The Green Man

BY : J.A. Phillips
Category: DC Verse Comics > Batman
Dragon prints: 804
Disclaimer: I do not own the DC Universe, nor any of the characters from it. Batman and all related characters belong to DC Comics as do all characters included in this story. I do not own any of them, nor do I profit from this story in any way.

It was a cold night in Gotham City. Some might think that's typical of Gotham, to be painfully cold to the average person, almost as if the very environment took on an aggressive stance against you. And yet, there was something in the air on this night that felt particularly cold, cutting straight through clothes and skin and hitting its mark in the bones of the people that walked the streets. And even with weather reports suggesting a chilly night, it was still a shock to them just how bad it felt.

In fact, even one man, perched alone on a gargoyle atop one of Gotham's tallest buildings, wearing an armoured costume meant to cushion against blows, deflecting bullets and hinder knives, could feel just how cold it was. Normally, a chill like this could only be felt if Mr. Freeze went out on the town in a rage. Or, at the very least, if it were winter. This kind of naturally cold air just didn't happen in the middle of July, and for a man like this, it could only mean one thing.

It's going to be one of THOSE nights, the Dark Knight thought to himself, looking down upon the city.

Despite being usually thought of as a loner, Batman didn't generally like being up here by himself. The oftentimes witty banter with his colleagues at times helped to keep him from becoming too tense as he waited for the call for action. Unfortunately, Damian was working a case with Stephanie to locate some missing children (something that surprised him in how much more comfortable he'd become in working with her), Katherine was following a lead into Intergang dealings, Cassandra and Renee were helping with that, Dick was working with J'onn to search for Superman following the Telos incident, Tim was off with the Titans who knows where, and Selina was HOPEFULLY staying out of trouble. It seemed that the world was becoming a bit hectic following what they'd been led to believe was not only the saving of their world, but the actual restoration of it after it had simply vanished into nothing.

As such, that left Bruce to wait by himself. Wait until a scream or siren filled the cold air. Wait to see who it would be that would set the night's events into motion. Scarecrow unleashing a new fear toxin? Joker killing some random pedestrian for fun? Selina NOT staying out of trouble? Or perhaps just a random group of thugs getting into more trouble than they know to deal with? Regardless, the Caped Crusader waited alone in silence. However, as he still had trouble remembering at times, even when he stood alone, he was never REALLY alone.

"Batman, got something for ya," a young woman's voice rang out over the comm in his cowl.

Batman tried not to sigh as he heard Proxy's voice. Not because he was annoyed by her in any way, just that he was used to having Alfred or Barbara in his ear. She usually worked on 'Team Batgirl', as she and Stephanie were keen to call themselves. However, with so many tasks having to be split up among them, it left Wendy to fill in as his Oracle for the night. Plus, it just further depressed him to know that more and more people that decided to become heroes were facing tragedy in their lives nowadays. And while he felt proud of her for continuing to fight the good fight despite losing the use of her legs, much like Barbara had done years before, he couldn't help but feel like this was slowly but surely becoming the natural result for more and more people in their line of work.

"What is it, Proxy?" Bruce asked, trying his best to put all those thoughts aside.

"A body at Pauli's Diner," Wendy answered. "Looks like the place was closing early tonight, and there was an incident. GCPD looks kinda swamped tonight, a lot of us these days."

"Not far from here, I'll check it out," Batman responded, leaping off the gargoyle. Reaching out, he grabbed the sides of his cape and held them out, the paracape catching the air and allowing him to glide safely over the buildings before him. After a few minutes of riding the air currents, though, he eventually came to his destination, dropping down softly on the roof of Pauli's Diner. Going in through the vent, he quickly slid along it until he reached the kitchen, dropping out onto the floor. Reaching up to his chest, he gave a small twist to a dial along his yellow Bat symbol, causing it to light up and illuminate the room.

"Proxy, I'm in," the Dark Knight said as he slowly walked out of the kitchen into the main dining room of the diner. "I'm remote connecting the cowl's feed through to your computer now."

It didn't take long to find the body, which had a sheet over him. Clearly, GCPD had responded already, but hadn't done much of a sweep of the crime scene, at least not yet. Or, they were simply waiting for him to take the first look. Either way, the body slumped onto his right side, just in front of the booths before the front windows, which were smashed open. Glancing to the left, Batman took note of the front door, which was perfectly fine and locked.

"...Okay, I'm no genius, but wouldn't it have been easier to bust through the door than to smash open the window?" Proxy asked as Batman looked over the body.

"Maybe, unless there was a specific intent to this," Batman replied, using his lens to scan through the thin sheet and locate a name-tag on the person underneath. "Victim is John Garrand, an employee here. Looks like he was in charge of shutting down for the evening."

"Cause of death?" Wendy inquired as Bruce knelt down next to Garrand to look him over.

"Blow to the head, just above the left temple, caused internal bleeding," the Caped Crusader explained. "From the damage done, I'd say he's only been dead for less than an hour, maybe two."

"Right after closing time," Proxy suggested. "Soooo, someone busted in while he was locking up for the night and thunked him in the head?"

"No, something a bit more simple," Batman went on, looking to the shattered glass and the hole left in the window. "The shatter point in the glass suggests it was broken by a small object, like a ball or rock, and then the glass came down around it."

Continuing to search the floor, Bruce finally came upon the object in question: A simple rock, with green construction paper wrapped around it. Taking the paper off, he quickly spotted the word 'Inhumane' written in red pencil crayon on the inside.

"...He strikes again," Proxy sighed. "Steph and I have been following leads on some guy that's been breaking windows the past couple of nights around town."

"Any eye-witness reports?" Batman asked.

"Yeah, but honestly, they didn't even sound human," Wendy explained. "Green skin, red eyes, sounds like Martian Manhunter's vandalizing cousin. People have started calling him 'the Green Man'."

"Creative name," Bruce muttered.

"...And I suppose 'Batman' took a LOT of time and effort to come up with," Proxy snarked. "Anyway, this guy's a vandal, but he's not a killer. At least, not up until now."

"I don't think he tried to kill anyone tonight, either," Batman replied. "Your Green Man was just looking to break another window."

"And now he's got a kill on his record," Wendy finished with a sigh.

"He's probably panicking somewhere," Batman suggested. "We need to find him before he does anything stupid."

"I've been trying to find a connection between the places he's been hitting, but I've got nothing," Proxy admitted regretfully. "Just a bunch of random stores from random parts of town, as far as I can tell. Snyder's Books, Gail Wave-"

"Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way," Bruce thought aloud, walking to the back of the store and finding a small office. "Put yourself in his shoes, and think: Why would YOU feel ill will towards stores?"

"I dunno, their employees get money and benefits and stuff?" Proxy suggested, just as Batman found a small file filled with resumés. "...Oh."

"Gail Wave is owned by Wayne Electronics," Batman mentioned before tapping the ear of his cowl, opening the comm to the Batcave. "...Alfred, I need to go into Gail Wave's recent interview records and cross-reference them to these resumés."

"I'll get right on it, sir," Bruce's butler and most trusted confidant replied as Batman scanned the names on the resumés with his lens. "Fortunately, Miss Kane and the others have taken a short trip back to her own base to regroup, so I have some free time... ... ...Here we are, a Mister Kenneth Dranger. Seems he applied there two weeks ago, and was rejected for insufficient job experience."

"According to his resumé, he's 41, lives at 77 Morrison Street, and dropped out of college in his freshman year," Proxy noted. "Only previous job experience is working as a janitor at Pak's Pizzeria for 20 years."

"I'll contact Cassandra, see if she has some time to check in on it," Alfred said.

Batman shook his head, putting the resumés back. "She's needed elsewhere. I'll check it out. Proxy, keep looking into Dranger, see if you can find anything else about him."

"Already on it," Wendy replied as the Caped Crusader went back up the vent, turning the Bat symbol light off. Once back on the roof, he pressed a button on his belt and dropped down into the alley next to the restaurant. Within a few moments, the Batmobile pulled up, the canopy sliding back for him to climb in. Doing so, he immediately closed it and revved the engines, tearing down the streets of Gotham as he patched the car's own communications into Proxy's channel.

"Here we go: College records!" Wendy announced after a couple of minutes. "Looks like he dropped out after a fight with one of his classmates."

"Any other record of violence or disruptive tendencies?" Batman asked.

"Well, don't freak out, but it says here he was kind of a clown," Proxy described. "Known for interrupting class with jokes, just barely passable grades, lack of atten-...Oh dear."

"What is it?" Bruce demanded.

"Says in his record that he was diagnosed with autism," Wendy explained. "Low-level autism, but just enough to hold him back. In fact, it's suggested by eye-witnesses that he started the fight after his classmate called him 'a freaking retard or whatever'."

The Dark Knight couldn't help but frown. From the moment he'd realized this was a case of vandalism gone wrong, he'd had a suspicion that society had taken someone and turned them into a criminal, but he didn't want to believe it. Just once, as clichéd an idea as it was, he wanted to meet a criminal without a tragic back-story or incident that happened to them, and that just did what he did for the sake of violence and chaos. But, as life had taught him, the desire to do wrong isn't something human beings are naturally instilled with.

Seeing that he was coming up on his destination, Batman slowed the Batmobile and pulled into a wide alley. Getting out, he took out the Batclaw grapple gun and launched it at a rooftop towering overhead, launching himself upward before opening his cape and letting the wind carry him to the top of 77 Morrison Street, a small, rundown-looking apartment building.

"Proxy, which apartment is it?" Batman asked, getting out a line and securing it to the roof.

"Uhh, #6," Wendy answered, sounding a little distracted. "Second floor and to the left of the front door while facing it."

Bruce stopped as he came to the ledge, having caught the tone in her voice. "Proxy?"

Proxy sighed. "...I just found a hospital record linking to him: Trudy Dranger, his mother. She died last month. Cancer."

Batman likewise sighed, but continued about his job, scaling down the wall while holding the line. "Anything else?"

"Funeral was held last week," Wendy went on. "Apparently, Ken could barely pay for it."

"And his father?" Batman asked, arriving at a window to the apartment. "Ran out?"

"No, actually, he died a couple of years before that," Proxy corrected the Dark Knight. "He worked at the steel factory until he was murdered by-"

"The Joker," Batman finished as a lightbulb went off in his head. "I remember now: Jeph Dranger. Died from exposure to Joker Toxin."

With nothing more either wanted to or were ready to say at this point, the Caped Crusader gently went about opening the window. Once that was done, he slid in through it, looking around at the small living room/kitchen. Not wanting to alert anyone to his presence, he switched his cowl lens to night vision in lieu of lighting up his symbol. It told him everything he needed to know: One bedroom, and the kitchen and living room were the same room. No bathroom, meaning the tenants for this building must've shared one. Pillows on the couch meant this was probably where Ken slept. The floor was littered with pictures of various stores and restaurants. A stack of construction paper was sitting on an end table with pencil crayons lying atop them. A bottle of skin dye was on the floor, an electric razor was lying next to the sink, which had hair lying in it, and a package for red contact lenses was lying at the top of the garbage in the small trashcan.

"GET OUT!" a voice screamed, just before something smacked Batman across the back of the head. Slumping against the sink, he felt something hit him again, this time in the back, and could tell it was likely a baseball bat. Swinging around, he thrust his palm forward, shoving his assailant back. Sure enough, it was the Green Man himself, his skin dyed, his hair completely shaved off, and red contact lens in his eyes. He gave a yell as he swung the bat, but his eyes showed something more than fear: They showed anger and despair. Rolling out of the way, Batman watched as the wooden bat broke over the side of the sink. With a scream, Ken threw the splintered piece still in his hand at the Dark Knight, only for him to knock it away.

"I know what happened!" Batman yelled as Ken looked to the splintered half of a bat in his hands. "Let me help you!"

"I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT!" Ken screamed, throwing the bat at the Dark Knight. Backhanding it away, Batman threw himself backward as the Green Man lunged at him with nothing but his bare hands, using his momentum to send him crashing into a wall. Batman quickly got back to his feet, ready for more, but one look told him there would be none, as Kenneth instead lay sobbing on the ground, not out of pain, but because his anger had finally run out, and his depression was now free to unleash itself.

"...Please, just go!" Kenneth cried as he tried to cover his face.

"Kenneth, I know what happened," Batman said again. "I know you didn't try to murder anyone. I know about your parents, about your condition."

Ken continued to sob, sitting up a bit. "...The doctors said I only had low-level autism. Shouldn't have made a difference in my life, when I'd try to further my education, or get a career... ... ...But they LIED! They lied to me! I couldn't focus in school, and everyone was horrible to me! And when my dad died, and I tried to get work so I could support me and my mom..."

Batman didn't say anything, instead watching as the Green Man poured his heart out. "...I was trying to pay her medical bills! And then, she died, and next thing I know, I'm having to pay out the ass for her Goddamn funeral! I was orphaned because of a maniac, and no one cared! I wasn't a human being to them! So I did this, and started fighting back, and...I was so mad, and I didn't...!"

"You didn't see the man locking up for the night," the Dark Knight finished, Ken nodding before the sobbing picked up again. "You thought you had reason to put away what made you human and make the world pay for treating you as though you weren't...except you are."

"...I just wanted people to listen," Ken whimpered desperate fights for breath. "No one else was supposed to... ... ...Oh God, I'm sorry...!"

There was nothing more to be said. Bruce could already hear the sirens in the distance. With nothing else to do, he sat next to Kenneth, resting a hand on his shoulder as the Green Man continued to cry. In truth, the police were there within five minutes. But, in the dark silence of that small apartment, and with the freezing cold breeze blowing through the open window, it could've easily been mistaken for an agonizing eternity.

"-services for Mr. Garrand have apparently been paid for, and his wife and daughter have had their needs seen to for the foreseeable future," Vicky Vale went on from the broadcast table of the Gotham Nightliner. "In related news, billionaire Bruce Wayne has made a surprise announcement that he's looking into the establishment of a special work training facility for people with varying levels of physical and mental disabilities, handicaps, and disorders. The trainees will receive a training allowance that may, in fact, come straight from Mr. Wayne's own figurative pocket. This news comes mere days after the reveal that Kenneth Dranger, who suffers from autism, was the notorious vandal, the Green Man. Dranger's therapist said he was unable to comment, but seemed a bit more 'positively responsive' after hearing of this development."

AUTHOR'S NOTES: ... ...Yeah, I'm just gonna come right out and say it. I have Asperger's syndrome, which means I am, pretty much by technicality, considered autistic. Of course, I should stress heavily that this story is not based off of my own personal experiences, but rather is a cautionary tale of what COULD happen to someone someday. Not to say we're all a step away from being a Green Man, just that it COULD happen. And frankly, it's almost my nightmare of what my life could someday turn out to be like. The thing is, for all of our progress, there are still people in the world who believe things like autism to be a disease that either needs to be cured or needs to be prevented from being genetically passed on any further. Being labelled as autistic, some employers will simply outright reject a person just for that and then give whatever excuse they need for it.

Originally, I wasn't going to include the news scene with Vicky Vale talking about Bruce Wayne creating a facility for people with different disabilities and disorders. However, I decided to put it in, and the line about Dranger, because I wanted there to be some sliver of hope in the end. And there IS hope, people. There is hope for every person with any kind of mental or physical issue. It's not something that needs to be CURED so much as OVERCOME, by each and every person that has it. And speaking personally, I've been told that there are benefits to Asperger's. Many have increased levels of creativity, and can display intense interests in otherwise difficult to grasp concepts. You look on Wikipedia about Asperger's, and there's a picture of a kid who is DEEPLY fascinated by molecular structure. Some of us have been known to have a hyper-sensitivity to taste. I can taste traces of mint on a chocolate with no mint in it, that was simply laying in a box of chocolates next to a piece that DID have mint in it... ... ...I still seek a way to use this power to fight crime. lol

With that said, I will say this: Facilities like the one I described in this work of fiction DO exist. There are places where people with varying levels of physical and mental disabilities, handicaps, and disorders can go to get job training, and there are still employers that will turn them down. We need to be more accepting and willing to give people a chance to show they can do anything the 'normal', whatever that means, person can do. We are, all of us, human beings, and every single human being needs to be given a chance at some point or another.

...Oh, and Pauli's Diner is based loosely off the one in Batman: Arkham Knight, which is in itself a reference to Paul Dini. Naturally, I slipped a few other references to people that have worked on past Batman and Bat-related titles into the fic as well. See if you can spot 'em all. ^_^ As for why I picked the pre-Flashpoint New Earth for the setting, I just wanted to do something with that world now that it's been re-established to exist in current continuity.

Anyway, if you liked what you read here, please like, comment, and share. Ja né!

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