Grotesk is a story arc that lasted for four issues of Batman from January to March 2007.
Strange and grisly murders have rocked snow-ridden as of late by an unknown assailant. The story begins when two cops are investigating an anonymous tip regarding another potential murder down at dock 42. Out of nowhere both police officers are met by a gruesome sight when a man, with no skin on his face, is running toward them completely engulfed in flames screaming and begging for them to put him out of his misery. The agonized man fortunately gets his wish much to the sad conclusion of the officers present.
Jim Gordon, C.S.I. Milhone and forensic specialist Gary Peterson arrive later with the rest of the GCPD to follow up the investigation. Gordon has determined from Peterson’s analysis that the victim is the third such killing from the same unknown murderer due to the face being partially cut away and the body burned.
The two previous victims included an employee of the Omnimed Research and Development Division of Zeits Pharmaceuticals named Jaqui Tremayne and an upper-middle class African-American businessman by the name of Georg Williamson. The victim analyzed on the dock is identified as Donny Lucidc, a loan-shark with deep ties to Italian mobster Carmine Focarelli but was currently working for Russian mafia chieftain Perun. With that said, no direct connection was found to exist between the departed victims. Therefore no motive could have been established to link anyone up with the crimes and by implication the GCPD is back at square one in their investigation.
As the GCPD continues its investigation at the dock, Alfred reports to Bruce that the press has labeled the unknown culprit of the murders as “Grotesk,” prompting Batman to instruct Alfred to gather all C.S.I. reports on the Grotesk case. Bruce currently is heading for the medical clinic of Leslie Tompkins to deter gangsters from roughing up the establishment once more as they did the night before. The Dark Knight feels it is his duty to tell these street toughs that it is a bad idea to muscle in on the clinic.
At the clinic itself, Dr. Amina Franklin is busy tending to patients when a nurse informs her that her superior wishes to speak with her. Stepping into her office, Franklin is greeted by Nancy Stavrides and is quite surprised to see her still on the premises despite Franklin also working at the hospital. Stavrides asks her if she has been involved in any sort of illegal drug transactions as of late, to which the latter denies any such involvement and is surprised at the question in of itself. Stavrides believes Amina but is quick to point out why she asked since the night before a group of gangsters roughed up the free clinic asking for her specifically. Franklin is downright shocked that such scum would have any interest in her.
It seems that the thugs were Russian mobsters under Perun and are back that evening to once again make a grab for Dr. Franklin with guns at the ready. Batman heads them off, however and tells them that the clinic is off limits. Perun angrily claims to the Dark Knight that Amina’s brother, Wayne, owes him money and is not going anywhere until payment is made. The problem the demand is that Wayne Franklin died over two months ago, therefore the Russian mobsters see Amina’s life as sufficient reimbursement.
Naturally, with neither the Caped Crusader nor the Russian mobsters willing to compromise on the issue, the standoff becomes a violent one. In one turn, a Russian gunman is poised to shoot a bullet into Batman’s head when he is burned by flames directed from an assailant on a building rooftop identifying himself as the Grotesk killer. He appears to be a homicidal maniac wearing a mask of stitched human flesh upon his face and has strange mechanical arms, one arm bearing a strange surgical tool known as the I-Gore that utilizes surgical incision instruments as well as laser and flamethrower technology. Grotesk proceeds to pour flame onto Perun’s mob allies to even the odds, burning several of Perun's confederates, forcing even the Russian mobster to think that nothing but crazies inhabit Gotham's streets.
Grotesk is finally knocked into a dumpster by Batman, who demands to know why he killed the three victims he has left for the GCPD. Grotesk simply answers that the victims deserved what had come to them and has no intentions of stopping his killing spree any time soon. With Batman attempting to stop the chain of murders, Grotesk blasts fire at an incoming vehicle as it passes down the street, forcing Bruce to save the innocent victims from a terrible fate while allowing his adversary to escape. In the aftermath of all the commotion, Doctors Stavrides and Franklin come out from the clinic to assist in any way that they can, and Batman tells the latter that Perun and his men came for her due to money her brother owed them. With a straight face she tells the Caped Crusader that her brother had been dead for two months and that she knew nothing of such a deal.
Back at the Batcave, Bruce begins to piece together what he knows of this Grotesk killer and his victims and the unfortunate plight of Amina Franklin. He determines that Grotesk obviously fashioned a mask for his mutilated face from the facial flesh of his fallen victims. Bruce then seems to recall what Dr. Franklin said of her brother and remembers that Wayne Franklin was a successful African-American surgeon who died in an explosion at ’s docks. Alfred is quick to point out that Bruce and Amina briefly dated, leading Bruce to reminisce of the first time he met the siblings while at a charity event on the decks of the docked Star of Gotham. And the memories are vivid.
Wayne Franklin attended the event with Jaqui Tremayne, the first of Grotesk’s three known victims. In meeting Bruce Wayne for the first time, points out that the Wayne Foundation was funding a device that he had been working on, the I-Gore. During the course of the conversation, Ms. Tremayne was so impressed with ’s work that she ill-advisedly referred to him as Mr. Wayne’s racial equal, causing him to ponder why Bruce should not be referred to as his “pale” alternate. Bruce is quick to back himself out of the conversation after the awkward turn it came to and comes across ’s sister Amina, who is quick to apologize for her brother’s snide remarks. Later on she agrees to join him from which a brief romance developed. Thereafter a clear picture of motive begins to be laid out in front of Bruce in order to establish a potential identity for Grotesk. In remembrance of that even, he is then compelled to believe that Wayne Franklin is not dead, but is instead the Grotesk killer.
After all, the I-Gore was a cybernetic-robotic interface that could perform a surgeon’s duties remotely, yet after ’s death, Omnimed, the company to which Ms. Tremayne was employed, developed an almost uncanny device known as the Mimic. From there it is determined that there is a definite connection between Grotesk, the I-Gore, and Tremayne, with obvious motive to kill established. But with this newfound clarity comes the question of, if Wayne Franklin did not die in that explosion, then who was the one killed on the docks? Furthermore, what else might Amina Franklin know that she’s not telling Batman? Bruce decides answers are not to be found in the Batcave, and he takes his investigation to the next step.
Bruce proceeds to investigate the research and development wing of Zeits Pharmaceuticals itself, Omnimed, in order to get the answers he’s seeking. While there, he happens upon Dr. Myles Strane, demanding to know if Jaqui Tremayne had stolen the I-Gore concept from Wayne Franklin in order to create Mimic. Strane admits that such industrial espionage had been committed but is quick to point out that despite the concept’s brilliance it was simply non-functional. Dr. Strange shows that while the technology was effective with regard to simple scalpel incisions it was sorely lacking in tasks such as precision cutting and stitching and explained that even with Dr. Franklin’s notes he still could not make the Mimic prototype work despite being pressured to by his superiors.
Meanwhile, downstairs at the main lobby of Omnimed, security are met at the door by a strange cohort of Yakuza hitmen known as Johnny Karaoke and the Geisha Grrls. Johnny wishes entry into the building so that he could pick up the Mimic prototype, yet when he is denied entry by the guards, his female teammates blast the doors away with automatic gunfire, killing the guards in the process. Batman heads downstairs, telling Dr. Strane to gather up Wayne Franklin’s notes and to stay out of sight until he returns. Bruce proceeds to defeat the Geisha Grrls easily on his trip down and eventually engages Karaoke, demanding to know why he’s obviously after the Mimic prototype. Karaoke confesses that he bought the contraption, having underwritten the synthesis of the original I-Gore concept that was taken. Obviously then there is more at stake with the Mimic prototype than was thought, with both Japanese and Russian mobsters in it for the technology.
Strane, having collected the necessary notes, hears something and asks if it is the Dark Knight’s return to his office quarters, but is met instead by Grotesk, quite pleased that his notes are retrieved. Downstairs the fire sprinklers go off and Karaoke and his Grrls flee. Batman, alarmed that Grotesk may have been on the premises, races back for Strane’s office, only to find that he is dead, his face slashed and his body burned. Once again the crafty maniac managed to escape without so much as a fight, leaving the Dark Knight to once again brood upon the skill of his adversary. In the aftermath of the fight, Gotham police and fire station teams are on sight and Batman has some interesting things to report to Commissioner Gordon from the Batmobile, just as the dutiful police officer has some interesting tidbits to share with the Caped Crusader.
Once GCPD are on site at Omnimed, Gordon reports to Batman that the urgency to catch the Grotesk killer was all the greater now due to the deaths of the security guards in the main lobby, all of whom were ex-cops. In turn Batman tells Gordon what he has learned about Grotesk and the strange connections to the I-Gore and Wayne Franklin and the first victim, suggesting that the police department get a warrant to have the grave sight exhumed for DNA analysis. Gordon counters with newly found evidence that the ’s parents were involved with a radically militant group during the 1960s, a group whose membership included Grotesks’s second victim, Georg Williamson. Apparently the group raided and robbed banks during that time before its members, including Williamson, went into hiding. Gordon then reports Williamson was being blackmailed by someone, which ties in to ’s borrowing of money from the Yakuza and Russian mob in order to finance his I-Gore technology. He apparently borrowed money from so many sources and had no intention of paying back the money he had been given, and therefore staged his own death in order to escape his debts. Bruce decides to seek out Amina to find out what else she knows.
Perun and his mobsters head to St. Eligius Medical Center to demand immediate compensation from Dr. Amina Franklin. He demands that if he is not given immediate payment either in the form of the I-Gore or money that he will kill her and everyone present in the hospital. Fortunately for her sake and everyone else the Caped Crusader is once again ready to save the day, fighting off the mobsters and sending them in full retreat. Perun receives a call on his cellular phone from none other than Grotesk, who is willing to make a deal to ease hostilities, who tells the mobster to go to the old Gotham Opera House for said deal. The mobsters drive for this location, ignorant of the fact that Batman has put a tracker on their limousine so that he may follow. Little does Perun realize, however that he was just played for a fool and that his men were walking into a trap.
Thinking he will come across Grotesk and get what’s coming to him, Perun instead finds Johnny Karaoke and his Geisha Grrls at the opera house. It turned out the "deal" was instead a well planned set up created by Grotesk, whom sits from the rafters and presents the Mimic prototype hanging from a rope. He informs the thieving gangsters that they will have to fight for it. The resulting actions lead to a slaughter between Yakuza hitmen and Russian thugs as they are killing each other left and right to get to the device while Grotesk watches with glee. He seems to be quite satisfied with what is going down below for as of yet unknown reasons.
Batman comes to stop Grotesk, only to find himself in a tough situation once more, with the killer revealing that the Mimic device is rigged with an explosive, and that he either has the choice to save the mobsters from being incinerated or chase after him. Unfortunately the Dark Knight is not able to stop the explosion in time, and nearly the whole opera house goes up in flames. He is able to save one Geisha Grrl when Perun, rising from the flames, is ready to shoot Batman dead. Johnny Karaoke tackles him to the floor and the two mobsters end up killing each other. Grotesk has escaped once more, and Batman can only do what is right and leave the Geisha Grrl on the street corner for the GCPD as they arrive. He reasons that he must find an alternative way of getting Amina to talk if she will not speak with his Dark knight persona.
In the charred remains of the opera house, Amina Franklin denies her brother is still living and that he is the Grotesk killer, pointing out to Commissioner Gordon that even if she would allow a DNA analysis that it would be impossible since she had ’s body cremated. Realizing that she won’t confess anything to Batman, Bruce arrives on scene as himself. Gordon initially wishes Bruce not to interfere in the business of the GCPD while Bruce counters that he still has a great amount of influence in Gotham. The latter offers to put Amina under his own security at his own penthouse
in Gotham, which Gordon allows so long as proper police protection is provided. Bruce is assuredly confident that his penthouse suite is more than adequate for Dr. Franklin's protection.
By a warm fireplace, Amina confesses everything to Bruce about what she knows, beginning by telling him that the body recovered at the docks two months ago was not her brother’s but a medical patient by the name of Henry Jones. She tells him that created the I-Gore because he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and could not continue to do surgery effectively with his trembling hands and found funding for the project from the black market, namely the dirty bill folds of Perun and Johnny Karaoke. The problem with his choice of creditors in the form of the Russian and Japanese mafia wanted quick results or repayment of what they loaned out. Wayne felt he needed time to perfect his creation and was not readily willing to pay back what loan sharks like Donny Lucidc handed to him. His plan took on a more insidious form thereafter.
In reaffirming Bruce’s suspicions, Amina explains that faked his own death so that he would not be responsible for repaying the money he had obtained and that she had helped him by finding Jones, who was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. By having Jones’ body discovered at the docks, it would then be assumed that had been killed instead of a lonely derelict patient. promised Jones not only a quick and painless death but a $50,000.00 monetary reimbursement for his mother. He had made all the arrangements, even rigging a laboratory at the local wharves to make it seem like an accident. Unfortunately his violent creditors learned early enough of ’s attempted skullduggery and countered his plan with a premature explosion that burned his body beyond repair. ended up using the I-Gore to try and repair his body and reneged on his promise to Jones and his mother. It could be assumed later on that Wayne as Grotesk murdered Jones before even targeting Tremayne.
After Amina’s heart felt confession, Bruce asked her why she never turned in to the authorities, and in her defense she claims saved her life from her father. Apparently their dad had been part of that radical 1960s group that committed those local bank robberies and was worried that police were poised to arrest him soon. Thinking he could no longer care for and protect his children, attempted to shoot them, only to have push the gun back toward his father’s neck, compelling their father to shoot himself dead. Thereafter asked Amina to keep knowledge of that incident quiet, just like she would later do with his reign of terror as Grotesk.
At the end of this tragic tale, Grotesk strikes the penthouse with a missile launched from his I-Gore. Bruce is knocked out cold and Grotesk proceeds to take Amina with him, accusing Bruce as being among those who tried to have him killed in the first place. At his laboratory at the docks, Grotesk tells Amina that, like their father told them that fateful night, he will never do time in jail and has to find a way to get out of Gotham. He also tells her that as an unfortunate side note of his plan he must kill her. He reasons that he must kill her so that he could take a piece of her face and append it to his sickening mask that he has created so that there will always be a part of her with him, even when he finally goes down one day. Despite his sister's pleas to listen to reason and stop his madness, Grotesk is ready to do what he has said.
Never one to be down for long, the Dark Knight attacks the laboratory to apprehend Grotesk once and for all. And yet as previous experience has shown, Grotesk manages to find an ace in the hole for an escape when he launches an overdose needle that embeds itself into his sister’s throat. Batman then has to carry Amina into a snowstorm to get her to a medical center to save her life, but she stops him quickly, telling him that the hot dose was too much and that she’s dying anyway. Her dying wish is that Batman prevents her brother from escaping
Grotesk manages to flee to the Gotham Seaport where he kills a GCPD officer on duty and uses a port authority agent to commandeer the Star of Gotham to tread the icy waters of Gotham’s in his bid for freedom. Later on, seeing the port authority agent as of no use to him any longer, Grotesk mutilates and burns him right on the deck of the ship. Batman catches up to him this time and dukes it out with the maniacal killer, gaining the upper hand this time by neutralizing the I-Gore weapon. Grotesk begs for mercy while, unknown to either he or the Caped Crusader, a commercial shipper is bearing toward the Star. He attempts to hold Bruce on the ship with him so that they may meet their fate together, but Batman breaks free, leaving Grotesk on the ship while it’s shattered in half from the force of the colliding shipper. Batman attempts to save from the icy depths of the river, only to grab another mechanical arm in the process. Grotesk is swept by the frigid waves and purportedly drowns thereafter.
Both Bruce and Alfred attend Amina Franklin’s funeral amidst falling snows and the latter wonders on Grotesk’s whereabouts. Bruce can only surmise that he drowned in the current and was swept out to sea, which could only be a fitting end for such a horrid killer. His suspicions are only partially correct, as the story ends with an image of the psychotic frozen solid near a bank of the . And thus came an end to Grotesk's reign of terror in Gotham City, though Bruce is hardly sorry for what end came to Wayne Franklin, who had only himself to blame for what fate had befallen him.