Superman and Batman: 1977: The Devil to Pay, Chapter 2: Super-Hero Memorabilia

by HarveyKent

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“Batman!” Robin cried, seeing his beloved mentor’s head burst into flame.

“Quite the hot-head now, aren’t you, crusader?” the Riddler’s mocking voice sounded from above.

“Riddler! You monster!” Robin cried out in anger. Batman quickly dropped to the ground and rolled down the staircase, trying to extinguish his burning cowl. But the flames blazed ever bright.

“You won’t put it out that way, Batman!” Riddler’s voice called down from above. “I stole that chemical gel from the army, you see. It takes a churnin’ and keeps on burnin’!

Rolling upright to his knees, Batman snatched off his burning cowl and threw it into an isolated corner of the room, well away from any art treasures. Quickly fashioning a makeshift mask by tying a strip of his cloak around the lower part of his face, Batman charged up the stairs, Robin close behind.

Chemicals won’t work, either, Batman,” Riddler’s voice echoed down. “You’d better think of something else, before you make an ash of yourself!”

“Huh?” Robin said. “Chemicals? You didn’t–”

Batman waved him to silence. He doubled his speed up the stairs and arrived at the second floor gallery. There, on an antique chair underneath the painting of The Golden Man, he found a portable tape cassette player, the Riddler’s recorded voice pouring out from it.

“Have you figured it out, Batman?” the recorded voice asked. “Or have the flames cooked your brains? Hmm, I wonder what wine goes with roasted bat brains?”

“Batman, what–?” But Robin’s question was interrupted by Batman racing back past him down the stairs. After only a moment’s surprised hesitation, Robin followed and found Batman standing still at the foot of the stairs, staring — staring intently at the spot where he had thrown his burning cowl.

The cowl was gone.

***

Back in his hideout, Edward Nigma lay on his bed, nervously smoking a cigarette. He stared at the dark blue leather helmet on the battered wooden table. It was charred black, and there was a hole in one place, but it was Batman’s cowl. Nigma nervously glanced overhead at the list of items in burning letters. A line of fire was drawn through BATMAN’S COWL. One down. Two to go.

***

“I don’t understand it,” Batman said the next night as he and Robin sat before the huge computer console in the Batcave, studying the files of the Riddler’s past crimes. “Why would the Riddler go to all that trouble just to steal my cowl? He didn’t even try to see my unmasked face!”

“It’s weird, all right,” Robin agreed. “I’d expect it of the Mad Hatter, not the wizard of quiz!”

“If I may put forward a theory, Master Bruce,” Alfred said, turning from polishing the test tubes in the crime lab, “perhaps those two infamous desperadoes have begun working in concert with one another. Perhaps the Riddler stole your cowl with the intent to present it to the Mad Hatter in return for monetary recompense.”

“Hmm, possible,” Batman allowed. “Still, I can’t help wondering if there’s something–” Batman’s thought was interrupted by the buzzing of the red telephone at his elbow. He picked it up swiftly. “Yes, Commissioner.”

“Batman, were you listing to radio station WGCR just now?” Commissioner Gordon asked.

“No, I wasn’t,” Batman said. “Why?”

“There’s a live call-in request program on,” Commissioner Gordon said. “The Riddler just called in to request a song and leave a clue! He asked, ‘What travels around the world and never leaves its corner?'”

“I see,” Batman said. “And the song?

“The song?” Gordon asked.

“You said the Riddler requested a song,” Batman said. “What was it?”

“Oh. Er, I believe it was that new tune that’s so popular with the young folk. Turn It Around, or something like that. I think my daughter Barbara has the record.”

Batman turned a questioning eye in Robin’s direction.

Turn It Upside Down,” Robin corrected. “The new one from the Flips.”

“Thank you, Commissioner. We’re on it.” Batman hung up and, without a word, bolted from his chair and headed for the Batmobile. Robin followed. Alfred watched the Batmobile roar out of the Batcave, a warmth spreading in his heart. He had been gone from his faithful place for a while, and it was good to be back again.

“Where are we going, Batman?” Robin asked as the sleek automobile roared into the night air.

“Barbicaine Hall,” Batman said. “The former home of reclusive millionaire Gerald Robinson Barbicaine, turned into a public museum after his death.”

“Huh?” Robin asked. “Why there? I mean, the riddle is easy. A stamp. But–”

“Among Barbicaine’s many priceless possessions,” Batman explained, “was one of the most valuable stamp collections in the world. Including a one-of-a-kind Revolutionary War-era stamp, so valuable because it was accidentally printed–”

“Upside down,” Robin finished. “I dig! Let’s go!”

In minutes, the Batmobile approached the lonely mansion on the outskirts of the city proper. As the gloomy old building loomed up in front of them, Robin pointed and cried out, “Holy conflagration! Look!

Bright lights flickered in the windows of the top floor of the mansion; thick smoke poured out through the open windows into the night.

“The Riddler set the top floor on fire!” Robin cried out.

“It may be a charade, another trap,” Batman said, bringing the Batmobile to a screeching halt next to the mansion, “but we can’t take the chance on the rare treasures being lost to the public! Let’s go!” Stabbing a button on the dash, Batman activated the catapult seats. The Dynamic Duo were launched skyward and, with perfect acrobatic control, landed on their feet on the roof of the four-story structure.

“Careful, Robin,” Batman said. “The fire may have weakened the roof. I’m going to have a look.” Fastening the bat-rope to the edge of the roof, Batman rappelled down the side of the mansion-turned-museum. He stopped to peer into a window.

“What do you see?” Robin asked.

“A trick!” Batman cried. “Smoke pots and an electronic laser-light-show device! A phony fire!”

“But why–?” Robin’s question was broken by the unmistakable sound of the Batmobile engine starting up. “Batman!” he cried out. Batman could only watch as the Batmobile roared away.

“Alfred,” Batman snapped into the portable communicator linking him to the Batcave. “Throw the Batmobile remote control switch; disable all nonessential equipment. Repeat, destroy all Batmobile devices unnecessary for normal driving.”

“I copy you, sir,” Alfred’s faithful voice came over the communicator. “It’s done.”

Batman hung in the cool night air, feet firmly planted against the brick building, watching the street where his Batmobile had roared away moments before. He would have to improve the security system of the vehicle.

***

“And he drove off with the Batmobile?” Clark said into the phone.

“Yes,” Batman said on the other end of the line. “Before I could do anything, he had — Clark, are you laughing?”

“I’m sorry,” Clark said, stifling his mirth. “But it’s funny! I can picture you dangling from that building, watching the Batmobile roar away!”

“I fail to see the humor in the situation,” Batman said icily.

“I’m sorry,” Clark said, seriously now. “So the Riddler is stealing your personal effects now? Any idea what his game is?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Batman said. “Some bizarre underworld collector, perhaps? I don’t know. I tell you, Clark, I’m just that close to canceling the PAL appearance until I catch the Riddler!”

“Bruce, don’t do that,” Clark urged. “The kids are counting on us! They’d be heartbroken if they didn’t get to meet Batman and Robin!”

“Somehow I think meeting Superman would assuage their hurt,” Batman said, “but all right, we’ll be there. Unless we get another riddle clue, anyway.”

“Well, hopefully the Riddler will lie low until after tomorrow,” Clark said. “I’ll see you and Dick at noon.”

“Noon,” Batman acknowledged, and hung up.

“Mr. Kent?” the voice of Perry White’s secretary Jackie came though the intercom on Clark’s desk. “Mr. White would like to see you in his office.”

“I’ll be right there, Jackie,” Clark said. In moments, he was knocking on the door of his editor’s office.

“Come in,” was the gruff reply. Clark complied. “Kent!” White snapped. “I want you to look at something. It’s a classified ad that was dropped off this morning anonymously, paid in cash.”

“A classified ad?” Clark asked. “It must be an odd one to catch the notice of the editor!

“It certainly is,” White said, tossing the scrap of paper across the desk to Kent. “What do you make of that?

Clark read the paper, and his eyes grew wide behind his glasses.

TO SUPERMAN: WHEN IS CASABLANCA LIKE AN ENLARGED PHOTOGRAPH?

“Great Scott,” Clark whispered.

“What’s that, Kent?” White asked.

“Oh, I said, it’s an odd one, Chief,” Clark said.

***

“So the Riddler’s sending you clues, now?” Batman asked Superman as they stood backstage behind the curtain of the temporary platform erected in front of the Metropolis Youth Center.

Seems like it,” Superman said. “A strange one, too. But then, all of the Riddler’s clues are strange, aren’t they?”

“But fair,” Robin offered. “To him, anyway. They always have an answer; you just have to think like the Riddler, convoluted enough to get them.”

“Robin’s right,” Batman said. “You said the riddle compared Casablanca to an enlarged photograph?”

“Right,” Superman said. “The enlarged photograph part obviously means when it’s blown up. But I flew to Casablanca last night and scoured the city; no sign of a bomb of any kind.”

“Maybe he means the movie,” Robin offered.

“It could be,” Batman said. “The original prints of classic films like that are quite valuable. Maybe even moreso in coming years; I understand some studio or another is working on a process to add color to old black and white films.”

Superman wrinkled his nose at this idea. “Who would want to see Casablanca in color? It’d be like Santa Claus without a beard!”

“Excuse me, Mr. Superman?” said a young man with a goatee and ponytail, stepping into the backstage area. “Mr. Batman? Are you all ready?”

“Ready, Mr. Bergspeel,” Superman said to the PAL official in charge of today’s entertainment. “And just make it Superman and Batman, please.”

“And Robin,” the Boy Wonder added.

“Right, good,” Bergspeel said. “Look, I took the liberty of writing a few jokes for you guys. You can learn ’em quick; they’re easy.” The young man handed typewritten sheets of paper to the heroes.

“Jokes?” Batman asked in an incredulous tone.

“Yeah, sure, I thought it’d be funny if you guys starting taking pokes at each other,” Bergspeel said. “You know, stuff like, ‘If you’re such a great hero, why do you dress like a flying mouse?’ and the like. The kids’ll love it!”

Batman eyed the typewritten sheet silently. “No,” he finally said, handing it back to Bergspeel.

The young man looked crestfallen. “But — but, Batman! The kids are–”

“No,” Batman repeated in a frosty tone that invited no further comment on the subject.

“Um, right, OK,” Bergspeel stammered, a bit intimidated. “You guys just, you know, do your own thing, then. I — I’ll go tell the M.C. to introduce you. Five minutes, OK?”

“Fine,” Superman.

“Great, great,” Bergspeel stammered and nervously backed away into the wings.

“Was that necessary?” Superman asked his friend.

“Perhaps not,” Batman admitted. “But it was effective.”

***

“And now, kids,” the master of ceremonies, a local children’s television show host, said into the microphone with a big grin, “the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The three greatest heroes in all the world — Batman, Robin, and Metropolis’ own Superman!

The cheers and applause were deafening as the three heroes parted the curtain and walked out onto the stage. Superman smiled at the youngsters in an avuncular manner. Robin grinned and waved enthusiastically. Even Batman managed a smile. Happy children, as he had been happy before that night. It was sights like this that reinforced his dedication to his mission.

“Kids,” Superman said, “Mr. Webber called us great heroes. Well, maybe we are. But you can be heroes, too, by supporting the Police Athletic League and the good work they do in your community! Right, Batman?”

“Absolutely,” Batman agreed. “I know you kids like to read about our exploits in the newspapers, watch us on television, capturing the bad guys, right?” Cheers. “But every time we have to arrest someone, it means we’ve failed. The ones we keep from getting arrested, those are our real successes.”

“And we couldn’t do that without the help and support of the Police Athletic League!” Robin cried out. He was answered with deafening cheers from the audience.

“We’ll be signing autographs in a little while,” Superman said, “but first, are there any questions from the audience?”

Dozens of little hands shot up, accompanied by frantic shouts and whoops to get attention. Before the heroes could select a youngster, however, a voice amplified by a loudspeaker boomed down from above somewhere.

“Questions? Yeah, I’ve got a few,” the voice cackled. “What’s the difference between Superman and Bozo the Clown? Give up? Bozo’s a better dresser!” A high-pitched laugh echoed down on the crowd.

“Riddler,” Batman said through clenched teeth.

“Oh, here’s another one!” Riddler’s voice boomed out. “What letter is like a jackass? Anybody? R, because it’s found behind a big S!”

“Where is he?” Robin asked. “That loudspeaker could be coming from anywhere!

“Could be,” Superman said, narrowing his eyes, “but it is only coming from one spot.” The Man of Steel concentrated, letting his super-hearing lead him to the Riddler.

“Hey, did you hear Emerald Wednesday’s has a new dinner special they call the Superman?” Riddler asked. “Turkey with capon! Get it? Cape on?”

A second later, Superman rocketed into the sky in a blue and red blur. Batman and Robin glanced at each other, then leaped off the platform to follow.

High on a rooftop two blocks from the youth center, the Riddler crouched behind a large air conditioning unit, speaking into a microphone. “Oh, you’ll love this one!” he giggled. “Why did Lois Lane cross the — Yikes!” Riddler exclaimed in surprise as Superman touched down on the rooftop in front of him. His powerful fist snatched the microphone away and crumpled it like an empty soda can.

“Any more jokes, Riddler?” Superman asked.

“No, that’s about all,” Riddler said, rising to his feet. “The joke’s on you, though. You haven’t found my bomb yet!”

Batman and Robin arrived on the rooftop, swinging up over the edge on their batlines.

“I scoured the city of Casablanca, Riddler,” Superman said. “I found no bomb.”

Riddler began laughing hysterically. “Oh, Supes, you’re just as thick as the Prankster said you were! The city of Casablanca? Why would I want to bomb that?

“Then to what did your riddle clue refer?” Batman demanded.

The Riddler feigned a hurt look. “Oh, Bats, I expected better from you! What does casablanca mean in English?”

Superman’s eyes grew wide with realization. “White House,” he said.

“Exactly,” the Riddler affirmed.

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