He sat in the tiny diner, stirring his bad cup of coffee absentmindedly. He stared out through the dirty window onto the crowded city street and sighed. Funky Flashman wondered how he had gotten into this situation again and again.
When was he going to learn to not get mixed up with the Secret Society of Super-Villains? All it had ever gotten him was grief. And here he was, down on his luck again, wondering where his next big score was going to come from. He needed an angle — something popular, something he could exploit. He had considered marketing a video game based on his erstwhile super-villain friends, but the video game craze was over. Video cassettes were big now, but that was a tough market to get into. What else was big in this new year of 1987?
“Dufus!” the counter man shouted. “Get out here with a mop, pronto! Some brat threw up his chili!”
“I told you you make it too spicy,” Dufus P. Ratchet grumbled as he came out of the kitchen with a mop. Funky watched him intently. He was a big man, a veritable giant. He looked familiar, too, as if Funky had seen him somewhere before, on TV or in the newspapers, or something.
And then it clicked.
“Hi, guys,” Flash said as he materialized inside the JLA Satellite teleporter tube. “Hope you didn’t start the meeting without me.”
“Late again, Wally?” Superman joked. “You’re getting more like your Uncle Barry every day.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Wally said, smiling. Then he heard sounds of loud argument coming from the meeting room. “Wow, what’s that all about?”
“Oh, Hal and Ollie are having a real pier-six brawl,” Superman sighed. “And you won’t believe what about.”
Superman and the Flash walked into the JLA meeting room. Steel was hiding behind a newspaper, Hawkwoman was pretending to adjust the communications equipment, and J’onn J’onzz was merely standing silent, arms folded across his muscular green chest. Green Lantern and Green Arrow faced each other across the meeting table, shouting at the top of their lungs.
“Traitor, that’s what!” Green Arrow shouted. “Backstabbing fair-weather friend!”
“Oh, come down off it,” Green Lantern shouted back. “Like you wouldn’t do the same thing in my place!”
“You owe me, you overrated night-light!“
“Owe you? How do you figure that? I won those tickets fair and square!”
“By answering trivia questions that you never would have known if not for me! Before I took you to your first match, you wouldn’t have known a half-nelson from Ozzie Nelson!”
“Hey, guys,” Steel said, not looking up from his paper, “what’s a twelve-letter word for miserly?“
“That’s easy,” Green Arrow sneered. “Green Lantern.”
Steel looked up over his paper. “Ollie, that’s two words.”
“The word you’re searching for is parsimonious,” J’onn J’onzz said.
“Good of you to come on such short notice, Nightwing,” the older man said to the young costumed hero in his office. “Sorry to pull you back to Gotham like this, but frankly I didn’t know who else to call.”
“It’s all right, Commissioner Gordon,” Nightwing said to his old friend. “With Batman and Robin out of town on a case, I guess it falls to me to handle things. But tell me, how did you know I used to be Robin? Nobody is supposed to know that.”
Gordon smiled indulgently. “I watched you grow up, son. Besides, a new, younger Robin appears in Gotham around the same time that a new hero — about the same age as the old Robin — joins the Teen Titans? Not exactly a brain-teaser.”
Nightwing chuckled at that. James Gordon, after all, was a detective. “So what’s the situation, Commissioner?” Nightwing asked. “One of our old enemies up to his old tricks?”
“Afraid so,” Gordon said. “Guess which one.”
“If you want me to guess,” Nightwing said, “it must be the Riddler!” The young hero smiled again. “Or should I say Holy Conundrums?“
Gordon chuckled. “Just like old times, isn’t it?” He handed a sheet of facsimile paper to Nightwing. “Here’s his latest challenge.”
“Say, fellow,” Funky Flashman said, sidling up to the large man mopping the floor, “could I speak to you a minute?”
The giant shrugged his massive shoulders. “It’s a free country.”
“You must get this a lot,” Funky said, “but I couldn’t help but think I’ve seen your face somewhere before. On the news, perhaps?”
The huge man tensed a bit and concentrated on his mopping. “Wasn’t me,” he said. “You must be mistaken.”
“Really?” Funky said. “The name Big Sir doesn’t mean anything to you?”
Dufus froze in mid-mop stroke, then straightened up and stared down at Funky. “Do you want to make trouble for me?” he asked. “This job is lousy, but it’s all I have! Look, whatever it is you want–“
“No, no, nothing like that,” Funky said quickly. “But tell me, what are you doing working here? I mean, if I read the news story right, you were cured of your mental aberration by the scientists in Gorilla City.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Smash-Up,” The Flash #341 (February, 1985).]
“Uh-huh. They made me a super-genius,” Dufus said, nodding. “Would you like to know what pi to the twelfth is?”
Now it was Funky’s turn to shrug. “But why aren’t you working at STAR Labs or someplace like that instead of pushing a mop in a greasy spoon?”
“Because I spent most of my life in a mental hospital and was turned into a sudden genius by ape scientists,” Dufus said. “Doesn’t that explain it?”
“Frankly, no,” Funky said.
“Ever filled out a job application?” Dufus asked.
“Know that spot where they ask you to list your formal education? Your prior work history? Degrees earned?”
Realization dawned on Funky. “I get it! On paper, you don’t exist, do you?”
“As far as what employers care about, anyway,” Dufus said. “Our society insists that you carry around your past like baggage. What am I going to do? List King Solovar of Gorilla City as a reference? I’ve got great intelligence now, sure. But I can’t put it to use.”
“But you’ve still got your muscles,” Funky pointed out. “Have you thought about putting them to use?”
Dufus raised an eyebrow. “How?”
“So what war is this, anyway?” Flash asked when he could get a word in. “What are you two fighting about this time? Please don’t tell me it’s about Reagan.”
“Nothing so trivial,” Green Lantern said. “It’s about WrestleMadness ’87.”
“What?” Flash asked, dumbfounded.
“You heard him, Wally,” Green Arrow grumbled. “WrestleMadness ’87! The biggest professional wrestling event of the year! The Billion-Dollar Brawler wrestling Bulk Bogus for the world heavyweight championship title! Ricky ‘Nacho Chip’ Wylde versus LeBeau the Ogre! Mark ‘The Shark’ Stevens versus–“
“I get it, I get it,” Flash said. “So what’s the argument? Who’s going to win? If that’s the trouble, just ask them to let you see the script.”
Green Arrow shot Flash a dirty look for that one before continuing. “This lime-colored lamplighter won two front-row tickets to the event at Gotham Municipal Arena by answering trivia questions on a radio call-in show. And he won’t take me!“
“I keep telling you, Ollie,” Green Lantern said, spreading his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “There’s this new waitress at the coffee shop I’ve been chatting up lately, and she’s a big wrestling fan! It’s the perfect opportunity–“
“You know you’d never’ve won those tickets if it hadn’t’a been for me!” Ollie snapped. “You didn’t know a head lock from a Yale lock before I got you started watching the sport!”
“Can something involving live sharks and gold lame tights really be called a sport?” Nubia asked Zatanna.
The sorceress merely shrugged. “If golf is a sport, anything can be.”
“This is the height of ingratitude!” Green Arrow grumbled. “I’ve gotta say, it’s times like this when you really find out who your friends are! You think you know somebody, but it turns out–“
“Hal, I think this has gone on long enough,” the Martian Manhunter intoned. “Why don’t you let him off the hook?”
“Huh?” Green Arrow said, confused. “What are you talking about, Uncle Martin?“
Green Lantern smiled broadly, then handed a paper envelope out to Green Arrow. The archer took it, looked inside, and gaped at the two tickets resting therein.
“Happy belated birthday, Ollie!” Hal cried, trying to keep from bursting out laughing. Although Ollie’s birthday had actually been last month, Hal wanted the tickets to be a last-minute surprise, even if it meant that his friend thought he’d forgotten altogether about his thirty-ninth birthday in December.
“You dog,” Green Arrow said, grinning. “I’m gonna get you for this!”
“The Riddler’s methods haven’t changed much, have they?” Nightwing asked, studying the message.
“He’s faxing them in this time, if that’s different enough for you,” Commissioner Gordon replied.
Nightwing looked up. “You traced the fax number, of course.”
“Public fax service downtown,” Gordon said. “Paid in cash.”
Nightwing read the two riddles out loud. “‘When is a ring not a ring?’ and ‘When is a prince like an alcoholic?’ Pretty tough.”
“I tried to dope them out myself,” Gordon said. “I should know better by now.”
“If I know the Riddler’s mind,” Nightwing said, “and I’m afraid I do by now, we need to concentrate on the typical characteristics of a ring. In short, what makes a ring a ring? Then find some kind of ring, or something called ring, that has the exact opposite of those properties.”
Gordon brightened. “Say, a boxing arena is called a ring! But it’s square in shape as opposed to round like a normal ring!” The frown returned to Gordon’s face. “But there’s no boxing event scheduled in Gotham that I know of.”
Nightwing snapped his fingers. “Wait a minute, I think you’re on the right track after all! A wrestling arena is also called a ring, and it’s square in shape, too!”
“That’s right!” Gordon brightened again. “And there is a wrestling event coming to Gotham tomorrow night! The police are doing extra duty there; the crowds sometimes get out of hand.”
“WrestleMadness ’87,” Nightwing said. “Changeling was telling me about it; he’s a fan of that stuff. He says someone called the Billion-Dollar Brawler is wrestling Bulk Bogus for the championship.”
“That’s another reason for the extra security,” Gordon explained. “The wrestling association promotes this Billion-Dollar Brawler character as a millionaire playboy who wrestles on the side. They made a special championship belt for him; solid gold, encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones.”
“Belt!” Nightwing pounced on the idea. “That’s the answer to the other riddle! The prince referred to is the Riddler himself, the Prince of Puzzlers! And he would be like an alcoholic if he took a belt!”
“The Riddler’s after the Billion-Dollar Brawler’s belt!” Gordon said. “Well, I know the drill by now. No extra police attention, but you’ll be lying in wait for him. Right?”
“Right, but your men should be extra-cautious,” Nightwing said. “We don’t want the Riddler injuring the crowd in his attempts to get away.”
“We’ll be on our guard,” Gordon promised.
“Funky, I don’t know about this,” Dufus complained.
“What’s the matter?” Funky Flashman asked as he leaned against a table in the dressing room. “You look great!”
“Great? I look like a fool! When I finally got smart, I thought my Big Sir outfit looked ridiculous, but this–!” Dufus was wearing spandex wrestling tights, metallic silver with a chain-mail pattern airbrushed on them, with a bright red tunic over them. On the tunic was a heraldic shield, but instead of a lion or sword or other such symbol, a human fist was emblazoned.
“It’s part of the gimmick,” Funky said. “You’re Sir Slamalot, the knight of the square circle! You know the fans expect that kind of thing. Think how lucky you are to be making your wrestling debut at WrestleMadness!”
Dufus sighed. “Who am I fighting again?”
“An old has-been called the Arizona Apache,” Funky said, waving his hand dismissively. “Once we get a few wins under our belt, we’ll be able to wrestle the big names!”
Dufus noted Funky’s use of the plural pronoun, as if he would be out there in the ring as well, in front of huge crowds, dressed like an imbecile. He sighed again; it was better than cleaning dishes, he supposed.
Wow, Ollie Queen thought to himself as he took his seat in the crowded Gotham Municipal Arena. Hal really got some great seats! Third row, center! I should be able to see all the action!
“Programs, get your programs! You can’t tell Ripsaw Jack Dugan from the Steel Emir without a program! Program, sir?” the white-coated vendor asked Ollie.
“Sure, I’ll take one,” Ollie said, handing over a five-dollar bill.
“Thank you, sir!” the wiry-framed vendor said, handing Ollie his program. “Say, that’s odd,” the vendor said, nodding at the empty seat next to Ollie. “I thought the show was sold out.”
“Oh, my girlfriend got sick all of a sudden, and she couldn’t make it,” Ollie said. He momentarily reflected on the strangeness of how Dinah always got sick when he had tickets to a wrestling event or boxing match.
“You should have scalped the ticket,” the dark-haired man said, peering down his pointed nose at Ollie. “Could have made a pretty penny.”
“Not my style,” Ollie said. “Breaking the law, I mean.”
“Oh, of course not, sir,” the vendor said quickly. “I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.”
Ollie peered intently at the vendor’s face. “Pardon my asking, but… have we ever met before? You look strangely familiar.”
“Oh, I have that kind of face,” the disguised Riddler answered. “Excuse me, sir; can’t knock off till I sell all these programs.” He turned and walked down the rows of seats, calling, “Programs!”