“So, they were supposed to make sure we were restrained after the exchange. Somebody must have messed up.” Lucius Fox sat on a gleaming metal table as Dr. Douglas Dundee checked everybody over to make sure they were healthy after their experience.
“So I see,” responded Silver St. Cloud. She moved from one device to another, looking for anything familiar. “But how does that help us get back?”
“We may be able to help you with that.” All faces turned at the sound of a new voice. A panel in the wall had slid aside, and two strange-looking beings were standing there. “We may be able to reverse the transference process.”
“And why should we believe you?” asked Silver.
“Because we’re on the opposite side of the warfare that was mentioned on the monitor tape that you viewed.” The speaker was tall, pale-skinned, with a hairless body clad only in a pair of shorts. Its skin was smooth, and its eyes were black orbs set in a featureless face. “I am called Keldek, and this is Mrefor. The one called the Outsider in your world was a leader among the oppressionists who ran our world years ago. Since he was taken into your world, our kind have overthrown them, but they continue to fight on. We found this lair a short time ago and laid a trap for those who were using it. We were not able to prevent the transference, however.”
The other being, nearly identical except for its broader body, added, “You may have noted the alteration in the appearance of our kind in our world. This seems to be related to the acquisition of increased mental powers in your world. We are not so powerful in our own dimension, and it seems to have a noticeable effect on our bodies. The good news is, we think we can send you back. We captured a Q-energy nullifier at another of their bases.”
At this, the five humans started talking excitedly. “What will it take?”
“When can we go?”
“What can we do to help?”
“Please, calm down. The nullifier is being brought here as we speak. Until then, please relax, and we will try to see to your needs.”
In the storage room of a small bookstore in downtown Gotham City, five costumed heroes gathered with the store’s owner.
“Kirk, are you all right?” asked Robin. “I thought you said you were injured in the fight with that creature.”
Kirk Langstrom flexed his arms with a pained expression on his face. “I was. That… thing tore through the membranes of my wings. It hurt like hell. I got back here and took my neutralizing pill to change back to human. As you can see, there’s no physical harm to my body, but the pain is still there.”
“Will you be all right keeping an eye on these while we’re gone?” Ragman gestured toward where they had the five Gra’xians bound in leather straps, wrapped in a bearskin rug.
“Sure. I’ll just smack them over the head with this as soon as they show any signs of waking up.” Kirk hefted a large mallet in one hand.
“So, where are we going now?” asked Batwoman.
Batman stood in the corner, arms crossed over his chest. “The Outsider said to meet him where it all began. That would be one of two places: either the West End Landfill, where Alfred appeared to be killed, or Gotham Memorial Cemetery, where a well-meaning scientist discovered that Alfred still had a spark of life in him and tried bringing him back to life. It was that attempt that gave birth to the Outsider.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Inside Story of the Outsider,” Detective Comics #356 (October, 1966).]
“How do you want to play it?” asked Nightwing.
Batman looked over those who shared his fight in Gotham. “Robin is with me at the cemetery. The others take the landfill, but be ready for my call.” He turned to Kirk. “Is the infrared repeater installed on the roof?”
“Installed and working.” Kirk smiled. “My thanks for the help in buying this building.”
Batman nodded. “Don’t worry, the previous owner is quite happy in Cincinnati. We ready?”
Everyone in the room nodded.
It was after midnight when Batman and Robin arrived at Gotham Memorial Cemetery. Smoke rose from a row of buildings to the north, obscuring the moon above. In the center of the cemetery, a great mausoleum stood. Carefully they approached, moving from one tombstone or monument to the next. At the last bit of cover before the mausoleum, Batman put out a hand to keep his protégé back.
“How do you know?”
“Gotham has been a war zone for weeks, yet this part of the cemetery looks like the groundskeeper just cut it today. He used something to sheer the grass off so it wouldn’t show footprints.”
“I’ve got a clear shot to the repeater.” Robin pulled a modified radio from his utility belt and spoke into it. “The others are on their way.”
“Good. Now, let’s finish this!”
Inside the mausoleum, the Outsider watched a video monitor. “Batman and his new Robin. Welcome to your final resting place.”
“The nullifier is here. Your bodies were treated with Q-radiation, as were those of the Gra’xians who took your place. If we can remove the Q-radiation from either of them, you will snap back to your proper place. We must be careful, however, because if the nullifier is not switched off immediately after you are restored to your proper place, you and the Gra’xian who took your place will die from a feedback reaction.”
“That sounds horrible!” said Harriet Cooper.
“We will man the nullifier, so you will not need to fear. The irradiation process takes about fifteen of your minutes.” The five humans took up positions before the nullifier.
For thirteen minutes, they sat awash in the coruscating lights of the Q-radiation nullifier. With less than two minutes to go, one wall of the laboratory was blown apart in an explosion from outside. Dozens of Gra’xians poured through the ragged opening.
“No!” screamed Keldek. “If we try to stop now, the remaining Q-radiation will kill you! Stay within the beam!”
“They seek to stop our incursions into the other world!” cried one of them as they attacked the Gra’xians manning the nullifier. “Stop them!”
Helpless, the five humans watched as first one, then the second of their helpers fell. The counter on the nullifier, visible to them all, showed ten seconds left.
“No, we can’t let them stop us now! Surely, they’ll kill us next!” Harriet Cooper ran forward, grabbing a chair as she went. Awkwardly, she swung it at one of the attackers. He fell, and she turned back to her companions, just in time to see them fade from view. As five pale figures materialized in their place, she cried out as spasms of pain shot through her body. She collapsed, seeing one of the Gra’xians pointing a weapon at her. The last thing Harriet Cooper saw was the burst of an energy weapon fired at her head.
The door of the mausoleum blew inward, followed by a pair of caped forms. The Outsider stood, hands on hips, with a sneer on his face. “Come on, Batman, come in and die!”
The roof of the building reared up, and teeth formed in the door opening. The entire mausoleum became a fearsome, tooth-filled mouth, ready to rend the Dynamic Duo in its clutches. Teeth erupted from the floor and ceiling, and the building moved as if to pursue and catch them. With a sure stride, Batman evaded the teeth. Robin took to the air, leaping up to wrap his hands around one long fang, swung to the side, then kicked off from another. Together, they ignored the danger of the animated crypt as they focused on their target. Robin reached in his utility belt and pulled out a handful of capsules that he hurled at the twisted creature that had once been their butler. They burst, releasing halon gas that removed the oxygen from the air around the Outsider’s head.
“Silly boy, did you think I wouldn’t take note of that trick back at the penthouse? Fah!” A fan formed out of the wall beside him, dissipating the gas.
“How are you with fire, Outsider?” asked Batman, throwing a small grenade at the floor in front of the Gra’xian. It erupted in a massive fireball, filling that end of the room. The Outsider responded by increasing the size of the fan, blowing the flames directly at Batman. He ducked down and wrapped his cape up over himself. Under cover of the flames, he drew out the freeze-gun that Robin had used earlier. Keeping it under cover of the cape, he stood again, drawing it out to fire. He generated a column of ice floor-to-ceiling, encasing the Outsider.
“Got him, Batman! But will it hold him?” asked Robin.
“I doubt it, but it will slow him down,” replied Batman. Even as he spoke, the column trembled and shook. “Down!”
The ice column exploded, sending shards of itself throughout the mausoleum. The Outsider stood, hands on hips, head tilted back as he laughed. “Is that all I can expect from you, great defender of Gotham City?”
“It isn’t what you expect that will take you down, Outsider. It’s the things you don’t expect.” Batman took a step back as a crack formed in the ceiling above the Outsider. With a resounding crash that was heard nearly a mile away, the marble and limestone building collapsed. Batman and Robin leaped back through the entrance, leaving the Outsider to be crushed.
“Batman! Robin! Are you all right?” They turned to see Nightwing, Batwoman, and Ragman running through the cemetery.
“We’re all right. We just used a combination of heat and cold to bring the roof down on the Outsider.” Batman looked at the pile of shattered stone. “Surround it. It won’t keep him down for long.”
As they took their positions, the rubble started to shift. Without warning, a pair of stone fists shot out, narrowly missing Nightwing and Batman. Cracked stone moved aside as the Outsider stood, flowing around him to rise up as stone spikes. “More playmates, hmmm? That’s OK, I’ve got plenty of spiked punch for all!” The spikes flew out, each seeking its own target.
Batwoman and Nightwing glanced at each other and gave a barely noticeable nod. Each of them ran in a wide arc around the group until they were running toward each other. They came together, then ducked down at the last minute to let the spikes collide over them.
Batman flung his cape up with one arm, moving behind it like a bullfighter. He maneuvered around until he was able to lead the stone projectile into a collision with a tombstone.
Robin whipped out a short rod of metal, pressing a stud on it as he brought it around from his back. It extended to its full length of six feet in a half-second. He planted one end of the staff on the ground, lifting his body to a horizontal position. Swinging around, he kicked the missile to the side, letting it smash into a tree.
Ragman stood still, letting the shaft of limestone come at him. When it was mere feet away, he jumped straight up and landed on it with the agility of the tightrope walker whose gift he gained at the older man’s death. He balanced on it as it moved, riding it as the Outsider sent it bucking and turning. Gaining confidence, he taunted the bizarre creature. “You thought you could kill us by throwing rocks at us? And here I thought you were so powerful!”
“Oh, you fool, you bloody fool!” The Outsider’s eyes flashed, and the stone missile picked up speed and swept around in a circle. “Come to me, and I will finish you off myself!” The Outsider picked up two pieces of rubble, which changed within his grip into a pair of wide, jagged blades, flashing in a ray of moonlight that peaked through the clouds and smoke.
“Ragman, jump!” yelled Batman as Batwoman dived at the tattered warrior. He ignored them, focusing only on the garish white figure before him.
In his head, Rory Regan calculated the precise instant when to jump, taking to the air just tenths of a second before steel blades slashed the air where he had stood. Coming down, he swept the patchwork cloak that had been his father’s last gift to him, spreading it wide. He landed on the Outsider, the cloak covering them both. There was a loud scream like that of a lost soul being torn from its host. As the others watched, a body passed through the cloak as it settled down around the Ragman’s body. Where before had stood the twisted figure of the Outsider, now stood a reeling Alfred Pennyworth. Batman, Nightwing, and Robin all rushed toward the older man as he collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
Batman removed his cape and wrapped his old friend up in it. As he lifted him, all their radios came to life.
“Belfry to hunters! Belfry to hunters! Is anybody there?”
“Nightwing here! What is it?”
“I’ve got news. Some good, some bad.”
“Wait till we get there. We’ve got Alfred! We’ll be there in five minutes!”
Once again, the heroes of Gotham gathered in the back of the Stranger Than Fiction book store. Before they could go in the innermost room, Kirk Langstrom stopped them.
“Most of our friends have returned. They’re a bit rattled, but they seem to be all right.” He turned toward Nightwing. “Dick, I’m sorry.”
“Aunt Harriet? Is she–?”
“She didn’t make it back. From what I could gather, there was trouble in this other world where they were imprisoned, and she sacrificed herself to make sure the others made it back.” Kirk laid a hand on Nightwing’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Batman put an arm over Nightwing’s shoulders, pulling him close as they went in to join their friends. There were tears and hugs and explanations.
“She — she really was much stronger than she would ever admit to herself,” said Silver St. Cloud, resting her head on Batman’s chest. “She was the one who realized what had to be done to save us all.”
“For what it’s worth, Dick, your aunt died a hero,” added Lucius Fox.
“What about Alfred? Is he all right?” asked Dr. Douglas Dundee. Batman had laid Alfred down on a table as they entered. The doctor looked him over. “Bruce, as best I can tell here, he seems all right physically. However, he isn’t responding to normal stimuli. I need to get him to a hospital right away!”