Modern Age (YEAR EIGHTEEN) Part Two

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Year Eighteen Part Two.  September 2006 to December 2006.

--JLA #65
In September, Plastic Man asks Batman to help out his old friend's son, Luke McDunnagh, who has recently joined a gang and is headed toward a life of crime.  Batman nabs the kid in Chicago, but when he exhibits the ability to shapeshift, Batman realizes that he is actually Plastic Man's son!  Batman is able to convince Luke to quit the gang life.  Plastic Man is too afraid to confront his son, but secretly watches, disguised as Batman's utility belt.  Luke will later become the superhero known as Offspring, but that is years later.

NOTE:  The JLA defeats time-traveling villain Per Degaton (as referenced in JLA: Welcome to the Working Week).

ANOTHER NOTE: Ion releases his powers back into the Central Power Battery on the planet Oa, re-creating the long dead Guardians of the Universe!  Kyle Rayner will go back to being Green Lantern again following this action (as seen in the pages of Green Lantern Vol. 4).

--JLA/Spectre: Soul War #1-2
Giant monsters that resemble collective bits and pieces of Earth's religious deities attack the planet.  The Spectre (Hal Jordan) merges with hundreds of superheroes across the globe to beat back the monster threat.  At the Watchtower, Hal tells the JLA that a mysterious alien race known as the Trans is responsible for the attacks.  Hal then merges each member of the JLA into a single titanic combo-JLA warrior, which Batman only agrees to because he is given full control of the being's consciousness.  Cue a Power Rangers/Godzilla scene where the two thousand foot tall combo-JLA warrior fights a host of giant monsters in, of course, Japan.  The battle winds up on the Moon where controller Batman gets his butt kicked.  Martian Manhunter takes over the giant combo-JLA body and wins the skirmish.  Hal then reveals that the monsters they've been fighting are merely psychic manifestations emanating from the collective unconsciousness of the entire human race that are being ripped into existence by the manipulations of the Trans.  But the worst and most dangerous psychic monster manifestation is born out of a weakened Hal's mind following the Moon battle.  The JLA is able to escape from the creature temporarily by splitting back into their own bodies and severing the psychic link from the combo-body.  Hal then further explains that the Trans exist to feed on the collective unconsciousnesses of entire planets.  After a quick teleportation tour of a planet that has been ravaged by the Trans, our heroes are ready for action.  However, the only way to defeat the Trans and their monsters is to use a machine built by Hal that will cause a near death experience that separates the JLAers spirits from their bodies.  The entire JLA goes under the effect of the machine and "dies."  The now-dead JLA passes through the the Imaginal Realm (the collective consciousness of humanity) in an attempt to fight the Trans. There, they find that the Trans have taken over the Imaginal Realm, and are now the Imaginal Realm itself.  Despite the dire situation, the JLA defeats the Trans.  Back at the Watchtower, a Trans-controlled psychic medium unplugs the machines sustaining the JLA's bodies, effectively killing them for real. Hal sacrifices himself to revive the JLA, and his spirit becomes stuck in a limbo dimension. The psychic medium is able to shake off the effects of the Trans and is able to focus the JLA's psychic energy and bring Hal back.  Batman also gets to briefly speak with his dead parents in Heaven!  Afterward, Batman humbly thanks and shakes Hal's hand for a job well done.

--JLA: Welcome to the Working Week
Patton Oswalt's JLA one-shot is the best JLA story I've ever read (besides everything Morrison has ever done).  It's so self-reflexive, introspective, and "fan-boy" (I mean that in a good way) you can't possibly not love it.  And like Morrison, Oswalt breaks down (from a layman's point of view) exactly why each one of DC's big superstar heroes are worth getting into.  This book is also a wonderful reminder of why Batman is and always will be the best superhero character ever written.  Let's get to the story.  After an alien attack on Portland, Oregon, the JLA teleports an entire neighborhood into the Watchtower while they deal with the intruders.  The situation is quickly resolved and everyone is zapped back home, except for fan-zine writing superhero geek, Marlus Randone, who stows away on the moonbase and spies on the members of the team, including Flash and Green Lantern who spend the evening watching a made-for-TV Bruce Wayne: Fugutive movie!  The story then goes through the literal working week of the JLA.  I'll focus on Batman.  Monday:  Batman examines Riddler-like clues at a crime scene where a GCPD officer is crucified on a cross.  He then saves a baby from a burning building, quickly sends an escaped Joker back to the Slab, and tests out a new armored Bat-suit.  He then ends the day successfully negotiating with the Weather Wizard.  Tuesday: Batman busts some mobsters in Gotham.  Wednesday: The Dark Knight spends some time in an opened Watchtower airlock until his blood vessels burst and he nearly dies.  Batman calls this "zero-gravity training."  J'onn calls it a fetish.  Thursday:  Widespread calamity occurs when ordinary people are bestowed with super-strength all over the planet.  There isn't much the JLA can do, so Plastic Man throws a huge party on the Watchtower!  Nearly every hero imaginable is pictured at the party. I should mention that it would be strange for Jack Knight and John Henry Irons to both be in costume as both would be retired at this point.  Also, Poison Ivy, who has sneaked in, is drawn incorrectly (without her green skin).  While we are pointing out errors, Batman mentions that Penguin has a parole hearing.  This is untrue.  Penguin hasn't been in jail for years.  Also, probably the biggest error in the entire book is that a newscast depicts both Gordon and Bullock still on the force.  Friday: Batman bitches out Plastic Man for having thrown the party.  I wonder if he bitched out Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl, since they were all there.  Hell, Cassie even took her mask off!  Batman also bitches out Wonder Woman for secretly training with Killer Croc, Lady Shiva, and Cheetah.  Saturday: Marlus makes his presence known just as the Earth is attacked by the alien supervillain Feast and his evil team known as the Murder Parade.  While the JLA battles the Murder Parade, Batman battles Feast and is able to make him call off the attack after torturing him with a ball-point pen!  And here is the best line ever.  Marlus narrates, "If this was a comic book, it would have run twenty issues, and taken all summer.  But it takes minutes.  The world is saved and it's too big and fast to take in."  Nuff said!

NOTE:  Batman disrupts another Checkmate operation in Gotham (as referenced in Detective Comics #775).

--Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #185-189 ("RIDDLE ME THAT")
Meet the new and improved Riddler.  He's got a suave attitude, sleek new look, and a bit of plastic facial surgery to boot.  This is the Riddler we know and love today.  He's now younger looking and more attractive.  In this LOTDK tale, the Riddler sets in motion a series of puzzles, bomb threats, blackmails, and red herring setups, which Batman follows around like a wild goose.  Batman then meets Martin Buttery, an acquaintance of Edward Nigma's from long, long ago who seemingly has a grudge against Nigma for the murder of his father.  After saving the life of a journalist who is writing a story on him, the Dark Knight learns that the Riddler is attempting to steal an ancient scroll from the museum.  He brings the journalist to the museum, realizing that she is actually the journalist's twin sister hired by the Riddler to fool him.  At the museum, Batman attempts to take down both the Riddler, the fake journalist, and a swarm of hired cronies.  The Riddler runs off with the goods, but is stopped dead in his tracks by Buttery.  Nigma cries foul play, and yells that he would have gotten away with it if not for Buttery's meddling.  After the case is closed, Batman and Akins send Nigma away in a squad car, only to realize that the recovered ancient scroll is a fake.  Nigma is in the car with the real scroll and his secret accomplice, Martin Buttery.  The Riddler just outsmarted Batman!

--Batman: Family #3-8
Late September.  Celia Kazantzakis has been CEO of Wayne Enterprises for two months now.  Her secret criminal network has extended its reach exponentially in this time, thanks a great deal to the surveillance and info-gathering of the anti-Oracle known as the Technician.  NOTE:  There are some pretty amazing flashbacks which show that the Technician has been responsible for designing some of the DCU villains' zanier evil technologies.  Kazantzakis' plan to take control of Gotham involves getting rid of the Bat-family.  Black Canary teams-up with Orpheus and they are first to encounter a another dark facet of Kazantzakis' criminal empire when they battle a metahuman former US Senator.  Dr. Excess has been injecting a mutant strain of cancer into clinic patients, which causes them to hulk up and go crazy.  Then Kazantzakis sends Suicide King to take care of Huntress.  Suicide King not only blackmails Huntress by threatening to reveal her secret identity to the public, but also threatens to kill her extended family.  Huntress is able to save her family, but is pissed off that Suicide King knows her secret identity.  She is even more annoyed when DEO Agent Cameron Chase (who had been trailing Suicide King) shows up and learns her identity as well.  While Bruce attends the opera with Kazantzakis, Robin is captured and tortured by Freeway and Dr. Excess.  We learn here that Robin has either had his fingerprints surgically replaced or had the FBI database altered.  Freeway runs Tim's prints through the FBI database and he comes up as a positive match for a deceased Blackgate inmate.  Tim escapes his captors, gets evidence which proves the existence of a underground criminal cabal linked to Kazantzakis, and reports back to Batman and company.  The Bat-family now has the edge.  Batman easily captures the Technician, sets him up in a safe-house with Nightwing and Batgirl as guards, and then goes to interrogate an old colleague of Kazantzakis.  The psychotic Mr. Fun is able to defeat both Batgirl and Nightwing at the same time using only a golf club as a weapon!  Mr. Fun then murders the Technician in order to silence him.  Kazantzakis then sets into motion a city-wide blackout, combined with a string of money embezzling transfers designed to ruin Wayne Enterprises and cripple the city's economy.  Nightwing and Black Canary defeat Mr. Fun.  Huntress gets revenge against Suicide King. Batgirl nabs Bugg and shuts down the computerized brain behind all of the chaos.  And Batman confronts Kazantzakis at last.  She gets away in the end, but the jig is up.  Kazantzakis sends her letter of resignation by courier a few days later.  NOTE:  Where the hell was Alfred in this series!?

NOTE:  Gotham Central #11 takes place on October 7, which puts it smack dab in the middle of the Batman: Family mini-series.  This is okay though, since Batman isn't in the issue.  GC #11 is all about the GCPD secretary Stacy.  We learn her views and opinions about the various GCPD characters and we learn about her huge crush on Batman.  PS. Stacy mentions that Josie Mac was promoted to detective first class three months ago.  However, this would have happened only a-month-and-a-half ago.

ANOTHER NOTE:  Batman disrupts another Checkmate operation in Gotham (as referenced in Detective Comics #775).

--Superman Vol. 2 #189 
Teenage occultist Traci Thirteen is aware of some bad juju going on in Hell's Heart, a horrible slum in Washington, DC. Traci contacts the wife of Vice President Pete Ross, Lana Lang, for help. Lana goes into Hell's Heart but never comes out. After twenty-four hours, Pete sends Clark to go find out what happened to her. Before Clark departs, Batman pays him a visit and warns him not to go into Hell's Heart since it is the most dangerous place in America, worse even than Gotham. Batman and Clark then enter into an ugly argument about each others different crime-fighting methodologies and whether or not either has really inspired any hope in the world. The nastiness is left unresolved and Batman takes off, leaving Clark to go after Lana.

--Detective Comics #776-783
Before we begin, 'tec #775 is out of order.  Issue 775 doesn't happen until the very beginning of December.  So don't worry, we didn't skip anything.  Now, back to 'tec #776.  Years ago, GCPD officer James O'Dell was forced into an early retirement and witness protection after getting in too deep with a gang of drug dealing gun runners.  Now those very same drug dealing gun runners are being murdered by an unknown assailant.  Batman thinks it is O'Dell, but it's really O'Dell's elderly father, who winds up getting shot and killed.  Batman also gets shot and drags himself to the care of Leslie Thompkins, who saves his life yet again.  Next, the six-issue "Dead Reckoning" story-arc (which takes about two-and-a-half weeks to transpire) begins when one of Killer Moth's old henchmen gets mistaken for Moth and is murdered.  The unknown killer then attempts to murder Penguin, Mad Hatter, and new Gotham U criminology professor Jim Gordon. After the Dark Knight meets with 60s supernatural detective Mark Merlin, the mystery unravels, one which stems back to 8 years ago.  In the flashback to 8 years ago, we learn that actor Paul Sloan was hired by Joker, Riddler, Moth, Penguin, Scarecrow, and Hatter to play a pivotal role in a scheme which would have resulted in Batman's ultimate demise.  Two-Face wanted nothing to do with the other rogues, so they hired Sloan to become a fake Two-Face, a role which Sloan took way too seriously.  After finding out about the existence of a fake Two-Face, the real Two-Face got a bit angry, kidnapped Sloan, mutilated him, and left him for dead.  Then the Scarecrow revived Sloan, only to torture and experiment on him for weeks.  Cut back to the present; Sloan is finally back for revenge.  The Dark Knight travels to the Slab to interrogate Joker and quickly realizes Sloan's plan.  Batman (and Two-Face) bring him to justice.  Sloan winds up in Arkham with the new supervillain name Charlatan.  Later, Alfred overhears a sanitation worker commenting on how he always finds roses left in Crime Alley on the anniversary of the Wayne murders.  Hoping to catch the celebrity Bruce Wayne in the act, he plans to hang out in the alley all night long.  Alfred, worried that the city worker will realize that Bruce is Batman when Batman shows up instead of Bruce, has Dick, Tim, and Cassandra form a distraction for the curious man.  This large chunk of 'tec issues ends with Batman apprehending a serial killer who has murdered five people.  NOTES:  At the beginning of the "Dead Reckoning," a doctor mentions that Lucius Fox recovered from his coma a month ago.  Lucius recovered over two months ago.  There is also a flashback in the Second Feature of issue 782 which refers to the Wayne murders as occurring 25 years ago instead of the correct 35 years ago.  Also, the Second Feature story from issues 777-781 entitled "Spore" is out-of-continuity.  I also wanted to mention that at the end of issue 782, Two-Face is still at large, but as soon as 783 begins, he is back at Arkham. I guess they caught him really quickly.

NOTE:  Bruce monitors Bane in Paris, where the latter apprehends the metahuman supervillain known as Warp (as seen through flashback in Batman: Gotham Knights #47).

--Batman: Family #8, Epilogue
Three weeks after the resignation of Celia Kazantzakis, it is the first week of November, and Bruce celebrates at a Wayne Enterprises benefit gala with his family; Dick, Tim, Cassandra, and Babs.

NOTE:  Batman disrupts another Checkmate operation in Gotham (as referenced in Detective Comics #775).

--Gotham Central #12-15 ("SOFT TARGETS")
This story-arc originally was written to have taken place during Christmas time.  However, there is no way this is possible due to the editorial compression of the year.  We must ignore the seasonal references and depictions in this tale.  Anyway, chaos ensues when Joker assassinates Mayor Dickerson!  Joker then begins a string of terrorist bombings, which result in several police officers' deaths, including Detective Nate Patton.  Eventually, Joker is captured.  David Hull becomes the new mayor of Gotham.

NOTE:  Gotham Central #16-22 takes place here and now, but Batman is not present in these issues, although Bruce makes an off-panel cameo in issue #22.  Like in the previous story-arc, any seasonal references must be ignored.  Josie Mac and Marcus Driver solve a cold case from 1996, in which Mad Hatter killed an entire high school basketball team.  Harvey Bullock was the lead detective on the case, so Mac and Driver pay the retired alcoholic cop a visit.  Bullock is so convinced that Penguin was involved with the crime, he kidnaps the villain and beats the tar out of him.  The crazed Bullock winds up shooting two people in the process as well.  Meanwhile, Mac and Driver discover that the basketball team gang-raped a girl and the victim's mother had hired the Mad Hatter to commit the crime all those years ago.  When Bullock hears the truth, he puts a gun in his own mouth and tries to kill himself.  Mac is just barely able to knock the gun out of Bullock's hands before he can pull the trigger.  Poor Harvey is hauled off to jail, but Bruce sends his best lawyer downtown to assure that Bullock won't serve any real time.   

--JLA/JSA Secret Files #1, Part 1
Metamorpho is resurrected!  Meanwhile, the JSA and JLA prepare for a joint Thanksgiving celebration.  Captain Marvel has come up with this idea that the JSA and JLA should begin an annual tradition of sharing Thanksgiving.  Mr. Terrific (Michael Holt) bonds with Batman in the Batcave.  Mr. Terrific will become one of Batman's closest friends and allies in the future.

--JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice
The JLA and the JSA celebrate the first annual Thanksgiving celebration on the Watchtower (actually a few days before the actual holiday). The celebration is interrupted when both teams are called into action to save President Luthor from Apokoliptian supervillain Doctor Bedlam.  After regrouping at JSA headquarters, things turn ugly.  The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust) have escaped from their prison within the Rock of Eternity.  For anyone who doesn't know, the Rock of Eternity is home to the wizard Shazam and headquarters of Captain Marvel.  The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man are demons which were trapped there ages ago.  Anyway, these demons possess the bodies of several key players and begin running amok, resulting in the destruction of the JSA brownstone headquarters.  Anger embodies Batman, Pride embodies Mr. Terrific, Envy embodies Green Lantern, Greed embodies Plastic Man, Sloth embodies Dr. Fate, Lust embodies Power Girl, and Gluttony embodies Captain Marvel.  Meanwhile, the other heroes are sucked into either Limbo or Dr. Fate's twisted inter-dimensional fortress.  As chaos reigns over the planet, one man stands tall, having manipulated the entire scheme; President Luthor.  But wait!  As Black Canary, Green Arrow (Ollie), and Dr. Mid-Nite close in on the President, Luthor reveals that he isn't Luthor at all.  Despero is back!  And he's in league with old JSA villain Johnny Sorrow.  Things are looking bleak, until the combined forces of the JSA and JLA are able to free their possessed comrades and kick some serious ass.  Even Luthor is thankful for the rescue and builds the JSA a new state-of-the-art headquarters in Manhattan at the location of the old headquarters.  (The old JSA brownstone is also fixed up as well).

--Batgirl #34-38
Now that here is nothing left for Batgirl to learn in the martial arts, its time to begin her detective training.  Batman lets her in on the "Alpha" case he's been working on for over six months now.  Alpha is a deadly mercenary who was trained by David Cain.  After bringing a cold fusion bomb into Gotham six months ago, Alpha went off the radar because he was struck with amnesia and forgot who he was.  The mob then took him in, where he remained virtually hidden, until now.  Batman and Batgirl take Alpha into their care and he slowly regains his mind.  Remembering that he is a stone-cold killing machine doesn't make him feel good, but Batgirl explains that she too was once trained by Cain.  Together, they deactivate the fusion bomb.  Meanwhile, Cain escapes from prison and abducts a young girl.  Batgirl saves the child, but learns something she probably already knew in her heart; Cain is indeed her biological father.  Batman then tells Batgirl to stop patrolling with Spoiler, as the latter is not fully-trained yet.  Batgirl goes out with Spoiler anyway.  The duo fights some all-girl gangs and Batgirl comes to the conclusion that Batman is right; Spoiler isn't ready for the big-time.

NOTE:  Batman disrupts two more Checkmate operations in Gotham (as referenced in Detective Comics #775).  These are the fifth and sixth Checkmate missions that Batman has fouled up in the past six months.  

--JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice, Epilogue
The JSA and JLA celebrate the grand opening of the new JSA tower in Manhattan.

NOTE:  Clark Kent is re-hired by The Daily Planet after exposing a minor Lex Luthor presidential scandal (thanks to help from Talia) which involves the illegal incarceration of Luthor's former bodyguard Hope (as seen in Superman Vol. 2 #194).  This minor scandal may cause Luthor to lose a few points on his approval rating, but does little else to threaten his presidency.

--Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #197-199 ("BLAZE OF GLORY")
Small time crook/weapons expert Erik Webber is released from prison and wants revenge against Batman for his incarceration seven years ago.  Webber makes his presence known by burning a bat symbol into a "Welcome to Gotham: Home of the Batman" billboard.  Webber then blows up the head of the famous Lady Justice Statue (Gotham's equivalent to the Statue of Liberty).  Finally, Webber murders four people just because they are wearing Batman paraphernalia (i.e. a kid with a Batman skateboard, kid with a bat symbol T-shirt, etc).  After visiting Arkham and ruling out Joker and Two-Face as suspects, Batman realizes that the culprit is Webber and confronts him on a Gotham rooftop.  Webber explains that there are dozens of bombs around the city rigged to explode when his own heart stops beating.  The villain then electrocutes himself in an attempt to commit suicide and blow up most of the city.  Webber's plan fails as Batman is able to medivac the villain to a hospital where he is stabilized.  After the bomb squad clears out all of the explosives, Batman visits Webber in the hospital and watches him die.

--Green Lantern Vol. 3 #155
One of Kyle Rayner's best friends, Terry Berg, becomes the victim of a hate crime—beaten and nearly killed by some homophobic bigots simply because he is gay.  While Berg lies in a coma, Kyle breaks into Rikers Island and assaults his friend's attackers (as seen in Green Lantern Vol. 3 #154).  At the JLA Watchtower, a distraught Kyle begs Flash to let him use the Cosmic Treadmill to go back and prevent Berg's tragedy.  Of course, Flash doesn't comply.  Batman then chastises Kyle for his actions at Rikers, to which Kyle accuses Batman of doing stuff like that all the time.  After Kyle chats with the Spectre (Hal Jordan), Berg comes out of his coma and is relatively okay.  Upset at the recent events, Kyle and his girlfriend Jade decide to leave Earth for a bit and travel the cosmos together.

--Harley Quinn #25
Joker has been loose without making so much as a peep for a month now. Getting antsy, Batman sets up a ruse to lure him out. Batman nabs Harley and forces her to cooperate. First, in front of many witnesses, Batman lets Harley best him in a robbery attempt and the Dark Knight declares Harley to be his new number one enemy. As predicted, Joker contacts Harley. Harley, however, instead of playing Batman's mole, becomes Joker's counterspy. Using Harley to send disinformation—actually non-information, just random jokes—Joker thinks he is poking fun at his rival. However, over the course of a few days Batman incorrectly interprets these messages as code and tells Harley he thinks Joker is planning to murder everyone at a salesmen's convention. Liking the idea, Joker goes ahead with Batman's plan and gets busted.

--Nightwing Vol. 2 #75
Batman gives Nightwing info on the corrupt mayor of Blüdhaven and encourages him to quit the BPD. Back in Blüdhaven, Nightwing meets new superhero Tarantula (Catalina Flores).

HUSH Part One
--Batman #608-609
A new era is officially upon us!  Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee begin their famous "Hush" story-arc.  On November 27, Batman rescues a kidnapped boy from a monstrously mutating Killer Croc, but during their fight, the ransom money is stolen by Catwoman.  The Caped Crusader swings after Catwoman, but someone cuts his line causing him to fall hundreds of feet to his impending doom.  Batman makes a proper mid-air adjustment in the nick of time, avoiding death, but suffering a broken shoulder and fractured skull.  Meanwhile, Catwoman returns the briefcase full of money to Poison Ivy, who has Selina under her spell.  Huntress is able to help Batman into the Batmobile, which automatically drives him back home.  Alfred does the best he can to stabilize the unconscious and broken Bruce, but it looks bad.  Oracle even contacts Shondra Kinsolving (!) to ask for her help, but Shondra doesn't respond.  (For anyone wondering, Shondra has made a recent complete recovery from her brain trauma).  Alfred and Dick, just like they did in "Knightfall," fake a car accident and call the authorities.  Bruce's childhood friend Dr. Tommy Elliot is flown in and performs brain surgery on Bruce, saving his life!  But who cut Batman's rope?  And who were Croc and Ivy working for?  A mystery man with a bandaged face watches from the shadows.  Only time will tell his secret.

NOTE:  Bruce, while recovering from surgery, sends Bane to intimidate the Ventriloquist.  Bane intimidates him with a chainsaw.  Bane then is able to calm the rampaging Pix (as seen through flashback in Batman: Gotham Knights #47). 

--Detective Comics #775  
It's been less than a week since Batman's brain surgery in Batman #609, but he's already miraculously started patrolling the Gotham streets again.  The Dark Knight shakes down yet another Checkmate operation.  This time he shuts down a large Checkmate base in Gotham and beats up agent Jessica Midnight pretty badly, permanently disfiguring her face.  It is mentioned that this is the seventh time in the last six months that Batman has interfered with Checkmate business (and you'll see that it is a fact on this chronology!)  Sasha has indeed been training with Checkmate for the past six months, but she wants out.  Before going on the lam, she arranges a meeting with Bruce.  For the first time in six months Bruce and Sasha are face-to-face.  This issue is a must-read.  Really good stuff.  Bruce and Sasha talk about their tragic history together and say they love each other.  They finally kiss and Bruce begs her to come back.  Sasha touches his face gently and says "Don't try to find me."  Another love lost.  Another sad end to another heart-breaking chapter in the life of Batman.

--Catwoman Vol. 3 #13
Things are going well for Selina.  She's happily dating Slam Bradley.  Crime-fighting is treating her fine too because Catwoman gets to play Robin Hood.  For example, she recently stole a ton of money from Black Mask and used the money to fund construction of a new youth center in the East End.  In this issue Bruce is on hand for the dedication ceremony.  After finding out Catwoman's secret identity, a pissed off Black Mask swears revenge.  Black Mask blows up the youth center, but this is only the beginning.

NOTE:  The events of Catwoman Vol. 3 #14-16 take place now.  Batman isn't in these issues, but they feature important events.  Black Mask continues his reign of terror upon Selina.  First, Black Mask kidnaps Selina's sister Maggie, Maggie's husband, and Holly Robinson.  The villain not only tortures and murders Maggie's husband in front of Maggie, but forces her to eat parts of his flesh as well.  Catwoman tracks down Black Mask in time to prevent Holly from being tortured, but Maggie has gone completely insane.  An enraged Catwoman throws Black Mask off of a rooftop and leaves, presuming the villain is dead.

ANOTHER NOTE:  The new Suicide Squad forms and Stephanie's father, Cluemaster, is presumably killed in action (as seen in Suicide Squad Vol. 2, #1).  Arthur Brown is indeed shot several times, horribly burned on his face, and left for dead.  However, he survives, will spend over a year in a hospital, and will go into hiding for some time after that.  The world, including Stephanie, will believe he is dead.

--Batgirl #39-40
After Batgirl battles the Tarakstanian metahuman terrorist known as Black Wind, Oracle convinces Batman to give Cassandra a vacation.  Babs and Cassie go on a cruise and not only are they surprised to see Superboy on the same ship, they are surprised to learn that he is working on a case involving Black Wind too.  Who should naturally show up?  Black Wind!  Superboy and Batgirl team-up and take down Black Wind.  Before returning home to Gotham, Superboy and Batgirl reveal they have feelings for each other.  Cassie feels a bit confused though, as she has partly fallen for the charismatic Black Wind as well.  Oh, Cassie and your teenage hormones.  At least the girls get to continue their vacation.

--Catwoman Vol. 3 #19
Things have been rough for Catwoman lately. She's been dating Slam Bradley and the relationship hasn't been exactly perfect. After a fight with Slam, they call the whole thing off. More bad news follows about Holly Robinson, who has recently killed someone and is on the verge of returning to using drugs. Upset about the break-up and about Holly, Selina hits a bar, gets wasted, and suits up as Catwoman. She breaks into the museum, but Batman responds immediately. Catwoman then drunkenly kisses him, but Batman pushes her away and calms the teary-eyed Selina. Batman smiles and tells her everything will be fine. The next day, Selina gathers herself, visits Holly, and offers her similar comforting words.

NOTE:  A one-panel flashback from Batman: Gotham Knights #41 takes place now.  Batman becomes aware of a new deadly narcotic being pushed on the streets.  The drug is known as "Elastix" and is made from Gingold, the super-stretchy serum which gives Elongated Man his powers.

--Batman: Gotham Knights #37-42
There is so much going here with Scott Beatty's amazing run on GK, I'll try my best to keep it brief.  When an insane Kobra cult member threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb Batman goes on red-alert.  Spoiler confronts Batman about cutting her out of the loop after her training ended months ago.  Batman tells her that she lacks the discipline and ability to be a crime-fighter.  Spoiler begs for one more chance and the Dark Knight cuts her a deal.  If she can locate the bomber and save the day, she can stay on the team.  If not, she's done.  Spoiler fails.  Thankfully, Metamorpho was on back-up to stop the detonation.  Bruce fires Stephanie as harshly as possible.  Poor kid.  For Steph, this is like getting dumped hard.  She cries hysterically and Tim has to console her.  Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred talk about the Bat-family.  Bruce, in regard to Stephanie says, "I'm just trying to protect this extended family from becoming too large and unmanageable."  Alfred scolds him, saying that no one really chooses the vigilante life.  The children look up to Bruce and can never walk away, unless they are forced to, as Stephanie was.  Alfred also reminds Bruce that even Bane and Huntress yearn for his approval and acceptance to be within the family.  PS. This might be a slight rib by Alfred since we know that Bruce has set up a trust fund for Bane (similar to the one he set up for Jean-Paul four years ago).  Meanwhile, the Question tells Nightwing that Huntress has been abducted by Checkmate.  NOTE:  A Checkmate meeting is shown where they mention their recent "failure with Sasha Bordeaux" (referencing her recent departure in 'tec #775).  In a penthouse suite atop a secret Gotham Checkmate base, Huntress is examined under a fine-tooth comb by new Checkmate King, David Said.  Said has employed the services of Scarecrow and Mad Hatter (on loan from Arkham) to get inside Helena's mind through the use of hallucinogenic drugs.  Said offers her the Queen's position in Checkmate (second in command)!  Huntress refuses and escapes, winding up in one of Batman's downtown underground Bat-bases under his protection.  Checkmate is able to track Huntress to the underground base and infiltrate it (!), but Batman and Huntress are able to fight off the Checkmate agents.  Anyway, Huntress returns to Checkmate and accepts the job as Queen, but secretly will report to Batman.  Batman now has a mole within Checkmate!  But before Batman can pat himself on the back, Tim, Leslie Thompkins, and Dick call Bruce with a frantic message; Alfred is dying of a mysterious illness!  Batman rushes home and there is nothing much he can do except wait.  Leslie stabilizes the unconscious Alfred and tries to determine the cause of his ailment.  With nothing better to do, Bruce goes out in his Matches Malone disguise and teams-up with Elongated Man and his wife Sue Dinby to get the illegal narcotic known as "Elastix" off the streets.  When he returns, Leslie informs him that Alfred is dying of the Clench (the disease from way back in Contagion).  GK #42 takes place over the course of 20 days, since the antibiotics which suppress the Clench virus work on a 20 day cycle.  It's around December 3 when this issue begins, so we'll go from there.  Day 1:  Bruce sits by Alfred's bedside.  Day 2: The Bat-family is in quarantine and is vaccinated.  Batman communicates with JLA about the danger of another Clench outbreak.  Day 3:  Bruce chats with Leslie.  Day 4: Alan Scott answers the Batsignal throughout the week as a substitute for Bruce, who watches over Alfred.  Day 5: Tim reflects on the romance between Leslie and Alfred.  Day 6: Leslie realizes that Alfred has caught a mutated version of the Clench from the bats in the Batcave.  Day 7: Bruce ends the Bat-family quarantine and seals up the Batcave.  Day 8: The Atom shrinks down and goes inside Alfred to check things out at a molecular level.  Day 9: Cassie buys Alfred a "get well" card.  Day 10: Bruce tries to make chicken noodle soup and fails miserably.  Day 11: Alfred wakes up!  Day 12: Batman wails on Riddler.  Day 13:  State case worker Felix Desidero visits Bruce with accusations of various child abuse towards his wards Jason and Dick.  Day 14: Babs has lunch with her dad.  Day 15: Batman steals an experimental anti-virus from a LexCorp laboratory.  Day 16: Superman visits Alfred.  Day 17: Bruce and Dick fumigate the cave (and the bats) with the Clench anti-virus.  Day 18: Batman sends the anti-virus to Bane (in the Himalayas) since he was in the cave recently.  Day 19: Alfred recovers! Day 20: Bat Boy Aaron Langstrom has run away from home and is living secretly in the Batcave!  (There is a flashback which shows him leaving home and hiding in the cave in Batman: Gotham Knights #45).

NOTE:  Sasha Bordeaux won't have been gone from Checkmate for very long before they pull her back in.  It is around this time that Sasha becomes a Checkmate agent once again.

--Azrael: Agent of the Bat #95-97
We haven't seen Azrael in a long time, but he's still crazy, still wearing his old Az-Bats costume, and still slowly dying of a rare blood disease (as a result of his St. Dumas programming).  A crooked US Senator has molded Az into a prophet with hundreds of followers.  In order to build Az's cred, the senator has Az go after the escaped Two-Face.  Az easily captures Two-Face on live television, but endangers the lives of many people and allows important evidence to be destroyed.  Batman is fed up and vows to end the career of Azrael for good.  In the meantime, the senator replaces Jean-Paul with the more charismatic and experienced Nicholas Scratch as leader of his cult.  Batman confronts Scratch on Christmas Eve and tells him to get lost.

--JLA Classified #10-15 ("NEW MAPS OF HELL")
When LexCorp scientists begin deciphering an ancient coded Sumerian text, several gigantic explosions occur.  The JLA decides to go straight to the best resource regarding LexCorp info, the President of the United States Lex Luthor.  Luthor explains that his former company, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, is legally searching for a weapon of mass destruction which can wipe out life in entire cities without any property damage.  The ancient texts supposedly have this power if they are interpreted correctly.  Just then, hundreds of dark-matter soldiers and a giant monster thing with tentacles erupts from the ground in Las Vegas and sucks the JLA into a black hole-like nexus.  The team then stands face-to-face with the demonic creature known simply as Z, who explains that if they can defeat him in battle, he will become their ultimate weapon with which they can use in any way.  If they lose, Z will extinguish all life on Earth.  Z sends each JLA member to a different place to face a unique test designed just for him or her.  Most of the tests are not unique at all and kinda stupid.  For example, Batman is thrust into a world where there are hundreds of Jokers constantly killing people.  Anyway, Oracle (with some help from DCU's magical community) is able to decipher the ancient texts and help the League unite to defeat Z.  NOTE:  Butch Guice accidentally draws the giant penny in the Batcave.  This is wrong because the giant penny was lodged in a crevice deep beneath the cave after Cataclysm.

--Azrael: Agent of the Bat #98-100
Merry Christmas!  The tragic death of the former Batman, Jean-Paul Valley, better known as Azrael.  Az fights Batman one final time and actually beats him in hand-to-hand combat!  After bidding his friend Leslie Thompkins adieu, Az then goes on his final battle and brings down both Carlton LeHah and Nicholas Scratch, but gets pumped full of bullets in the process.  Batman shows up just after the chaos has subsided.  A beat-up and bloody Jean-Paul smiles and says goodbye before walking off to die alone.  NOTE:  A brain-damaged Shondra Kinsolving makes an appearance in issue #99.  However, this appearance must be ignored.  Shondra would have made a full recovery at this point and thus, should NOT be shown in her child-like state.

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