Batman: Future Imperfect, Chapter 2: Playing Doubles

by PDebord

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Batman stood staring in shock at his future self. “That’s not possible. The same matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time,” Batman said.

“Theoretically it is possible. For every decision, there are several outcomes. Evidently, we are in your future that could be,” the doppelgänger said.

“Enough theory — there aren’t many people on Earth who can come up with hard facts about this, but since Thanagarian technology is what brought us here, perhaps we should ask Hawkman,” Batman said.

Both dark knights drew launchers from their belts. In moments, they both swung through the night sky of Gotham City. The future Batman tapped his ear as he looked toward his past self. Batman nodded and pushed a hidden button on the buckle of his utility belt to turn on a radio inside his cowl.

“Perhaps Superman would be a better choice for answers,” said the future Batman through the radio. “He may be a stuck-up Boy Scout, but Hawkman hasn’t been so forthcoming about Thanagarian technology since Hawkwoman was killed on Thanagar a couple of years ago.”

Batman shook his head, almost letting go of his bat-rope at the shocking news. “Shiera?” he asked.

“Sorry, I forgot that’s still a few years into the future for you.”

Batman put it out of his mind and tried to change the subject. “How did Lex Luthor, a convicted felon, get elected president?” Batman asked.

“He saved Gotham and most of the Eastern Seaboard by sacrificing his Lexorian armor to replace the meteorite that used to be under Gotham,” the future Batman said. “He managed a presidential pardon and got his record expunged. Long story short, he rode that one event into the White House.”

Batman took the news in silence.

***

Presently, Batman sat in front of a large, room-sized computer, which he had been informed was the newer, up-to-date bat-computer. His double stood in the shadows talking to Alfred Pennyworth.

At least some things never change. This place couldn’t run without good old Alfred, Batman thought to himself.

“You say he is you from the past? Do you ever remember making a trip like this to the future?” Alfred asked.

“No, and that’s what puzzles me. He is me in every way; even his DNA is identical to mine, or the bat-computer wouldn’t let him in,” said the Batman of the future.

“Perhaps he is a Batman from another Earth,” suggested Alfred.

“Earth-Two’s Batman died in ’79, and none of the other surviving Earths have a Batman or a Bruce Wayne, as far as I know.”

“There is another theory that Clark and I batted around for years,” said the Batman of the present. “This could be a possible future from my time. For every choice, there is an infinite number of possibilities, therefore, and an infinite number of outcomes.”

“No one has ever said that Superman was that smart. He’s more muscle than brains,” said the future Batman sharply.

Ignoring the comment for now, Batman pulled a watch out of his utility belt and looked at it, then carefully replaced it in the same compartment. “We have to find my Joker and fast; there’s no telling what kind of havoc he can cause with his counterpart,” he said. “From the looks of it, your Joker is even worse than mine, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

“I’m expecting a call back from Robin any time,” said the future Batman. “He said he had a lead on Harley Quinn, and where she goes, the Joker is not far behind.”

“Hadn’t you better check on him?” suggested Batman. “Jason’s liable to charge in headlong again.”

Jason?!” the future Batman repeated, shock in his voice.

***

JASON TODD, A GOOD SOLDIER.

All Batman could do was stand there and stare in disbelief at the words on the plaque, which was embedded on a glass case, within which hung the uniform that he had known as Robin from Dick Grayson’s and Jason Todd’s days in the costume.

The future Batman’s utility belt buzzed slightly, and he tapped a hidden button on it and pressed his cowl tighter to his ear. “Don’t do anything until we get there, Tim. We’ll handle both of them.” He turned back to his still-dumbfounded counterpart. “Robin found the Jokers, both of them together in the old Monarch Playing Card factory,” he explained. “It’s a five-minute trip by Batmobile or thirty seconds by Batplane.”

“You’ve talked me into it; we’ll take the Batplane,” said Batman as he looked at his watch again.

***

Batman looked over the Monarch Playing Card Company facility as he swung down from the Batplane into the factory, glancing over at the old Ace Chemical Processing Plant next door where the Joker was born. (*) He quickly took a perch by the skylight and watched as his future doppelgänger glided down on a bat-rope as well.

[(*) Editor’s note: The Earth-Two version of this story, upon which the Earth-One version is based, is “The Man Behind the Red Hood,” Detective Comics #168 (February, 1951).]

“Looks like the Joker’s improving his grade of thugs; this bunch looks like they could actually put three words together in a sentence,” Batman joked as he opened the skylight.

“That was a good one, Batman,” an all-too-familiar voice said behind him.

Instead of facing the yellow and blue costume of Nightwing, Batman saw a much darker, almost-black costume. But behind the mask, Dick Grayson was unmistakable, if much older.

“I picked up some rumors in Bludhaven that the Joker had a twin here in Gotham and thought you could use a hand,” said Nightwing.

“Apparently I don’t,” the future Batman said abruptly.

“You could say that fate dealt him a helping hand — a Black Hand if you want to be precise,” Batman said again, cracking a slight smile.

Nightwing smiled at the slight joke, but the future Batman did not. Batman looked at his watch again as his future counterpart slipped into the skylight onto a rafter.

“A little stiff, isn’t he?” Batman asked.

“He doesn’t like having a partner,” said Nightwing. “He just hasn’t been the same since Jason died.”

“Well, whether he likes it or not, he’s got some help tonight,” Batman said. “I took the liberty of calling out the troops while I was tiptoeing through the computer. I don’t know most of them, but the computers listed them as the Huntress and Azrael. I gave them the location of the card factory and told Robin to stand by.”

“You don’t take chances, do you?” Nightwing asked.

“Never underestimate the Joker,” Batman answered.

***

The hero known as Azrael was discovered by the Joker’s goons, who found themselves doing an impersonation of a punching bag for it. Batman watched as the man swept from goon to goon, disabling them fairly quickly. The purple-clad Huntress joined the fray quickly from a vantage point she had taken just before the two Batmen had arrived, and a quick glance told Batman that this young woman was definitely not Helena Wayne, the Huntress of Earth-Two. A few of the henchmen had enough sense to leave the building but were dumb enough to walk out the front door and run into the waiting Robin, whose costume was much darker than that of Jason Todd’s; the cape was black on the outside, with a yellow interior, he wore long green pants instead of shorts, and his hair and head shape were also completely different.

“This almost looks like a neat little trap,” Nightwing commented as he fired a cable across the warehouse.

“Just waiting on the clowns to show themselves,” the future Batman said.

Nightwing swung down the cable to join the others in trouncing the latest in a long line of goons that the Joker had assembled. Future Batman raised a launcher to fire his bat-rope across the warehouse.

“Wait — these guys were too easy to spot,” Batman said. “The Joker’s not that stupid.”

“What’s your point?” the future Batman asked.

“Can you communicate with all of them down there at once? Robin, too?” Batman asked.

“They generally use a common frequency,” said the future Batman.

“Tell them to use their rebreathers now,” Batman said as he pulled a small cylindrical device out of his utility belt. His future counterpart relayed the message as he removed an identical device from his utility belt.

Both Batmen put the devices in their mouths, as did their allies. Seconds later, there was an explosion from the floor of the warehouse, and it was quickly filled with a light, pink-colored gas.

As the light pink gas filled the main room of the warehouse, obscuring the view of the fighters, the sound of maniacal laughter and screams echoed from the cloud. As the smoke laced with Joker venom began to clear, the two Jokers appeared on a catwalk overhead. Both pointed down at the bodies below, laughing hysterically. Having developed the venom, both were immune to it, but it was lethal to anyone who else inhaled it. The laughing stopped as the cloud began to clear even more, showing the daunting figures of Azrael, the Huntress, and Nightwing still standing among the bodies of the Jokers’ men.

The Joker turned toward the door to see Robin standing there. The future Joker turned toward the skylight and his only means of escape, only to be met with the sight he feared the most — Batman. Both Batmen swung from the skylight down to the catwalk on either end, cutting off all means of escape. Batman took his rebreather out of his mouth as he looked toward the future Joker, who was dressed in darker purple and a brighter green than he was used to.

“It’s not the first time my Joker has killed his own men to get at me,” Batman said. “I figured that you were just as vicious, too.”

“This was a private fight,” the future Joker said. “Dear old Harley was supposed to lead the boy blunder here and finish him off after he called you.”

“She might have, if your Batman hadn’t had the foresight to call in the Huntress and Azrael,” the future Batman said.

“So what’s it going to be, boys — acid or Joker venom tonight?” the future Joker said as he pulled out an oversized, double-barreled gun.

“High or low?” Batman asked as reached behind his back.

“Low,” answered the future Batman.

Both Batmen pulled bolas out of their utility belts and threw them nearly simultaneously. The Jokers could do nothing more than stand and smile as Batman’s bola wrapped around their arms and chests, while the future Batman’s bola wrapped around their legs, pinning them together with Harley Quinn, the future Joker’s harlequin-themed female assistant.

“I knew I should have called Two-Face in on this one — he would have loved the irony,” the future Joker said, and began laughing hysterically.

“This does sound like a bad Two-Face caper,” Batman said as he walked toward the Jokers.

He looked through the Joker’s jacket until he found the device that had brought both of them to this world. He looked at his watch again and smiled.

“Batman, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you keep looking at your watch?” the future Batman asked.

Batman moved away from the two Jokers and showed his watch to his doppelgänger.

“It’s a stopwatch?” his counterpart asked.

“I started it when I found myself here, and it’s been going for twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes,” Batman said. “When I figured out what the Joker was doing, I realized that he had to charge this thing like a Green Lantern’s ring. I had only twenty-four hours to find him and use it to get back.”

“What?!” the Joker screamed. “You mean I had fifteen minutes, and then I would have been free of that dull world forever?

“If you hadn’t set this trap, we would have both been trapped here in this possible future forever,” Batman said as he helped his future counterpart disentangle the two villains.

Batman handed the device to the future Batman. “After you use it on us, destroy it so it can never be used again,” Batman said as he grabbed the collar of his Joker.

“Assuming that it can get you back to where you belong,” the future Batman said.

“That was the way Luthor designed that particular Phantom Zone projector — to go back and forth in the Phantom Zone. Since it took him in and out, I’m betting that it will take us back,” Batman said.

The Batman of the future pointed the projector at Batman and the Joker. Both of them vanished as an eerie green light fell over them. They found themselves back in the graveyard outside a prison in Coast City.

“Fifteen minutes! Ha!” the Joker growled.

Batman put a pair of handcuffs on him and led him away by his collar. As he led the growling and muttering Joker away from the graveyard, neither the clown prince of crime nor the dark knight noticed the empty grave of William Hand or the words burned into his marble headstone:

“I WILL SET THINGS RIGHT!”

Continued in Green Lantern: Enter Parallax

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