There are two kinds of criminals in Gotham – the Rubes and the Sideshows. One suspicious, cowardly lot, and one set of freakshows. One set wear masks to hide their faces, the other wear masks for the attention they get.
After all his training, Dick can mop the floor with either of them.
And even when the gimmicks get a little too creepy, when it’s mind control and kidnapping and fear gas and creepy plants, Dick can’t help but have fun. With Jenny back at school, and apparently unharmed by her experience, he’s really glad to be out there, doing the work.
Of course, there are degrees even among the freakshows. On one end, there’s Blockbuster and Condiment King and on the other there’s the Jokers and the Poison Ivys.
In terms of his relationship with Bruce, Two-Face is… complicated. Harvey Dent had been friends with Batman before the incident with Maroni and the acid, and now he’s gone… well, he’s totally off the deep end.
But – complicated or not, he’s still just a freak show and he’s still got to have his butt kicked, so when Gordon tells the dynamic duo that Harvey’s kidnapped Judge Watkins, Dick doesn’t see any reason not to start turning over rocks straight away and start with the ass whuping. But Bruce reacts slightly differently to the news.
“I’m thinking of having you sit this one out.”
“No! You can’t! I heard you tell Gordon we’re partners!”
“We are. So I’m asking you to stand down. I’ll let you think about it.”
Dick sits on the stairs to the cave and watches Bruce work at the computer. He gets it, really. Well, he thinks he gets it. This is big: Judge Watkins was the judge presiding over the Maroni case when Dent went over the edge. It’s not just any ol’ wackjob crime – this is personal. This is a shout out to the people involved. To Batman. He’s calling him out, to settle a score that pre-dates Robin, pre-dates Dick.
This isn’t about him, it’s about the two of them.
Dent’s ‘thing’ – the duality, the obsession with twos, isn’t just a gimmick like Killer Moth wearing wings or Condiment King and his pepper guns. It’s a deep rooted psychosis – something he’s likely to fall back on to get Batman where he wants him to be. So Bruce looks for possibilities for crimes involving ‘two’ and hits upon Eileen Damascus, the rich socialite, who has just given birth to twins. Not willing to risk the lives of children, Bruce hurries out of the cave to check that lead first.
Dick sits on the stair for less than a minute before realising he can’t stay still either. He has to be there. He rushes after Bruce.
On the roof of the Damascus building, Dick finds Bruce standing off against Dent, who is standing on the very edge of the building carrying two wrapped bundles, holding one dangerously over the edge. Dick lands lightly on the corner of the building, with a good angle just in case he has to leap off again.
“Ho ho!” Two-Face doesn’t do a convincing laugh. “I was hoping the two of you would show. Hardly original. Barely convincing. Let’s see how far a bouncing baby boy can bounce.”
He drops the child as casually as if he was throwing away trash. Dick cries out, and dives after him, letting his line spill out behind him, thanking the gods of criminal Gotham that Two-Face chose the penthouse, do he has the distance and time to manoeuvre, catching the baby and swinging to a fifth storey window ledge with the bundle in his arms.
“Don’t worry you’re safe now…”
The baby hadn’t cried at all. The only noise it makes now is a mechanical Mama! And Dick finds himself staring into the eyes of a child’s baby doll. That suddenly puffs out a smokey gas right into Dick’s face, filling his nose and mouth and hitting the back of his throat like a punch from Blockbuster.
He just about manages the thought to force himself to fall forward, rather than backwards off the edge of the building, as coughing wracks his body, is nose and mouth burning, eyes streaming. The smoke forces his eyes closed, and then he finds he can’t open them, except to feel them rolling back into his body as he falls further forward.
And then everything goes black.
“Wakey wakey. Robin. You’re holding up the show.”
Nothing can hold up the show. The show must...
Dick fights his way to consciousness, only to find himself with his hands tied behind his back, a silent henchman standing either side of him. He blinks furiously, relieved to find his mask still on.
Maybe Two-Face doesn’t care. Batman and Robin. That’s the two he cares about, not Dick and Robin.
Or maybe that’s not the two. In front of Dick, apparently built just to torture him: a gallows, built, according to Harvey’s twisted mind, for two. Batman on his left, Judge Watkins on his right. Tied, a bag over each head, a noose over each neck, ready to be hanged.
He feels it again, that all too familiar hit of nausea in his stomach, bile in his throat that comes from utter helplessness. Two lives on the line, and somehow it’s up to Dick to get them out and he doesn’t know what to do.
“Don’t play his game, Robin,” Bruce mutters, but Two-Face hits him hard around the head and he’s silent, his head slumping forward.
Then Two-Face turns his attention to Dick, pulling out the coin Dick’s heard so much about - Dent’s lucky coin, one side clean, one side scarred.
“The odds are fifty-fifty. What’re the stakes, kid?”
Dick can feel himself panicking. He racks his brain but cannot come up with a way out of this that doesn’t involve huge gambles.
But maybe – maybe. The trapeze is all about taking risks, keeping calm and thinking quickly in a changing situation. Maybe Dick can use Two-Face’s coin and his obsession against him?
“Who dies first?” he says quickly. “Scarred face it’s Batman. Clean, it’s the judge.”
That’ll buy him time at least.
Two-Face throws the coin up in the air, where the clean face catches the flickering light in the dust. It spins, once, twice and lands on Harvey’s gloved hand; he tilts it to show Dick: clean face up.
“So the judge is the first.” Keep talking. Harvey Dent was a lawyer, first. “How about best two out of three? Clean side up, the judge doesn’t hang.”
It’s a gamble it’s a gamble it’s a helluva gamble, but if it doesn’t work he’ll think of something, right?
Dick’s breath leaves his body so hard his shoulders slump. The judge doesn’t hang.
Two-Face honours it – he cuts the rope above the judge’s neck.
And opens the trapdoor beneath him anyway.
The struggling body falls through the hole and Dick can hear a splash as the tied body hits a deep body of water beneath.
There is no other sound, other than Dick’s panicked yell.
“But the coin toss!”
“You gotta be careful of the terms when you place a bet. You gotta be real specific. Otherwise you find yourself in over your head.”
Dick’s learned to swim. He’s read about drowning, and can only imagine the pain and horror of it, lasting so much longer than a neck breaking drop. He thinks of the judge, probably still drowning, and the bile chokes in his throat again. Is the same fate going to meet Bruce?
Does Bruce know that Dick got the judge killed?
Two-Face removes the bag from Bruce’s head, revealing the Batcowl underneath (again, Two-Face doesn't care about the duality of Bruce and Batman. He sees Batman as one person.) “Wake up, Bats. There’s something I want you to see.”
Then he’s coming down off the scaffold, strolling towards Dick, addressing him again.
“No you and your pal are even. You both have blood on your hands. Your pal killed Harvey Dent, and you killed Judge Watkins. And now I’m gonna kill you both.”
The right hook comes fast and hard – Dick is able to anticipate it, but with his hands tied and his head still foggy from the gas, he can only turn partly away from it to soften the impact. And it still sends him flying to the floor. Trying to catch his breath, he finds his nose blocked and blood streaming down his face.
Two-Face is still talking when he kicks Dick in the stomach, lifting him off the floor. He barely has time to register it before his face explodes in pain again – but when he does think, it’s to remember his training. To listen, to stay quiet and calm, and take in all the information. Despite the fear, despite the pain. To focus.
Two-Face is still talking.
“Harvey Dent was one of the good guys. Being good in this town means you need guts. You gotta be tough. You gotta do things that aren’t in the lawbooks. The Bat didn’t have the stomach for this. He punked out on Harvey. The great outlaw protector of Gotham hid behind Lady Justice’s skirts. But she’s blind for a reason, Brat. ‘Cause she doesn’t see what needs to be done in her name. I wanted you to understand that. Before it’s all over, I wanted you to know.”
Dick’s face is wet with blood, his mouth swollen, his nasal passages blocked. But his mask is designed to keep sweat out of his vision at all times, and so, even though there’s throbbing where the his swollen cheek hits the mask, blood and tears are kept clear of his vision, and he can see clearly when one of Two-Face’s henchman passes his boss a baseball bat.
“It wasn’t me that killed you. It was the Bat.”
(The Batman? The baseball bat?)
The first hit lands in Dick’s ribs, and while he can’t hear anything over the impact, he feels the crack as the air explodes out of his chest again. The second hit lands on a hip, the third…
That’s when he loses track, can’t focus long enough to keep recording the location of the hits, stops being able to count them, can’t tell the throbbing of his body from the bat hitting it. Can’t stand up, can’t speak, can’t breathe, can’t hear anything except Two-Face’s words ringing in his ears.
It wasn’t me that killed you. It was the Bat.
(He’s wrong. This is all Dick’s fault. It wasn’t the Bat that killed Robin. Robin killed the Bat.)
It was the Bat…
Dick sinks into the pain, until there is nothing else.
And then there is nothing at all.