A Letter from the Batcave
By Charles Joseph Albert
I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. But you know how I said things were getting dicier with Bruce? Well, it’s gotten worse. I think it’s depression. He never goes out any more. Not even in the Batmobile, which would be so easy—it pretty much just drives itself, you know.
I started noticing this about two months ago. It started with a Bat Signal one night. (You know they quit shining a spotlight, right? The alerts come through on the Bat Watch, now.) We suit up and fly the Bat Copter to an address we’d been texted, and sure enough, there’s Joker in the middle of a robbery. Or his henchmen are—they’ve blown a hole in the bank wall, and they’re loading bags of money into a Transit Rideshare van. Joker’s only directing. He’s got Parkinson’s pretty bad these days, you know. Says it’s our fault, from all the times he’s taken a punch to the head. Did you know there’s even a lawsuit?
But let me stay focused. When we get there, the henchmen all start shooting at us, of course, and I run up and clobber them through the usual hail of bullets. That part’s pretty standard and you’ve seen me do it a thousand times. I’m by myself still—Bruce has gone back to the Bat Copter make sure he locked the door. He catches up with me in a minute, which is fine—I mean, it’s not a problem. I’m wearing bullet-proof armor and I have the new skeleto-suit anyway. I can do the whole thing solo. It’s actually easier without him.
Which I think is part of the problem. I mean, he’s fifty-three. He’s slowed down a lot. And he forgets stuff. I know that kind of bugs him.
Anyway, we knock out the henchmen, and Bruce goes over to get Joker, gets the Bat Cuffs out and all, and they’re doing that repartee thing they do, and Bruce is like, “I’m going to feel these bruises tomorrow,” and Joker’s all, “You know what kind of lousy medical care there is in jail?”
Out from the hole in the bank’s wall comes this teenager. All face paint, purple suit, the whole bit. Bruce and I are like, “Wait, what?” And Joker’s like, “Dudes, meet my son Jack. Jack of Spades.”
Well, I’m still cuffing henchmen, but I’m keeping an eye on this, right? Cause, I mean, the Jack dude is mean-looking. Scrawny, but you could see something off in his eyes. Also, he’s moving jerky. Stumbles on his way through the hole, and when he jumps toward Bruce he shoots way past him. Which means he’s got a skeleto-suit, too. You can tell when someone is wearing one, ‘cause when they walk, they’re all bouncing around like they’re in reduced gravity. Super hard to control, too. And this Jack dude still hadn’t gotten the full hang of it, right? I mean, Bruce should take him, easy. Easily, I mean.
But Bruce isn’t quick enough. Jack tries again, and this time he gets a good right cross to Bruce’s jaw, and down he goes. I make a move to go help, but Bruce shoots me this awful look—it’s pure fury, Alfred. Hatred, almost. I’m trying to not take it personally, because he doesn’t want some younger guy taking down the kid who beat him to the punch. Literally.
So I back off. Let him redeem himself. Only that’s when Joker lifts up one of his crutches, and it’s an RPG. And he points it right at Bruce’s head.
I swear, if you could have seen the expression on Bruce’s face (I mean in his eyes, ‘cause that’s all you can see, right?) it would have just broken your heart. I mean, we’re used to Bruce being it, you know? You and me, we were his crew, and he was Top Dog. But this look in his eyes are anything but Top Dog. It’s utter terror. Like, he is not in control. He’s more like someone who’s about to lose his shorts. And also sad, in a way, too. You know? Sad, like, shoot, I should have disarmed Joker first. I mean, Cardinal Rule, right? Disarm the villain… then repartee.
Bruce starts to react, but Joker has the drop on him, you know? So Bruce has, like, no hope.
Except I’ve already popped off a shot with the Batarang, knocking Joker’s RPG sideways. His shot goes wide, and instead of blowing Bruce’s head off, all that happens is a burn on his lips from the rocket fire going past. His mask protects the rest.
Well, I take out Jack, which is a piece of cake—the kid doesn’t know the first thing about real fighting. And he has the disadvantage of Joker’s physique—kind of squirrely. Next I have Joker disarmed and cuffed. So everything’s wrapped up neatly and I’m trying to usher Bruce back to the chopper.
But he shrugs my hand off of his shoulder, like, don’t touch me!
OK, I figure, he just got burned, and maybe he’s a bit sensitive about forgetting to disarm Joker. So I back off. Again.
But then I make the mistake of heading for the driver’s seat of the copter. Bruce gets all, “What’s the matter? Don’t think I remember how to fly this thing?” And there’s that look in his eye again.
I shrug and walk back around to the passenger seat, and I can see that he’s in pain from the burn, but he’s obviously trying to make a point here, so I just pretend I don’t notice. And we head home.
At the wrong altitude.
We’re flying to Wayne Manor from the west, which means we need to be at 1500 feet, not 1000 feet. The thousands are for aircraft coming in from a north-south axis. Five hundreds are for east-west. And I’m starting to freak, right? I’m imagining some kind of mid-air collision, instant death in a fireball, like what happened to that guy, Hawkeye. Get your elevation wrong, you’re screwed.
I can see the lights from an incoming craft, and I’m bugging. But how to bring it to Bruce’s attention? I mean, A, he’s in a really foul mood. And B, he just got beat to the punch by some Joker-in-training-pants.
The plane is heading straight for us, but there’s still time to maneuver. So I blurt out, “Hey, Bruce, the altitude—”
And then, Whoosh!
The Bat Copter goes into a spiral dive, and it’s only thanks to Bruce’s spectacular flying skills that we stabilize. You might think he’d be proud of himself for saving our cans, but now he’s all pissed that he was flying the wrong altitude. And he knows I know it, too. And he’s all, “Goddamn it, Dick, why didn’t you say something earlier? Could have fucking lost our shit right there!”
You know things have gone south when Batman swears.
“Trying not to piss you off,” I grunt.
Boy, does that clam him up. The rest of that flight home is more awkward than a Justice League/Avengers joint picnic.
He goes straight to the shower when we got home. Doesn’t say another word to me. Or to Mr. Mitzumi, who was waiting with a hot sake and a terrycloth robe. (He passes on his regards, by the way.)
That’s where we’ve been, ever since. I handle the next three calls we get by myself. I do it my way, too, like I’ve always been saying I would: I bring the Bat Bots and I set up a perimeter using Siri and Alexa.
I kept thinking maybe Bruce just needed some time off, or something. But each time I come back from a call, he’s even deeper in his funk. He’s already drunk through half of the Bat Cellar, and he’s binge-watching COPS. I can hear him late into the night, throwing popcorn at the detectives and calling them names.
The other day he happens to overhear a call I didn’t even go to, I just sent the Bat Bots without me. I was watching them on the monitors, and he leans over my shoulder and goes, “Holy Drone Strike, Robin! Did I not teach you anything?”
And I try not to take offense, so instead I go, “Check it, B-Man! I just nabbed a purse-snatcher remotely!”
And he goes, “That isn’t real crime fighting. You need a human there, not a machine!” And he staggers off. Trips on a stalactite on his way back to the Bat recliner.
I’m kind of at my wit’s end, Alfred. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m all ears. I can’t imagine leaving Bruce after all he’s done for me, but things are getting real. For the past week, he hasn’t even gotten out of his Bat Underwear. And if he catches me looking at him, he gets all, “What’s the matter, junior? Don’t you have some TikToks to watch?”
Hey, maybe we can ask Clark to invite him to the Fortress of Solitude. Ever since he moved it to Florida, Bruce has sounded more interested in going to visit.
I’m also thinking about filling out that application on the Avenger’s page. I know, I know—they’re Marvel, and we’re DC. But guys have crossed over before. Look at Hawkman. Or Captain Marvel. And yes, I don’t have any mutant powers. But I hear they’re still trying to fill Iron Man’s suit.
Yours as ever,
Charles Joseph Albert is a metallurgist in the Bay Area and the author of 13 books of poetry and fiction. His latest is An IQ of 84: A Gaijin Chronicle. His stories and poems have appeared around the internet, most recently in Short Edition and Another Chicago Magazine.