by Libbylawrence, with Doc Quantum
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
— An old proverb
Julian Falstaff’s breath came in rasping gasps as he raced down a narrow passageway beneath his skyscraper. The fat man had managed to escape via a secret express elevator that led from his penthouse to a hidden tunnel below the entire building. He stared in disbelief as he pushed forward, struggling to come to terms with what had happened moments earlier.
My whole penthouse turned into an inferno! he realized as he wiped his face and stopped for breath.
“That was my intention. Of course, I also expected you to make it down here as well!”
The voice came from the shadows, and as Falstaff turned, he received a punch that sent him crashing to the ground.
Owlman stepped closer, smiling grimly. “Your little trick with the gas backfired,” he explained. “I was able to analyze it and then fire a projectile into your penthouse that contained a chemical catalyst that ignited upon contact with the gas. It was very combustible, to say the least. I assumed your own alarms would give you enough time to waddle down here where we could conclude our business in private!” He kicked the fallen man.
Falstaff groaned and tried to cover his body with his hands, but Owlman merely shifted positions and kicked him again and again.
Raven smiled in approval. He had traced his partner to Crime Alley via the remote signal device contained within his costume. From the alley, the two had returned to their base where Owlman had performed the chemical analysis and prepared the equally deadly projectile.
“I could do this all night,” said Owlman. “I know we’re safe from the fire raging above ground, and no one will be showing up to rescue you. I’ll find Kuttler when I’m through with you!”
“Step away from him!”
The commanding words came from a dark-clad figure who stepped out of the shadows and confronted the pair. The man wore a black and red costume, and a hood covered his entire head.
“Kuttler? I took you to be a puny intellectual,” said Owlman.
“I’m not Kuttler. I’m the Red Hood, and this is my partner, Red Raven!” said the newcomer, indicating a smaller costumed youth who blocked Raven’s path.
“Red Raven? Not exactly an original name!” quipped Raven.
Casually stepping over Falstaff, Owlman said, “Red Hood, I assume you are another hero created and equipped by your flabby master. If your loyalty to him exceeds your sense of self-preservation, you will come closer. If you actually have common sense, you’ll run away now!”
The Red Hood charged at Owlman, and the two were soon locked in a struggle over the still form of Falstaff.
Owlman smiled as he realized his foe was a much better fighter than any of the previous heroes had been. The Red Hood was quite possibly as good a fighter as the Justice League’s Batman. The two exchanged blows and circled one another warily.
“I recognize a few moves that I created. You’ve studied me well!” said Owlman.
The Red Hood nodded as he ducked a punch and kicked out with one leg.
Owlman calmly exerted a bit of his mental power, but his probe failed to make any meaningful contact with his enemy.
“Those mental powers won’t work on me! I have the exact same abilities!” said the Hood.
Raven had been struggling with Red Raven and was chagrined to find himself equally matched. The two boys were apparently equally skilled. “You’re good!” he said. “Too bad I’ll have to kill you!”
Red Raven suddenly flipped him to the ground and said, “Lucky for you, I don’t kill!”
As they continued the fight, the Red Hood suddenly raised one gloved hand. “I can’t continue this pointless fight!” he said.
“You admit I’m your superior?” said Owlman.
The Red Hood removed his mask and said, “No. I admit you’re my father!”
Owlman lowered his fist in amazement as he stared at the man that he recognized to be his now-grown son, Thomas Wayne, Jr.
“How can this be? You’re dead! After I was shot in Park Lane, I was in a coma for months, but when I regained my health I tried to find you. I travelled to the clinic, only to learn that you had died while I was incapacitated. It’s a trick! It has to be!”
“The Red Hood doesn’t lie!” said Red Raven. “He’s really Owlman’s son!”
“Everything can be explained if you will accompany us,” said the Red Hood. “You see, my benefactor wants to talk to you. He has all the answers you need!”
Owlman nodded slowly and turned back to face the still-silent Falstaff. “I can’t allow him to live,” he said. “He knows too much.”
The Red Hood darted forward and said, “I’ve blocked his memory of your identity. Will you leave him alone? He can’t harm you. He is a loyal servant to my own mentor. In fact, everything Falstaff has done has been at the behest of a man we both serve!”
“If you really are my son, then this master of yours robbed me of you years ago,” said Owlman. “He will pay for that!”
“He saved me,” insisted the Red Hood. “It was his remarkable resources that gave me health of mind and body. You see, I was born with the same latent mental powers you possess, but my brain could not understand the power, and it left me disabled. It took La Mano Aperta to make me what I am!”
“The Open Hand?” said Owlman. “What kind of name is that?”
“It is merely one of many titles used by a man who has done much to benefit those in need over the course of centuries,” explained the Red Hood. “He has acquired the wisdom of the ages, and he uses it to run a vast, secret organization dedicated to helping anyone in need. I will leave him to tell you the rest of his amazing story.”
The foursome departed from the tunnel and came to a side passage that led to a concealed hangar and a private plane. The Red Hood took the pilot’s chair as the others followed him into the plane. It rose silently skyward and soon soared over the city.
“This is some plane!” said Raven. “It may be better than our own!”
Red Raven replied, “Only the finest things are good enough for La Mano Aperta.”
“Where are you taking us?” asked Owlman. “Does this remarkable man live in Italy as his name suggests?”
“No, he has many homes. The one we are going to is within a hidden valley in the Himalayas.”
Raven glanced at Owlman, who nodded to the boy as if to reassure him.
“And who is your young ally?” asked Owlman. “He fights very well, and I can detect that his mind is as guarded as your own.”
“He is my own ward,” said the Red Hood. “He is like a son to me. His father was my closest friend. His name is Lance Bruner.”
The rest of the flight was spent in an uneasy silence. Owlman was used to always being prepared for any eventuality, and the realization that his son was alive had naturally left him bewildered. He was also unprepared for the idea that he might still be able to have genuine feelings for anyone. He thought his heart had died along with his family back in Crime Alley years ago.
As the memories flooded back once more, he recalled how after recovering from the shooting he had awoken to find that his trial had been postponed indefinitely. Ironically, Dr. Matthew Thorne had inexplicably decided to recant his testimony, claiming to remember nothing about it, and the district attorney was subsequently forced to drop the case for lack of evidence. Dr. Wayne was now a free man.
From the moment he had recovered enough to be able to do so, Wayne left Gotham City to travel the world in search of some means to reach two goals. He desired total control over his life, and he wanted revenge on society. He felt as if he had given more than enough to worthy causes with his wealth and his medical skills, but an unappreciative world had dared to take even more away from him by stealing his wealth and his loved ones. The irony that the man he had hired to scare off a witness from testifying against him had instead killed his family was lost on him at the time.
As the years passed, Wayne trained with a series of experts in various fields, and he slowly acquired the skills he would eventually use as a super-criminal, though many of the details of those years seemed lost to him.
By the time he returned to Gotham City nearly thirteen years later, he had also amassed a great deal of loot, having employed his new talents in a series of unsolved crimes across the world that still puzzled detectives to this day. This modest wealth had enabled him to pay for a new house that would afford him the privacy he needed to use as a base of operations, and furnished it his family heirlooms that had survived previous estate sales. This wealth also enabled him to regain some of his previous social standing, even if rumors about alleged past crimes would forever plague him.
As he brooded in his study one evening in early 1971, Thomas Wayne contemplated his plans for the future. In order to have his grand revenge on society for taking everything from him, he would have to create a fearsome alter ego, a disguise that could not be forgotten, even as he operated in the shadows.
“People are a cowardly, superstitious lot,” he said aloud in the empty room, “so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible… a… a…”
His own mind would not provide the answer he sought, but fate took a hand in the form of an owl that flew through the open window beneath the full moon, shrieking once as it settled in on the old perch that had once housed a rare owl at his Park Lane home years earlier.
“An owl! That’s it!” said Wayne, seizing upon the living apparition. “It’s an omen… I shall become an owl!”
It had been as if destiny itself had taken a hand, for Thomas Wayne looked back upon his life and saw the owl everywhere, from his early childhood obsession, his night owl tendencies as a hospital doctor, his connection with the Ornithological Association, and the owl’s shriek that had foretold death like a fatal bellman on that fateful night in 1958 and had burned into his mind.
He had left Gotham City with little but the shirt on his back, but upon his return he had regained many of his belongings that had been put into storage. It took him all night to rifle through the boxes, but he finally found what he sought: the Owl costume he’d worn at the masquerade ball two decades earlier.
Brazenly, as if challenging anyone to make a connection to Dr. Wayne, he donned the masquerade ball costume and called himself the Owl, and then finally Owlman, leaving behind a card with the symbol of the Owl wherever he struck. As millionaire Dr. Thomas Wayne, he would retain the respectable life of a wealthy recluse, while as Owlman he would loot and pillage Gotham City of its wealth through daring robberies, challenging the police to stop him. Many who might have information that could compromise his secret identity would be hypnotically compelled through his mighty mental abilities to forget any implicating details.
With the mental abilities he had developed over thirteen years abroad, Owlman would also have his revenge upon his enemies. Lewis Moxon, the ex-cop who would be most certain to recognize the masquerade ball costume as being that of Dr. Thomas Wayne many years earlier, was the first to suffer the fatal wrath of the Owl. Joe Chill, Moxon’s hired gunman, was the second. Finally, Dr. Matthew Thorne himself, now Gotham’s most renowned surgeon, would fall from grace as the Owlman destroyed his life bit by bit, implicating Thorne in scandalous crimes that would have put him into prison had he not chosen to finally end his own life. Big Jim Gordon would be another target of his wrath, but one that would forever remain out of his reach.
His revenge on his enemies almost complete, Wayne had briefly contemplated retiring as the Owlman, until he recognized that there had been more to his taking up the identity than mere vengeance. The Owlman had provided him with the illicit thrills he had always craved as a once-respectable doctor, and his revenge upon society could never be complete. Wayne determined that he would remain that bird of prey that stalked in the night for as long as he lived, using the mental abilities and skills he had learned during his thirteen-year absence to make all of society his prey.
Even now, after many years as Owlman, Thomas Wayne still marveled when some piece of arcane knowledge gained during his thirteen-year exile from Gotham came to his mind or he displayed mastery over some physical skill that seemed new to him. Those years, he realized, were still largely a mystery even to him.
If this Red Hood truly is my son Thomas, and he was born with mental powers, then why did my own not develop before I studied with certain wise men in the Far East? he wondered inwardly.
“Owlman, what’s the plan?” whispered Raven. “Are these guys on the level?”
“Follow my lead, son,” said Owlman. “For now, we want to hear what their mysterious leader has to say. Once we meet him we will decide our next move!”