I’ve always wanted to write a Batman story that pushed the limits. I wanted to make Batman darker than he already was. So I did. And who better to pit him against than the murderous Victor Zsasz? Beware Batman fans, this is more horror than you’ve come to expect from this iconic figure!
The Fall of the Dark Knight: Zsasz
By: Matt Molgaard
Victor Zsasz huddles in bushes, invisible to the naked eye. He stalks with the slink of an arrogant predator, blends in… A Kapuas mud snake in the murkiest of waters. But tonight the water betrays his elusive nature. The weather has delivered fair gusts, the rain beats heavily and the leaves part in conflicting directions, swaying wildly as the wind batters the foliage, exposing lengthy glimpses of the man. He’s been casing Wayne Manor for weeks on end, arriving midday – everyday – and settling into his familiar hiding hole, a swell of bushels that face the east side of the grand abode. The weather has been fair as of late, but with air and the electrical current on the move: all invisible explosions and violent bursts, tonight has betrayed Victor’s perceived concealment. His cover, to a highly trained eye, was blown from the beginning, but tonight he must certainly know that the jig is up.
The hours tick by, the sun retreats to the west, chased by the advancing moon. The stars are bright and the earth glows under the radiance of the night sky’s astrological body. A blind man could see 100 yards off. Even the moths in search of bright fluorescents can be made out from a distance, their jerky flight captured by the moon’s rays, a strobe of insect motion. Zsasz’s disguise is certainly a thing of the past.
They say the Dark Knight rises as the moon invades the smoggy sky overhead, casting a strange ghastly illumination over the staggered buildings and gaudy skyscrapers that line the streets of Gotham. He is merciless, determined to call halt to the criminal activities of a dying city. Willing to break bones, shatter psyches and usher the unstable off to Arkham Asylum without a second thought.
He is Gotham City’s justice, patrolling the slums, ever ready to rid the gutters of the filth that lingers on every block. He is Bruce Wayne, and he is not the Dark Knight.
I am the Dark Knight.
My name is Victor Zsasz. Bruce Wayne would have you believe me to be nothing more than a common serial killer. But I’m much more than that. I’m a cybernetic organism, sans the electronic hardware. I breathe, I eat. I sleep. I kill, and I have no remorse. Man is worthless, born on earth to die and die alone. You see, I don’t require wiring in order to execute the inconceivable without a second thought. Were mankind worthy of breathing, I’d have likely ended up a physical instructor. As it is, man is as relevant as dog feces stuck to the bottom of a beaten sneaker. As unavailing as ants beneath the watchful eye of a child equipped with a magnifying glass.
I’ve lost count of the scars that decorate my human shell. Perhaps 500 self-induced blemishes adorn my flesh. Perhaps double that number. Hookers, pimps, dealers, mailmen, grocery store clerks, bus drivers, teachers; ministers and yes, even children. They’re nothing, despicable excuses for a privilege as prodigious as life.
But those lives, those of the baker and the butcher, the salesman and the electrician, are not of my concern this evening. Tonight, none matter as much as the one who claims to rule the night. A new trophy will soon grace this skin.
I am the true Dark Knight. And I’ve been watching my imposter closely. The Wayne Manorr is no mystery to me. I am well versed in forcing entrance into the most challenging of obstacles. Thus I know its ins and outs. Every nook and cranny is familiar to these eyes and this memory. Even the bat cave. Its inner workings are like the palm of my hand, I know it too well to mistake my line of fate.
It’s Friday the 13th, December 1991. The witching hour looms and Bruce has been quiet, as quiet as a vengeful spirit can be. He’s also alone. Alfred has been absent of late. Health issues I gather from the manner in which he was escorted away just days ago, wrapped in a blanket, supported by the thick frame of Bruce Wayne; ultimately ushered into the back of a black Mercedes Benz.
I watch, hidden in the shrubbery that surrounds Wayne’s lavish residence. He paces back and forth between the ballroom and the library. His shadow stalks, stutters and strangely undulates behind thick blinds, his repetitious movements grating on the patience.
Another worthless body. A body long overdue for extermination. A throat I yearn to separate by an inch, every vein and artery severed, spouts of crimson spraying about.
It’s 1:01 AM now and Wayne’s posture shifts, his figure bolts upright in the ballroom, halting his rapid movement, standing completely still. My senses pique, my eyes glued to the sudden change in habit. I watch as his shadow barrels out of site. The bat cave.
I’ve prepared for such an occurrence. Once suited up he’ll find that every vehicle tucked away in the discreet docking bays in the inner recesses of his home away from home have been crudely disabled (I am admittedly no mechanic), he’ll know that fate awaits him. But his fate is far more intricate than vehicle troubles, and he’ll come to know that in minutes. I’ve seen him sipping from his glass of wine, his greatest and least known foe.
Do you know the difference between fate and destiny?
You see, fate is a future incapable of change or influence. But destiny can be changed by the wisdom and actions of man. Bruce Wayne cannot alter his fate. I have ensured of that by removing destiny from his immediate future.
I wait patiently. Bruce Wayne has nowhere to go, and I hold the keys to the castle. The crickets chirp and I cannot help but smiling. The moon shines bright, a guiding light of overdue finality. The moment I’ve waited years for fast approaches, and inside, my heart flutters for the first time I can remember.
Five minutes pass and I advance.
Anyone who ever said patience is a virtue either consumed too many martinis prior to such a declaration, or never stared anxiety in the face. Either way, those folks could use some good old fashioned education.
Back and forth. All walls and worn shoe soles. Pretending to be as flustered as a camel in quicksand. And what’s the big payoff? Scum like Zsasz sprawled on my floor in a motionless heap. Oh, what a life. I deserve better.
The launch deserved better. Criminals like Zsasz are a dime a dozen. The Joker, Two-Face… Bane, they deserved to be the first to witness Gotham’s evolution. They were worthy foes. They fought fully content to lose their lives if it meant destroying mine as well. But no… We choose Victor Zsasz. A piece of filth covered in tally mark scars that represent the creativity of a five year old and the malice of a lunatic.
Makes no difference, I suppose. They’ll all know the design of Batman soon enough.
I could opt to pick the lock and disarm the security system, as I’d done countless times in the weeks passed. But the threat of the almighty antihero has diminished. The man known to protect the streets of Gotham is now feeling the effects of that wine, confused, assessing his situation. Again I smile, and bear no concerns of disturbance.
I smash the kitchen window, worry free of what sound might echo through the halls of Wayne Manor. Bruce is helpless. Knocking the remaining glass shards from the window frame I climb inside. The house is silent as I make my way to the alarm console. The lights illuminate the house and my journey goes undeterred. Just as I suspected, Bruce has already descended into the depths of the cave. I rummage through kitchen drawers, finding– at last– a steak knife large enough to end the life of the brutish man who’s long held reign of the city.
As I progress the lighting throughout the house grows dim, but I’ve made myself familiar. Working through long corridors I make my way to the entrance of the bat cave, allowing myself ingress that again heightens my emotional response.
The cave is dark aside from beams of light that shine from the upper regions of the cave. But I can see computer lights reflecting on the moist surface of the lair’s floor. Ah, Bruce, always rushing to resolve technical issues so that you might exact your vengeance on those you deem waste. You’ll make for a glorious marking on this well-traveled body.
I advance with caution, despite knowing precisely what I’ll find.
He’s learned the routine well. And to his credit, he moves like few men I’ve ever seen. Leaps and bounds that summon visions of gymnasts in top form. The agility of a gibbon and tenacity of a lion. His speed is nearly unrivaled. And his dexterity awe worthy. For a mere mortal man, he’s an impressive specimen.
But despite his gifts he’s lazy in crucial moments.
He hurdles the bushes in one jump, toes not so much as touching the leaves that sways with the wind’s misty ebb and flow impulse. He’s across the yard in seconds, at the side door with eagerness in his posture. His hands frantically at play with the door’s locking mechanism. He stands, shakes his head and suppresses a chuckle before venturing deeper into shadow, where the kitchen sits with a sprawling Casement Bow window that provides a gorgeous scenic shot of Wayne Manor’s backyard. And the perfect entrance to his not so humble abode.
His uncharacteristic languor and muse shine like a beacon on a foggy night. With jarring speed he slams his left elbow directly through the window, no doubt enforced by Wayne and his personnel. It shatters in a hail of reflective glass shards. The sound is deafening, even entwined with the howls of somber weather. He indicates the enduring of no physical pain whatsoever as he smashes what chunks of jagged glass still spike from the window’s stile. Like a cat on the prowl for his first meal in a week, he’s inside the house in seconds.
The vehicle bays are an oil black, no sign of life in a single engine; not so much as the shine of a fading headlight. The Bat Mobile will not save The Bat this evening. I round the corner, examining the trio of replacement suits placed in shatterproof casings wrapped in sleek, steel grey Tungsten cylinders. I spot the man in the distance. The man. Not the superhero. Not the savior of Gotham. The man, susceptible to bodily damage. No gadgets to prevent imminent danger this evening. Those too, you see, have met the tampering hands of Victor Zsasz… just as the beverages of Bruce’s refrigerator.
An overabundance of sedatives will bring the fittest of men to their knees. Oh Bruce, how that wine will cost you.
He’s slumped across the desk that splays before the wall of electronic diagrams of Gotham City, unconscious. His breathing is labored; I can see the bulk of his frame rising and falling in strained motions. As I approach I spot the beads of sweat tricking down the worn skin of the former protector of Gotham City. Drool pools from the corners of his lips, his eyelids flutter, battling a nightmare of intolerable proportions.
His nightmares are real.
Victor Zsasz has come to bring end to the almighty Batman. Your time is done.
I grab a tuft of his hair after peeling away his ridiculous mask, only half fitted – a result of his fading consciousness no doubt. His head rises in my grip, lolling from side to side. “No plyometric execution required tonight, old timer. No… you die like the dog dies. No pride. Trash in a plastic suit, the mask uncovered… the trash disposed of. The lack of pride… well that remains intact,” I fightt to contain a chuckle, but fail. “The Joker couldn’t do it Brucey… Bane. Hah! Bane couldn’t do it. The Riddler? A joke.” I stopped, taking my advantageous position for granted. My body in complete control, tightening in anticipation. “No Bruce, none could send the Batman to his grave, except me. The Scarecrow failed. Two-Face failed. Freeze failed. Poison Ivy failed… no surprise there. They all failed Bruce. Clayface, The Penguin, Ra’s al Ghul. All failures. They failed because it is my fate to slaughter the sheep. And you are all sheep. Your throats deserving of a razor’s sharpened edge, your flesh a canvas designed for ragged imagery, your blood a spiraling mess, splattering and filling white buckets. A brilliant contrast in colors, no? Oh my nemesis, it’s time to claim another trophy!”
He’s near invisible in the dark, navigating has way through Wayne Manor as though he’s lived there his entire life. And the bat cave, well, the bat cave is no secret to him. Slothful when his confidence rises too high? Most certainly. But there’s a carelessness in his waltz. He’s grown too full of himself. He’s underestimated the circumstances.
He hugs the darkness of the cave. Fluorescent lights hang high above the cave’s floor. 30-feet in the air they droop suspended by thick chains, still casting a strong enough radiance to make out the details of Bruce Wayne’s most private realm. Zsasz stops to admire Bruce’s handiwork before identifying his target: a motionless heap not 10 yards away. Saliva pools from the sides of his lips, his desk quickly becoming the grounds for a small pond. An empty wine glass rests on its side inches from Wayne’s hand.
Zsasz makes his moves fast.
But I make mine faster. It’s time Victor Zsasz learn what he’s just stepped into.
“Ra’s al Ghul never fails.” A booming voice destroyed the moment, and I froze. My boisterous tirade halted in a moment of complete puzzlement. No, not puzzlement… fear. A sensation I’ve not felt for decades.
A fire ignites in my neck. I stand puzzled, Bruce Wayne’s head slams on his desk, as I lose muscular control, an almost wet sounding splat echoes through the cave. His hair tangled between my fingers, I gaze at it, the strands becoming blurry. The room spins, red everywhere, a bloody sea that filters my vision and sways with my impaired equilibrium. And I understand, as I turn to see Ra’s al Ghul in the flesh. A tranquilizer gun leveled at my head. Bastard.
He’s speaking to me now, advancing confidently. It sounds foreign… no not foreign so much as alien. Outright alien. The words tangle together like rebellious young lovers twisted in the hay of daddy’s barn. Everything becomes one. Can’t… make… out… the w-words…
I see him approach Wayne, still motionless in a drug induced slumber. I watch Ra’s al Ghul take Wayne’s head in his hands… the room begins to spin out of control. Words are exchanged, but they’re distorted sounds to my ears, like a glass pressed to a door, all I can take in are garbled noises. The two shake in a violent struggle seen hazily by my diminished vision. I can see the room turning opaque. I can’t see a thing, but I hear the snap. And I know I’ve failed.
He’s been out for hours. Any heavy dose of liquefied Amobarbital should put a man out for a while, but 24 hours is pushing it. My patience is wearing thin. The bright tones of the hospital room make my flesh itch and the constant nurse visits and their inquiries as to Victor and I’s relation has me ready to pull out my hair. That’s not to mention the food, which a wild animal wouldn’t consume on the cusp of starvation. Fortunately for Victor, that’s not a problem he’ll be forced to confront.
Hospitals are nightmares, and I’d just as soon be out of this hell hole.
I shake the undesirable thoughts from my head and focus on the change at hand. The dispensing of secrecy. The freedom to deliver the punishment that truly fits the crime. It’s a chance to shed a mask I’ve hidden behind for years, constantly questioning my place on earth.
I’ve found my place.
Victor Zsasz too will learn of my place, as soon as those eyes open. Although I’m not convinced he’ll be pleased with the direction in which I’ve chosen to travel.
I wake up on a cold steel gurney. Nylon straps a cruel confine I’ve come to know and immediately recognize. The sun blinds me, snaking through half-open blinds, pouring down directly on my face. I can feel the pain in my leg crawl to my torso. The snap, damn.
“Your time is up Zsasz. Gotham City’s time is up.”
I didn’t see him initially, sitting in the corner, unaffected by the sun’s rays. Clear of the burning light, tucked away in the shadows. And I know why. “You didn’t actually think you’d succeed in killing me?” Bruce Wayne, always the pompous ass.
“You died. I saw you die, Batman.” The tremble in my tone betrays my uncertainty.
“No, you didn’t, Victor. Your mind played tricks on you.” He’s as arrogant as ever, but there’s something quite different in his voice. A sense of liberation, a sense of something greater to come. “Ra’s al Ghul was in the bat cave at my request, as you may remember.”
“Why would Ra’s al Ghul, of all people be in—“
“Because he’s been watching you for quite some time, and because Ra’s al Ghul taught me everything I know. He taught me to be The Bat. And he taught me that Gotham is a cesspool that must be wiped from this earth. He taught me patience and manipulation, and I’ve applied my lessons.” Sunny shards line his face, still not completely identifiable.
“Then why dress up in your fancy suits, fighting the good fight?” I can feel myself losing control of my emotions. But I’ll be damned if I’ll show this obscenity.
“Because perception is the true root of success. And deception as well as perception just so happen to be success’s finest duo. You see, Victor, I played this city. Held the people in my hand, won their trust. They know that when trouble stirs, I’ll be right there to save them. A ghost in the night, there and gone. Trouble extinguished.” Silence for a moment. “But Ra’s al Ghul’s guidance has never once become distanced. He and I… we’ve studied this city for years. We’ve learned to isolate the weaknesses. We’ve learned who and what must be done away with. He in the shadows, me… invisible.” He clears his throat, a raspy sound of a smoker though logic clearly indicates otherwise. “And now it is time to remove the mask.” He strides forward, a sharp silhouette in the small room.
I contemplated his statements.
“Who better,” he leaned forward, his face fully emerging from the darkness, “to bring Gotham City to its knees, than the one they trust?”
“You can’t be serious.” For the first time a living man had left me completely confounded. My mind grappled with the irony of it all. My head again took to involuntary motion, the room rotating as conflicting emotions battled vigorously. On one hand, I admired Bruce for his deception. He’s admittedly a far more clever man than I’d perceived. On the other, I loathed him for his misdirection. I’ve never been huge on masks, as necessary as they may often be.
“I’m serious Victor. Tonight, Hell annihilates the streets of Gotham. The pushers, the pimps, the petty thieves, the murderers, the racists. The masked weirdos!” He leaned toward me, eyes beaming brightly, an energy anxious to burst from his being. “They all go. You included. In fact, that’s why I’m here, Victor… and that’s why you’re hear.” He towers over me, looking larger than ever, a creature of mythical size. An adverse effect from the disorientation in my mind, no doubt. He comes close. The sun reflects from something in his hand. He leans ever nearer. I hear the fabric of my strait-jacket tear. “I wanted to pay tribute,” he whispers, and I glance down as he carves a fresh line on my arm. Blood drips in a frantic rush. “You did this to yourself, Victor. Congratulations, you serve as my springboard to apocalypse: your finest kill.”
Pain overtakes my body. Somewhere in the distance, a corner I hadn’t perhaps examined thoroughly enough, Ra’s al Ghul utters a guttural guffaw. And the lights fade away to nothingness.
To be continued?