Batman: 1979: Lights Out, Chapter 1: Power Failures

by Martin Maenza

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Keys jangled in the lock outside one of the apartment doors of a three-story brownstone on East Bender Avenue. After some mild cursing under hushed tones and a few attempts to successful navigate the lock with a key, once the right key was used, the deadbolt finally popped to the open. The person out in the hallway was allowed access to the small but tastefully furnished dwelling.

A young woman in her late twenties with curly brown hair tossed her black sequined handbag and keys toward the small wood coffee table in the open living room area. She barely noticed them slide off the table’s surface, for she was busy closing the door and latching the lock once more. She turned away from the door for a second, paused, turned back, and eyed the lock. “Yup, got it,” she said to herself with a little chuckle.

Maxine Douglas, known as Maxx to her good friends, slipped off her gray overcoat and dropped it casually on the edge of the couch. Underneath she wore a short black shirt and a sparkly red blouse, barely buttoned enough to keep from exposing her ample cleavage. The coat slipped to the floor in a crumpled heap as she made her way, moving slightly side to side, down the hallway toward the bedroom in the back.

A short-haired cat met her halfway and greeted her with a meow.

“Simon, there you are!” Maxx squealed with silly delight. She hoisted the pet in the air and twirled him around once. “The New Year’s Eve party was wonderful! Maggie and Diane were there, too, though I was dressed the best, of course. And I met the nicest of guys. He was really, really, really, really cute!” Maxx stopped her spin when she realized it was only making her even more disoriented.

“I’ll tell you all about it in the morning, kitty.” She let the cat drop to his feet while she stepped into her darkened bedroom. “Right now, all I want to do is sleep.” She stepped out of one black pump as she fell down upon the bed. Her head hit the fluffy down pillow, and her eyes closed immediately. The young woman passed out.

Simon the cat barely dodged as the other black pump fell from Maxx’s stocking foot to the floor.

The second hand on the electric clock made its ways around the face, from six up to twelve. At exactly 4:52 AM, though, the second hand became frozen in its tracks. For exactly a minute, the clock was as dead to the world as Maxine Douglas. Then, exactly sixty seconds from when it stopped, the clock started up again, the second hand moving on its way as if nothing had happened.

The upper east side of Manhattan had experienced a one-minute power failure on that early Monday morning, the first day of the new year. Very few people in the city that doesn’t sleep noticed it or paid it much mind. This happened every now and again. Certainly nothing to concern themselves with.

***

On Thursday morning, at a small coffee shop on the corner of 16th and Preston, a tall, lanky man in an off-white and mustard, two-tone shirt underneath a brown sports jacket plopped down at the counter. “Hey, Manny,” the man with the unkempt dark hair called out, “let me get a cup o’ joe to go!” He tapped his two hands back and forth on the counter a few times in a drumming sort of way.

A man in white with an apron turned. “Kramer, what in the name of Sam Hill you doin’ up this early?”

“Not up,” the angular-faced customer said, “just not down yet. Two different states of being entirely.”

The shop keep fetched a styrofoam cup from under the counter and began to pour a large coffee to go from one of the pots on the burner. He knew the customer well enough to know how he liked it — black and strong. “You’re one crazy guy, you know that? I don’t know how you can be out all night and still manage to work all day.” He put the cup on the counter and snapped a lid in place.

“Manny, you just gotta have flexible working hours like I do,” the customer said as he pulled a couple of bucks from his pocket. He extracted one of the dollars from the pile and laid it on the counter while stuffing the others back into his pants’ pocket. “See, that’s the key to life: livin’ it on your own terms.” He made a little click-click sound with his throat and gave the man a wink before grabbing the cup. “Have a good one, Manny.”

“See you soo–” Manny started to say, just as the lights in the shop went dark.

Not just the lights, though. The burners and everything in the coffee shop went out.

And not just the shop. All the lights in the street, the traffic signals, and in the other buildings around went dark as well.

“Whoa!” the customer said, taken aback with a sudden jerk. He made sure not to spill his coffee in the dark.

Damn it!” Manny cursed. “Not again! This is the fourth morning in a row!” He fumbled in the dark for the watch on his left wrist and pressed the light on it. In the faint glow, he could read the digits — 4:52 AM. “Same exact time, too!”

“That’s wild!” the customer said.

“It’s annoying, is what it is!” Manny griped. “Yesterday, it was out for four minutes. Wonder how long it’ll be this morning.” He slammed his fist down on the counter in frustration. “You’d think this city could afford a little more reliable equipment! If this is any indication, 1979 is not gonna be a good year, I’m tellin’ you!”

***

The downtown business district of Gotham City was relatively quiet as usual for a Saturday night. In the Wayne Foundation building, however, there was activity, but not any related to the publicly known purposes of the foundation. For when Bruce Wayne designed and had built this building, he kept some areas designated for personal use. One was the penthouse living quarters he occupied on the upper floors. The other was for equipment he needed in his war against crime as the Batman.

Sitting at a computer screen in this makeshift Batcave, the handsome, dark-haired man was dressed in familiar gray tights with blue boots and gloves. The cowl to his attached blue cape was resting on his back as he watched the data scroll by.

“Excuse me, sir,” a soft English voice said from behind him. Bruce Wayne turned to see a tall, thin, older gentleman with a thin mustache dressed in a dark suit with white shirt and bow tie. In his hands was a small silver tray with a pot and a cup with saucer. “I thought you could use something to drink.” He placed the tray down on the counter nearby and began to pour the hot liquid into a cup.

Bruce smiled at the man. “Thank you, Alfred,” he said.

Alfred Pennyworth was more than just a servant who catered to the millionaire’s every need. He was a confidant, a good friend, and in many ways almost one of the family. Bruce Wayne didn’t know what he would do without the man. “Here you are, sir,” the butler said, handing Mr. Wayne the cup of steaming coffee.

“Thank you,” Bruce said. He sipped the beverage. It warmed him on this chilly night. “We wouldn’t happen to have any of those cookies left, would we?”

“I’m afraid Master Dick took a good portion of them when he left for his drive back to Hudson University,” Alfred said. “However, I might have another bit stashed away in the pantry. I can go check, if you’d like.”

Bruce smiled. Good old Alfred, always willing to go the extra mile. “No, that’s all right,” he said. “Maybe later.” He took another sip. “I’m sorry I missed Dick’s departure. His break seemed so short this time.”

“While his classes do not resume until Monday, I believe he mentioned something about needing to get back early. Something about a social engagement or such.”

“It’s good that he’s making new friends there,” Bruce said, turning back to the keyboard. “He worked so hard with his studies to get early admission, as well as all his extra efforts with me as Robin. He deserves to have a little time to be a normal college student.”

“And you, sir?” Alfred asked. “You’ve been awfully busy of late. Perhaps you need an evening out as well. I’m sure there are many women just dying to spend an evening on your arm.”

“Alfred, Alfred,” Bruce chuckled. “You sound like an old matchmaker.”

“Me, sir?” the butler said with mock surprise.

“I did the holiday parties a few weeks back, making my token appearances so the society pages could have their gossip,” Bruce said. “And I did that caroling thing with Commissioner Gordon and the Police Department as Batman on Christmas Eve. (*) But since then, it’s been a busy few weeks. In fact, that’s why I’m catching up on some of my files tonight.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Silent Night of the Batman,” Batman #219 (February, 1970).]

“I see,” Alfred said. “Well, then, I’ll let you get back to it, then.” He turned and started to walk away.

“Hmmm,” Bruce said aloud.

Alfred turned back. “Something of interest, sir?”

“Come see for yourself,” Bruce offered.

The butler stepped behind the chair in which his employer was seated and glanced over his shoulder at the computer screen. “My word! When did that jail break occur?”

“Just after Christmas,” Bruce said, summing up what he had read in the report. “With all I’ve been up to, I just realized it had occurred.”

“Perhaps the Justice League should be alerted.”

“I will alert them just in case it’s not in our systems,” Bruce replied, “though if we had any leads on his whereabouts, I’d certainly know about them by now.” He leaned back in the chair and sipped his coffee. “No, I think for the moment we’ll just have to keep our eyes open to see where he might strike.”

***

On Tuesday morning in the same building, Bruce Wayne — dressed in a blue suit with a matching striped tie — was sitting at the desk in his large office reviewing some paperwork. The intercom on the corner of his desk buzzed.

“Yes?” he said after pressing the button.

“Mr. Lincoln on line two,” the receptionist said.

“Thank you,” Bruce said. He picked up the handset and pressed the indicated button. “Edward, good morning. I was just reviewing your proposal.”

“Bruce, I’m so sorry,” the voice on the other end said. “I know we had our conference call scheduled for nine this morning, but I overslept.”

“No need to worry, Edward,” Wayne replied. “This gave me some extra time to look over the numbers.” He set the report down. “Admittedly, I was surprised when you didn’t call right at nine, though. You are usually so punctual.”

“Sometimes things are just out of one’s control,” Edward Lincoln explained. “In this case, by the time I woke up, it was nearly eight. My alarm clock didn’t go off due to a power failure.”

“I hate when that happens.”

“Even worse, it wasn’t just my place. Looks like the whole city of Manhattan was hit with it. We’ve been experiencing a lot of them lately since New Year’s. Always happens early in the morning, too. Near as I can figure, this time it was out for almost four-and-a-half hours. Caused severe problems for the morning rush hour with commuters on the trains and buses.”

“Hmmm,” Bruce said as he grabbed a small sheet of paper from his top drawer and began to scribble a few things on it. “You don’t say…”

“Anyway, that’s the reason I was late,” Edward said. “But if you have about fifteen minutes, we can go over the proposal and iron out any problems.”

“Sounds good,” Bruce said. He eyed the paper where he wrote NYC, power failures and since 1/1. He folded the paper and put it in his suit jacket breast pocket. He would follow up on this later.

***

That evening, as the sleek Batmobile zoomed down the streets of Gotham, the Caped Crusader spoke to someone over the in-dash communications system. “I just wanted to let you know, Commissioner, that I’ll be out of town working a case,” the costumed Batman said as he drove.

“Out of town?” Jim Gordon said on the other end of the line. “For how long?”

“Not sure yet,” Batman replied. “Still in the investigative stage. Hopefully it’s something I can get to the bottom of in a night or two, tops.”

“And if I need to reach you?”

“Just use the usual means. The message will get to me.”

“If I can ask, where are you going?” inquired Gordon.

“Just over to the Big Apple,” Batman said as he turned the vehicle onto the bridge that crossed the waterway from New Jersey into Manhattan. “There’s a worm that I need to ferret out.”

“Good luck,” Gordon said.

“Thanks. Batman out.” With a finger, he switched off the communications system and then punched up the onboard computer. While he focused on his driving, he would let the systems pull up relevant data pertaining to the New York Electric’s power grids and transformer stations, as well as any reported crime instances that had happened over the last week in the wee hours of the morning. After a while, the Manhattan skyline could be seen in the distance.

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