- When I was a boy, you watched me play, Alfred. You watched over Bruce and me as we had a good old time, engaging in games and mock battles. Now you're here to see the game played for real this time. No pretending. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
- -- Hush
Appearing in "The Next Level"Edit
- Alfred Pennyworth
- Batman Family
- Selina Kyle
- Batplane (Destroyed in this issue)
Synopsis for "The Next Level"Edit
In the Batcave beneath Arkham Manor, Alfred Pennyworth wakes from the extended nightmare that had been visited upon him since Hush injected Fear Toxin into his brain. He cries out for his daughter Julia, but from his own confinement cell within the cave, Hush reveals that Julia is out.
Julia answers a makeshift Bat-Signal to find that it was lit by Selina Kyle, protecting her identity with an Smart Mask, she drops down behind Selina, who is unsurprised by her arrival - though not familiar with this member of the Bat-family. Julia responds that she is answering Batman's calls for the time being. Selina attempts to brush her off, but Julia successfully wrestles her to the ground, expressing her discontent at having been forced to listen to she and Batman flirting constantly. Grumpily, Selina warns that she doesn't like eavesdroppers, but passes Julia the file she intended for Batman all the same. It contains shipping manifests that suggest that someone has been funding Batman's enemies' extravagant purchases. She warns that these particular crooks are competitive, not to mention crazy, and they will race to be first to off Batman.
En route home from confronting Ra's al Ghul, Batman calls home and finds Alfred on the other end. Grimly, he reports the news that he was wrong about his accusations against Ra's. Julia returns in time to warn Alfred to go back to bed, and warns Batman of the new development. She orders him to simply come home - she has already taken care of counter-measures.
Meanwhile, atop Gotham Cathedral, Scarecrow prepares to unleash a fleet of stolen WayneTech drones to release his gas to every citizen of Gotham. He is thwarted in this by Batwing. Elsewhere, at A-1 Studios, Clayface is attempting to reboot his film career by playing Batman opposite a Joker look-alike, but his trademark anger management problems are interfering. His tantrum is interrupted by Red Robin - whose rivalry with Bluebird is endlessly tedious for Julia.
Bluebird, meanwhile, has been tasked with looking into the shipment of 1950s vintage decor, and though Julia suspected this would mean Poison Ivy, Bluebird confirms that it is instead Mister Freeze. It appears that Fries has use the shipment to recreate and freeze a moment in time.
Batgirl, meanwhile, is hesitant to check out the location she's been tipped off to. The shipment of Kewpie Dolls was sent to the very same theme park that the Joker had dragged her to after he shot her through the spine. She expects that she will meet Joker's Daughter there, hoping to prove herself. Despite her feelings of discomfort about it, Batgirl insists on proving that she can put a punch-line on the joke by herself.
Julia then checks in on Jason Todd who has tracked one of the shipments to a very seedy part of town. While he hasn't identified the contents of that shipment, he believes it came from Russia. Nervously, Julia warns him to watch his back, just as the lights go out on her in the cave. Sitting in his cell, Hush listens as both Julia and Alfred are rendered unconscious by a newcomer that he invited.
Jason makes his way into a crappy dive bar, and reports back to Julia, but gets no response as he is witness to the beginning of what appears to be an underground Lucha libre ring. With surprise, he discovers that six men will face just one opponent: Bane, who has equipped himself with an expensive suit of armour.
Meanwhile, in the Narrows, Cullen Row is surprised when Stephanie Brown claims that what's going on in Gotham right now is just a cover for something else. Though he worries that his sister will be angry that he let her roam the apartment freely, Cullen watches as Stephanie uses Harper's computer to contact Vicki Vale in the hopes of fighting the plague on the city with another means than costumes and fists.
Alfred comes to in the cave to find Hush standing before him, gleefully promising that he has awakened just in time to see his daughter leave. He teases that the competitive play between he and Bruce Wayne has evolved into a real battle now, and he is happy to see it do so. He draws Alfred's attention to Julia, who has been trapped in an escape pod, which he launches. With Julia out of the way, Hush promises that he won't hurt Julia. He will merely test her, to make her prove she is worthy of him. The pair watch on the screens of the computers, as Julia's pod comes down in the Gotham River, where she emerges to see that the city is in flames. Hush slips a bag over Alfred's head and comments that he never really got over Bruce's failure to share his toys, as he activates the emergency override on the Batplane, causing it to crash with Batman inside it. From nearby, Alfred hears a voice warning that it's time to go.
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