“Drink, sir?” a pretty waitress in an abbreviated costume offered, holding out her tray. The costume was a peculiar shade of green, the shade normally only seen on currency.
“Thank you, miss,” Bruce Wayne said, taking a martini glass from the tray. He looked around the lavish club. Everywhere he saw symbols of money and riches. The bar was solid gold, the light fixtures diamond and silver. It turned Bruce’s stomach somewhat. He had been born into money, but he had never held with conspicuous consumption, never had a taste for those who flaunted their wealth.
“And why did you decide to call your new establishment the Plutocrat Club?” a voice asked from behind Bruce. The somber millionaire brightened somewhat; it was a voice he recognized as an old friend’s. He turned and saw the owner of the voice speaking to Paul White, the owner of the club.
“Why not, Mr. Olsen?” the entrepreneur shrugged. “This is the era of wealth, after all. Reagan is in the White House, the economy is doing fine, enterprising folks like me are getting rich overnight. After years of being ashamed of being wealthy, it’s time to celebrate it!”
“I understand your original idea was a 1940s-themed club,” Jimmy Olsen continued. “Like something out of a Bogart movie, with a big bandstand and waiters in tuxedo jackets. What changed your mind?”
“I guess I saw the way the wind was blowing,” White said. “People don’t want to be reminded of an older, more depressing age. People want to live in the now and enjoy it. Thus, the Plutocrat Club.”
Bruce frowned as he surreptitiously emptied his martini into a plant stand. Because of that change of theme, White’s club was likely to be robbed on this, its opening night. And the Batman was most likely partially to blame.
“So long, Burke,” the prison guard said as he opened the gate. “Don’t hurry back.”
“Don’t worry,” the ex-convict said, walking through the gate a free man. “I don’t intend to.”
Edward Burke stood in front of the prison for a few minutes, waiting for the bus. It soon came and stopped. Burke got on, found a seat near the back, and the bus rumbled off. There was a man sitting in the seat opposite Burke’s, a man in blue denim working clothes and cloth cap. The man’s face was hidden behind the newspaper he was reading.
“Done with the sports section, buddy?” Burke asked him.
“Sure, here you go,” the man said without turning his head. He passed a section of the paper across the aisle. Burke reached out to take it, then gasped and withdrew his hand quickly, as though it had been bitten by a snake.
The hand passing him the paper wore a leather glove of dark, midnight blue.
The man lowered the paper, and Burke saw, beneath the cloth cap, a mask of the same dark blue. The Batman smiled grimly at the ex-convict. “Hello, Burke,” he said. “Welcome to the outside world.”
“W-what are you doing?” Burke said in a hushed whisper.
“Just checking up on you,” Batman said. “You’ve served your time, and now you’re released. I just want to make sure you’re not in any hurry to go back to prison.”
Burke became indignant. “You’ve got no right to harass me!” he declared. “Like you said, I’ve served my time! I’m clean now!”
“See that you stay that way,” Batman said grimly. “I wish I could say there was a shortage of theme villains in Gotham City, but there’s not. We don’t need another one.”
“You know I was never the Planet-Master!” Burke declared. “Professor Norbet–”
“–Was a sick man, not in his right mind,” Batman finished. “You were perfectly sane and rational when you tried to cash in on his illness. (*) If you’ve got it in your mind to become the new Planet-Master, disabuse yourself of that idea right now.” The bus slowed to a stop. “My stop,” Batman said, rising from the seat and walking down the aisle. Burke remained in his seat, silent and motionless.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Menace of the Planet-Master,” Detective Comics #296 (October, 1961).]
Batman had been trying to head off a possible crime wave by that action. In the weeks that followed, however, he wondered if he had not, in fact, started one. A local telethon to raise money for the homeless was attacked by a costumed villain calling himself the Planet-Master. Whereas the original Planet-Master wore different planet-based costumes for every crime, the new Planet-Master wore a single costume that was jet-black from head to foot except for nine circles of different sizes and colors arranged on his chest to represent the planets. The telethon was carried live on television, but by the time the Batman arrived at the television studio, the villain had escaped with the money. He wondered why the Planet-Master had chosen this target until he saw the giant thermometer used to gauge the telethon’s progress — a thermometer filled with mercury.
Batman and Commissioner Gordon had conferred after that, and for the next several nights, every possible Venus target was staked out by Batman and the police. A scale model of the original Venus Probe rocket, made of platinum and diamonds, was on exhibit at the Gotham Air & Space Museum. Batman himself covered that target, while Gordon’s men watched over the home of wealthy art collector Harrison Eagle, who had recently acquired a solid gold replica of the famous Venus de Milo. The Planet-Master thwarted them, however, by robbing the box office of the Gotham Entertainment Center, where pop singer Aphrodite Jones was performing a one-night-only show to a sold-out crowd. Aphrodite was, of course, the Greek equivalent of Venus.
When he heard this news, Batman’s rage at himself flared. Had his attempt to frighten off Burke instead been taken as a challenge, inspiring Burke to new crimes as the Planet-Master?
Batman and Commissioner Gordon agreed that there would likely be no Earth crime. The Planet-Master’s current crime spree seemed based on the origins of the planets’ names, and Earth had no mythological basis to its name. Every conceivable Mars target was staked out.
While Batman was watching the Gotham Municipal Library, which had a rare signed first edition of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on loan from the British Museum, he received a police distress call on his belt radio. Immediately, he raced for the National Guard Armory, where the Planet-Master had gassed the guards and was loading his van with crates of weapons. A fitting crime for Mars, the planet named after the Roman god of war. Batman arrived just as the Planet-Master was closing the van door. Without a word, the costumed villain tossed a metal sphere into the armory, where the gassed guards still slept. The sphere burst into flames. A surprised Batman was forced to watch the Planet-Master drive away as he battled the fire; he could not allow it to ignite the ammunition in the armory and cause an explosion that would injure the unconscious guards. As he fought the blaze, Batman’s teeth ground against each other with impotent rage. Next time. He would have to stop the Planet-Master next time.
Every time, however, Batman and the police came up short. The Planet-Master kept them off-balance by varying his crimes, sometimes basing his targets on the Roman gods after whom the planets were named, sometimes on the very names themselves. He struck at the Gotham Museum of Natural History, stealing a priceless dinosaur fossil that had been unearthed in Jupiter, Florida. He robbed the proceeds of the Mid-Atlantic Farm Equipment Trade Show in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. He held up the spectators at the Gotham Air Show inspired by Uranus, the Roman sky god. Each time, Batman had arrived too late to stop him.
Batman held little hope of surprising the Planet-Master for his Neptune crime; there were too many nautical-themed targets to cover. Luck seemed to be with the Caped Crusader, however, for he chose to stake out the Port of Gotham Nautical Museum. As the Batman crouched in the shadows waiting for action, he heard the soft footfalls of someone sneaking through the museum. He saw the tiny beam of a pencil flashlight playing across the case where the captain’s log of the first submarine used by the U.S. Navy was displayed.
“Far enough, Burke!” Batman barked, leaping from the shadows. The dark-garbed face turned to his.
“Batman!” a gruff voice rumbled from the dark figure. “Finally caught up with me, have you?”
“Better late than never,” Batman said, tensing his muscles, preparing to spring. “I don’t suppose you’ll give up without a fight.”
“I don’t think so,” Planet-Master responded. “But thank you for asking.” Batman tensed as he saw the villain whip a gun from a hidden holster on his belt. To the Darknight Detective’s surprise, however, Planet-Master fired the gun straight up. It was a flare gun, and the fiery flare burst right against the ceiling. Fire alarms clanged throughout the small museum, and suddenly the sprinkler system rained water down on the two costumed combatants.
“Neptune is on the rise tonight, Batman,” Planet-Master called. “Thus I make my water-based escape!”
“A little water won’t stop me–” Batman began. Then the Planet-Master threw a small plastic pouch of something at the floor between himself and his foe. The pouch burst, spreading a thick, white granular substance on the floor. Thick clouds of steam rose from the substance. Batman frowned. Dry ice. The steam quickly hid the Planet-Master from view.
Batman plunged into the steam, throwing punches, hoping to connect. Planet-Master sidestepped the blow and came around with one of his own; Batman felt something hard and metallic smash into the back of his skull. As he folded to the floor, he barely heard the sound of the display case glass shattering. The world turned into dark blurs and flashes of color before Batman’s eyes. In a few minutes he shook off the blow, but by that time, the Planet-Master was long gone.
In the present, Bruce Wayne watched as Jimmy Olsen concluded his interview with Paul Kratz. “Please excuse me, Mr. Olsen,” Kratz said. “I have to see to my guests’ comfort. Have to make sure we don’t run out of champagne or something like that.”
“Thanks for the interview, Mr. Kratz,” Jimmy said, turning around. He looked up in surprise as he saw Bruce Wayne. “Mr. Wayne! Do you remember me? Jimmy Olsen, from the Metropolis Daily Planet? It’s been a while.” He followed this up with a knowing wink.
“Jimmy, sure I remember you!” Bruce said. He reflected to himself that it had not been so long since he last saw Jimmy, but that had been as the Batman. But, of course, Jimmy had known that Bruce Wayne was Batman for several years now, hence his wink and his keeping up the pretense in this public place that they hadn’t seen each other for a long time. (*) “What brings you to Gotham? Covering the club opening?”
[(*) Editor’s note: Batman and Jimmy last saw each other in World’s Finest: Superman and Batman: My Friend, My Enemy, Myself and Batman revealed his identity to Jimmy in “The 1,000 Tricks of Clayface and Brainiac,” World’s Finest Comics #144 (September, 1964).]
“Sure am,” Jimmy said. “Just between you and me, though, I’m following up another possible story, too!”
“They don’t call you Mr. Action for nothing,” Bruce joked. “What’s the angle, Jimmy?”
“I’m surprised you can’t guess,” Jimmy said. “You know about the crime spree the Planet-Master has been on the last couple of weeks, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Bruce said. “I follow the news. And even if I didn’t, I couldn’t help but notice the police guard around the building tonight.”
“Yeah, it seems the Plutocrat Club is a perfect target for a Pluto-based crime,” Jimmy said. “Are you worried at all, Mr. Wayne?”
“Why should I be worried?” Bruce asked, spreading his hands. “It’s not like this is the only Pluto-based target in Gotham City. I understand there’s a shipment of weapons-grade plutonium ready to leave Gotham’s STAR Labs branch tomorrow. And then there’s Underground Gotham, the new shopping mall built on the site of old Gotham Town, two-hundred-feet below street level; Pluto was the lord of the underworld, you know.”
“Good point,” Jimmy admitted. “I guess the Planet-Master could strike anywhere, when you think about it.”
Bruce kept up a disinterested smile, but inside he was scowling. He knew that a flamboyant criminal like the Planet-Master couldn’t resist the highly publicized opening of the nightclub, and he was sure to strike here.
“Excuse me, Jimmy,” Bruce said, his eyes darting imperceptibly but alertly around the room. “I see someone I need to speak to.”
“Sure, Mr. Wayne,” Jimmy said. “Enjoy your evening!”
Jimmy watched Bruce walk off and strike up a conversation with another tuxedoed clubber. His own expression switched to one of tense alertness. He wasn’t sure what had made him request this assignment from his editor, Perry White. After all, this was Gotham City, the home of the Batman. Surely he could handle the Planet-Master, without any help from Jimmy Olsen. And yet, what if Batman didn’t know what Jimmy had found out while digging for facts?
His eyes found a small door behind the golden bar, a door marked Employees Only. He looked around cautiously, watching for Kratz. Not seeing him, Jimmy headed for the door.
“Sorry, sir,” the bartender said, stopping Jimmy as he headed for the door. “Club staff only beyond this point.”
Jimmy flashed his Daily Planet identification. “Press,” he said simply.
“Yes, sir,” the bartender said, stepping aside. Jimmy pushed open the door, marveling at the wonders one could accomplish with a press pass.
The door led to the kitchen, which was a bustle of activity. Jimmy wandered around, searching. He found a door, tried it, and found it locked.
“Where’s this go?” Jimmy asked, stopping a busy kitchen employee.
“Basement,” the employee said, noncommittally.
“Why’s it locked?”
“Who knows?” the man said with a shrug.
“Well, who’s got the key?”
The staffer looked at Jimmy with a more suspicious eye. “Hey, who are you, anyway?”
Jimmy flashed his ID again, but not quickly enough for the man to read it. “Larson, Health Department. Random check.”
The staffer became suddenly very cooperative. “Oh! Sorry, sir. I don’t know why the basement is locked; it always has been, as far as I know, and I’ve been here since the beginning. Since they started preparing for opening night.”
“And the key?” Jimmy asked.
“Mr. Kratz has the only key that I know of,” the staffer said.
“Interesting,” Jimmy mused aloud. “Is there any other way into the basement?” he asked the kitchen staffer.
“Well, I don’t know,” the man said, scratching his head. “I’ve never been down there.”
“I have,” another staffer said. “There’s another door. Don’t know where it leads, though.”
“Where is this other door?” Jimmy asked. “In the basement, I mean. In relation to this door.”
“Well, it’s exactly across the basement from this door,” the second staffer said.
“Thanks,” Jimmy said. He turned and left the kitchen.
“Strange sort of health inspection,” the first staffer said to his friend.
“I’ll say,” the second staffer said. “Thank God he didn’t ask to see the grease trap!”
Jimmy walked out of the kitchen, came out from behind the bar, and looked across the club. He took a second to get his bearings, to determine where the door leading to the basement opposite the door in the kitchen would be. His eyes lit on the spot, and a slow grin spread across his face.