“When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge.”
— Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Speckled Band
It was a quiet night at Gotham City’s McGuire Brothers Shipping Company. The security guard walked his customary patrol, confidently checking each office door and window to be certain everything had been secured. He knew the offices were potential targets for robbers, even though the management had deliberately altered various schedules on a weekly basis in order to make the general public unaware of exactly when the safe would be full of cash.
The guard wasn’t worried; he was rather smug and saw himself as inordinately capable. He really didn’t expect to ever encounter any opposition that could give him the slightest amount of trouble. Of course, he also never expected that he would turn a corner and come face to masked face with the notorious super-criminal known as Raven, the Teen Terror.
“Boo!” said the young man in a mocking tone of voice before deftly disarming the guard with one swift movement as he flipped upward and used the startled guard’s shoulder’s to vault up and over to land behind him. He kicked out, expertly bringing the hapless guard crashing to the ground where he delivered a precise martial arts jab that left his foe unconscious.
The boy in black and red grinned as he checked to make certain the guard was out cold. Too easy. Why is it always too easy? he thought.
He saw a huge shadow loom up against the nearest wall, and his mentor Owlman soon stepped into view.
“I have the money,” said Owlman, easily carrying a heavy sack over one shoulder. “I’m sorry I didn’t wait on you. The safe was a good one, and would have been good practice for you. Of course, it is a school night, so I didn’t want to keep you out too late.”
Raven shrugged and said, “That’s okay. Being tardy isn’t a big deal when you’re the ward of the guy who paid for the new football stadium!”
“Charity does begin at home,” said Owlman. “We should be heading back now. While we silenced all the alarms — and the inept security staff — there’s no need to prolong our little visit.”
Owlman wore his infamous gray and blue costume with the stylized owl-shaped mask and helmet.
During the first few years of his career as a super-villain, before he and the other members of the Crime Syndicate were imprisoned for nearly a decade in the dimension known as Limbo, he had chosen to wear no mask at all. He merely relied on his latent mental powers to casually obscure his features to any witness. However, those same mysterious powers had briefly vanished following the cosmic Crisis, and while he now possessed them again, he had deliberately decided to allow everyone to believe that they were greatly diminished or entirely gone now. Thus, he had adapted his helmet so he could honestly say that he no longer needed to use his mental prowess for casual disguise.
The Deadly Duo raced out of the building, and Raven jumped into his seat in their sleek Nightmobile. The futuristic vehicle contained dozens of high-tech gadgets as well as an engine that could outperform any other car in the city.
Owlman smiled as he thought of how superior the car was to the similar model owned by his Crime Syndicate ally, Deadeye. Poor Oliver runs a distant second to me in every way, he thought. I could outshoot him if I wanted to do so, but why totally crush his spirit? His cocky manner does amuse me at times!
The villains raced through the night in their amazing car, only to screech to a sudden stop as a colorful figure stepped out of the darkness to face them. The man was clad in solid green, and while his costume was mysterious-looking, he certainly was not imposing to the hardened villains. Owlman would have casually run him down without batting an eye, but the man was not alone. He was standing in the midst of what appeared to be hundreds of rats.
“Ratman? I bet he calls himself Ratman!” said Raven as his eyes brightened, and he smiled with pleasure.
Owlman smiled and said, “Possibly. He could just be the Rat. Heroes are an unimaginative and mundane lot. In any case, let’s take him down. Watch and learn, chum.”
Raven nodded eagerly. While he, Ricky Zucco, had always mentally maintained that his only reason for becoming Owlman’s partner was to acquire the skills he would need to one day kill his mentor, and in doing so avenge the death of his mob leader father Zucco, he was also strangely loyal to the villain, and often thought of him as a second father. (*) Raven was, in truth, a very confused and conflicted young man.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Crime Syndicate: Earth-Three Remembered, Chapter 1: The Deadly Duo.]
Owlman waited as rats swarmed over the car and then flipped a switch that electrified the outer surface. The remaining rodents scurried away as if the sudden death of their brethren had caused them some physical pain as well.
“He controls the rats via some hive mind-type control,” explained Owlman. “He controls them, and they all act accordingly as if they were a single creature!”
Jumping out of the car, he grappled with the hero. Slapping him across the face, he demanded, “What foolishness is this? The night belongs to me!”
The smaller man tried to slip away, and displayed an impressive agility in doing so, but Owlman was simply too fast.
“Owls often prey upon rodents,” said Owlman. “Too bad you didn’t remember that when you dreamed up this pathetic M.O.!”
“I’m no helpless mouse!” his opponent said. “I’m King Rat, and these are my subjects! We’ll take back the night from you and make it safe for good, honest citizens!”
Raising a small, flute-like whistle, he started to press it to his mouth when a projectile tossed by Raven knocked it out of his hand. King Rat’s eyes widened as he realized he had lost the device by which he exerted control over the rats.
He glanced left and right, then gasped as Owlman hurled him directly into the remaining rats. The small creatures swarmed over their would-be master, and Owlman calmly bent over to retrieve the whistle.
“See you real soon!” said a taunting Raven as Owlman joined his junior partner, and they drove off into the night.
“King Rat!” said Raven. “We both lost that bet!”
“No matter,” said Owlman. “This whistle gives me more to ponder than the limited imaginations of super-heroes.”
Raven waited until they had passed through a series of carefully concealed passages and into a huge underground cavern beneath stately Wayne Manor before he asked about it. “What’s so unique about the whistle? Gimmick heroes are a dime a dozen these days! Remember that loser the Bouncer?”
Owlman handed his cloak and helmet to his loyal lover and French maid, Helena Pennyworth, as she greeted them upon arrival in their secret base, the Aerie.
“It is funny that you should mention the Bouncer. He fits into the disturbing pattern that this whistle makes all too clear to me,” he said, and kissed the dark-haired Helena, then walked over to his crime computer.
“Most of the gear that has been used by some of the odd super-heroes we’ve defeated or killed over the last few months have shared a common design,” he said. “I recognize the hand of a single designer behind all the weapons used by losers like the Bouncer, the Kite, the Firefly, and tonight’s King Rat. The individuals who have tried to stop us have been unique in terms of their personas and their methods of operation, but the technology they each used has likely come from a single source. I’ve long suspected that behind such rather inept foes lurks a master planner who just might be a challenge for us!”
“Holy Sherlock Holmes!” said Raven, recalling the famous literary criminal.
Later that night as Owlman brooded in his luxurious bedroom, his lover Helena tried to divert him with little success. Helena Pennyworth’s English father and French mother had served the Wayne family for years, and the black-haired beauty was truly devoted to her master. She understood his moods, and she accepted his occasionally violent temper.
“Thomas, why are you so grim tonight?” she said, caressing his bare chest. “You will find and defeat this schemer. You always triumph in the end!”
Thomas Wayne nodded and ran a hand through her thick hair. “I know, and yet of late I have been preoccupied with what a lesser mind might call intimations of mortality. The calendar tells me I am getting old, although for some reason I have thus far displayed no signs of any loss of vitality. I was born in violence — is it so unlikely that a violent death will be my ending as well?”
Helena frowned. She knew her lover to be an almost entirely unsentimental man, and she was puzzled by his tone. “Thomas, are you troubled or haunted by them once more? Any man would mourn the loss of a wife and child. The passage of time numbs, but does not erase such grief!”
Thomas Wayne’s eyes flashed with emotion, and Helena shrank back as if she feared that she was about to receive a blow. It was certainly not the first time she had been struck by her lover. He shook his head and said, “I am not like other men. I came to terms with the loss of Martha and Bruce long ago. Those deaths gave birth to Owlman in many ways.”
Sitting up abruptly, he pulled on an elegant burgundy robe, then walked over to the glass windows and stared up at the sky, which was slowly becoming lighter as dawn approached.
“Forgive my tempestuous mood this night, darling. I admit that, of late, my poor wife and son have been on my mind. Am I growing softer as age finds me? It surely must be doing so, although I don’t look or feel any older than I was all those years ago when things changed so drastically for me.”
Helena said nothing. She didn’t really know what was causing Thomas Wayne to behave so oddly, but she did know all too well how tragedy had given birth to Owlman. She had heard the story from her own father on more than one occasion. Since her inimitable charms could neither soothe nor divert her master from his brooding, she decided to lull herself to sleep by remembering all she knew of his bizarre secret origin.
Gotham City’s Mercy General Hospital was a busy place at the best of times. Staff members faced the daily challenges of their demanding profession, and in many cases they did so with dedication, selflessness, and resourcefulness. Naturally, while most were driven by a desire to help others and enrich the lives of their patients in one way or another, on a February evening in 1950, the staff of the maternity ward faced a slightly more perilous challenge: doing all the above under the watchful eye of their chief of staff, Dr. Thomas Wayne, as he tended to his beloved wife Martha while she went into labor.
“Dr. Wayne’s delivering the baby himself!” whispered one nurse. “Of course, he’s the finest doctor in the country. He can do things that would make the best surgeons in the world pause in awe!”
“He’s such a handsome man, too!” said a second nurse. “He and Mrs. Wayne are a lovely couple.”
“He owns half the city, too, and what a family history he has!” said the first nurse. “The Wayne family had ancestors who fought side by side with General Benedict Arnold himself during the Colonial Wars!”
If Dr. Thomas Wayne heard the whispers, he ignored them as he comforted his devoted wife Martha and mentally made certain that no small detail had been forgotten.
“Thomas, I know the baby will be a boy, and he’ll be healthy this time! I feel it!” said Martha, clutching his gloved hand.
He smiled lovingly down at the beautiful black-haired woman and whispered some small, personal endearment. Naturally, the birth was a smooth one, and the happy couple soon admired their new baby.
“Bruce,” declared Martha. “We’ll call this one Bruce!”
“Bruce Wayne. I like it. I think the boy has a promising future ahead of him!” vowed his proud father.
Dr. Wayne had been a child prodigy. He had attained his medical degree at a remarkably young age, and he had been honored repeatedly for his groundbreaking articles and seemingly miraculous medical accomplishments. He was well-known all over the world for his medical genius and for the good his family fortune helped him do for various charities, such as the Gotham City Ornithological Association.
He lived in the stately Wayne Manor outside of the city, and a sign of how worthwhile a man he was could be indicated by the fact that he was admired far more than he was envied. He seemed to truly deserve his good looks, keen mind, and personal fortune. He was also known as a skilled athlete who could not be bested in any one of a number of sports ranging from equestrian activities to boxing, fencing, and marksmanship. Dr. Thomas Wayne had it all. Was it any wonder that he was too good to be true?
On the night Bruce Wayne was born, his father the respectable doctor had made certain that his wife and child were resting comfortably and that a talented young doctor named Matthew Thorne was on duty that night as well. Dr. Wayne knew he could rely on young Thorne. Thorne would no doubt have a bright future one day as well. After assuring himself that his wife and heir were doing perfectly well, Dr. Wayne calmly left the hospital and drove to a rather gaudy nightclub known as the Diamond.
He was greeted warmly and was swiftly and discreetly ushered into a private room in the rear where he removed his hat, coat, and gloves, and faced a portly young thug named O’Hara. The burly gangster practically bowed in his effort to defer to Wayne.
“Dr. Wayne, sir, it is sure nice to see you,” said the eager gangster. “We’ve got a patient for you, too. It’s a gunshot wound. The poor punk is new to the game, and took a slug from a night watchman. He’ll be okay now that you’re here. I told him that we have the services of the best doctor money can buy!”
Dr. Wayne dismissed the flattery and said, “I’ll scrub up and take care of him. Is Jim in tonight?”
O’Hara shook his head and said, “No, Big Jim is out. He’s a real up-and-comer, though, ain’t he? One day Jim Gordon will be running the Gotham mobs. I believe it!”
Dr. Wayne smiled grimly and said, “Perhaps you’ll be right by his side, O’Hara!”
“I hope so!” said O’Hara. “I do, indeed!”
Dr. Wayne was as good as his word. He examined and treated the young hood, then made his way homeward. He was tired, but he felt good. Working as the gangland’s “Crime Doctor” gave his seemingly perfect life an extra excitement that he craved. He had never been an idle playboy. He had married his young debutante wife Martha at a rather young age, and he had been diligent in his duties to family, profession, and community. He had also lived a life of quiet desperation. Dr. Wayne was a man who secretly yearned to have adventures and to live on the edge. He felt a perverse thrill each time he visited the haunts of Gotham City’s crime families, and he relished being held in respect by dangerous men who looked on life as a cheap commodity.
Having become friends with the crime lords of the city, Dr. Wayne had become a well-paid ally to the mobs as their personal Crime Doctor. He didn’t need the money, but he took it anyway. After all, these hardened men would not understand the fact that he treated their hired guns merely because he loved secretly defying societal expectations. Dr. Wayne loved being a mysterious figure of the night.
“I always wanted to be a night owl,” he once quipped to the dangerous Big Jim Gordon. Indeed, he had always been drawn to owls, ever since he was a child.
Dr. Wayne also took part in the secret activities of the Gotham City underworld because of a more human motivation. Thomas Wayne was a man with a broken heart. He loved his wife. He knew he would love and cherish his new son Bruce, but he also felt a deep, unyielding guilt and sorrow over the fate of his first child.
Thomas Wayne, Jr. had been born in 1948 as a disappointment to his father, because he was flawed. Dr. Wayne’s firstborn son suffered from a variety of mental and physical disabilities, and his brilliant father could not cure him. He had tried every possible treatment and had traveled the globe in search of someone who could make the baby healthy and whole. No one could help. All the money, talent, and intellect he had could not give Thomas Wayne’s first son the kind of wholeness any parent would want for their child. Dr. Wayne blamed himself. He saw himself as a failure. He loved Thomas, Jr., and he ached with guilt over the fact that he could not find a way to make his baby healthy.
Finally, Dr. Wayne had reluctantly agreed to place the baby in a special hospital in Germany. The clinic was simply the best place for the child. Dr. Wayne knew better than anyone else that such a place was the only real hope for Thomas to ever find healthy development. He knew this as a doctor, but he could not accept it as a father. Dr. Wayne, the apparently perfect man, was deeply flawed himself.
But that was then.