Saturday, December 17, 2011

You Still Don't Know Dick

ID: You’ve previously waxed poetic about Dick’s positive effect on your life. What’s the worst moment he helped pull you back from?

B: When the Joker murdered his replacement, things got pretty dark for me. I felt like I’d failed him, that if I’d only trained him better… I wanted to murder the Joker, and then quit.

And I might have done it. By then Dick was Nightwing, and we’d had a pretty big fight about his replacement; he wasn’t living in the Manor anymore, and I wasn’t going to find him to talk it over. But he found me. He tracked me down- despite the fact that I didn’t want to be found.

And he told me that we were all mortal. That he and I, we’d survived for two reasons: the first was that I’d put us through Hell, a training regimen that burnt the imperfections off of us. And the second was luck. Dumb, stupid, thoughtless luck. That we were alive only because chance hadn’t claimed us yet, because we were always only one lousy ricochet or one missed landing away from death.

And I’m not explaining it well. Let me see if I can remember the part that really got me. He said, “We’re in a war. We fight every day for a better world, one where children don’t lose their parents. And when we fail, we mourn our losses, and we fight the next day harder for them.”

He gives a hell of a speech. I was never good at those, not like he is; you have to love people to really reach them the way he does, in a way I’ve never been good at. I care but… love is a vulnerability I’ve rarely allowed myself. It’s one of the many reasons I tell people my son is a far better man than me. Because he isn’t scared to love people knowing what it could cost him. It makes him a better leader. And it also means that he feels his losses even deeper than I feel mine. And I knew if he could do it, if he could look past the reasons we’d been fighting, if he could look at the world with optimism for everything we’d seen, then I could keep going, too.

ID: Fighting the good fight?

B: And doing it the right way. Joker had to be brought to justice. Though I’ll admit, since then I hit him a hell of a lot more than I used to. Not that that’ll ever even things out. I could keep him tied to a chair in the Batcave, and beat him until my fists bled, every damn day, and even if he lived to a natural old age, he could never live through that long enough.

ID: Yeah. I wanted to know about what I think is probably the most controversial Dick-related decision in your life. This is actually the second time you’ve retired. Last time, you passed over Dick to take over for you, in favor of a sociopathic brainwashed zealot. Why?

B: Because Dick Grayson was Nightwing, who by simple right of having done the job longer than anybody else, should have been given the job- at least offered it. But Dick Grayson was also my son. And I was afraid of Bane. He destroyed me, almost completely. If it hadn’t been for Barbara, at least at first, and later the rest of my family and friends, he would have succeeded. And I couldn’t bear having that happen to Dick; I couldn’t stand the possibility.

My first successor- whose name isn’t among those leaked by Lex News, so I won’t be dropping it here- wasn’t Dick. I mean no disrespect, but he couldn’t be. Dick had been doing this his entire life, from a boy. My replacement… he was prepared to do it most of his life, but it was a different system. It wasn’t experience. It wasn’t living years of his life on the streets.

But there was a… ferocity in him. If, no, when, Bane was provoked by the appearance of a new Batman, I thought he stood a better chance of surviving the encounter. Or maybe I was scared of him, too, and I just hoped my two fears could cancel one another out.

ID: Like kill each other?

B: Nothing like that. If I’d really thought my replacement was still capable… he tried to reform. Looking back, I think he had a similar upbringing to Damian, and like my son, he tried to combat the horrors done to him in his childhood. But unlike Damian, he wasn’t quite so adept at conquering his demons. I don’t blame him. I think, on some level, I knew he wasn’t ready, wasn’t tested. I hoped he would gain what he needed on the job, but… the mistake is mine. The failure was mine.

ID: And the deaths that occurred on his watch?

B: Are regrettable. But, I weigh it against the lives that would have been lost if he hadn’t been in the cowl. And maybe… it’s actually the fulfillment of an old fear of mine; I always worried being close to people, loving them, would make me make poor decisions, and I think my fears drove me towards this one. But my replacement did take down Bane, at the height of his powers. And I don’t know if that’s something Dick could have done, then. Now, I have no doubt, but then? I’d still be loathe to push it.

ID: I fear we’re getting a little too dour for our own good. What was your funniest Dick in costume moment?

B: There have been a few. Probably the funniest stretch was when he was going through puberty. And like most teenagers, he was gawky, had acne, and his voice broke. And there are few things more comical than a bunch of hardened criminals running away in a panic from a small boy whose voice is cracking as he yells for them to stop.

But I think the funniest in costume moment, and he’s going to hate that I’m telling this story, but it was the first time he was dealing with Poison Ivy

ID: That’s plant-lady doctor, Pamela Isley.

B: But it was their first encounter after he became a man.

ID: Mazel tov.

B: Ivy doesn’t wear a lot of clothes, and she uses pheromones to manipulate men, um, sexually. Well, she had us caught, but she figured since we were who we were, it wouldn’t last for long, so she had this concentrated form of the pheromone that she’d made into a lipstick, that she said would turn us permanently into her slaves. She kissed Dick first. And I guess it must have required prolonged contact because it lasted a while, and after a moment he joined in, and being the overly enthusiastic boy that he was, there was way too much tongue. It was awkward, watching that.

And when she pulled away, he’s pitching a tent in his tights. She turned red; I didn’t know before that through the chlorophyll skin she still could, but she turned red, or maybe a darker shade of green with just a hint of crimson. She said, “Now I feel dirty about this. I think I have to go.” And she just left. I mean she had us dead to rights, held captive by her Venus mantraps, and in the middle of her crime, she just walks away, because being Mrs. Robinson creeped her out too much.

Dick was pretty embarrassed. So to try and relieve some of the tension, I asked if he thought we might be able to get the same reaction from the Joker. And he said, “Not worth it if I have to tongue kiss him.”

ID: I have, in my prurient personal moments, wondered about that. The women in your world seem to wear rather… tight clothes when they deign to wear anything at all. And be otherwise in the kind of physical condition Olympic swimmers and gymnasts are envious of. And your clothes don’t seem to leave any place for, uh, discretion.

B: It’s weird all of a sudden you being the discrete one.

ID: I get awkward around discussion of adolescent boners.

B: But remember the crotch padding I talked about in my costume? Excellent for keeping that kind of thing in check. It was because Robin was constantly growing that his suit on that particular night didn’t have the padding; in fact, I think he was wearing an older suit while Alfred let out his current one, so it was even a little extra tight.

And Ivy’s usually such a fan of growth.

ID: Thank you and good night.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You Don’t Know Dick

ID: Your first adopted son is Batman. I’m not the first person to say this. It’s been making the rounds for a few weeks, now, primarily from a Lex News report. But when we talked about him previously this news wasn’t out in the open, so you had to be taciturn. Because you had to wall off an entire clump of who he was and is to you. I tacitly agreed to that, by not asking the obvious questions. So we’re going to take a spade to that unplumbed depth. When did you decide to take Dick Grayson on as an understudy?

B: Well, it was an evolution. At first, I didn’t think he’d even want a part of my, mission, I guess. It had always been such a specific, personal thing to me up until that point, so it didn’t really even occur to me that Dick would want it.

But he was a gymnast, and I had a lot of gymnastic and acrobatic equipment and facilities in the cave. So at first, he’d just train with me. And then he’d see me doing my katas, or doing strength training, and he’d join me in those things. Honestly, at the time, I thought we were just exercising together, in a way that was helping him to get past what had happened to his parents.

And then one day he showed up in the cave when it was time for me to go out for my patrols, and he’s in costume, and wants to go along. At first I told him no, in no uncertain terms. And he threw a little bit of a fit, and stormed up to his room. Of course, Alfred overhead the whole thing, and said, “Would you have listened?” And we both knew the answer to that; it was a long series of me not listenings that led me to being Batman.

So I had Alfred design him a costume, with maximum armor without limiting mobility. And it was dark, blacks and crimsons.

ID: That’s always bugged me. Your costume’s black and gray, fairly camouflagey. Your sidekick, his costume looks like the 1980s threw up on someone.

B: You’re going to wish you hadn’t said that. See, the costume he was wearing that night was basically a slightly altered version of the one he and his parents performed in. He wanted to wear it to keep their memory alive.

ID: I’ve always wondered what my foot tasted like; fishy, but with earthy overtones.

B: That might be something that warrants a doctor’s visit. But we fought about it. Like crazy. I forbid him from going out, because I thought, like you’ve said, that his costume made him a flashing light for gunfire, and even just attention can be deadly, you know, when you’re swinging from rooftops, because somebody hurls a brick, or just makes a loud noise, anything that screws with your concentration can be a problem.

But he was able to break into the Batcave without even really trying. There wasn’t anything we could do, at least nothing that wouldn’t count as child endangerment, to keep him locked up. And we tried. About the only true success we had was duct tape, Alfred used about five rolls to really make sure he wouldn’t get out of it. And he still did. Took him hours of wriggling, and later I figured out he’d pulled a Houdini, made sure to keep his muscles tensed up while Alfred was taping him, so that he had a little room to maneuver. He got out and tracked me down for about the last hour of my patrol.

And we’d all but given up when he stopped. He was asleep in his room when I left for my patrols, and still asleep when I’d get back. He shadowed me for almost a week before I realized he was still following me on my patrols. So I trained him to stay in the shadows, keep his distance. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have someone watching from above, who could tell me if, say, a car full of armed thugs was emptying at the end of an alley while I was preoccupied fighting.

And I was fooling myself the whole time. Dick wasn’t going to stay out of the fight any more than I would have. Any time I got into trouble, he was there to bail me out. But what I really quickly realized, is in doing so, he usually put himself in even more danger, having to act quickly and recklessly. So I grounded him. For two months. And told him that if he followed my every instruction, to the letter, to the detail, for that time period, I would let him patrol with me for real.

I put him through Hell. ‘Bruce Wayne’ took a ski vacation through Europe- a body double I’ve used before- and I spent eighteen hours a day preparing him. I kind of thought he’d lose interest after a week or two. But on top of that, Alfred and I were pretty inventive with stupid requests; he scrubbed every single toilet in Wayne Manor with a toothbrush, and didn’t complain. Okay, he complained a couple of times when I wasn’t in the room, but I can’t fault him for not finding the recording devices then; it was still pretty early in his training.

ID: You had recording devices in your young ward’s room?

B: Just audio. And, you know, we didn’t listen if he was doing any of those things young boys do that their parents don’t want to think about.

ID: Like voting Democrat?

B: Among others.

But he didn’t give up. We assigned him some crazy tasks, absolutely designed to break him. The best example was the last thing we did, his final test.

Dick’s family were part of a traveling circus; they didn’t even own a car, so he knew nothing about cars. Alfred and I placed an ‘explosive’ device inside my car, and told him he’d have to find it and disarm it while I dealt with a threat outside the cave.

I told him that to get at the device without setting it off he’d have to pull the car apart- entirely apart. And of course, since it was a bomb, and we didn’t know how long we had before it went off, he couldn’t rest in the meantime.

This was really before the internet was big. The computer in the cave had a lot of references filed, so there were diagrams and guides. But you know if the Chilton’s guide didn’t do it for you, you were out of luck.

Needless to say, there was a lot of trial and error, there, a couple of times where, as a parent, I was terrified he was going to drop the engine on himself or something. He was up for forty some hours, and Alfred and I took turns watching on the monitors to make sure he didn’t cheat- or worse, do something that would have been unsafe if there actually had been a bomb in the car.

I gave him strict instructions about how to handle the bomb once he found it. I had a bomb disposal robot, one of the early prototypes, and he used that to remotely take the bomb into a vault that we had, and locked it in. I told him I’d help him with it when I got back. He followed my instructions entirely. I told him to signal me when he got that far, so I could come and help him, and in the meantime to start putting the car back together.

Reassembly never takes as long, but it was still hours he was working on that car. And there was one time he sat down, and we thought he might quit and take a nap, so I’d radio in to tell him that something came up, but I really needed the car ready when I got back. So he went back to work, and the moment he got it started I ran around to the front of the house where I had my bike and drove back around to the cave.

I made a big show of talking him into the proper bomb disposal gear, then walking him through safely entering the vault, and cautiously approaching the bomb. Then I told him all it would take to disarm it was twisting it at the hinge. Inside, rather than an explosive, he found a key.

And I told him at the back of the vault there was a case, that the key would fit into. And inside it he found the costume that Alfred had designed for him, but redone in his family’s costume colors. He hugged me and cried. I’m sure some of that was the sleep deprivation.

ID: Then what’s your excuse?

B: I don’t get a lot of chances to reminisce about being a dad. And I guess it’s easy, going from one life crisis to another, to overlook how special the little moments were. But now my son’s Batman. How much prouder could a father get?

[NOTE: this interview ran overlong, so I’ll be running it over two weeks instead of one]

Saturday, December 3, 2011


ID: I want to thank you for coming back. After last week, I wasn’t sure you would. But you’ve made me out to be an ass. And a homophobe.

B: You usually do a fine job of doing both on your own, actually.

ID: See, I talked to Dick. And I’d been under the assumption that your AIDS nee HIV came from unprotected sex, quite possibly of the homosexual variety.

B: Which is a pretty homophobic assumption to make, honestly.

ID: But you did nothing to dissuade that notion. At all.

B: Force of habit. It can be useful to have people underestimate, or in your case, misunderstand, you.

ID: Okay. Well enough of that. I want to understand. And frankly, you owe it to our audience to help them understand. Because your illness is not a product of unprotected sex, period.

B: And it’s not from needles, not even venom injections.

ID: Or a transfusion. That ticks the usual boxes. So are we done dancing around the subject?

B: It’s a strange circumstance. But I’ll start at the beginning. Keep the suspense up a little longer- I know how much you love that.

I was on a patrol. This was before the cataclysmic earthquake, so before all of the buildings were seismically retrofitted. And do you know the old Gotham National Bank building?

ID: No.

B: Had a lot of personality, that building. Art deco architecture, some gothic gargoyles. I was perched on top of one of those, when the building buckled underneath me. I’ve been involved in enough building destroying events to recognize when a building’s supports are going beneath me. There was a large fire across town, so most of the emergency services were tied up there.

The only person in the building was a little old lady who cleaned up the offices on the upper floors. She brought her cat into the office with her, and didn’t want to leave it, but the cat wouldn’t come out from behind the cabinets. In retrospect, if we’d made it into the stairwell, the way the building came down, we probably would have died- so in a strange way that cat probably saved my life. But I was still standing in her in this file room when the building started to fall. I grabbed the woman and leapt out the window, and this cat clambers up my leg, claws out, like I’m a pine tree.

I managed to get a line wrapped around one of the gargoyles, which broke our fall, but about half the top floor came down on us. The three of us were basically all right, but cut up all to hell.

And that’s when I saw the boy. A street walker, I knew from the clothes. He hadn’t been so lucky, and the building collapse had seriously messed him up. I managed to get him clear of the rubble, but he wasn’t breathing.

But he was sick. I recognized Kaposi’s sarcoma, and I knew what that meant. But there was no one else there. I was cut up all to hell, and even the usual gloves and breathing barriers I carry with me were perforated. I knew what I would do to myself if I resuscitated him, the consequences that could have for my life, for my mission.

But he was Dick’s age. Under the bruising, the swelling, the blood, he could have looked like Dick. I couldn’t look at him and not see Dick, not see my son dying on the sidewalk at my feet.

There wasn’t even a decision- that made it for me. It took forty five minutes for paramedics to arrive; by then my lungs burned, and I could barely keep up compressions. I mean, I’d had a building fall on me. But before I let them take over for me, I told them, “He’s positive.”

And they were shocked. The paramedics tried to shove me in the back of the ambulance to start disinfecting me. But I wasn’t even thinking clearly any more. I’d been operating beyond my limitations since the building collapsed; keeping that boy alive had become everything in those moments, and I pushed them back, and said, “Him first.” And I think that brought all of us back to our senses. They gave me the antiseptics they had in the ambulance and took him away.

I went straight home after that, and bathed in alcohol. I started antiretrovirals immediately. I had my blood tested, every week, knowing it was only a matter of time before it came back positive. And eventually it did. It was almost… almost a relief. It’s amazing how psychotically the brain will cling to hope. But knowing… it let me get back to my life. Not living in anticipation of its end.

ID: That’s… shit.

B: Don’t look at me like that. I did what I’ve always done, what I’ve always said I was willing to do. And I just happened to be the man who was there, that day, to do it. I have no doubt that in the same circumstances, the Flash, a Green Lantern, most of the people in the League wouldn’t hesitate to do the same. And those who wouldn’t, I don’t fault them. That job already asks a lot. I can’t fault them for drawing that line.

ID: But… shit.

B: You need to be a prick to me. It’s part of your process- part ours. You need to be a prick so you can challenge what I say, challenge me. So quite with the puppy dog eyes.

ID: But… shit.

B: Okay. Maybe I have to keep the ball rolling this time. And in this spirit of openness, I hear you got outed by Lex News yourself.

ID: Yeah, um, as in outed as the reporter concealing his identity to conserve the integrity of this interview, not in the sex with dudes kind of outing. So you can breathe easy, mom.

B: But your name, specifically, has been linked up to your nom de plume. And in this Google age, that means it’s out. Period.

ID: Right. I’m Nic Wilson. Way back when, I wrote for a culture and arts magazine called Dangerous Ink, before it went tits up, and I liked that those initials reversed garnered ID, short for identification, and I thought it was clever, in an interview about Superman’s secret identity, that that would be my handle. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.

B: But doesn’t it feel good to get that out in the open?

ID: Not really. I don’t like being the subject. It feels icky.

B: Yep. Pretty much.

ID: Kind of makes me rethink that whole wanting to be notable thing. But how do you like sitting on the other side of the table? Being the bad guy, or at least playing devil’s advocate?

B: It’s kind of fun.

ID: I’ve created a monster, haven’t I?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Caught Red-Hooded

ID: Your year’s almost up. If you’re still planning on kicking you’d better hurry up.

B: I never planned on dying before the 52 interviews were over. In fact, I think I’m sticking around for a while, yet.

ID: As in not dying, or as in more interviews?

B: Both, probably. I can’t see me shutting up any time too soon, can you?

ID: Not unless parts of Harvey’s anatomy were used to damn up your dike of a mouth.

B: Wow.

ID: Too far?

B: So far.

ID: Good. Because I wanted you distracted for a moment, because you’re not going to like this topic.

B: Christ.

ID: So you’ve figured it out.

B: Based on that? No. You just usually don’t warn me and it’s usually pretty bad, so if you’re warning me…

ID: I want to talk about Red Hood. Not just the urban legend. But the time you nearly caught him.

B: How much do you know?

ID: Enough to know if you’re lying. And if you lie, I’ll tell it my way, and the light will be as unflattering as my exceptional skills of deprecation can make it.

B: Like you said, the Red Hood was an urban legend. But because of that, criminals started using a red hood and cape get up to perpetuate it. And any time I caught somebody in a red hood and cape, well, they just said they were a decoy, and the real Red Hood was still out there. Convenient, right?

ID: So lots of Saddam body doubles.

B: Essentially. But this particular night, there was a break-in at Ajax chemicals. Some low-rent thugs. But they had along a novice, wearing the red hood and cape. I showed up, chased the thugs off.

But the Red Hood runs up rather than away. I took that as a savvy escape plan, and I chased after him. In retrospect, he was just panicked, trying like hell to figure out a way to get distance between me and him. But I pursued him, doggedly. He trips, over a guard rail over a large vat of chemicals, a lot of byproducts that were being cooked down so they could be disposed of. Ajax was doing something fairly illegal, though, because they were highly reactive, and the area where they were dumping the chemicals were supposed to be rendered inert.

The Red Hood manages to catch the rail, but he’s sweating profusely. And I get there, and as I’m about to grab him to haul him up, he freaks out, somehow believing that I’m worse than whatever’s below him- and from up there the smoke coming off it is burning my eyes and my lungs, making my nose run.

ID: Criminals are a stupid, cowardly lot. And you stupid and cowarded this guy to death.

B: He let go. But he didn’t die. Of course, you know that.

ID: And who was he?

B: He’s systematically stolen, burned or altered all of his records. I’ve never been able to ascertain who he was before the accident.

ID: You’ve been doing so well; this isn’t the time to get shy. What name would the public know this disfigured if jolly man as?

B: The Joker.

ID: The audience gasps. So you created the Joker.

B: No. I failed to save him. I terrified him, made him anxious and clumsy, and then when he fell into that vat of roiling chemicals, I failed to catch him. But I didn’t create him.

ID: Okay, I can see the distinction you want to make; you didn’t bake the crazy cake, but you certainly had a hand in stirring the batter. Cracked a few of the insane eggs, if you will. And that certainly explains some of his obsession with you.

B: I think mostly that comes from his belief that we’re alike, mirrored images, changed only slightly by the viewing angle. He honestly thinks he’s teaching me about the world, that he’s helping prepare me for its harsh realities- when he wouldn’t know reality

ID: If it were baked into a pie and thrown at him.

B: Something like that. But why now? Where’d this blackmailable information come from?

ID: Anonymous note from a Mr. White. Three guesses to who that is, and the first two don’t count.

B: Joker. Bastard.

ID: And it feels kind of crappy to be used by somebody like him, but I’m a journalist. And dollars to donuts he wasn’t going to just send this to me. This way, your version of events gets to be the lead.

B: Justify however you like. We both know what you are.

ID: All we’re arguing over is the price? It’s a bad economy all around, but it’s a worse one for journalists. You might have the luxury of principals. But mine isn’t an industry that’s ever had that luxury. It’s expensive enough trying to stick to the truth.

Besides, the difference I see between you and the Joker- the fundamental difference- is that he hides from reality, behind his delusions and his humor. You don’t.

B: That’s convenient.

ID: Sometimes the truth is. Sometimes it isn’t. I’m not an arbiter of fairness; I just want to get at wants honest, and human, and real. You do, too- because you think it’s important for people to see where who you are came from- or you wouldn’t be here.

B: But what if I’ve decided I don’t like where ‘here’ is getting me?

Saturday, November 19, 2011


ID: You mentioned a while back that Hush seemed to have inserted himself into your life in a very peculiar way. I’d like to talk about him, today, if that’s all right. You met him as a boy.

B: His parents were friends of my parents. Wealthy, influential, socialite types, you know, running in those kinds of circles. Tommy was a, well, he was just another kid trapped in that particular glass bottle of wealth.

ID: Sounds horrible.

B: It’s not, and I know it’s not. But there are obstacles that come from that kind of affluence, the expectations that come along with it. Both of our parents, they pushed us, put a lot of pressure on us. We were expected to succeed, in a way few other people really are.

I think overall we benefited from the pressure. Although…

ID: What?

B: I dress up as a bat and he murders people. So I can’t objectively say that it was the best way to parent.

ID: Are you actually questioning your parents?

B: No. Because I don’t know how things would have happened for me. I think the persona I built Bruce Wayne into, the foppish, vain, shallow playboy, I think he was in part who I was afraid I was going to become. I mean, if my parents hadn’t died, it’s entirely possible that would be me. I think having to pretend to be that, reminding myself of what I very nearly became, it kept me grounded.

But if my parents hadn’t been murdered, I don’t know. My upbringing wasn’t much different from Tommy’s. I wasn’t abused, and that might be the salient factor; I’m not saying rich people’s children are likely to become murderous Machiavellians. But that’s just the direction that Tommy’s dysfunction grew- it’s entirely possible I would have been just as dysfunctional in a likely less criminal and violent direction.

ID: I think we’re wandering. Um. What happened between your family and Tommy’s?

B: I think when we were born, our families were on a relatively even keel. But as we grew, I think his dad did worse. I think it was just in the industries where Tommy’s dad had most of his money, they were doing poorly, whereas my dad and his tech and industry holdings just kept increasing in value.

I think that’s why Tommy’s dad started hitting his wife and child. He and my dad, they were friendly, but also rivals. And at almost the same time he had to put up his home for sale, dad put a whole new wing on the manor. I mean, dad actually bought Tommy’s house and gave it right back to them- but that only strained their friendship further. And he actually got arrested that time, he beat Tommy and his mom so badly.

That same night, my dad bailed Tommy’s dad out. And he tried to talk to him, to understand what had happened. And it went very badly. Tommy’s dad took a swing at him. And I came upon my dad, in his study, a few hours later. It was one of the few times I got to see my father, as a man. He was shaken. He couldn’t understand that kind of mindless violence, against his own wife and child, from a man he’d loved as his brother. He had a scotch in his hand, but he wasn’t drunk, and I remember what he said to me, because he’d been pondering it for a while, but he said, “Sometimes the only thing a man can do is admit that he doesn’t know what to do.”

Let that sink in. It’s profound. Because it, for me it made it okay not to know an answer. I mean, for me, the implied second clause became that it’s also a man’s duty to do everything he can to figure it out. But I spent a lot of nights like that one with my father, puzzling over what to do to help people- people who maybe didn’t think they wanted my help.

Not much time passed after that before Tommy’s parents died. At the time everybody thought it was an accident; even I did, until later. My parents offered to take Tommy in, but he was shipped off, along with his family’s fortune, to Europe, where he trained to be a surgeon.

A few years ago, Tommy came back into my life. I got myself pretty badly injured, and he fixed me up. His timing was impeccable. I think I was just glad to have him back in my life, because I didn’t question that at first.

But then Hush entered the picture. He set in motion a series of events that nearly killed me, and succeeded in killing several other people. What was strange is at first the two were diametrically opposed. Hush was manipulating and murdering. But Tommy was being friendly, and helpful. He even volunteered to try and fix Harvey’s face- and succeeded.

And in the end, that act of kindness proved to be his downfall. Harvey had been seeing therapists for a while, anyway, so he’d made a lot of progress, but having his face fixed, it solidified for him something that he’d been struggling with. He missed being one of the good guys. And it was Harvey, when Hush had me, dead to rights, who saved me. He shot Hush twice.

ID: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

B: But he saved me instead. And evil limped away with a couple of fresh bullet wounds.

ID: Is that when you fell in love with Harvey?

B: I think it’s hard to track exactly where a friendship ends and a romance begins. I mean, I’m sure you’ve had relationships that started as friendships. And I’m sure there was… flirtation. Suggestion. But at the same time, there’s a gray area in there, where it’s not romance but it’s progressed beyond a friendship. I think for me what that moment was was notice. It made me take stock of Harvey, and ask myself if he was the same unbalanced guy I’d been worrying over for years. And I remember thinking, maybe this was the new Harvey, that he was going to be an asset like he’d been back when he was district attorney.

ID: And is it safe to assume you wouldn’t be with Harvey if he hadn’t had his surgery?

B: I don’t think that’s fair. On several levels. Would Harvey be attracted to me if I didn’t look like this? If the mafia had been convinced I was the Holiday killer and was the one with horrible scarring because of it, I imagine most of my adult relationships would have gone differently. Attraction is a big part of relationships; I think we’ve been socialized in such a way that it plays perhaps an unhealthily outsized role. But I’m not going to apologize for being attracted to beautiful people, that’s an asinine insinuation.

ID: So, I’m going to consider that a yes, preachiness to the side. So in a very real way, you owe your relationship with Harvey to Hush.

B: Accidentally, perhaps.

ID: Of course, he stole Selina away from you. So at best that would put you even, and- no offense to Harvey- but he’s no Ms. Kyle, at a minimum in the pulling off a cat suit category.

B: He does look quite smart in a suit, though. But comparing them isn’t really fair or even sensical. People aren’t trading cards; you can’t compare their stats on the back to see who’s better. They’re different. And Harvey’s who I’m with right now.

But I do feel bad about how things went with Selina. Me, and people I care about, we’ve been paying for the things Tommy’s dad did forty years ago, the proverbial sins of the father.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sleeping with the Enemy

ID: It’s been a while since we talked about Harvey. I know it’s still a young relationship; this isn’t Clark and Lois, so I think putting it under a microscope could hurt it, and that’s not what I want. But I’ve been thinking of calling this segment, “Sleeping with the Enemy.”

B: He has a hard enough time without people focusing in on his past.

ID: Or maybe Bi-Curious.

B: You’re just going to keep being an ass until I start dishing, aren’t you?

ID: I’ll probably be an ass even after.

B: Well, I appreciate your candor.

ID: But you don’t cotton to him being called “the Enemy.”

B: Because he isn’t. Every crime he’s been convicted of, he’s paid his debt for.

ID: To be fair, most of those debts included the insanity defense, which basically meant that the moment he wasn’t crazy he could walk away free and clear.

B: With the caveat that if he stayed crazy, he stayed locked up. But as far as the courts are concerned, Harvey’s a free man.

And that’s why I balk at your characterization. Because what Harvey needs now, more than anything, is normalization. Getting his life back into a place where he can feel safe, and secure, sane, and just normal.

ID: Um, I hate to play to type and be an ass, but is living with a Bat man normal?

B: Relationships complicate things. That’s why we’re taking ours slow. And we aren’t living together.

ID: Okay, so screwing… around with a Bat man, then.

B: I’ll try not to take umbrage at that. I think overall I’m pretty normal, actually. Harvey and I have, colorful, pasts, but I think that brings us closer. We’ve both seen things that are different, and would be different, for other, perhaps more ‘normal’ people to understand.

And so far he’s been good for me. I’m not going into the office every day, not going to the League meetings. My normal routine has been pretty much disrupted, too. So I think it helps, having someone to experience the odd cabin fever of costumed retirement with.

ID: But you’re not Walter Mathau, and he’s no Jack Lemon; this isn’t Grumpy Old Men… We’re talking about a supervillain and a superhero knocking their garish boots together.

B: Few points. Neither of us were all that super, unless you count trauma as a superpower. And, um, whatever you might think of any of the, and I’ll stress this, functional footwear I wore over the years, Harvey had pretty impeccable taste, very nice Italian loafers, most of the time. Certainly not garish.

But Harvey hasn’t been that person for a long time. It’s been a while, so I think people have forgotten, but I left Gotham for several months with Robin and Nightwing. I left Harvey in charge of protecting the city, and he did an exceptional job of keeping it in one piece. I think he was subtler than me in doing it- he never set up a Harvey signal- and maybe that’s why he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But he had my every confidence, then, and he’s shown himself worthy of it since.

I think Harvey’s braver than I am. I’ve tried to dissociate him from his past; you might have even recognized it, but when I’ve talked about the bad he did, I’ve emphasized Two Face, and the Two Face persona. But he corrects me. He can’t blame it all on psychosis. Because he wasn’t paralyzed. He wasn’t helpless. Weak, maybe, but he was always there, always aware and able to influence their behavior. So the things that Two Face did, he feels the guilt of that. He told me, “Bruce, I need to be honest with myself about the depth of what I owe, how out of kilter the karmic balance is because of me.”

I think, as part of trying to get away from looking at life in black and white, he’s been trying to take a more holistic approach to things, and his doctors have encouraged that. Karma, being an example; he’s become quite interested in the yin yang, the concept of complementary opposites.

He’s still compelled by duality, and pairs. You know, I can tell when he’s having a bad morning, because instead of fixing himself a bowl of cereal, he’ll pour two.

ID: And what cereal keeps a former sociopath going through the morning.

B: Frosted Mini-Wheats.

ID: I should have known.

B: But the other morning, over cereal, we were talking. For a while he was hanging around with two ‘henchwomen,’ and I’m putting that in air quotes because I don’t think either actually did any henching, and they may have in fact been prostitutes. I don’t know how it came up, but we were talking about being with two women at the same time. And he said he didn’t do that, because that would make it a threesome. Then he gave me this sly smile, and said, “Of course, it’s only a threesome if they’re allowed to touch each other,” and punctuated it by taking a bite of his cereal.

ID: So you’re in the domestic bliss phase of the relationship, then.

B: I guess so.

I think it helps, that we’ve both had real, long-standing relationships with women. It puts us on even footing, and I think makes it easier for us to relate to each other.

The other day. He said he was glad he was my 2nd choice. I couldn’t get him to elaborate, but he’s been happy. And so am I. I think that’s all I really need right now.

Friday, November 4, 2011


ID: I feel a little bad for saying this, especially as cliché as it really is, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about Tim. At least right now. I mean, Dick was your first adopted son, so there’s interest in that. Damian is your first bio-son, so that’s interesting, too. But Tim, is, well, the middle child. And like most middle children, I almost overlooked him.

B: Yeah, and Tim hasn’t been my son that very long. It’s certainly been a strange experience. Dick I met through tragedy. But Tim I knew. I’d known Tim for years, through his father. His dad was a neighbor, but after he was injured in a botched kidnapping, he wasn’t the same. Tim’s mom died at that same time, when his father was put into a wheelchair. But even before then, he spent a lot of time just hanging out in the mansion.

B: Getting a real Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch vibe here about your manor.

ID: Don’t be an ass.

By that point Dick had moved out, got his own place, his own trajectory. I think he was in school, then. And having Tim there, it reminded me of happier times. And being at home, well, his father was still a mess over what happened to him and his wife, so I think he just wanted to be away from that some of the time.

ID: Still getting the Neverland Ranch sensation.

B: Haven’t you ever had an older male friend before? Somebody who had a kind of pseudo-fatherly quality to them?

ID: Yeah, I guess, an ex girlfriend’s dad, for a while. So I can see it.

B: His dad was still around, but… Jack blamed himself for what happened to his wife. He tortured himself over it. And Tim needed sometimes to be someplace else. And I think it was mutually beneficial, because through Tim, I got the cautionary tale of Jack, you know, how far guilt and regret can twist you up inside. There’ve been a lot of things, I think that I could have gone in that direction over.

Things changed a little bit, when Jack and Shondra got kidnapped. This was right after Bane broke my back. Tim moved into the mansion, with Alfred, and started spending time with Dick, while I went to find his father and our doctor. I managed to save Jack, but Shondra…

Jack, loved Shondra, too. So we commiserated over her… injury. She was a wonderful woman, and the world’s poorer without her in it. I mean, she’s still alive, in a literal sense, but she doesn’t speak, doesn’t respond. For all intents and purposes, she died stopping her brother.

ID: But how did Tim come to live with you?

B: A few years later, Jack was killed in a home invasion. The sick part is it was a game to the woman who did it. She sent Jack a gun, and me a message that it was going to happen. And I couldn’t get there fast enough. Jack shot his attacker, but…

After he died, Tim moved in.

ID: Okay. You’ve told us a lot about the circumstances, but not about the boy. So tell me about Tim. You hung out. What’d you do?

B: He’s a kid. He does kid stuff. And I was his surrogate father figure. Oftentimes we weren’t even doing much together, honestly. I’d watch TV, and he’d play his DS on the couch. I’d be researching the sewer system because I suspected Scarecrow was there and he’d study- he spent and spends a lot of time in the library. Tim’s a really bright kid. Academically, I’ve always been impressed- even at a young age there weren’t a lot of conversations he couldn’t keep up with.

Sometimes we’d play chess. Mostly we’d just talk. Him losing his mom, and half-losing his dad, only to lose him the rest of the way. One of the first things he asked me, after he’d been coming around a lot, was if it ever got easier.

And it took me a while to really wrap myself around the question. But yeah. It does. It never stops hurting, never completely goes away. But it doesn’t sting quite so acutely, doesn’t get quite so thoroughly into your face.

ID: When did you decide to take him in?

B: The night his father died. Like I said, I got there too late. Tim was there, in the kitchen, crying his eyes out. And the moment I came into the room he latched onto me like a terrified baby chimp. And it was just the most crushing thing, because that moment, that was exactly the moment I’d spent my entire life trying to prevent. And I’d failed. Failed this bright kid who lived right next to me. It doesn’t get closer to home than that.

And at the same time, it was just like the night I first met Dick. Where it felt like there was such a thing as fate, that I was there, at that moment, because I understood his pain, had lived through it and come out, well, decently okay. I mean, I’m a lousy consolation prize, but at least I could be there for him. At least he didn’t have to be alone.

And, you know, in Dick he gained an older brother, someone to confide in once I became too much like a real dad, and an actual authority figure. And they’ve been really good for each other. That darkness I always talk about having, Dick doesn’t have, and Tim has only some. I think Dick keeps Tim optimistic, and I think Tim helped Dick understand me. I think we’re a much stronger family for his inclusion. So even if you hadn’t talked about him, he’s still very much in my thoughts. He’s one of my sons. And I love him.

Deadbeat Bat

ID: I want to talk to you about your son.

B: You’ll have to be more specific.

ID: Your bio-son. How long have you known about him?

B: Not long.

ID: And you’re not just saying that to dodge child support payments or back-alimony?

B: No. I’m more than comfortable, and his mother is quite wealthy herself. But I’m going to assume you haven’t been able to find much on Damian- and after our conversation about Dick you’re more curious about my home life than previously.

ID: Actually, I was always curious about the home life, I just… it hadn’t crossed my mind that you were a father. I mean, on paper you’ve adopted two boys- the bio-son I keep forgetting about, since I don’t think he was in the picture when we first started- so I had no research about him.

B: Damian’s grandfather is a bastard- the ecoterrorist Ra’s al Ghul. What I told you before about his conception, and his mother, is true. But I actually have a little more background than before. You know, sometimes you accept things, take them for granted, until you’re talking to someone about it. And the question came up when we were talking about Talia, and I put it to her. And she didn’t know what happened to Damian, either.

When she got rid of me, she planned to get rid of him, too.

ID: Abortion?

B: No. She worried about his safety- she reasoned both of our lives were too dangerous to introduce children into. So she left him at an orphanage. But her father knew, and intercepted Damian. He spent the next ten years being raised by the League of Assassins.

ID: And what does that mean?

B: It meant survival of the fittest. It meant he didn’t live in a nursery as a baby. From the time he could crawl, he lived in a kennel. They’d give him and the dogs enough food for all but one of them. So as a matter of survival, they had to kill one of their own, every week. The only reason he walked away was he was the last one alive.

His entire childhood was that, tests designed to make him selfish, cold, sadistic, to turn him into an assassin, not merely as a vocation, but purely, as the essence of his being.

ID: I don’t want to peel away too much- I mean, Damian’s living with you, right? And I assume he’s going to a public school, and could very well have social consequences for anything you might say. But I’m curious, of all the things that were done to him, what was the worst?

B: I’m glad you bring that up. I don’t mind saying it, because I think you phrase it right: these weren’t things Damian did, these were things that were done to him. They aren’t things that he needs to feel ashamed for or about. No child should be forced to choose between his own survival and doing violence to someone or even something else. It’s unconscionable. And as a father… I hope someone stronger than me is there next time I see Ra’s, to keep me from murdering him. Because otherwise, I don’t know that I can do that myself.

But the worst thing involved deception. Damian was introduced to a girl, a local girl. They spent time together. He fell in love. He was a boy, not even ten years old.

Ra’s asked him to poison the girl. She was a spy, he said, there to harm everyone he knew, the people he’d come to see as his family. She had to die. But he loved her, so he tried to help her escape. Instead she led him into an ambush. Ra’s was there, and in front of the entire League, all of his peers, she mocked him. Said every cruel thing a boy that age thinks and hopes isn’t true. That night, Ra’s came to him again, and said that she had gone too far, that she was supposed to be a test, but she had no right to mock his heir in that fashion. He told him to poison her again. He was still so upset that he did it, and once his pain had subsided, he hated himself for it.

It was later, that Damian observed Ra’s giving her parents money. She had been hired for that exact purpose, to die, and humiliate him into doing it if need be. When she died, her parents were just bought off.

But it was months, he’d been with me for months before he told me about it. Alfred was bringing him soup, because he hadn’t been feeling well, and had hardly touched his dinner. And without thinking, Damian attacked him, punched him in the throat. And even when he realized it was Alfred, he was leery. He’d been brought up in such a constant state of fear and readiness, it was hard for him to understand that simple human kindness, someone bringing a sick friend soup. Because he was weak then; it was when he felt the most in danger. He told Alfred to drink some of the soup, convinced it was poisoned, and when Alfred didn’t hesitate, drank and said, “It’s just soup,” he started to cry.

I was already heading that direction, having heard the commotion. But he jumped into my arms. And he cried for a very long time before he was able to tell me all that. No ten year old should have to carry that burden; no child should be coaxed into murder like that.

ID: You sound pretty upset.

B: I am. I think… Dick, Tim, myself, we’ve all experienced tragedy. But Damian’s was different. His came from a place where he should have been safe: his tragedy came from his family. It was a betrayal of the most personal kind. It’s made him… less able to trust. But he wants to.

He wants to be normal. Not to worry about killers outside his bedroom. Or whether or not the girl he looks at at lunch has been hired to humiliate him, and to manipulate him into doing horrible things.

ID: But if he wants to be normal, isn’t his dad broadcasting his murdering past a little counter-productive.

B: I hope not; I would hate to feel like I’m betraying his trust.

But I don’t think so. Damian’s different. I think it’ll be a long time before he gets all the way to normal. I think his upbringing left marks, on his soul, that will take a long time to scab over, let alone heal. And I think his darkness shows, and people treat him differently for it.

But I think if people could understand him, and what was done to him, they’ll see already how far he’s come, how hard he’s trying, to do right, and be right in this world. It’s remarkable, to me, that he can function on any level. But he isn’t just functional, he’s impressive, and I can say with certainty my son will do great things. That’s every father’s hope. But his trajectory, he’s not just capable of greatness, he going to accomplish it.

My son’s extraordinary. I’m not surprised. His mother’s extraordinary, too. But I’m… blown away by his resilience. I don’t know if I could have withstood it; a weaker person wouldn’t have survived his childhood, emotionally even if they got by physically. But he’s bounced back. I love him. And I’m proud of him. What more could any father ask for?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why So Serious?

ID: Are you depressed?

B: I’ve been told I brood too much. Even as a child. My mother teased me for being too serious. I frowned a lot- particularly in pictures.

ID: Your mother teased you? That didn’t bode well. But even pre-orphaning, you were serious.

B: As a heart attack, or at least as a Perry Mason wrap-up.

ID: I don’t know, I laughed a lot watching his closing speeches- especially when the detective with the lazy eye was there. I think it was because the show was so impeccably cast, and everyone so impeccably groomed, that that one, off-kilter aspect just undermined everything.

But you just seem so… depressive. In talking about your children, in talking about Zatanna, one thing keeps coming up: how optimistic they are, how bright, sunny, happy. How much they help you leave your personal darkness behind, put it away and remember what it’s like to be alive. So I’m wondering if it isn’t just moodiness, but depression.

B: Clinically? You aren’t the first person to suggest it. Basically, major depressive disorder is characterized by low mood,

ID: Check.

B: low self-esteem,

ID: Uh, check? Maybe?

B: Losing interest in all pleasurable activities. And for that, well, there’s one thing I never stop enjoying.

ID: Kicking bad guys in the scrotum?

B: I would have put it more tactfully, but in a nutshell.

ID: Oh my god, a testicle joke. I’m so proud of you. But I kind of stumbled on self-esteem, and you did not give me anything to go on by way of reaction. You can’t possibly have low self-esteem; really, you and men like you give me my low self-esteem.

B: I’m an Olympic level athlete. I always score in the 99th percentile in aptitude tests.

ID: You always score.

B: I’m successful, socially and otherwise, and wealthy. I’d say, with all due humility I’m easy on the eyes. Any feelings of inadequacy given that starting point would qualify as low self-esteem- though I’d put that at intermittent. So maybe one and a half checks.

ID: But attachment theory, John Bowlby’s baby, says that experiencing early loss or separation from parents or caregivers can lead to insecure working models.

B: So you’re skipping the diagnostic criteria and going right for the anecdotal drive-by hackery, huh?

ID: Hey, if you want the diagnosis, all you had to do was ask. Remember at the beginning, when we did the Hamilton rating scale for depression worksheet? About the only thing you didn’t score a 2 in was psychomotor retardation; you’re high functioning.

B: I also wasn’t fidgety.

ID: Not physically, no; but your mind was twitchy as hell. And it isn’t helped by the fact that, physically, you’re impossible to read. Between the AIDS, the medication for the AIDS, and the fact that you still bullishly exercise, it’s kind of hard to tell what fatigue is normal fatigue and what might be depression fatigue. But, I tallied your responses, or made things up when you weren’t helpfully responsive, and you’re depressed.

B: One last point: Hamilton himself said his scale shouldn’t be used as a diagnostic criteria.

ID: Really? I guess that makes my “finding” anticlimactic, then.

B: Kind of.

ID: All right, well, social cognitive theory asserts that depressed individuals internalize guilt but rarely acknowledge positive outcomes. I’ve known you for a while, and you do seem to be a personal blame magnet.

B: Guilt can be a useful tool, if it drives progression, revision, critical examination. Internalizing guilt merely for self-flagellation is counter-productive. And I prefer Maslow, who believed depression came from individuals unable to reach their full potential.

ID: Have you?

B: I’m not sure what more you think I should have accomplished.

ID: Actually, my question is less focused on what more, as what you might have been able to do otherwise. You’re brilliant. Handsome. And capable of doing great things. Instead you’ve run around in a bat-shaped unitard kicking people. From that description, you sound like the slow kid in my first grade class who kept getting into trouble for running around in just his underpants, sniffing glue and stomping on people’s toes.

B: That’s… harsh. And insensitive to the challenged. But if your point is that my life has at times been self-indulgent and not always maximizing. You’re right. I haven’t always been the best man I could be. I spent years probably selfishly training, for a very personal quest. Maybe I should have been doing more charity, more philanthropy. Maybe I should have gone into politics.

But as Batman, I helped save the world. More than once. Maybe the League could have done that without me. Maybe they couldn’t have. If you examine every possible outcome of every choice in your life, and assume the best possible outcome, of course you’ll be found wanting.

But I don’t have any shame about who I am, the life I’ve lived. In fact, I’m damn proud of the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve sweat, I’ve bled, and when I go, I think the world will be better for having had me in it. Everything else, those details… they’re just that.

And I guess, ultimately, it’s a dark, and sometimes unforgiving world. There are mainly two methods for dealing with that. One, was Clark’s, and Zatanna’s, and Dick’s, and that’s meeting that darkness with light. With happiness, and optimism, and charity.

And as much as I love them, and much as I wish I could be them sometimes, I’m not. So I confront that darkness with darkness. I melt into a world that isn’t perfect and isn’t always fair, that can harsh, and even brutal. I became a creature of that world. I thrive in that world by being a part of it. It’s taken its toll- but seeing Clark, Dick and Zatanna, I can say being a bright light in this dark world takes its toll, too. The only difference, I think, is that they enjoyed it more. They were happier for it.

Sometimes, I think I was able to do things they weren’t, see sides to problems they couldn’t. Maybe I’m just rationalizing it. Maybe I’m trying to find a way for it not to have been a flaw, or at least for something good to have come out of my misery.

But for better or for ill, I don’t think I would have survived it, without people like those three. And I don’t think I can honestly say the reverse is true. In fact, sometimes I wonder if their lives would have been happier without my darkness.

ID: Wait… are you talking about suicidal ideation?
B: … No. I wasn’t ever thinking of killing myself. I don’t know what me not surviving would have looked like; if psychologically, or emotionally, I would have withered up and blew away, or if the ravages of that internal hollowing would have destroyed me physically. But they saved my life, in ways I can’t explain; but I know it, more intimately than I know anything else.

The Love of My Life

ID: Okay, I think the title of this one is going to be unintentionally more salacious than even I want- especially in light of the Harvey revelation last week- but I'll start out by saying you cheated. Um, no, not on you, Harv- though I wonder what his policy on two-timing would be...

No, when we started talking about the loves of your life, you cheated. Right out of the gate. And I want our audience to know that I poked, prodded- strictly platonically, of course- and cajoled, caroused, and I'll check my thesaurus later for some more words like that, but I did what I could to get a, if you'll pardon the pun, straighter answer out of you. But no, the love of your life, you said, was your adopted son, Dick.

B: You never said it had to be a romantic love.

ID: I think it was implied. But whatever. So you outsmarted me, kinda. You still spilled most of the more sensitive beans I was hoping for along the way, even if you never put all your money on Black Canary. So that's the important thing.

And besides, it opened up a new avenue for discussion. So tell us about Dick- big D, not, you know, the other kind I'm reasonably sure you're fond of.

B: Good lord. When I met Dick, I was alone. The support net, Alfred, Leslie, my uncle Phil, the people who saw me through my childhood, had become an emotional liability. I was fighting for my life, every night, and during the day, well, I avoided the people who kept me sane after my parents died.

That changed that night. Dick was a child gymnast. I watched his parents perform. But something went wrong, and they fell to their deaths, as Dick watched from the eaves. At first it was tragic, and then I saw him, and I saw him fall to his knees, tears streaming down his expressionless face. It was like looking at myself fifteen years earlier. It broke my heart, seeing it happen to someone else; it was worse than having it happen to me, because that level of horror numbs you, you lose all sense of time and place, just drift along on the pain. But watching second-hand, but knowing how hollowing an experience it was, without the numbness…

But even with that, I noticed something. It hadn't been a normal equipment failure; it hadn't even been made to look like one. The ropes on his parent's trapeze had been sliced to the point where they broke clean away the moment the Grayson's weight was on it. This was a message- and a murder.

I spent the better part of the night talking to Dick. The police ended up having to interview everyone- though no one really told them anything. It was hard for me; I wanted to put on my costume, find the people responsible, and hurt them. But it was so much more important for me to stay there, and make awkward conversation with a boy who kept bursting into tears every few minutes, largely unprovoked. And I think, I think it was the first time in several years where I hugged someone; don't get me wrong, I get hugged all the time, but it was the first time I really hugged back, where I wanted the person to know I was there for them, not just physically present, but emotionally available to them.

And it broke my heart again when the police took him away. Because I think he was starting to get comfortable with me, to find some semblance of a footing- but he’d gone a full fifteen minutes without crying, talking about hot chocolate and playing in the snow- and then he was taken away from that, and put in the back of a squad car, it tore the wound clear open again.

Dick didn't have any relatives in the area. At the time, Dr. Thompkins, Leslie, was running a child welfare shelter as an addition to her clinic, and I called her and made arrangements for her to be there receive Dick; otherwise he would have had to stay the night at the police station.

And I made sure I arrived just after they left. Leslie was surprised to see me, though, “Not that surprised.” I gave money to the shelter, and sometimes volunteered there, but I always gave them advanced notice, and came when they needed me- not in the middle of the night. Dick was sleeping; she'd given him something to help him sleep.

She'd talked to him for a few moments, and it sounded like he didn't even know any of his family. His parents' careers, as traveling performers, had alienated any relations who might have otherwise taken him in. So I asked to take him home. It wasn't procedure, or protocol. At a minimum, there were hoops I was supposed to go through.

But Leslie was one of the people who had raised me when my parents died. So she knew that any examination of my eligibility wasn't going to turn up any skeletons. Still, she wanted to make sure we did what was right for Dick.

I said, “Leslie, you know me. Better than anyone, I know what he's going through.” She told me maybe I wasn't done dealing with my parent's death, that commiserating might be good for me, but was it the best thing for him? But she didn’t try to prevent me from taking him, and ultimately, I think she just wanted me to ponder the question. The foster system can be brutal even under the best of circumstances, but then?

She fudged some paperwork, and Alfred drove us home. Leslie sent us with a few changes of clothes for him.

He woke up in his new bed. I think it helped, him being in a new situation. It was a distraction. He didn't have to sit curled up on a cot crying; instead he was wandering around the Manor, or the grounds; he cried, too, but I gave him excuses to do something besides that.

He found the cave within a week; I guess he must have moonlighted with a magician or something, because he had to pick several locks to get there. I found him exercising on the cave's equipment. I wanted to scold him, especially since he was doing quite dangerous things, but the way he moved- he was so at home in the air that he flew- it was a joy to watch. I understood why people flocked to see him, and his parents, understood the weightless joy of his movements.

Then he fell. And I wasn’t nearly the gymnast he was, but I knew he hadn’t fallen because of any mistake; he was crying even before he hit the mat. That’s when I went to him. And I thought about playing the heavy- I was in costume, after all- but he barely even looked up at me. And I saw in that moment that the thing he loved most in the world- with the likely exception of his parents- had turned into something that reminded him only of tragedy. He was a Flying Grayson, but the bastards who killed his parents had clipped his wings.

I knelt down, and put my hand on his head. “I lost my parents, too.” He latched onto me, so fast and so strong that he knocked the air from of my lungs. He spent a long time crying. When he stopped, he looked up at me, and smiled at my clothes.

“We wore costumes, too,” he said. He took my hand, and we went up into the manor and had hot chocolate. It was kind of strange, drinking hot chocolate in costume, but it seemed to make him happier. When he was asleep, I set to work finding his parent’s killers. I found them easily. I hurt them. Badly.

I might have killed them with my hands, but I thought back to Dick, sitting in my dad’s old wingback chair, sipping hot cocoa. I knew already I wanted him to live with me, to grow up there. And I couldn’t go back to his home with blood on my hands. I mean, technically, there was a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not what I meant.

I was still young, then. This was before I tried to confront Joe Chill years later. This was more visceral, and raw. My rage was still enough that I might have killed those men accidentally. But I didn’t. And I shudder to think of the path that would have set me on.

Dick saved my life. And not just the one time. By being my son, sometimes just by needing me, he made me come back from that precipice.

I think that's why I can look past the thing that Harvey was. Because I know, without people like my son in my life, that could have been me. I dressed up like a goddamned bat. My grasp on reality was always pretty tenuous. But Dick gave me a reason- no, he made it a necessity- for me to come back from the brink. Every night.

My parent’s death, it changed me. And that’s why Dick is stronger than I am, because losing his parents didn’t change him. He was sad, and he grieved for them, but he never forgot how to live, either. How to be happy. How to find things to be joyful about. He brought optimism back into my world- when I let him.

And that was something I needed. Something the people who got me through my tragedy couldn’t give, maybe because they’d seen me, and seen things, at their darkest, maybe they’d lost their faith as I had, too. Or maybe in my mind they were just tainted by their association with my tragedy. Maybe they couldn’t be that for me because I wouldn’t let them.

But you know, I don’t want to infantilize Dick too much, either. Because he didn’t stay a child. He grew up, and he grew into a man I’m happy to call my friend. He’s forged a life of his own. He's gone to school. He served as one of Gotham's finest. And now that I’m retiring, he's taken over aspects of my companies, and someday, he's going to fully control them. I trust him to do that. And I don't trust easy. He's earned that trust- that respect- sometimes grudgingly. But I couldn't be prouder of him, or have more faith in him. I trust him to carry on the good work I’ve done, through my company, through my charities. And nothing could be more important than that.