The nights were bleak in Gotham City, but this one was worse than most. Once again, the night was filled with the mad laughter of the Joker. He had just committed a robbery at the Gotham Museum, killing several guards in the process. Commissioner James W. Gordon walked through the museum looking over the mess that the Joker had made while robbing the place, when a familiar black shadow fell over him.
“Do you know what was taken?” Batman asked.
“So far nothing is missing, but a lot of exhibits were destroyed,” Gordon answered.
The curator of the museum ran up to them. “Commissioner, I just completed the inventory, and there is one thing missing from an exhibit we had on loan from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History.”
“Let me guess — one of Lex Luthor’s old toys?” Batman asked.
“A Phantom Zone projector is what it was listed as. The inventory says it was harmless, since Superman removed the power source.”
“Nothing is ever harmless in the hands of the Joker. What do you think, Batman?” Gordon asked as he turned toward Batman, but he was already gone.
It was now nearly a month since the robbery of the Gotham Museum, and no one had heard from the Clown Prince of Crime, a fact that worried his arch-nemesis.
“The Joker is too egotistical to go this long without doing anything,” Batman said to himself as he looked over the daily news reports in the Batcave.
There was a familiar buzz from a compartment in his utility belt, and he opened it to allow his Justice League communicator to drop into his hand.
“I seem to be collecting some of your problems in Central City,” responded the voice of Wally West, alias the Flash.
“Why Central City?” Batman asked.
“The Flash Museum dedicated to Barry — it reopened yesterday after repairs and was robbed last night.”
“Barry had more enemies than most of the JLA combined,” Batman said, speaking of Barry Allen, the original Flash.
“True, but none of them leave a harlequin calling card or leave guards with their faces frozen in a smile.”
“Let me guess — the museum was wrecked, and there were only a few things missing,” Batman said.
“Only one thing missing — a JLA communicator that was all but destroyed when Barry and Superman saved the Earth from an invasion. I can’t figure it out; that thing was inactive. I called Hawkman first, and he said there was no way it could be used against us.”
“Like Jim Gordon said, in the hands of the Joker, anything is dangerous,” Batman said, and he turned the communicator off.
As Batman looked over the Joker’s robberies of the last month, he noticed something unusual about them.
“Lex Luthor’s old Phantom Zone projector and the Flash’s Justice League communicator, but neither of them with a power source,” Batman said to himself. “The Joker is insane, but his choice of weapons is always chemical, not electronic.”
“Could the two be used together in some way?” Batman’s faithful retainer Alfred Pennyworth said as he came into the Batcave, carrying one of Bruce Wayne’s suits.
“Call the board members and tell them I’ll have to postpone the meeting,” said Batman. “I really don’t see how they could be used together. A Phantom Zone projector moves a person or object to a separate dimension, which according to Superman no longer exists, while our communication devices allow us to communicate on a relay with the satellite, but it will only work for a member of the League because they’re DNA-encoded.”
“It is kind of a moot point, considering that both are without a power source,” Alfred said.
“Power cells to operate our communicators are hard to come by; that is, unless you live on Thanagar,” said Batman.
As he changed for a well-deserved sleep after his quick trip to Central City, Batman’s Justice League communicator buzzed again.
“I’ve got to change the number on that thing,” Batman muttered to himself as he opened his utility belt again.
“Bruce, we’ve got a problem,” Superman’s voice said.
“I’m sure it’s nothing an overgrown Boy Scout like yourself can’t handle,” Batman answered, humor in his voice.
“Part of Luthor’s armor is missing, an addition that he made the last time we fought,” Superman said.
“And just how does this concern me?” Batman asked.
“The guards laughed themselves to death. The security cameras showed the Joker taking it, like he wanted to be seen,” said Superman.
“What did this new addition do?” asked Batman, suddenly very interested.
“It absorbed and channeled the energy from the rings of the Green Lanterns.”
“When he looks for an energy source, he certainly thinks big,” said Batman.
As darkness fell over Coast City, a familiar purple-and-green-garbed man walked into a prison graveyard. He was flanked by two men in clown suits who seemed a little nervous.
“Here’s the one — William Hand. Start digging,” said the Joker.
“I don’t like this, digging up a dead man, and in Coast City. What if Green Lantern shows up?” one of the clowns asked.
“I’m prepared for that flying menace; now keep digging and shut up,” the Joker ordered.
At the nearby church chapel, the bell tolled out twelve o’clock.
“The sun just set — how could it be midnight?” the other clown asked.
The Joker’s smile widened as he looked up at the bell tower and one of the gargoyles moved.
“We have company, boys,” the Joker laughed as he reached into the inside pocket of his purple coat.
The Joker whipped out a device that greatly resembled a standard D battery flashlight but was slightly larger as the clowns’ shovels sounded on the top of William Hand’s coffin.
“What do you mean we have company?” one of the clowns asked.
As an unspoken answer to the question, a bat-shaped shadow fell over the two clowns.
“You’re too late, Bats — I already have what I want,” the Joker said.
The two henchmen ran away screaming after seeing Batman standing behind the tombstone of William Hand.
“Since I’m too late, care to tell me what you’re after?” Batman asked, playing to the Joker’s ego and hoping to get a good shot at the device with the batarang he held behind the tombstone.
“Of course not, Bats,” said the Joker. “The Crisis opened up my eyes to a whole new reality. According to this egghead that was just transferred to Arkham after faking insanity, this Phantom Zone projector should take me to a world without a Batman.”
“Hoping to find another you in that world, though, I suspect?” Batman asked.
“Of course! Earth-Two still has a parallel me, but no you!” the Joker said as he flipped his device on.
An eerie white light shone over the casket, and the Joker began to laugh. Seizing the moment, Batman hurled his batarang toward the Joker’s hand. Instead of impacting the metal, the batarang refracted the light from the altered Phantom Zone projector, shining the light both on the Joker and the Batman.
As the white light turned to green, both the Joker and Batman vanished. Inside the coffin echoed a wild maniacal laughter as it burst into a green flame. When the flame extinguished, the coffin was gone without even a trace of ash left.
The Joker and Batman appeared together inside a white mist. For a second, Batman thought he recognized the saddened face of Mon-El in the mist before they were jerked out of it. Batman then appeared alone on the streets of Gotham City just after dusk. Somehow the city appeared darker, and the streets even looked a bit filthier than he was used to.
As Batman looked around at the streets of Gotham, he noticed subtle changes that only one such as the World’s Greatest Detective would have noticed — changes in the style of clothing worn by pedestrians, and the fact that they all seemed to be carrying portable phones. But the real shocker came when he noticed a newspaper stand. The headlines screamed in bold print: “LEX LUTHOR ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.”
“Where am I?” Batman asked himself as he walked into an alleyway that he knew all too well.
“You’re in my city,” a voice answered him from above.
A familiar bat-shaped shadow fell over him, and this time it wasn’t his. Batman looked up to see a man in a nearly identical costume descending toward him, slowed only by the drag of the cape as he held it in an arch. Batman rolled out of the way, pulled a batarang out of his utility belt, and threw it toward his doppelgänger as he turned.
Both men looked shock for a second as two batarangs clanked together between them.
He knows how to use those, but he doesn’t have the costume down, Batman thought as he ducked out of the way of a second batarang. His cape and cowl are too dark, almost black, and his utility belt is bulkier.
As the doppelgänger matched Batman move for move, he began to realize that the Joker might have succeeded in taking them to parallel Earth.
There’s really only one way to find out if I’m right, and I can’t do it here, Batman thought as he flipped his double away from him into a Dumpster.
Batman threw a small explosive charge onto the building over the trash bin. The explosion didn’t do much structural damage to the building but buried the lid of the Dumpster under the bricks that had covered the side of the building.
“That should buy me enough time to get to the Batcave,” Batman said loud enough for his doppelgänger to hear him.
He launched a bat-rope and swung off into the night. Instead of going to Wayne Manor, Batman went to the penthouse on top of the Wayne Foundation building.
“I just hope he has an entrance to the Batcave here, like I do,” Batman said as he walked toward the fireplace.
“I do,” the second Batman said as he stepped out of the shadows.
Batman smiled slightly as he watched his darker doppelgänger appear out of the shadows, a trick he had used all too often.
“I do have an entrance to the Batcave here, but it hasn’t worked since the quakes. I’m afraid you would only reach the sub-level of this building.”
“I take it you have figured out who I am?” Batman asked.
“Your ploy was too obvious.”
“So you probably won’t believe me when I say that I was brought here, to this dimension, parallel Earth, or wherever I am by the Joker and a gadget he stole from Lex Luthor?” Batman asked.
“Right now I’m open to possibilities; you know my secret identity and an entrance to the Batcave.”
“I know that Earth-Two has a slight time fluctuation between our timelines, but I didn’t know that there was this much of a gap between the worlds,” said Batman. “On Earth-One it’s 1987, but I noticed that the newspaper down there said 2001.”
A grim look came over the doppelgänger’s face.
“This is Earth-One.”