Author Disclaimer: MASH is not about superheroes, and Justice League is not about medics keeping from going mad. These stories are goofy fun. Please read them as such.
By Rob Morris
As always, he heard the odd laugh of the nervous little man. The one he could never identify. Then, at precisely 4:30 AM, having slept exactly half an hour, Frank Burns awoke for the day.
The pace he lived at was plainly insane. It would cripple or kill virtually any other man. But this was a man who kept Gotham City safe at all costs. This was a man who walked with the gods of the Justice League. This was not any other man. Frank Burns, you see, was the Batman.
It was commonly known that the slacker billionaire slept in til Noon. Like lots of other commonly known things, this was near to being a complete farce.
After a self-invented nutritional drink, Burns was at his kata, also self-invented. A kata that involved 25, 000 separate movements, a slip on any of them meant he would repeat it. He did not slip, but repeated it anyway. As his ward, Ho Jon Garai Sahn watched, Frank engaged in a battle with a hologram of Hawkeye Kent - Superman. He repeated these battles 100 times.
"Computer? How long?"
"You lasted 4.3 seconds, on average, Sir, before your opponent destroyed you. That is an improvement of 1/2 second."
"Why do you do this?"
Burns knew that Ho Jon-who now called himself Nightwing-admired Superman. But he didn't care. He had his reasons.
"Ho Jon! What else do you expect me to do? He's the most powerful being on Earth! Maybe anywhere! If he should ever lose control, weeeelll....."
Nightwing left in a huff, but not before saying, "You're like my father, Frank! You took me in, and gave me my life as Robin! So why do I like Hawkeye Kent better than I like you?"
Nonplussed, Frank Burns responded, to an empty Batcave, "Most people just do."
Just as Frank was about to engage a holographic Martian Manhunter in training battle, the sound of a throat clearing was heard - and then again. Burns knew who it was. He cancelled the program - in his own fashion.
"Computer - delete program schedule. Win'ch'tr - BURN!"
"Come, now, Batman, surely you can do better than --aaAAAARRRGGGH!"
Frank watched Ch'a'rls Win'ch'tr be consumed by fire - the one real weakness of the Martian Manhunter. While he stared at the holo-apparition blankly, his Butler - Alfred Pennyworth - knew that the Batman had an almost perverse fascination with these images. For, Alfred knew also, that Burns trusted not a single one of his J*L*A* comrades - not even his lover, Wonder Woman.
This, then, was the true reason that the intense loner had joined the very public Justice League Of America. He firmly believed that no one who wielded such power could be expected to use it wisely or well forever. What had happened to Trapper had merely brought to light what Frank Burns had always known. It wouldn't take much to push the heroes over, make them just as bad as the villains they fought. So he remained there, and accepted their barbs, veiled and other wise, so he could keep his eye on them. Alfred cleared his throat again.
"Sir, your late lunch with the Lady Margaret is only 1 hour away, and you do have that rather untoward business with Mr. Borelli at 2 : 22 PM before that."
"Thank You, Alfred! What would I do without you?"
"Be dragged off to Arkham where you belong, Sir?"
Alfred had meant that playfully, and Burns mock-punch to his arm was also playful. But as the Gotham Billionaire surgeon went into his changing area to suit up for his "meeting" with Harvey Borelli, the butler/substitute father worried anew about the Batman.
Most saw only the consummate professional who kept Gotham City safe from the assortment of mob bosses and freaks who regularly assaulted the city. But Alfred Pennyworth was hard-pressed not to hear the lonely cries of a little boy whose parents regularly threatened to leave him and never come back - and then one night did not.
Thomas and Louisa Burns were stereotypical lottery winners. When old-money society did not accept them in, they blamed their socially awkward son, wrecking his self-esteem. In fact, most found the boy charming, and a better companion than his rather crude parents. They even told him this - after his parents were gone, the victim of a mugger's bullet.
With cold grief making him feel detached from his true self, Burns fit in well with the hoi poloi - and their hypocrisies. Making contacts, he built Burns Enterprises into a concern so huge, it owned nearly all of Gotham City under different names. The cliche of the abandoned warehouse was not for Frank Burns' Gotham.
Alfred remembered the night of the shout from the study. A large bat had flown in, and Master Frank was pummeling it to death. Pummeling it - and shouting at the top of his lungs.
"So THAT's how you wanna play it, huh, Dad? All right, then! I'll do it! I will become --- A Bat!"
From then on, the young man turned his rage on criminals. He could cripple them, but preferred interdiction. A favorite tactic was to incinerate the mobsters and gangers supplies of cash, drugs, and guns, until such time as they were in a huge, sloppy frenzy to recover them by any means.
This meant them committing high-profile, desperate crimes that their lawyers couldn't slip them out of. Within 2 years of Batman's emergence, Gotham was free of all such crime. But then things started to go wrong. The super-criminal emerged.
At first it was just a contract, and a simple one at that : Kill the Batman. That was what the Mob Council had wanted of the grinning ghoul that looked and walked like a clown. But after Batman first defeated the Joker, the contract killer killed his contractors' instead. He was determined to make Gotham his. Their 2nd battle was telling.
"Well, Bat-Bum! We meet again, and you'll soon be meat! Mmm-mmh! Fried bat like mother used to make---before her unfortunate accidental!"
"There's only room for one functional psychotic in this town, Joker! And you, Mister, are NOT him!"
Repeatedly, Frank Burns had delivered the Joker back to Arkham Asylum for The Criminally Insane. Unfortunately, it was while viewing Arkham's dismal escape record that columnist Hawkeye Kent coined the term - "Revolving Door of Justice." The Joker -- and those who followed him - would find the place to be almost a non-factor in their plans.
At 1: 25 , Police Commissioner James Gordon felt a light breeze in his office, but heard no sound and saw no one.
"Batman. Frank Burns isn't here."
"Give me a break, Frank. I am a detective!"
"At least pretend!"
"All, right, Batman. I'll assume you've heard about Harvey Borelli."
"I was the one who found him - at 1:01. Half his face scarred, the other in a permanent rictus smile. The non-two time plus the smile leads to an obvious conclusion - the Joker is now killing the others - he wants family blood. Signal me when you have more, Commissioner."
"Of course I will, you know that! It's just that the thought of Two-Face being dead at the Joker's hand has to bother even..."
By this time, of course, Gordon was talking to an empty room. He hated when Batman did that. He remembered saving young Frank Burns by fatally wounding the vicious mugger who had killed the kid's parents. He remembered the boy rising to crush Gotham's underworld as the Batman.
He remembered the rise of garish criminals like the Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Riddler and a host of others. Most of them were now dead, though, killed either by Burns in self-defense or by the thugs they hired who were tired of being casually done in. Now, more of them were disappearing. It seemed that the Joker was building towards a final battle, drawing the Batman out by killing his own. He wouldn't mourn the Joker, but did wonder one thing.
"When Frank destroyed the criminals in this city, the super-criminals rose. Now that they're passing, who replaces them?"
Meanwhile, across town, Margaret Prince - Wonder Woman waited for Frank Burns to arrive. Of late, she felt as though he were trying to push her away. There was good reason for the Amazon to feel this.
"There you are, Frank! I was just about to fly out and look for you, honey! I..."
"Fly? In my city? There is no flying in Gotham, Margaret! You show up in Gotham City, it's as Margaret Prince, not as ---her! No escalation!"
Wonder Woman knew what Frank was talking about. His oft-stated policy of allowing no superhumans in Gotham. His official reason was fear that the presence of good superhumans would inevitably lead to the presence of evil ones. But Margaret had always suspected there was something more. This time, she gave those suspicions voice.
"It's not escalation, is it, Frank? Batman just doesn't trust me, or any other superhuman. Do you?!"
Burns leaned forward and tenderly touched her hand.
"Oh, my, babycakes--of course I don't trust you! Now lets snuggle!"
Princess Margaret of Themyscira then got up, and said two words a woman who fought demons before breakfast thought she'd never have the guts to say.
Feeling lost, Wonder Woman flew off to Antarctica, there to drag Hawkeye Kent back to the Justice League satellite. He hadn't left his Fortress, his "Swamp of Solitude", since the recent death of Carlye Lane. She wished she had the guts to take a chance on Kent. But as both Donald Trevor and Batman had proven these last two years, her heart was quite vulnerable. She hated Donald for leaving her, and Frank for pushing her away with this "superhuman" nonsense, which was as much an excuse as a bigoted stance. Right now, like a person with a heart condition seeing a greasy cheeseburger, she wanted to hear Superman tell a dumb joke about her butt. Trevor was an upper-class phony; Burns, she was beginning to fear was insane. In all his crudity, Kent was real. She needed real. To vent, upon reaching Antarctica, she hurled an Iceberg into orbit. It didn't help.
At 3:30 am that next morning, Burns arrived home to his stately manor. Alfred was viewing the news.
"All of Gotham rejoices at the news that the Joker was ripped to pieces by his own malfunctioning death-trap! Gotham's Guardian, the Batman, has successfully cleaned up the City-again! The Joker was the last and the worst of...."
Alfred turned it off. He looked Frank straight in the eye.
"Malfunction indeed, Sir! Your crusade was once about Justice!"
"It still is, Alfred. The Joker's INjustice is now at an end, aannndd, no one's the wiser!"
"You shall have my resignation, sir! I am tired of seeing the good young man I knew drift further and further away. You see yourself as this city! Not Frank Burns, but Gotham personified! No man can stay sane while thinking that way! Take care, Master Frank, and may God help you and this city."
At Alfred's departure, a psyche more fractious than the Joker's and more divided than Two-Face's both rejoiced and cried.
At 4am, Burns slept, alone as never before. In his dreams, the odd man with the nervous laugh-himself-cried unrecognized.
At 4:15, having learned that Gotham's supervillains were all gone, forces loyal to Darkseid launched an all-out attack on the city. Jim Gordon's prediction had come true. Ignoring Frank's 'rule', Superman and Wonder Woman flew in with a man who appeared to be the deceased 2nd Flash. Wonder Woman asked the city's status under the assault. Commissioner Gordon said it all in two words: