“Robin, I have a report of Gordanian troops near the East Side Airport. Are you close enough to check it out?”
“You bet. I should be there in about three minutes.” The voice was slightly garbled. Because of the electromagnetic interference that the aliens had been using, Gotham’s heroes were using an experimental laser-encoded digital communication system. “I appreciate you covering things while Alf is gone.”
In the Batcave, Silver St. Cloud brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. “At least I can do something, Robin. Have you heard anything from Nightwing?”
“He’s in New York working with the New Titans on rescue operations there. Oh, and I crossed paths with Batwoman about an hour ago. She and Ragman uncovered a group of, oh, what’d she call them, Sionecs I think, in the basement of the War Memorial. Anything from Batman?”
“He said he’d be done with the Justice League shortly and head right back here. He wants you here at seven o’clock.”
“Seven. Got it. If I run into anything else, I’ll let you know.”
“And, Robin? Be careful. These Gordanians are pretty tough.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll recon first, attack only if I can take them down. Otherwise, I’ll just run interference so the locals can get out. Robin out.”
Silver sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. “Simply unbelievable. I’m, like, some kind of central command for Batman, Robin, and the others.” She chuckled at the idea.
“What’s so amusing, Miss St. Cloud?” asked a familiar voice from behind her. She spun in the chair, shocked to hear the voice of Alfred Pennyworth. It had been nearly a month since he had disappeared. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 1, Chapter 4: Graduation.]
“Alfred! How did you–?” She stopped short when she saw the figure standing near the stairs. “You’re not Alfred!”
“Oh, but I am!” said the Outsider, his voice dropping into a guttural snarl. “You only thought you knew all your boyfriend’s secrets! I’m the one who truly knows them all!”
Before Silver could react, a light stabbed out at her from a pencil-thin device in the Outsider’s hand. Bathed in the beam of light, Silver vanished, to be replaced by yet another pale, twisted figure.
“There, now my own little force is complete!”
“What do we hear from Rann?” asked Batman.
“Green Arrow reports that Ranagar was destroyed, but Adam and his family are safe. They’ve organized a resistance force and have already had some measure of success. (*) I promised him that we would send help as soon as we could.” Superman ran a hand through his hair. “By the time we do that, Ollie will probably have the invasion forces trussed up and hanging from the rafters, lecturing them about the evils of imperialism.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow and Adam Strange: Rocket Robin Hood.]
“See if Adam can record it. I know a few leaders here on Earth who could stand to get that same lecture.” Batman punched a button on the control console, bringing up a screen full of information. “Anything from Thanagar?”
“The Hawks have been trying to help out, but it’s difficult doing so without being detected by the local government. I think we may need to send a team there before any other planet.”
The two-man planning session was interrupted by a beep from the console. Batman saw the indicator for the incoming signal and put the call on the speaker.
“Silver’s not here, Batman,” replied the voice of Robin. “I think something’s happened to her. Can you get down here?”
Superman was already moving toward the teleporter controls as Batman responded, saying, “I’m on my way.”
As he stepped into the cabinet of the teleporter, Superman gripped his arm. “Bruce, if there’s anything I can do…” The sentence hung unfinished between the two old friends.
“I know, Clark. And I will.”
Ten seconds and several thousand miles later, the Caped Crusader stepped out of a matching chamber in the Batcave. One glance told him that his partner was right: Silver St. Cloud was nowhere to be found, and the underground cavern was in a state of chaos.
Robin, bent over a video monitor, waved his mentor over to him. “You’re not going to like this, Bruce. It’s the security tape.” Stepping back, he rewound the tape and played it over. On the screen, they saw Silver sitting at one of the consoles, then stand as she heard the voice of Alfred Pennyworth behind her. A light struck her, and she transformed into a grayish, mottled figure with no resemblance to the beautiful platinum blonde. The figure staggered at first, and a second, similar figure joined it in the frame.
“Great Scott! It’s happened again!” whispered Batman.
“What’s happened? You know who that is?”
“Yes, Jason, I’m afraid I do. You know him, too. That’s one of the reasons we never recorded a case file for him.” At the puzzled look from his adopted son, Bruce Wayne elaborated. “A few years back, Alfred seemingly died. Afterward, he was transformed into the creature you see on the screen, the Outsider. He possessed extremely strong telekinetic powers and hated Robin and I just as much as Alfred loved us and cared about us. We eventually overcame him and transformed him back. (*) We never recorded the case, because Dick and I didn’t want Alfred to find out. See, he had no memory of his time as the Outsider.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Gotham Gang Line-Up,” Detective Comics #328 (June, 1964) and “Inside Story of the Outsider,” Detective Comics #356 (October, 1966).]
“But what did he do to Silver?”
“It looks to me like he figured out a way to transform her into a similar being.” Batman pondered the possibility. “We never did figure out just how he came to be.”
At that moment, the communication console let out a tone. Robin turned to answer the call. “It’s Batwoman,” he said, passing the headset to Batman.
“Batman, I just had a call from Jason Bard. He was down at the field hospital in Riverside Park when there was a strange disturbance.” She paused as the irony struck her. “Even stranger than being in the midst of an alien invasion, if you can believe that.”
“What happened?” asked Batman, a part of him dreading the answer.
“One of the doctors was attacked by a creature that sounds like, umm…”
“The Outsider?” he said, completing the sentence for her.
“Oh, my God, how did you know?” Realization dawned. “Who else has he attacked?”
“Silver St. Cloud. Here in the Batcave.” Batman glanced over at Robin. “Who did he attack at the park?”
“Damn! Batwoman, get in touch with Leslie Thompkins! Don’t let her out of your sight!” He turned to Robin. “Dick’s aunt has a condo at the Cathedral Commons. Get down there, and be on your guard. I’m going to check on Lucius Fox.”
“Silver, Leslie, Aunt Harriet,” repeated young Jason Todd, the pieces falling into place. “You mean, all of the ones that were kidnapped a few months ago?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: A Terror Too Close, Book 1: Pawns.]
“The gang behind it couldn’t remember why they did it, and they certainly didn’t have the resources for the job. I think we know now who they were really working for. That was the Outsider’s M.O. the first time we fought him.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Stole From Batman,” Detective Comics #334 (December, 1964).]
“OK, I’m on my way. I’ll radio you as soon as I get to Aunt Harriet’s place.”
With a loud hum, the glow around her faded away. Silver St. Cloud looked around, expecting to see the now-familiar environs of the Batcave. Instead, she found herself in a gleaming metallic room filled with equipment whose purpose she could not begin to fathom. The only reassuring aspect of it was that she was not alone.
“Silver! Are you all right, dear?” asked a worried Harriet Cooper. “Good heavens, Lucius, help me get her to a seat!”
Together, they took her arms and helped her settle on to a strangely designed chair. “Where are we? This is all so strange, and yet–”
“Familiar. Yes, I think we all noticed that, Miss St. Cloud.” Dr. Dundee stroked his beard as he thought. “You and I, Miss Cooper, Miss Thompkins, and Mr. Fox, we have all been together before, have we not? I had strange dreams for weeks after our kidnapping, and I finally made an appointment with a friend of mine who is a specialist in hypnotherapy. A very strange case, he told me. He has helped others discover past lives and been involved in some rather dubious alien abduction cases. But mine was the first case where he could find nothing to contradict the memories he unearthed: namely that I was captured by a strange man with lumpy white skin, taken to a laboratory someplace, and bathed in some type of strange radiation. None of the tests I ran could detect this radiation, but what Miss Thompkins discovered tells me that it is nonetheless true.”
“The hazards of curiosity, I guess,” said Leslie Thompkins. “I found something here that looked like a futuristic recording device and discovered that it was a very advanced computer. After some trial and error, I found this.” The elderly woman directed Silver’s attention to a video screen. She moved a round, puck-shaped object that was connected to the screen by a cable, then pressed a button on the puck. An image appeared on the screen, showing a thin-faced being with blotched gray-white skin. The image on the screen moved as the Outsider spoke.
“Those of you who have chosen to be a part of my advance force have an unique opportunity: you will be the first to see the dimension that we will conquer, unspoiled by war and devastation. That will not last, as we will use the amplified mental powers bestowed upon us by that world to kill or enslave its inhabitants and prepare their world for more of our kind. The way has been prepared for you, five human bodies have been irradiated with the Q-energy which will allow for the transfer of your essence into their bodies, while their essences are transferred back here. At the time of the transference, ensure that your bodies are restrained or imprisoned to prevent the humans from thwarting our plans.”
“Another invasion? Heh! They’ll find that they certainly aren’t the first conquerors on Earth, at least.” Lucius Fox shook his head. “I wonder how much there is left for them to conquer.”
“I don’t think it’s quite so bleak, Lucius,” replied Silver. “It, uh, sounded like the heroes were starting to turn the tide.”
Harriet Cooper spoke up. “Well, I didn’t hear any such thing on the news reports, so unless you have a private line from one of the Justice League members…”
“Actually, Harriet, she does.” Leslie looked around at the group. “We all do, and I expect that is why we were the ones used by this creature in his invasion plan.” Douglas Dundee and Silver St. Cloud nodded in agreement.
“What are you talking about?” asked Lucius. “We are all friends of Bruce Wayne, and it isn’t as if he’s in the Justice Leag — oh, my God.” He looked at Silver. “It is Bruce, but it’s not just him. He is a League member, isn’t he? He’s Batman, isn’t he?”
Silver nodded, knowing that her lover’s secret was now known to several more people, not wishing to be the cause of it.
“Not Bruce! He couldn’t be Batman. He had Dick to take care of, and–” Harriet paused as she realized what this revelation meant. “That means that Dick was — that Dick is — Oh!” and she passed out on the cold metal floor.
“Batwoman to Ragman. Do you read me?” The voice crackled inside his hood.
“Rags here. What’s doing?” He responded as he dived between two rooftop chilling units on the Allied Meatpackers plant. As he hit the grit-covered roof hands first, he bent at the elbows to absorb the shock and sprang back up with a flip to land on his feet. The groan of bending metal gave him the warning he needed to twist and roll to the side as the cowling of one of the great fan units twisted toward him as if it had a mind of its own.
“We’ve got word of a possible Outsider sighting down in that neighborhood. The police are responding to a call that the signs on some of the businesses are coming to life and attacking people.”
“You don’t — OOOF! — say? You mean, like a big cow on a meat-packing company?” Ragman grabbed the guide wire anchoring the plant’s utility mast and swung around it, first to avoid the ten-foot-tall plastic cow that was rushing at him, then swinging around the wire once more to land a solid kick on the cow’s backside and send it soaring off the edge of the roof. “That would explain what the heck I’m doing up here!”
Realization dawned in Batwoman’s voice. “You’re already on it, I assume?”
“Yeah, and if your descriptions are accurate, this ain’t the Outsider.” He paused to look at the weird figure who was orchestrating the bizarre dance of company mascots and utility equipment on the building’s roof. “This one looks to be a bit beefier, darker skin tone, and it has a gray tunic instead of the purple shorts.”
“That matches up with the tapes we recovered from Lucius Fox’s office. How are you faring?”
The Vietnam veteran under the tattered hood and cape resisted the first half-dozen responses that swirled in his mind. How should he fare, when all he brought to a fight were the above-average strength, boxing, and acrobatic skills he had somehow absorbed from his father’s friends when their lives were taken by deliberate electrocution at the hands of criminals? (*) This creature, who could animate everyday inorganic objects and subdue the wills of ordinary men, was more than a match for the humble Ragman.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Origin of the Tatterdemalion,” Ragman #1 (August-September, 1976).]
Rory Regan had to laugh when he once read in a tabloid that his cloak possessed some kind of mystical power and that each patch in his costume represented the soul of an evil person absorbed into it. The so-called journalist even had a wild theory — completely unsubstantiated by any evidence whatsoever — that Ragman was not only Jewish but that the costume itself was some kind of golem first created in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi persecution of the Jews in World War II. The tabloid also claimed that he could travel like some kind of tatterdemalion Dracula by transforming his body into a windblow group of rags that could reassemble themselves anywhere else in the world. It was all just an interesting work of fiction, of course; despite his heightened abilities, Ragman had no real mystical powers whatsoever, and although his girlfriend Bette Berg was Jewish, Rory himself was actually Irish Catholic.
Ragman shook his mind from these thoughts and focused back on the question. “Not good. I’ve been able to evade most of his attacks, but anything I try to use against it gets turned on me instead!” A section of the roof lifted up under the Gra’xian, bearing it closer to the beleaguered Ragman. “Yikes! He’s affecting larger pieces of the building, now!”
With an evil grin, the being that had once been Lucius Fox bore down on Ragman, reaching for him. In an attempt to evade its reach, Rory whipped his many-colored cape up and around as he had seen bullfighters do in the movies.
Over the open communications channel, Batwoman heard a strange voice. “Thank you for the perfect tool with which to end your pathetic existence. Let your cape become your noo — AAAIIIEEE!”
“Ragman! What happened?” screamed Batwoman.
“I’m — I’m not sure.” Ragman looked down at the motionless form that still clutched a corner of his cape in its still hand. That tabloid journalist was off the mark, but could he have been partially right about his costume having mystical powers? “I think it was my cape. I know there’s something more to it than I know, but I can’t explain it. He grabbed it, screamed, and he’s down for the count.”
“Let’s not look a gift horse, then. Someone will be there in a moment with some special bindings we came up with. Don’t ask how we made them, but they should hold these creatures.”