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A goon grows in Gotham, or, a henchman's progress

A goon grows in Gotham, or, a henchman's progress


Batman: Arkham Knight, near-death experience #495

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There had to be more to Batman’s principles than just "not killing," thought the would-be criminal, glancing up from a locked fourth-floor safe to scan for the telltale (and absent) light of the Bat Signal. If the Bat’s life goal was just having a body count of zero, then he was doing something that the vast majority of people managed without even trying. It was like patting yourself on the back for not finishing a marathon. No, the real value was in being the kind of man who must constantly and heroically fight to avoid painting the city with an enemy’s blood.

Really, though, most of Gotham thought he shouldn't worry. If Harvey Dent ran someone over at 60 miles per hour? They were henchman foie gras. If Cobblepot planted explosive gel on someone's feet, they'd explode. If the Joker tackled a man covered in third-degree burns, pulled him right out of the air, and punched him in the face half a dozen times... well, who knew what happened with anything around the Joker, these days. But the odds of survival were infinitely smaller.

If Cobblepot planted explosive gel on someone's feet, they'd explode

It had taken a few years, and a lot of broken bones, but Batman's improbable non-lethality slowly drifted from sarcastic theory to accepted law. And walking back to his basement apartment from what turned out to be a nearly fatal cat burglary — rain and high windows proving a losing combination — this member of Gotham’s criminal element made a crucial connection: being Batman’s enemy was the safest job around.

The man ran through his past few years of life in Gotham. Law enforcement was a death sentence, obviously. So was any civil service job, really. The private sector had to live with being driven out and looted during the inevitable evacuation every few years (although landlords had gotten reasonable eminent domain settlements when half the city was briefly converted into a maximum-security prison.) Petty criminals feared invading the kingpins’ turf. But if you put yourself directly in the way of Gotham’s apex predator, the worst that could happen was a hospital stay.

Turning half the city into a prison had probably been an eminent domain nightmare

Why else did so many criminal enterprises run their operations out of Gotham — a gentrified city with a dogged police commissioner where trade was regularly disrupted? How did they hire dozens of underlings to carry out schemes with no conceivable profit motive? Why did they ally with each other so easily and so often? It suddenly seemed so obvious. Batman was an insurance policy. As long as he could theoretically put you away, the police wouldn’t bother you. As long as you were wearing an official Batman nemesis ridiculous henchman costume, outsiders wouldn’t bother you.

The Armed Freelancer’s Guild dues didn’t even seem so exorbitant any more. While the mooks were holding up banks or taking reporters hostage, the boss could be running multi-level marketing scams or embezzling from shell company clients or any other scheme that couldn’t be foiled by patrolling the city and punching. Or running drugs. Batman only seemed to touch weird designer fear serums or madness-inducing human growth hormone or anything else that no one in their right mind would ever sell for profit.

The problem, the criminal thought, was that some part of Batman seemed to realize what was going on. Every time the guy came out, it was with some kind of terrifying new weapon that stopped just a hair short of lethal. The blasting gel and stun guns had been bad enough, but a tank? A sniper rifle? A car that could cut through cement? It was like just stopping criminals wasn’t enough. He had to know he was balancing his morality on a knife’s edge, that every fight put his single guiding principle in greater and greater jeopardy. The act of almost killing had become Batman’s extreme sport, and he was pushing it to the edge.

What happened if he snapped? They’d all have to find another city, the men in bright colors and animal costumes and expensive jet suits and hypodermic gloves. They would drop their flashy handles and cover their disfiguring injuries. They would behave like any other criminals, fighting the courts and the police and the cartels. Cartels? God, they sounded terrifying. No, they had to keep him here. To be just inept enough that he never felt truly cornered. And just as the Dark Knight couldn’t kill them, they couldn’t kill the Dark Knight.

The act of almost killing had become Batman's extreme sport

For now, though, it was perfect. He would start tomorrow. He probably couldn’t make the Arkham Knight’s militia, but Penguin seemed feasible. At least he wouldn’t have to wear that weird clown makeup. And Scarecrow was a hepatitis infection vector waiting to happen. And the al-Ghul guy only hired people who’d been playing with katanas since they were six, and —

The would-be criminal didn’t even have time to turn as the Batmobile careened through the wall beside him. It hit him square in the back like a sleek black freight train, its grill crackling with electricity. He flew ten feet in the air and landed in a pile of crumbling bricks and drywall. Legs crushed, head swimming, but improbably — miraculously — alive. Yes, he thought through a haze of pain. He had been initiated. His future was set.

The car was long gone, taking part of a freeway overpass with it. "It’s the… freakin’ Bat," he mumbled anyways, just for practice.

He had a feeling he’d be saying it a lot.