by Doc Quantum
“There go the last of the shoppers,” said Commissioner James W. Gordon to the figure hidden in a dark corner of the roof of the department store. He looked down as his men made sure nobody tried to go back in. “Give it a minute or two, and then you can move. Are you sure it’s him?”
“Clayface? Oh, yes,” said Man-Bat. “He has a distinctive effect upon human tissue. Once seen, you don’t forget it easily. Since the guard he killed was from Rosendale’s, my bet is he’s holed up in there somewhere.” Preston Payne, the third Clayface, was easily the craziest and the most dangerous of the escaped inmates. He belonged in Arkham Asylum. “We ready, Commissioner?”
“When you are,” Gordon replied. “Say, where has the Batman been lately?”
“I really don’t know,” replied Man-Bat, who quickly disappeared into the store via a rooftop entrance.
The grotesque, winged were-bat named Kirk Langstrom flew cautiously through the airy, open department store, keeping his keen bat-ears perked up for sounds of any kind. As the Man-Bat, he could never see as well as he could when he was in human form, but his heightened sense of hearing and the high-pitched sound waves he emitted that echoed back to him allowed him to see better than he ever could with his unreliable human eyes.
He swooped back and forth down several levels until he made his way to the bottom. A distinct whirring sound came to him, although he could not at first figure out where it was coming from. He knew it was getting closer, though. He descended and furled his leathery wings, walking carefully through the darkened mall, coming closer and closer to the whirring sound.
Another sound, an electronic ding was heard a split-second before the elevator door just behind him ripped open as if made of tinfoil.
The two monsters now faced each other.
“Payne?” said Langstrom. “Preston Payne?” He’d studied his files on the third Clayface to the point of exhaustion.
Man-Bat could hear the heavy breathing sound behind the clear bubble-like mask of the scientifically advanced exo-skeleton suit Clayface wore to keep his destructive touch from destroying everything he came into contact with. The grotesque creature before him stared in astonishment, as if expecting someone else.
“I want you to listen to me. My name is Man-Bat. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Clayface’s red eyes began to glower in red hatred, and he spoke in a slow, carefully enunciated, but startling normal voice. “Is that… what you said… to her?”
Langstrom stepped a pace back, confused. “Huh? I’m sorry…?”
Quicker than he could detect with his sonar senses, Clayface’s gloved hand was around Man-Bat’s hairy throat, choking him.
“You… haven’t… begun… to be sorry!” He tossed the were-bat against a wall and watched him fall down to the ground.
“Did you laugh at me, you and her? Laugh behind my back? Hmmm? Is that what you did? Laughed?” Clayface began removing the protective glove from his left hand. “I must have been… a great source… of amusement to you… ‘Look at Preston! Look at the cuckold! Isn’t he funny?‘ Well, the fun’s over now–”
As Man-Bat began rising and crouching in preparation, Clayface came at him with his ungloved hand and grabbed him by the shoulder.
“–and nobody’s laughing anymore!”
The burn from Clayface’s destructive touch seared through Man-Bat’s hair-covered flesh as if a hot iron was pressed against it. He brought up his other arm and quickly slammed a strong fist into the creature’s covered face, quickly escaping into the elevator shaft.
“The elevator?” said Payne, rising from the ground. “What’s the point of trying to hide from me in… the elevator…?” He took a look at the dark, empty shaft and could see no one. “Aah. I see.”
The creature called Clayface stalked over to the balcony and began climbing up a pillar, all the way from the first floor to the twelfth, his exo-skeleton providing him with extraordinary and unabated strength. This store was his home. He knew every department, every staircase, every restroom. On the twelfth floor, he saw that the elevator doors stood open. He laughed inwardly, thinking how carelessly he’d revealed his position. To think that she’d betrayed me with such a fool…
“I know you’re in here!” he shouted as he entered the shipping department on that floor. “Why don’t you come out and get it over with?”
He walked slowly through the open warehouse area, amidst large, unpacked children’s toys that gave the large, darkened room a surreal quality. “Are you afraid to face me? You found stabbing me in the back easy enough! Do you know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand how she could ever have…” He tripped over a carefully placed rope. “…fallen…”
The Man-Bat swooped down, slamming Clayface’s head to the floor with his clawed feet. He followed up by bringing the dazed lunatic’s head back up and then again back down in an attempt to knock him out.
“Whew,” Langstrom said, reaching into his pants’ pocket for a borrowed pair of hand-cuffs. “OK, fella, it’s all over.”
Payne’s eyes opened. In a split second he was up again and slammed him, almost impossibly, out of the room into the audio-video section. Despite trying to control the path of his flight with his wings, Man-Bat slammed backward into some glass-covered shelving, sliding down dazed and bloody.
Clayface slowly stalked toward him, resembling nothing less than Frankenstein’s monster from the old Universal Studios films.
“You’re right — it’s all over,” he said sadly. He lifted up the dazed Langstrom by the jaw with his right gloved hand. “The cheating is over! The laughing is over! Your whole worthless, marriage-wrecking life is over!” He slammed his gloved fist down across Man-Bat’s face. “It’s all…”
Payne stopped as he looked up and saw his love.
“Helena? Y-you’re smiling?” he said, shocked beyond belief. “Damn you, Helena… y-you’re actually enjoying this, aren’t you? You’re enjoying the sight of two men fighting over your affections! W-well, you know what, Helena? You’re not worth it. H-Helena… you were nuh-never worth it…”
Man-Bat tried his best to shake off his daze and brought his head up to see Payne weeping at the foot of a mannequin.
“A-huh… a-huh-huh-huh… Helena… oh, Helena, it’s all gone wrong…” he sobbed.
“Preston…” Man-Bat said gently, his hand resting on the monster’s shoulder. “Let me help.”
Several hours later, Commissioner Gordon watched a security camera screen at the holding facility in use while Arkham was being rebuilt.
Clayface sat in a La-Z-Boy, watching an episode of All in the Family and nursing a beer, seemingly contented. Next to him in a chair had been placed the mannequin Payne called Helena and to whom he invested so much of his emotions.
Gordon shook his head. Somehow, Man-Bat had been able to understand the lunacy of this criminal, and he knew just what would placate him. One monster could understand another monster, he supposed.
As Clayface reached for a bowl of potato chips and gazed over at his wife, Gordon lit up his pipe and went back to Gotham City Police Headquarters. One of the escapees had been recaptured. But there were still several still out there. Their work was not over.
“You ready t’go?”
The second thug had been waiting for the other man for almost an hour in the Belly of the Whale, a dank, smoky, two-bit bar on the waterfront, which was commonly used by petty criminals to find work. The owner and proprietor of the bar was an obese, toad-like man named Stick Chuvalo, who also sold dope on the side.
Chuvalo had rented his bar for the use of a gang of criminals from Batman’s rogues gallery shortly after Ra’s al Ghul broke them out of prison, and after Batman fought them to a draw, he forced Chuvalo to close down his bar for good. The costumed criminals working for Ra’s al Ghul were soon captured, but the stress of that case and the ensuing Swamp Thing mess shortly afterward had made it impossible for the Darknight Detective to make sure Chuvalo stayed closed. The business he soon found himself drawing in, though, as one of the few criminal-frequenting establishments that weren’t damaged by the all-encroaching vegetation, was too much for Chuvalo to say no to. He opened up shop again and drew more of a take as a broker than he’d ever made selling dope.
The second thug, a tall, bent-nosed, and swarthy-eyed fellow wearing a classic — if a little threadbare — pin-striped suit, looked like a criminal from out of a 1930s or 1940s Warner Bros movie. He took one final drag off of his cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. The first crook wasn’t impressed by this show of arrogance, making him wait for a few moments.
The two men walked out of the bar and got into a car parked nearby, where a third man in the driver’s seat was waiting for them. This man was terribly obese, to the point where it took him a while just to get in and out of the car. He had a reputation as a great getaway driver, though, and always seemed to find employment.
The three men rode in the car for quite a while, with hardly a word spoken between them. From the cold, humid waterfront area, along which they drove at first, they soon moved into the suburbs, avoiding the roads and streets that were still broken and being repaired from the vegetation damage. Downtown was still a mess, and they avoided that altogether. They soon drove through the suburbs and finally arrived at the most upscale part of town.
Their next stop was a graveyard, which — although it appeared to be completely abandoned — was actually holding a fair number of armed men hidden from view and watching for strangers.
The car stopped at the entrance to the graveyard. The fat driver rolled down his window and said, “Janus.” At that, two masked men appeared, almost from out of nowhere, and opened the graveyard gates. They drove in and parked the car.
The three men soon entered a large, secluded family crypt, which had the name Sionis engraved upon it. Instead of the well of blackness one would usually see upon entering a crypt at the stroke of midnight, the three men saw a number of torches lighting it from within and a large group of more men wearing masks of all kinds.
No two men wore the same mask. As the pin-stripe-suited thug looked around, he saw one man in a Nixon mask, another in a Tor mask, and still another in a Mickey Mouse mask. He snickered inwardly, but his face was as cool and tough-looking as ever.
One slim man dressed in black tights and wearing an old-style smiling players’ mask, often seen in advertisements and insignias in the world of the stage, walked him and the other two to one of the walls, where a selection of masks were hung, and he gestured to him to choose his mask.
The pin-striped thug looked around for a few moments and finally picked one: a caricatured Bob Hope mask. He placed it on his face under his wide-brimmed hat.
“The masks we choose often have a way of revealing our true natures,” said the man in the smiling mask. “As the boss says, ‘The mask destroys one identity while creating another. The mask recreates the wearer.'”
The man next to him, a big, dark-skinned man in an African tribal mask, said, “The boss also says, ‘Know that through the sublimation of personality, inhibitions die — and deeper drives, more primitive instincts, are brought to the surface.'”
As the pin-striped thug and the other two men joined the others, the room fell to a quiet hush as they all waited in anticipation.
Finally, the man they had all been waiting for stepped out of the darkness and onto a stone casket, addressing them all.
“Welcome, initiates, to join the swelling ranks of the faceless, and become soldiers in the army of the Black Mask. Welcome to the False Face Society of Gotham!”
The first thug, now wearing a Frankenstein mask, came up to the pin-striped thug and whispered to him, “See what I mean, O’Brian? We could make it to th’ big time with dis guy.”
“Please,” said the pin-striped thug in the Bob Hope mask, “call me th’ Eel.”