This is the newest #1 in Mayhem! It takes place in Gotham and is going to recap on the great amount of events that have been taking place there! For more Mayhem, check here.
The lean, mid-height figure carefully tugged up the hood of his black duffle coat, settling it over a mop of uneven, unwashed brown hair. His fingertips dug into his palms, a futile attempt to keep out the winter cold, but the simple, linen sports wraps binding his hands did nothing to ease the throbbing sting of winter.
Before him was a building; a squat, brick structure he had seen countless times, though never with the intent of going inside of his own free will. White tile letters that appeared to be in dire need of replacement silently uttered – no, whispered – the words “Gotham City Police Department”.
At its best, Gotham's police force had more trouble than it could handle, hopelessly understaffed against an insurmountable amount of work. At its worst, it looked like it did now – the streets were more or less clean, with major problems having worked themselves out, and Batman having handled low-tier crime on a nightly basis. The GCPD got no respect or concern for what they hadn't done, and it showed. Budgets were rock-bottom, and not even street sweepers were hired to clean litter and leaves from the sidewalks.
Then again... maybe, just maybe, something pathetic was exactly what he needed. Something to remind himself that he had once been one of the greatest villains to terrorize these people, these cops, their commissioner. Remind him that, through his highs and low, through mania, sleepless nights, malnutrition and the drug abuse that had soothed his... compulsions... that through all that, he was still, and would always be, the Riddler.
Convincing Gordon he had turned a new leaf would be simple. Convincing himself, on the other hand, would be a far greater challenge.
Another dull day. More... paperwork. Not a decent case since the Falcone girl, and that had been busted open by yet another vigilante. While those crime scene photos had scarred his mind to this day, it didn't make him feel like he was doing anything important now.
Commission James Gordon barely even felt like a cop anymore. Barely felt like anything but a pencil-pusher in a cozy office, signing off budgets, making cuts, trying to make everything cheap with the state seemingly cutting his budget further by the month. The GCPD was a joke, and finally everyone know it. Even the best and brightest at Gotham Central seemed like Bat-lackeys, and nobody got anything done without him knowing about it.
Still, there was a bright side. While GCPD could barely function, there genuinely was almost no work to do. Domestic disputes, the occasional daytime robbery that was easily foiled. With Hush behind bars, with the Joker dead, with Sionis in Arkham, and with Batman and his entire “family” on full patrol, organized crime was at a minimum, and it finally seemed like they had reached the goal they'd been waiting for for so long – a clean city.
Jim's musings were abruptly cut off by a gentle rapping at the door of his office, followed by it gently tilting open. The silhouette he now beheld was familiar to him, though... different. Haggard. Even thinner than normal, and his hunch belied his usual superior posture.
His eyes narrowed, and while he didn't stand, he shifted his weight forward in his seat. A sign of basic aggression, of “control”, as quickly noted by the man in the doorway.
“How did you get in here, Nigma?” Gordon spat as the man walked fully into his office. His normally cleanly-pressed suit was in disarray, riddled with small tears and frays. His collar was undone, his overcoat seemed to be a size too big, and he had wrapped his hands with bandages like some sort of hobo. Even his hat was scuffed.
The man paused for a brief moment, then smiled, stifling a mocking laugh. “Please. You really think your child-like security measures could keep out someone like me? I could get past your guards and your cameras with a simple tilt of the head, Commissioner. Now, ask the question that truly plagues you, and perhaps we'll start a dialogue.”
Gordon scowled, but then leaned back in his seat. If he was going to deal with the arrogant, vain... brilliant madman known as Edward Nigma, it was clear that he was going to need a drink. The soft clunk of a rocks-glass setting on a hardwood desk. The pleasant splash of bourbon sprinkling into it, poured by a practiced hand. Jim took a quiet sip of his drink before nodding. “Why, are you here?”
“I'm here because you're going to give me a license to operate as a private detective within Gotham's jurisdiction.” The man said simply, pulling up the chair opposite Gordon's desk and taking a seat. He looked terrible – weeks, maybe months had passed since the Riddler had done anything befitting a normal human. Food, rest, drink, everything he needed to survive, Nigma had experienced the bare minimum of.
“A license? A license never stopped you from playing hero before. Why now?”
“Because, for once, I'm trying to do things by the book,” Edward's eyes fluttered before flickering towards the whiskey bottle, then settling on Gordon. His expression asked for an invitation, but none was offered. “I want to start over. Do what I can to help Gotham the way I can, and the way I should.”
“You try to sound sincere, but the last time we let you off your leash we got the Red Hood fiasco. Michael Lane still has a bounty on your head, Riddler – all of Gotham is looking out for you.”
“Please, call me Edward. Or, if you insist on common pleasantries, Mr. Nigma. The Riddler is no more. I abandoned him that day at that record store, among Azrael and Catwoman and Quinn. I am... I need to be... Detective Nigma again.” Don't make me beg you, were the words Nigma didn't say. Don't make this more humiliating for me than it has to be.
Finally, Gordon let out a quiet sigh. “God, Nigma, how long has it been since you've had a decent night's sleep?”
“To be honest, I don't remember.”
“...Alright, I'll get you a license to work in Gotham. Not like I could stop you anyway. Just, clean up, will you?”
“That's... another thing I wanted to ask you about.” Riddler set his hands on the table and put his eyes on them, focusing briefly. They weren't shaking, right now. That was good. “I need a place to live. I can pay once I get a paying case, any paying case. I don't have anything.”
This was what he had been reduced to. Honestly, of Gotham's villains, it was this one that Gordon actually felt sorry for – while the other lunatics and murderers embraced whatever mental damage that had made them the way they were, Nigma seemed to struggle against his. It had grown to the point where his schemes were a rarity, and his sprawling hideouts became hovels not fit for Killer Croc. Now, after he had supposedly been seen with the Justice Society some time ago, Edward Nigma was homeless and penniless.
“Well, I suppose it's something,” Edward snarked as he was led by a Detective Renee Montoya to his new apartment. It had been paid for out of the Commissioner's pocket, with an IOU issued in return. The place was meager, that much was true, but Nigma's sulking attitude was a front. Four walls, a floor, and a roof, were not something he was in any way accustomed to over the past few months. Sinks and cupboards, he considered luxuries.
Renee folded her arms across her chest as she watched the “ex”-villain exploring his new studio apartment. She held one brow arched loftily as she observed him obviously trying to hide his excitement and relief – permanently tensed shoulders had relaxed the moment he walked inside. “Is there anything else you need? The Commissioner – for whatever reason – said he'd pay for you to get started. Think Wayne money might be tangled in there somewhere too, as always, so let's hear it."
Edward smiled softly. Yes, Wayne would be involved. “A decent laptop, a stack of newpapers from the last few months, a bottle of gin, and the KaoKao Special from Gotham Chang's.” He turned his head slowly, giving Renee a haughty smirk. If she hadn't been able to see the masked gratitude behind his expression, Renee would have left and not returned. As things were, however, she had.
A few hours later, she returned with the things he'd asked for, a mildly grumpy look on her face showing her distaste at having the carry all of this. “Computer, newspapers, gin, chinese. There it is.”
Riddler moved with a speed that belied that fact that, from time to time, he had done battle with the Batman (not successfully, of course, but he had tried). The food and papers were the first things he took, and by the time the policewoman had set the fresh, cardboard laptop box onto the floor, he was already stuffing chunks of meat, vegetables, and noodles into his mouth with chopsticks.
“Humphmruh... 'Joker Slain by Mysterious Team of Secret Operatives'... 'Poison Ivy Missing From Gotham Park'... 'Cluemaster Taken Back Into Custod--' this is ancient, why did you bring this? I said the past few months, not years.” Edward shoveled another glob of food into his mouth, tossing aside the paper. “Hmmm, okay, here we are, 'Young Girl Declared Last Living Falcone', this was a headliner? I thought nobody cared about the Falcones anymore.”
“They started caring when they were all dead.”
“Eh, serves them right. 'Red Hood Escaped Arkham Asylum'. This is troubling, but I can't say I'm entirely shocked. Honestly? You'd think the place was a stack of cards, as easy as it is to get in and out of. You ever been?”
Renee stared back, her brow very slowly lowering.
“Ah, I suppose not. Still, with the Joker 'dead', you'd think they'd take the time to reinforce the place just a little--”
“Wait, what do you mean? Why did you say it like that... 'dead'?” Detective Montoya casually cracked the twist-off top of the bottle of gin, tossing back a quick shot before leaning over Riddler's shoulder to look at the newspapers.
“You actually think he's gone?” Edward smirked. “Tell me, how many times has the Joker... 'died'? Restrict it to your time with the GCPD. How many times have you thought he was gone for good?”
“He'll be back.”
“...Yeah, sure.” Renee inhaled softly before standing, turning to the tiny apartment's door. “Take care of yourself, Nigma.”
“Please, call me Edward.”
Renee opened her mouth briefly, then opened the door and promptly left.
Alone again, with his mind and his newspapers, Edward Nigma sat still in the single simple chair the apartment had come with. His mind processed each and every thing he had read at an alarming rate, calculating each one and filing it away. Even if the Commissioner didn't see it, if the state didn't think it was worth bothering with, Gotham had loose ends that needed to be tied up. Joker being gone would create a power vacuum of sorts – he was astounded that it hadn't already begun... unless it already had.
Poison Ivy was out of Gotham, as was Mr. Freeze. Bane had last been seen with the Secret Six, making buddies with Deadshot who was now on the Suicide Squad. Firebug hadn't been heard from in exactly one year. Hush was behind bars, Catwoman was being a 'good girl', Black Mask was in Arkham, Joker was 'dead' and Harley Quinn had been out of the game for months, as far as he knew. Penguin, as usual, was cowering in his Iceberg Lounge, trying to make a buck without making too much trouble. Gotham was... quiet, but it wasn't entirely silent.
There were still heavy-hitters to worry about. Scarecrow could be anywhere, plotting anything. Killer Croc was right where he'd been left, terrorizing the sewers, and he could resurface at any time. Ra's al Ghul was untouchable, as always, some lofty schemes assuredly in place. Two-Face was active, but playing under the table – probably a plot to overthrow the empire Joker had left behind.
Whether he liked it or not, he'd played this game before. It was when Gotham was most peaceful that it was most dangerous. And Azrael was still on the loose, with a price on Eddie's own head. Who knew how many members of his dark organization could be watching him even now.
While those final thoughts may have given him a restless night, Edward Nigma dropped his coat, unwrapped his hands, and slipped out of his suit. As his emaciated body dropped into the first bed he'd seen in weeks, he found it really didn't bother him. His stomach was full, and for once his body didn't ache. He had a direction, a goal. He felt like a human again. And for once, he wasn't the villain. He was the hero of his own story.