By Clark Kent
GOTHAM - Alfred’s voice rang through Wayne’s ballroom, announcing Wayne’s personal guests as we filed in through the room’s double doors. Lois’s hand lightly rested on my proffered arm as a small group of us from Metropolis filtered in with some of Gotham’s most noted and notorious. “Mr. Dent!” Alfred called out somewhere ahead, drawing some murmurs from the crowd. Dent had, after all, terrorized Gotham before his rehabilitation at Arkham. Whether or not he is truly cured, only time will tell, but perhaps the scars on his soul are not as permanent as the ones marring his once good natured visage. That is, ultimately, what this ball is all about. An attempt to repair what breaches once occurred.
“Good to see you again Mr. Kent.” Alfred’s voice and handshake were welcoming as I handed him a card with names he didn’t really need. But being a man of custom and tradition, he accepted it anyway and gave it a quiet and studious glance.
The ballroom was already nearly full as Lois and I entered, applause for recognizable names and cheerful conversation giving it all a warm, excited atmosphere. It quickly fell silent at the arrival of another guest, the murmurs becoming decidedly less friendly.
“It’s alright Alfred! Let him in.” Wayne’s powerful voice cut through the room.
“As you wish. Dr. Harleen Quinzel, and…” Alfred trailed off.
“Jack. Call me Jack.” The slender man gave a broad smile, enhanced by the red marks staining his face.
Jack is perhaps better known to the citizens of Gotham as “The Joker.” One of it’s most twisted souls, and one perhaps most in need of the services Arkham could provide. Jack and Dr. Quinzel both are now residents under Arkham’s care, and at the ball by Wayne’s special arrangement, in an attempt to demonstrate the remarkable advancements the Asylum has made in the realms of mental health...and secure additional funding. The need is great in Arkham, and indeed the world for such services. The awareness of the disease burden imposed by various mental illnesses has increased significantly in the last decade, not to mention the fiscal burden the property damage caused by individuals like Jack.
Jack was not Arkham’s only alumni that night. Many of Arkham’s former patients were in attendance, including Dr. Fries and his wife Nora.
If the hushed murmurs and concerned tones continued, they were soon lost in the energetic and brassy music of “Sarah and Swingtime” Mr. Wayne always procures the best.
For the auction, Wayne donated an expensive family heirloom, a large jewel encrusted necklace that once belonged to his mother. Additionally, Wayne offered an equally rare prize, a night of his company in Gotham, presumably beginning in one of the city’s most exclusive and expensive restaurants. The bidding was said to be intense. As part of a promotion for JJ Astrobilt’s new social media platform, the bidding was entirely occurring online. Mr. And Mrs. Astobilt were announced as third place in penultimate bidding round for the gem.
During the second dance intermission, the winners for both auctions were announced. Bruce’s face paled when it was announced the victor for a night with Bruce Wayne was none other than Jack.
“You’ve made me the happiest girl in gotham Wayne!” Jack proclaimed, leaping into Wayne’s arms. For a moment, Wayne’s complexion threatened to match the Joker’s.
The second auction had it’s own share of complications. Miss McDougal was the winning bidder and commissioner Gordon personally handed her the jewel box...only for McDougal to shrilly announce it’s vacancy.
Wayne manor was quickly locked down. Wayne had taken the precaution of arranging with commissioner Gordon for each vallet to be an undercover member of Gotham PD.
While the doors remained locked, the dancing continued, although now with perhaps a slightly less easy air. Libations flowed somewhat more freely from the bar, to the glee of Mr. Cobblepot, who was providing all drinks for the night.
As I danced, I occasionally noticed Bruce at the edge of the ballroom, stocking through the room and taking notes, his eyes occasionally glinting from the strands of light stretched across the ceiling.
“May I have everyone’s attention?” Bruce called, as another dance set ended. An odd group gathered around Wayne, both friends and allies. A line of former Arkham patients formed, as if expecting the proceedings. The Daily Planet’s own gossip columnist Cat Grant hovered nearby, eager for a story.
“Have you found the culprit Wayne?” Commissioner Gordon asked.
“I believe I have.”
“Father always did call you ‘The Great Detective’ Bruce,” Talia Al Gual interjected.
Wayne laughed, and deflected the praise, but began to methodically work through his logic. Many of Arkham’s former patients stepped forwards, protesting their innocence and expressing their anger at the accusation, but curiously, each time Wayne announced their innocence, explaining why the crime would not fit their former personas.
“They say an old friend is worse than an old enemy.” Harvey at one point expressed. “I’m of two minds about this.”
Indeed, each seemed almost disappointed as Wayne dismissed them. One almost began to wonder if their flashy and terrible acts had been designed to cultivate the attention of the society they threatened, an echo of the universal human need for attention and recognition.
Attention and recognition turned out to be the driving force for this crime, though from unexpected quarters.
At Talia’s prompting Mr. Wayne finally revealed the night’s transgressor… Mr. Astrobilt. It seems the entire theft had been nothing more than a publicity stunt to increase traffic on his new media platform “Twitface.”
“So one of your Pals was trying to make it look like one of mine was guilty?!” A line of former Arkham inmates spontaneously formed, and stepped together with dance like precision towards Mr. Atrobilt. In that moment, I was struck by something. That though they were perhaps the most broken among us, that each of them had a greatness to them. That though their objectives were destructive, they had at one time or another overcome their tremendous personal differences and egos to collaborate together. I found myself amazed in that moment that they had each forged a unity many in more “polite” society often found impossibly elusive.
On the other hand, the best of us, a man of business and wealth of the kind often held up as the ideal for which we should all strive, had been the one to show the greatest weakness, and trespass against his hosts.
In the end, Astrobilt nobly offered to make reparations, both financially and personally, volunteering a significant amount of his time to Arkham Asylum. Jack and Dr. Quinzel returned peacefully with their police escorts. It almost seemed like the fresh air and time at Wayne manor had done something beneficial for Jack. His steps out the front doors into the waiting night had a fresh spring to them.
As Lois, Cat and I waited for our car, I found myself thinking that perhaps Bruce was onto something. That for all it’s failures, perhaps Arkham was also slowly succeeding, shining some light into the darkest souls. And that is an encouraging thought.
Each of us must struggle with our own natures. Each of us, in our own moments, must face choices where we can give into selfishness, or choose a higher, greater path. If all is not completely lost to those who have surrendered to their basest natures, then, perhaps, there might be hope for the rest of us.