Bruce Wayne finds himself trapped in his own thoughts and memories. As he reflects on his past he comes to realize something else is behind his condition.
Winter of the Mind: A DC Comics Earth-2 tale
Winter is not just a season; it is a state of mind.
I look up to the sky and I can see it, snow drifting around the buildings, around a single lamp post. Crime alley? Why am I here again? The alley is as empty as I feel. It was here long ago that I lost my parents. The alley looks different, not as I remember it recently. Something drifts by my feet, a movie poster for “The Mark of Zorro”. That was the movie that played that night so long ago. I remember begging my father to see it. Zorro was a true hero, although he used a mask to hide from the corrupt officials and hide behind another mask as well, Don Diego de la Vega, himself. He behaved as if he were uncaring, how strong he must have been to put that mask in place after seeing the suffering of the people around him. It would have been far easier to convince people he had no talent for swordplay and little interest in activity. It worked for him, so well that I copied it when I began fighting back against the corruption of my own city.
This costume designed with a bat in mind feels so heavy now. After years of fighting, what have I accomplished? For every victory what losses have I created? The snow is so heavy here I nearly missed a broken mirror, how appropriate. The Alley is empty so I brush back my mask and look at myself in the broken mirror. Signs of youth are long gone and the gray hair stands out as I remember, but this alley. Something is very wrong. I could hardly be called the world’s greatest detective if I let this stump me. The conclusion is simple, mind games, but who and why?
Whoever has trapped me in this world knows me well. He or she knows my history enough to replicate the night my parents died. I died that night as well. When I thought I had died, Selena Kyle brought me back to life when I thought that I had nothing left but vengeance. I might still be on that road If I never meet Selena. In my grief I nearly allowed myself to become another victim. She showed me that I wasn't helping myself at all. All I was doing was lashing out at the world and creating more victims. I did this by fighting crime? No, that wasn't the problem. I still fight crime now. I had not realized then that Loss is a funny thing. I thought at the time that the worst thing in the world was to lose someone close to you. That was foolish; there are far worse losses in this world.
I had forgotten all of the good times I had with my parents before that night. For many years that was all I could think of. Crime alley, Pearls falling in the blood soaked snow. I had forgotten the Christmases with my parents before that night. I had blindly forgotten all those years Alfred stood with me and by me. He supported me no matter what. It broke me again the year he died just before Helena’s 5th birthday. That nearly shattered me again but the one memory that is burned into my mind is the night Selena and I came home to find Alfred napping in his favorite chair with a two year old Helena sleeping on his lap. They must have fallen asleep during story time. Loss? Yes, it was a loss, but it would have been far worse to never have Alfred in our lives. It took so long to realize that true loss would have been in not experiencing the love and memories. Better to have loved and lost than to have never have loved at all. It took me so long to realize this.
For all of my victories, there are two nights that stand out. The night that I married Selena Kyle, and the night that Helena was born. Was that my imagination or did the lamp flicker and the snow briefly take on a static look as if it were a TV stuck on a channel with no signal. Who could do this? The Joker? No, his style is far too chaotic. Two Face? No, there is no duality here. Poison Ivy? No, she dislikes the snow and from what I hear therapy has actually started to work with her. Freeze would come to mind but it doesn't feel right. Brainiac? That is a strong possibility given the static. If I am trapped is Clark as well?
My mind drifts back to his story for a moment. He would understand loss as well. He lost not just his birth family, but his entire people. He also lost his parents on Earth as well, the Kents who had adopted him. Despite all of this loss he went on to become Superman one of our greatest heroes. He has always been the most positive among us. A perfect counterbalance to my darkness and perhaps that is why we became friends. But, Clark wasn't alone, was he? He had the rest of us who became heroes, and later he found out that more Kryptonians lived. A fraction of the population of Krypton had hidden under untested energy shields when their planet shattered. That city floated in space until they were captured by Brainiac. Clark’s own uncle Zor-El sacrificed his life to send his daughter, Kara Zor-El to Earth as well but because of the time distortions, she was more like Clark’s daughter than his cousin. Both he and Lois raised her to become to hero Supergirl, I remember how she would play with Helena. Supergirl and the Huntress, It was cute at the time although I think we all understood what kind of danger they could get themselves in. If it hadn’t been for Diana’s mentorship things could have turned out so much worse.
Diana? My thoughts are suddenly scattered. Magic, Science, Genetics, we proved to be an unstoppable team even more so after joining the Justice Society. Diana understands about loss as well. She was born from magic in a land with no men, given the breath of a Goddess. The Amazons were made up of women of tragedy. Each one had died a victim, taken at the moment of death by a Greek deity to a hidden island to be given the chance to live without regret or pain away from the land of men. No men were allowed on that island but Isolation did not bring peace of mind. Diana’s mother desired a child so greatly she begged Athena and the other Goddess for a child without having to deal with men. She formed Diana as a baby from clay and the Goddess blessed that child. Demeter gave her strength, Athena, Wisdom and courage, Artemis the ability to communicate with any animal and the instincts of a hunter; from Aphrodite, she gained beauty and an open heart, and finally Hestia, a kinship with fire. A God blessed her as well, Hermes, he blessed her with speed and the ability to soar throughout the heavens, perhaps it is this blessing that Diana and her mother slightly began to soften on their exile.
That was a loss as well and when Diana realized it, I remember her collapsing and begging her sisters to forgive her mother and those who created the island. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and at the time, I’m certain the creators of Paradise Island felt the same. Separate the patients from the very beings who harmed them. In doing so they brought peace to the Amazons for a time, but this peace was just an illusion. Loss from pain is profound, but loss by hiding away, afraid of life itself and getting hurt is far worse. They didn't trade pain for freedom; they traded pain for a prison. Paradise Island was a pretty prison, but a prison none the less much like Arkham Asylum.
Why am I so focused on loss now when I should be freeing myself? Clark and Diana are likely fighting whoever has imprisoned me and my daughter and Kara might be among them. The lamp has now gone out and I can hear a screech. Wait I know that screech. I know who is holding me prisoner. That was a parademon, which can only mean, Darkseid. I understand now why I have been so focused on loss. I understand now why the scene around me is the night my parents died, but I physically remain the same.
This is the Anti-Life equation. Anti-Life, it makes it sound as if it is a thing that will kill you, but not it is far worse than that. Death is a simple thing. As they say in Japan, “Duty is as heavy as a mountain, death as light as a feather.” No, it does far worse than cause death. It robs freedom; it robs the mind of the will to think for itself. Physical death is a minor thing but the loss of free will? Now that is true death. I know what will be required of me. I must wake up. I refuse to surrender to despair when my parents died, when Alfred died, and finally when Selena passed from this world. I will not allow you to do this to me. Wake up Bruce, fight no matter what it takes. Life is worth living, and life is worth fighting no matter how difficult, no matter the odds. You say you are a new god Darkseid? You are nothing but a charlatan and I’ll live long enough to pull this latest attempt down on your head. Wake up Bruce.
Pain filled my vision as I almost fell. My leg was shattered and looking down I could see my left arm was gone. A battle, what happened? Glancing around I can see the others Clark, Diana, Carter Hall, even Diana, and Kara. They were all under the thrall of Darkseid and most of them severely injured. How many of us died fighting back against Darkseid this time. I have got to free you, it breaks my heart to see you in a prison. They don’t realize I am awake just yet so I need to take my time and make a plan. Wait to my right a little bit I can see Adam Strange lying, his ray gun loosely in lifeless hands. I am sorry, I will stop Darkseid for you in your memory and the memories of the others lost today. For most of my career, I disliked guns. For most of my career, I blamed them for the death of my parents, but they are just items. It was a man who murdered my parents and what he used was less important than his own intent. Now a ray gun might save us all.
Who else is here? I studied the room were housed in. It seemed almost like a museum. Darkseid has us stored in here so he can walk among us and admire his victory, but that won’t last much longer considering the injuries I can see. If I don’t do something soon most of us will die. A sound catches my attention from the lone door of the room. It is just Darkseid paying a visit. I relax as he enters the room walking slowly around looking at each of his new trophies. As he bends down to check a fallen Hawkman I take the time to pick up Strange’s Ray gun hiding it within the folds of my cloak.
“Pathetic” Darkseid’s gravelly voice filled the silent room. I watch as he moves by Clark, past Diana and to where I am standing, as he moves I can see it beside the mother box on his belt. I have seen a design for that tech before when I last visited Mr. Miracle. That Is how he is using the Anti-Life equation, that device is a control. He stops briefly looking in my eyes. He knows something is wrong but doesn't yet know what. The next thing he sees is a flash in his eyes as I fire Strange’s ray gun directly into his face. Dropping the gun I grab the motherbox and control on his waist ordering it to take Darkseid and myself to Apocalypse. His home planet long dead now after the monster had driven his own people into gloom and death. I will end this now. We land in a warehouse of Hellspore bombs.
It is difficult using the anti-life control with one hand but I manage to turn it off. Now to deal with the… too late. Darkseid recovered and has me by the throat.
“I should have known it would be you to break the Anti-life control. Your will is by far stronger than the others. I never understood why the Guardian’s ring choose Hal over you”
“You never really understood any of us” It is difficult to speak with the monster’s hand around my neck. “You never even understood your own people. They found their freedom from you, in their eyes, it was better to be dead and seek the peace of the grave than be under your control one more minute”
“And what will you do... little bat? You've turned off the control for now, but once I kill you I will use the Anti-Life equation to rule over Earth again and after that the Universe.”
My eyes search the room and I find it. I’ve been here before and there is a reason why I demanded the mother box to take us here. “These are the times that try men's souls” I cough out as Darkseid looks at me as if I have gone crazy. The last time I was here I reprogrammed one of his Hellspores and the fool never moved it. Inside the bomb wakes up and primes shifting it’s password to something Darkseid will never guess in time, It powers a device I left in it replicating this among the other Hellspores in the room. It wouldn't matter if the Hellspores were here all along or new ones. Darkseid’s eyes go wide as thousands of chirps follow the hacked hellspore. They are all on and primed. His panicked eyes go to our feet where the motherbox he stole from Mr. Miracle sits, and then self-destructs, shredding our legs and feet. The living computer knew this would be a one-way trip and that Darkseid needed to be stopped regardless of the cost.
I could feel the rush of air as Darkseid lifted me up and threw me at the across the room. He knows he will die now. There is no way to stop the Hellspore bombs in time. Each Hellspore was created to destroy a planet and now we stood in a warehouse of a thousand all primed and about to explode in seconds. I will hit the wall soon; I close my eyes expecting the peaceful silence that will follow impact.
My Body feels broken but I have not struck anything. I feel arms around me. I open my eyes to see those colleagues still alive and too many of the newer generation. They are injured but alive. I can see some of Diana’s sisters making their way helping who they can. I then see Zatanna’s twin daughters. Somehow they along with Doctor Fate had brought me back. I can feel tears falling on me and I turn my head. Helena is holding on to me as I lay on the ground. I reach up with my only good arm and wipe away some of her tears. “You are safe now. I told you I would protect you no matter what.” My voice sounds weaker than it should. I know what will happen. My body has been damaged far too much for even the Amazons to heal, but that is okay. I have lived a long and despite all the pain, a wonderful life.
“Daddy please don’t go.”
I had heard her say that before on nights when I went out to risk my life to stop this criminal or that. I told her I would always come back and that I would keep her safe no matter what. “I’ll always be here with you, just as Alfred has always been with you. Just as your mother has been with you, we both love you so much. I might be going away from you early but I’ll be watching over you I promise.” Something is wrong with my eyes. Darkness is encroaching on my vision. I give my daughter my best smile before….
The last words I heard “I love you daddy” before I ended up here again in Crime Alley. Something is different now, there is no snow on the ground and I can smell her perfume. Selena is here. I turn around to see her just as I saw her that first time, no longer a thief but every bit as beautiful. I tell her our daughter is safe for now. She knows just as she knows about Helena’s pregnancy and our grandson born just before this last attempt by Darkseid. We hold each other knowing that death would not have separated us for long.
It is then that I hear something behind me again from the direction of the road and the theater. I can see them just as I saw them the night I lost them. So much was taken from us; my graduation, my marriage, the birth of their grandchild, and great grandchild. Who knew things would turn out this way in the afterlife. Taking hold of Selena’s hand we walk to them.
“Mother… Father… I have someone for you to meet. You’ll love her too.”
Winter is not just a season but a state of mind, this much is true, but after every winter comes a spring.