flashed out of the building’s shattered windows and pinned down the police.

“Lasers! Don’t get too close to them!” he said as his partner dodged agilely.

“Looks like we’d better split up!” said Dick.

“What? Yes. Good idea. I’ll go in from here. You take the high ground!” he said, even as the other Batman swung up and flipped to reach the roof.

Batman entered to see a man from his distant past. “Mister Polka Dot! How many years has it been? Good behavior didn’t shorten your sentence by much!” he said.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man,” Detective Comics #300 (February, 1962).]

The villain in the white body suit covered with colorful circles sneered. “Batman! How I’ve hated you all those years behind bars with petty thugs. Now I’ll enrich myself and get revenge as well!”

As he touched one dot on his costume, a razor-sharp disk spun out toward Batman’s head. The Caped Crusader deflected it with a batarang and moved closer. Polka Dot was a hood with a gimmick. How Batman longed for the days when that was the description for most of his foes. His timeline was a darker place now.

Dick dropped silently down from above and watched. This Bruce has all the moves of my Bruce. It brings back so many memories of the good old days. Can’t help holding back, letting him lead. Feels good.

Batman tossed a batarang toward the colorful crook and frowned as a second touch of a dot on the suit sent a sonic blast that shattered the batarang and dropped him back.

“I can kill you with any one of these dots!” laughed Mister Polka Dot.

“Let me dot you with a swift left!” quipped Dick in the Batman costume as he punched the man.

Two? But how?” shrieked the crook. He touched another spot, and a flashing light exploded to daze Dick.

“Now to finish you both!” shouted Mister Polka Dot.

Batman noticed the crook’s odd belt and kicked it directly in the buckle.

“No!” gasped Mister Polka Dot as the master switch suddenly released all of his gimmick dots at once.

Batman dived for cover even as Dick listened to the crook’s high-pitched whine and knocked him cold. The explosion from the fired gimmicks shook the hallway, and then there was silence.

“Nice plan,” said Dick, grinning.

“Nice follow through,” answered Batman.

Suddenly, Dick began to fade away.

“Thank you, old chum,” whispered Bruce Wayne as the other Batman returned to his own era.

***

Back at the Manor, Alfred saw Bruce Jr. and Kathy disappear as well. He shook his head sadly. “The saddest words of all — what might have been.”

***

Superman decided to head for Gotham City to confer with Batman over the weird alterations in time. It would be good to strengthen their renewed friendship after the events involving the Daily Planet case. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: The Planet Seekers.]

As he flew toward the city, he found himself wondering about possibilities. If time could spontaneously produce anomalies like the Bizarro from a possible future, then what else could appear at any moment? Superman-Red? Superman-Blue? Futuro? The Super-Sons? he thought as he considered various possible futures or alternate timelines he had witnessed via his scanners in the Fortress of Solitude.

He frowned as he saw a dark-clad woman slip across the lawns of Wayne Manor. He scooped her up suddenly and said, “Batgirl?

The fiery redhead kissed him passionately. “Of course, Bruce. You just put me down a minute ago. Who else but your bride would be hanging around the family manor?” she said with a teasing smile.

A second Superman appeared. “That’s a good question. Put my wife down. You’re not Superman! I am!” said the newcomer.

Superman frowned in surprise as he dropped Barbara Gordon Wayne, the wife of Bruce Wayne, alias Superman.

“Great Krypton!” he said.

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