Post by Charlie on Apr 24, 2018 15:34:52 GMT -5
Issue Zero: “Are They Ready?”
Oblique / Jarin / Bowers
ROBINSON PARK, GOTHAM CITY:
It was early evening in Gotham and the summer sun was still shining through the city’s canyons of granite, steel, and concrete. Gotham’s uncounted gargoyles stretched long shadows across narrow windows that glowed like liquid metal, swollen with the dying light.
The streets shimmered under a haze of heat and reeked of rotting garbage. The bridges were jammed with traffic and the constant cacophony of horns, snarling trucks, and rattling trains echoed across the Gotham River.
Isolated from congestion in the center of the city, Robinson Park was suffused with warm sunlight; the air was still and heavy, broken only by the muted hiss of fountains and the delighted shrieks of children. School was out for summer and a few children were still splashing in the waterpark.
Glittering white mist drifted above the cracked concrete pathways. The smell of barbecue and fresh-cut grass hung in the air. Old men played chess and a woman, wrapped in several wool coats despite the season, fed pigeons from a burlap sack of seed.
In a few hours, as the long beams of sunlight crested Wayne Tower and shadows crept across the streets, the park would be abandoned. White lights would flicker into life around the Memorial Garden. Children and sunbathers would be replaced by vagrants, runaways, and those that preyed on them.
Until then, the park was an island of tranquillity in Central Gotham.
There was the sound of distant sirens and a few people, cautious by nature or hardened by life in Gotham City, looked around for any sign of danger.
There! Climbing the cast iron fence from Park Avenue! There was a sudden crack, like a gunshot, and flying shards of ice rained out of the summer sky. Startled screams ripped through the still air as jagged spars of ice stabbed into the grass and shattered on concrete pathways.
“That’s right, run from DEEP FREEZE!”
Deep Freeze stood on an ornamental boulder, trailing a cloud of loose bills, all covered in white frost, from a black duffel bag. The villain was covered in ice, shaped into plates of glistening armor. Cold breath wafted between two blue lips and revealed glittering, jagged teeth, like a frozen shark. His yellow eyes were embedded in craggy white icicles that hung from his eyebrows.
Deep Freeze cackled and raised both hands. Panicked civilians started to run as a wave of freezing cold air gusted across the grass, each blade shrivelled and hardened into a field of icy razors.
Deep Freeze dropped down to the grass, each step crackling with broken grass. People caught in webs of ice screamed in terror. “Looks like you’re... frozen with fear.” Deep Freeze grinned, his teeth glinting like diamonds. He raised his hands and there was a cruel crackling as a spear of ice grew into position in one hand.
The Batwing screeched towards Robinson Park, blue flames bursting from two turbines. “Target identified,” Batman said. “Robin.”
“Yes, sir,” Timothy Wayne sighed.
The Boy Wonder adjusted his hood with a scowl, “Unidentified subject, A.K.A. Deep Freeze. Cryogenic Powers. Robbery. Assault. The G.C.P.D. are in pursuit after a daylight robbery of First Bank of Gotham on Park Avenue.”
Batman grunted in confirmation.
“He must want a fight,” Robin speculated, “Daylight robbery during rush hour?”
“We don’t know that,” Batman countered, “He might have an exit strategy. Don’t limit your thinking.”
“He headed straight for Robinson Park. Families. Kids. He wants our attention. It’s the most probable-- “
“Enough,” Batman said, “Thirty seconds.”
Robin simmered with frustration. School was out for the summer and Tim wanted permission to operate outside of the confines of Gotham City on his own-- just like Batman’s previous partner, Dick Grayson.
But the Batman had refused to allow him to leave Gotham and nothing Tim had said could change his mind. It was ridiculous! He had fought crime on the streets of Gotham for almost three years, since he was just eleven years old. He could take care of himself; after all, he had been trained by the best-- he had been trained by Batman.
But under the mask was his adoptive father, Bruce Wayne, and his father didn’t want him out of his sight right now.
Batman released the controls and the supersonic stealth fighter hovered above a fountain, sending waves of hot air across the surface of the basin. “Ten seconds,” Batman said as he drew a bead on Deep Freeze. His jaw tightened. “Civilians are in the area.”
Robin nodded and drew his cowl onto his head. The black hood had yellow lines that bisected his eyes, echoing a beak. While the first Robin had been an incredible acrobat who had fought crime in literal spandex, Tim had no desire to emulate him-- he knew too much about firearms and human anatomy.
Robin’s cowl matched his black cape, also lined with yellow. His red costume had a black-and-yellow R above his heart, green sleeves and gloves, and dark green pants and boots.
Robin adjusted his mask and then tapped his wrist-mounted keyboard. The cowl tightened and sealed and the smart lens above his eyes flickered into life. Robin had programmed the suit supercomputer and he knew the system inside and out. “Check.”
His voice sounded cold and distant through the voice modulator. Batman confirmed the microphone check. “Three. Two. One. Drop now.”
The lower doors slid open and Batman and Robin dropped out of the cockpit of the Batwing.
“That’s enough, Deep Freeze!”
Batman swept through the air, sunlight flashing between the serrated edges of his cape. He fell into a crouch between Deep Freeze and his next would-be victim. His cape seemed to absorb the light as the Dark Knight rose to his full height.
Robin’s cape snapped open and he soared around the park. He folded the cape with a twitch of his shoulder muscles and rolled to a stop six meters behind the target. His heart was beating hard and fast and he took measured breaths. Focus.
“Batman and Robin,” Deep Freeze breathed, and his breath curled out of the corners of his frost-coated lips. He paced in a circle, a shimmering spear of ice held in one hand. The setting sun glowed crimson in the tips of his icicle-covered shoulders. The villain chuckled, “I’m just shivering with fear.”
“It’s over,” the Caped Crusader said, “The G.C.P.D. have surrounded the park. Surrender, and no one else has to get hurt.”
“Where’s the fun in that, Batman!” Deep Freeze smiled as he dropped the duffel bag full of cash and hurled his spear towards the Dark Knight.
There was a sinister whir and the spear shattered in mid-air. The Dark Knight caught Robin’s Batarang between two fingers. Deep Freeze hurled a dozen whirring shards of ice to no avail; Batman and Robin deflected each with a Batarang, circling the target in perfect synchronicity.
Deep Freeze growled in frustration. “Ah! Boy Wonder!” Deep Freeze hissed, settling into a crouch. His hands formed claws, tipped with black ice. “You certainly make this a refreshing--”
“Look,” Robin sighed, “I’d love to exchange witty banter, but I just don’t care.”
Deep Freeze blinked, confused, “What?”
“I don’t care,” Robin said, “You’re nothing. You’re walking copyright infringement. There’s nothing to say. You don’t get our attention. You get a heated cell in Arkham Asylum.”
Deep Freeze let out a roar, “Enough! I’ll show you attention, you little piece of shit! FREEZE!”
The villain released a blast of cryonic energy and there was a boom as a wave of ice formed in front of him; roaring, he spun in a circle and sent a tsunami of cold across both of his opponents.
In an instant, Batman and Robin were suspended in shimmering crystal, like insects frozen in amber. Deep Freeze lowered his arms, panting. His eyes flicked between Batman and Robin. The tip of a blue tongue flickered nervously across serrated white teeth. “Huh. Uh... ”
Batman and Robin started to glow. There were searing lines of heat running the length of their capes. The ice started to bubble and melt, and Deep Freeze gulped. He raised his hands and released a second wave of freezing air, “Just die, you freaks!”
The cryonic blast washed across Batman and erupted in a roiling cloud of hot steam. Deep Freeze took a step backwards, coughing, and turned towards the Boy Wonder.
Robin bounded out of the mist and planted his fist, glowing with orange heat, across Deep Freeze’s jaw. The villain was knocked over with a screech as chips of ice flew across the grass. He spat out a mouthful of pointed teeth. “You little-- “
Robin hit him again with a sizzle of steam. Deep Freeze collapsed, unconscious.
Batman flicked his cape and shed a layer of slush. He crouched over Deep Freeze, checked his pulse, flipped him onto his side, and cuffed him. The Caped Crusader rose with narrowed eyes. “That was unnecessary, Robin. You provoked him.”
Robin clenched his jaw. Batman still didn’t trust his judgement despite all of his crimefighting on the streets of Gotham. He tapped the side of his cowl. “His power level was within safety parameters for the heating coils, sir,” he said. “This was the fastest way to end this with the least risk to civilians. He focused his attention on us-- like I predicted.”
“It was risky, Robin. To you.”
The sound of sirens was drawing closer. “I knew the risk!” Robin threw up his hands, “It was within acceptable parameters.”
Batman grunted, refusing to concede the point, and rose to his feet. “Let’s go. The G.C.P.D. will collect Deep Freeze for transport.”
Robin hesitated, and then the words spilled out of him, “I could have taken Deep Freeze down on my own-- I’m ready, sir. Ready for action outside of the city.”
“Robin,” Bruce sighed, “we’ve discussed this. The risk--”
“We’re ready, sir,” Tim repeated, his heart pounding. “Please. We know the risks. We can help--”
“Enough,” Bruce said, slicing one gloved hand through the air.
Tim fell silent. He knew the conversation was over.
Batman sighed, “I need you to be patient, Robin. For now.”
Turbines whirring, the Batwing hovered overhead and lowered two cables with steel stirrups on the end. Batman put one foot in the stirrup and clasped the black handle positioned at shoulder height.
“Trust me-- your time will come, Robin. Sooner than you think.”
LAPUTA, ISLAND HEADQUARTERS OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE:
The Dark Knight leaned back in his chair and examined the collected members of the Justice League: Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Wonder Woman.
He glanced at their guests, Green Arrow and Black Canary. While not formal members of the Justice League, both were costumed crimefighters and members of the Outsiders. More importantly, they had both trained and cared for young protégés. That was why they were here-- to decide on the next step in the training and preparation of young heroes.
It was not going to be easy.
The assembled crimefighters sat in a circle around a table of polished steel set with a ring of hammered gold and the official seal of the Justice League. Each member had received a glass of mineral water and, for the human participants, coffee. Today was going to be one of those days.
Wonder Woman favored the Caped Crusader with a small smile as she took a sip of water. Batman had already reached out to her for input on this matter and was glad to know that the Queen of the Amazons approved of his plan. Batman nodded and rose to his feet, examining each hero in turn.
No, this was not going to easy.
The Dark Knight cleared his throat and the world’s greatest heroes turned their attention towards him. “We have a new problem.”
“We have dozens,” The Flash said with a grin. “What’s so special about this one?”
“Teenagers,” Batman tapped the holographic keyboard that floated in front of him. “You have all now received copies of my proposal,” he said. “It’s a new era. Public approval of metahumans is falling. It is more dangerous than ever to make mistakes. The public is less forgiving than they were in the aftermath of the invasion, and our enemies are more than willing to take advantage of the situation.”
“We have plenty,” Hackman growled.
Batman nodded, “The government’s tolerance for extranormal activity is fluctuating. The F.B.I. has made it clear that they will try and arrest and prosecute any unsanctioned vigilantes.”
“They can try,” Green Arrow snorted. “So, what does this have to do with teenagers, Batman?”
“The next generation of metahumans are most vulnerable,” Batman replied. “They are easy targets for hostile powers, underground recruitment, and media attention.”
“Everyone has a camera,” the Flash acknowledged.
“While the Teen Titans had the luxury of making mistakes until they earned the public trust and positive media attention, the next generation does not.” Batman tapped the holographic keyboard. “Unfortunately, they are also eager for attention.”
“Hey!” Green Arrow pointed at the holographic screen that had appeared behind the Batman, “That’s Arrowette.”
“Artemis,” Black Canary whispered as she jabbed his shoulder.
“Right-- Artemis.” Green Arrow scowled. “Why do you have a file on one of ours, Bats?”
Batman saw no need to answer that question. “Artemis. A.K.A. Arrowette,” he read from memory, “Sixteen. Trained by her mother, who also operated under the name Arrowette. Now trains under Green Arrow. Professional archer but an amateur in the field. This is a potential problem.”
Green Arrow looked like he was going to speak but Black Canary touched his arm and the Emerald Archer subsided, his blonde moustache bristling.
The Caped Crusader tapped a key. “Impulse. Fourteen. Speedster with an... unusual origin.”
The Flash let out a chuckle. “That’s putting it mildly. He’s a kid from a different century, a different world. He wants to prove that he belongs.”
“He’s also fast,” Batman said dryly. “Sometimes too much for his own good. There is a serious risk that the authorities in Central City or the federal government will pursue him for property damage and public nuisance.”
The Flash winced.
“Superboy. A.K.A. Kon-El. Sixteen. Superman’s... clone. He’s demonstrated an unidentified psychokinetic power that, as far as we know, he does not share with Superman. Intelligence indicates that dozens of foreign powers and hostile parties want to acquire him for study.”
Batman’s eyes flicked to Superman, whose jaw tightened. The Man of Steel cleared his throat. “Superboy is... unique. We don’t know what his new powers mean, but he wants to use his powers to do good. Like all of us, he wants to be a hero. He just needs a little help to do the right thing.”
Batman nodded and tapped the keyboard, “Wonder Girl. Cassandra Sandsmark. Fifteen. Blessed by the Olympian Gods and granted the powers of Wonder Woman. She is the second Wonder Girl; the former Wonder Girl, Troia, is a current member of the Teen Titans.”
“Cassie is a very capable young woman,” Wonder Woman said. “She is eager to prove herself worthy of her Amazonian sisters, although she is a little... unconventional... in her approach. Without discipline, she may be a danger to others in the field.”
Batman nodded and tapped the keyboard one last time and the screen cleared.
“What about your own teenage wonder, Bats?” Green Arrow folded his arms.
“Robin,,” Batman acknowledged, “That’s what brought this problem to my attention. He’s asked to operate independently with his peers-- with my permission.”
“So, let the kid have some fun,” Green Arrow shrugged, “You can’t keep the kid locked up in the cave, Bats, he’ll snap. Or he’ll turn out like y--”
The Dark Knight raised his hand, “I agree with you.”
The room went silent as Green Arrow’s jaw dropped. Black Canary raised one blonde eyebrow. Superman frowned, like a thunderhead passing in front of the sun.
Batman actually smiled. “Robin, Artemis, Impulse, Superboy, and Wonder Girl are growing more impetuous and intransigent by the day. Frankly, they have already worked together in the field despite our best efforts to protect them. Without our permission, they are more likely to disobey orders and put themselves in serious danger. It’s simple-- they need more responsibility, or they will take more risks.”
Bruce looked around the room. “It’s time they operated as a team under our supervision. It’s time the Justice League approved Young Justice.”
There was a moment of silence.
Superman floated to his feet with a grave frown. “We’ve talked about this, Batman. It’s too soon. They’re not ready.”
Bruce locked eyes with one of his closest friends and allies. Even if the Man of Steel was thus far unwilling to admit it, Batman knew he was afraid of Superboy-- afraid of what the clone might become under the wrong conditions. Afraid that Kon-El would hurt someone. “You mean you think he’s not ready, Superman,” Batman said softly.
Superman glared at him, his eyes sparkling for a moment. The temperature increased by a full degree. “That’s... not fair, Batman.”
“It’s true.” Wonder Woman laid a hand on Superman’s forearm and drew him gently into his seat. “And we all understand your concerns, Superman.”
“Frankly, the situation will be more dangerous if we don’t do something now.”
Aquaman leaned forward, stroking his beard. “How so, Batman?”
“The longer we wait and the more pressure we apply, the more likely they will act out,” Batman said, “If we give them a chance now, we can channel their energy.”
“Indeed,” the King of Atlantis said with a rich laugh, “There are many students in Atlantis that share that particular affliction of youth, I can think of one young man who’s all too eager to prove himself in the Surface World. I see your point, Batman.”
“That sounds familiar,” Black Canary took a sip of black coffee. “Hell, it sounds like me.”
The Flash laughed and disappeared with a snap, served himself a second cup of coffee and reappeared at the table.
Superman shook his head, his lips pursed. “I understand what you’re saying, Batman, but this is all the more reason that Superboy-- and all of them-- should be under supervision.”
“They will be,” Batman agreed, “They will operate as a team under strict conditions. At this age they won’t listen to us, but they can learn from each other.” Batman looked around the room, “We can’t keep them by our side forever but, together, we can keep them safe.”
Wonder Woman nodded. “Wonder Girl is chafing for more freedom and for more time with her friends. Without it, she’s grown... stubborn. Wilful with her instructors and her sisters.”
“Artemis is the same.” Black Canary took a sip of black coffee. “I think this could work, Wonder Woman.”
Green Arrow looked at his partner in surprise. “Don’t tell me you’re buying this, Canary!”
Green Arrow snorted. “This... idea... that we should let our kids join some sort of League Youth.”
“What do you mean?” the Flash said, hurt.
Green Arrow stood up abruptly. “This is ridiculous, Flash. They’re kids. They’re not cronies in your war on crime, Batman!”
Black Canary sighed and put her head in her hands.
“I’ve had the honor and the privilege to raise three young men who chose to become crimefighters,” Batman said, voice flat and hard. “I stand by what I’ve done. Can you say the same, Arrow?”
“Whoa, whoa, come on, guys.” The Flash zipped around the room in a blur. “We’re not here to fight.”
Batman gave him a dour look and the Flash waggled both eyebrows. Batman grunted in acknowledgment and unfolded his arms.
“Some of us are,” Green Arrow muttered as he sat back down, throwing his green hat on the table.
“Oliver,” Wonder Woman said gently, “talk to Artemis. They all want an opportunity to prove themselves. This is our chance to do so in a safe and responsible fashion.”
“I’ve had to lead young men and women into battle,” Green Lantern said. “We’re always stronger together.”
“I’m in,” the Flash said. “Impulse and Robin work well together, Batman. They can help each other.”
“I will read your proposal carefully,” Aquaman said. “But I agree, for now.”
“As do I,” Martian Manhunter said. “I only wish that there was another one of my kind that could benefit from this team, Batman.”
“Thank you.” The Dark Knight took a deep breath and looked around the room. “We face a dangerous new era for young metahumans. Young Justice is the best solution.”
Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert C. Murphy looked around the room and tapped the end of his pen on a thick manila folder bursting with papers. The austere conference room was buried deep under the J. Edgar Hoover Building. The walls were fitted with sound-absorbing tiles and an electromagnetic mesh. No signals went in and no signals went out. There were too many metahumans with the ability to infiltrate computer systems and intercept electromagnetic transmissions.
Director Murphy tapped the file with his pen as he ran his eyes around the table. Senior officials from the F.B.I. waited for him to start the meeting.
“Gentlemen, we have a problem,” Murphy bared his teeth. “More metahumans.”
There was a soft murmur of agreement from most of the men sitting around the table.
“We can all see what’s coming. American boys and girls with extranormal powers raised on a steady diet of lawbreaking. Delinquents in spandex, gentlemen. Nothing more than delinquents in spandex.” Murphy inhaled sharply through his nose. “At the same time, this gives us an opportunity. The public appetite for costumed crime is finally-- finally, gentlemen-- not what it once was. The Attorney General has authorized the formation of a new task force to combat metahuman crime. And our first target?”
Murphy stabbed a meaty finger into the bulging folder in front of him, “Juvenile offenders. The public doesn’t trust teenagers with powers, gentlemen. This is broken windows. We get ahead of the next wave-- the next wave of villains in costumes-- and shut it down. Yes?”
“Excuse me, Director,” Special Agent Hendrickson said, “but... without the Department of Extranormal Operations, do we have the resources to take down metahuman targets?”
There was a rumble of frustrated agreement.
“Excellent point, Hendrickson,” Murphy said. “The D.E.O. was shut down, but their personnel have been reassigned. We’ll bring many of their top men on board. This is a new era in policing, and that requires new tools. Thankfully, our friends in the private sector are more than willing to help.”
Murphy slid another file out from under the first. He opened the red folder. “Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Project: Medea.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN YOUNG JUSTICE #1!
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