The Dark Knight Falls, Issue #1

Barbara Gordon flicked the switch on the side of the giant floodlight atop Police Headquarters, and it blazed into light, projecting an unmistakable symbol onto the grey sheet of clouds above Gotham. It used to be a sight criminals feared, but it hadn’t been seen for years. Not since her father passed away. It was his legacy as much as the Batman’s, the cleanup of Gotham. He’d endured the worst of it during his time as Commissioner, not just the mob, but all the freaks that had filled the vacuum they left behind… Gradually they’d been killed or locked away in Arkham Asylum. Barbara wondered if the world would have been better off putting them to death. But that was revenge, not justice. And justice was why she was here tonight.  
She heard the door open behind her and a heavy set of footprints approach. She pulled her trench coat tightly around her and felt her service weapon on her hip as the wind swirled and the sound of sirens floated up to them. Her companion spoke in a deep, commanding voice; 
“How long does he usually take?” 

“Never as long as you’d think.” 

“You’re sure he’ll come?” 

“Of course he will. He lives for this signal.” 

“And you still won’t tell me who he really is?” 

“Logan I’ve told you – I want him to have a chance for a normal life. He deserves that from us, after all he’s done for this city.” 

“Deserves…” Logan responded with a mix of resentment and dismissal. “He deserves to be in that Asylum. You want justice? This ain’t it.” 
She didn’t reply. She couldn’t – she agreed with him. But then again, Batman also deserved the credit for cleaning up the city as much as her father, but was never going to get it. As with everything in Gotham, it was complicated. Giving Batman the chance to retire may not have been the best legal solution, but it was the least messy way to tie off the loose end.
“Commissioner?” a familiar voice growled beside them.
Barbara wheeled her chair through 90 degrees to face the Batman. Even showing as little of his face as he did though the mask, she could see his advanced age showing through. She wondered if his body really did still fill out the suit, or if it was a hollow facade. Bruce Wayne and Logan may have been the same age, but Logan’s mutation spared him from showing it physically – the gruffness of their manner on the other hand, betrayed both of them.
“Thank you for coming.” She began.

“What’s the situation?”
Logan rolled his eyes and let out a small laugh.

“Relax Bat… The world isn’t ending.”

“Logan please” Barbara chided “don’t make this hard.”
Logan slunk away and lit a cigar, only half interested in the conversation. 
“Sorry about him, that’s…” Barbara began.

“Wolverine.” Batman finished. “Mutant…” He added with a trace of venom in his voice. He saw Logan shoot a look back to them… “Why is he here?”

“I asked him to come. We need to talk to you.”
Batman walked over to floodlight and turned it off. “This isn’t a toy.”
“No, it’s a relic.” Logan cut back, “But it got you here, didn’t it?”

“What do you want Barbara?” 

“I need you to retire the Bat. Gotham doesn’t need it anymore.” Barbara stated, with a firmness that surprised her.

“Gotham will always need the Bat – it’s part of who this city is now.” Batman replied.
Logan shifted his stance subconsciously – this is exactly what he’d said would happen. 
“My father told me who you are before he died” Barbara continued, unconvinced. “Don’t you want to have that life again, free of the Batman?”

“Batman isn’t something I can get free of. It’s who I am.”

“Then what do you need the mask for?” Logan sniped.

“To protect the people I care about.”

“Well you’re doing a bang-up job of that…”
Three things happened simultaneously; Batman stepped forward, Logan showed his claws and Barbara Gordon pulled out her weapon and cocked it. 
“Stop it!” she shouted, her gun pointed at Batman, to his shock.

“Just stop it! This isn’t the way to deal with this. Not every problem requires someone to get into a fist fight to solve it… ”

She put away her gun and calmed a little.

“Bruce – it’s over. The Mayor wants to show the world that we’ve moved on. That the Police can handle the city without the threat of the Batman backing them up. Civil Liberties groups want you to stand trial for all the crimes you’ve committed as the Batman… Right now only the three of us know who you really are, and it can stay that way – all we have to do is say you never showed up, and you never leave the cave again. You go back to being Bruce Wayne, billionaire industrialist, and nobody will know… But if you refuse, we have to take you in. It’ll be Arkham – it’ll be a circus. It’ll be horrible.”
The silence between them allowed the sounds of the city to fill the spaces between the buildings once more.
“I can’t stop. Ever. If it’s not Bane and the Joker, it’s something else. The mob. Other people with powers. Now we have mutants…”

“Mutants aren’t a threat pal, we’re just defending ourselves.” Logan snarled.

“I can’t take that chance. This city needs to know I’m here. Defending it. Always.”

Barbara pleaded with him; “You can do so much good as Bruce Wayne…”

“I’m not going to Arkham. You can try to take me, but it’s going to take more than one man.”

“Bruce don’t be so stubborn – you know this can’t last forever. People need to see that nobody, not even the Batman, is above the law.”
Bruce turned slowly to look out over the city. Barbara could feel his shoulders drop – was he really considering giving it up? So easily? Perhaps his face wasn’t the only thing to have weathered over the years. Maybe his will-power was lacking these days as well.
“I’m not above the law.” he said “But you know as well as I do that sometimes the law isn’t enough. Sometimes the truth is that guilty people go free. Deals are made. Corruption undermines the system. And when that happens, that’s where I’ll be. You can argue the rights and wrongs, but we both know it’s necessary.”
With that, Bruce Wayne receded and the Batman lurched forward and threw himself from the building, extending his wings as he tumbled towards terminal velocity.
Barbara went to yell after him but thought better of it. Logan stood implacably beside her.
“Great. Now what?” he asked.

“Now you and your friends have to catch him…” Barbara replied.


A Thousand Locks Within a Maze

You will recognise the following, and if you don’t you will recognise it in another.  I, somewhat naively and being the ball of dyslexic hilariousness that I am, didn’t see this challenge coming when asked “if you were a comic book hero what would you cast yourself as.  Instead I answered immediately and truthfully; Spire.  She does not yet exist as a comic book or novel, born only of a handful of these challenges thus far by the ever-talented Matt Beames, but I have been drawn to her from the very start.  Out of respect for the yet-to-be-written world of Clockwork City I asked Matt if he would be willing to collaborate on a story and, thankfully, he accepted.  Know that the intricacies of this tale are his; I have merely borrowed his stunning imagination for a moment.


Spire crouched on the roof of her home in the Artists Quarter, the wind whipping at her coat and her cropped, white hair darting about her face.  She was aware she was dreaming in that strange way you sometimes do, largely because there was nothing clockwork about her; both her arm and her eye were her own.  Relishing in this, she set off, leaping between buildings, savouring the clink of tiles versus the soft thud of thatch beneath her feet, drawn for some reason towards the High District.

For even someone with a poor sense of direction, the High District is not hard to find.  As the name suggests, every building sat above the rest of Clockwork City, so regardless of whether you were in the Green District or Lowgrime Quarter you could always orientate yourself easily.  Spire never struggled with direction, probably because she had grown up on and above these streets so knew her way just as well over roofs as she did on the ground.

At the centre of the High District, and of the City itself, sat the Mayor’s Palace, its upper-most turret towering over the districts, a watchful eye.  From the ground this was all you could see of the buildings of the High District as all around it stood a high wall, itself taller than any building among the other districts.  From up here Spire could see smoke coming from the chimneys of the barracks of the City Guard and the higher levels of Steamgate Prison.  Despite how fast she ran, the towering turret of the Palace seemed to move further and further away until, exhausted, she collapsed, staring up at the changing sky.

She watched the clouds pass, something she rarely had time for now but in the early days of her recovery she would lay on the soft thatch of the craftsman’s roof and practice with her new eye, testing how sharply she could see the water droplets.  The familiar soft click and whirr of her eye began and she glanced down to see her arm had returned also.  Breathing steadily she sat up to find the roof beneath her had changed to scorched ground and before her lay a heavy wooden door.

Spire glanced about her cautiously but couldn’t shake this need to go through the door.  She bent down to inspect the lock, her eye twisting to focus on the mechanism inside.  Quite standard, easy enough.  She retrieved her tools and made light work of it, feeling the satisfying click, then gently grasped the handle and pulled it wide.  The door revealed a corridor.  Spire took a step inside and the door swung closed behind her.  No sooner had it slammed shut as the walls began to move, not shrinking the space as one might expect, but twisting around some axis, changing the route ahead of her.

She ran, desperate to ensure she wasn’t trapped in a dead end but now feeling the pull of something…something important at the heart of this maze.  Door after door, some wooden, some metal, each different to the last and no clearer as to whether it was the right path she was taking, and each time she got through a door the path twisted and changed.  Eventually she came to a fork in the path and she paused breathless.  “Which was the right path to take?” she thought, weighing up each direction before darting to the right.  This time she was presented with two doors, both of shining copper, apparently identical.
Spire stopped and sighed.  “So which one do I go through?” she said to herself, trying to see any sign of wear in the face of the door.
“That depends upon what it is you are seeking, Spire.”

Spire spun, leaping towards the doors and away from the voice that had appeared behind her, ready to attack if necessary.  Before her stood a tall man with hair as white as her own and the robes of the city elders, but he was certainly not an elder she had seen before.  He wasn’t old enough for a start.  The most perplexing thing of all was what she saw with her right eye.  She was used to seeing a slightly different picture with her mechanical eye, more detailed, clear images in the dark, that sort of thing, but this…  Where the man stood in the vision of her left eye, her right saw a swirling nebular of stars, like a galaxy suspended in the air.

“Where did you come from?” she demanded.  The galaxy gestured down the corridor she had just come from.  “I didn’t hear you.”  The man shrugged slightly and said nothing.  Spire had never seen a galaxy gesture or shrug before and was struggling to reconcile the two things she was seeing.  She ran it over in her mind, trying to find sense, before realising it was a dream so sense was not essential.  He had, however, said her name.

“You know me, it seems.  Who are you?”
“I have many names,” replied the galaxy rather matter-of-factly, “some of which might be familiar…  But simplicity can often be the best path.  I am Dream.”
“Dream?  Like in the story, ‘Kelis and the Dreaming King’?  I heard that once, long ago…”  The title conjured a feeling of sharp warmth; of love tainted with sadness.  She vaguely remembered it being one of the tales the watchmaker would tell her to get her to sleep, a tale she had not heard in a very long time.

“I am Dream.”
Spire pushed the memory away before looking to the galaxy again.  “And is that what this place is, then?  Just a dream?”
“Just?”  Dream repeated, an edge of exclamation in his otherwise measured tone.  “That is a dangerous enough word in the waking world, Spire.  It is even more so, here.”
Dream paused as if expecting a response but Spire waited, poised; if she had offended him she should be ready. After a moment Dream smiled.
“But you are right enough.  This place is the Maze of a Thousand Locks, and it is part of The Dreaming, which is my realm.”
“And what is in this maze?”
“What are you seeking?”
Spire thought a moment, her brow furrowing as she reached inside, “I don’t know.  I knew it was a dream.  I’ve been having it for a few nights.  I’m looking for something, or someone…  I don’t know what, but I know I can’t find it, and I have to…” Spire acknowledged this prickling fear in her chest, knowing that she had to keep going.  “If I don’t, everything with fall apart.  But every time I think I have moved forward, everything shifts and changes.”

She turned to look again at the doors.  “But I’ve not reached this place before.”   There must be something, some clue, a sign of which way was the right way.  Of why she had reached these doors today…  Why she had encountered Dream today.  “Do you know which door I should take?  Where each door goes?”
“I can answer the second question, Spire, but only you can answer the first.”

Spire deflated.  She had heard talk like that many times before.  “You sound like old Hedran.  He likes to speak in riddles too…”
Something that might have been a smile passed over Dream’s lips.
“One door will lead you home, to dreamless sleep and then waking.  The other door will lead you to the thing you seek.”

Spire looked up to Dream’s eyes for the first time.  It was a strange sensation fighting her mechanical eye and its swirling stars.  “And you can’t, or won’t tell me which door to take?”
The galaxy said nothing and Spire grinned, shaking her head.
“Just like Hedran,” she muttered.  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, attempting to calm the prickling of urgency in her chest.  If she wasn’t to be given the answers she would have to go with her gut.  She opened her eyes and, seeing Dream still watching her, nodded with clarity and determination.  “What does Kelis say to the Dreaming King…?  ‘Thank you, my lord, for the answers you have given.’”
The galaxy nodded and Spire turned to the door on the left.  She drew her picks from her belt and bent to the lock, working towards the firm click.  Spire rested her hand on the smooth handle before turning to Dream.
“Wish me luck,” she said, and Dream murmured his reply softly.
“Good luck.”

Spire pushed hard against the heavy door and this time through it saw a soft orange glow.  “I need to stop a minute,” she thought, “space to think.”  She shielded her eyes as she let go of the handle and let the door swing closed behind her.




Spire blinked, adjusting to the dark, and recognised the room instantly; a hideout she held in Lowgrime, a stone’s throw from the wall.  She lay on the floor shrouded in rough blankets.  She looked up and caught sight of Dream.
“You…?”  The galaxy nodded.  “But this is no longer a dream?”
“This is the world you know.  Is this your home?”
“This is just place I know…  A bolt hole, somewhere for emergencies.  Things are…  I wanted to be somewhere different, where I could think.”
Spire looked up at Dream again, finding it harder to reconcile the two images in her mind in this familiar space.  How is this possible?  What is this creature?
“I have not visited Clockwork City before, Spire.  Will you show it to me?”
She weighed her options a moment before conceding.  “The roof will give the best view.”
Spire stepped towards the window behind Dream, reluctantly reaching for the hand she wasn’t sure was even there.  As she did the galaxy gestured and Spire cried out in shock; they now stood seemingly on thin air, with the whole of Clockwork City laid out far below them.

Spire took in the city she knew so well from this very different angle before raising her eyes to meet Dream’s.  “This is still the dream.”
Dream shrugged back.  “I did not say it wasn’t.”
“You conniving…” Spire bit her tongue.  Dream or not she didn’t fancy falling from this height. “Why are you showing me this?”
“You chose wisely.  Now, look down.”
She did as she was told, turning her eyes downward, clutching more firmly to the hard of a galaxy at what she saw.

Below them Clockwork City lay, huge and sprawling; the canals and walls that separated the different quarters and districts giving it the appearance of a giant cog, with an inner and outer wheel divided by spokes into five sections…  But at the same time, impossible though it was, it was also the Maze of a Thousand Locks.  Even as they watched it began to move again, shifting and changing, each section rearranging within itself and within the whole.

“Your world is shifting and changing, Spire, even as you are trying to find your way through it.  The way is difficult; other people are seeking their own way, and their paths, like yours, cause events to happen…  There is never an easy path.  But there is always a right one.”
Spire couldn’t look away.  The city she knew so well shifted and moved and the path ahead seemed more daunting with each tick.
“But how am I supposed to find it?  In all of that, how do I find the right way?”
She looked up at Dream and a softness crossed his face.  He reached out and took her mechanical hand and stared intently into her eyes.
“Trust yourself, Spire.  Follow your heart, do what you know you must.  The right way is the one we truly believe in.”
As he spoke both his face and his galaxy-self began to fade.

Spire blinked awake, pulling the blankets away and sitting up to look about her.  The loft was as she left it, but the morning felt very different from any before it.

The Maze of a Thousand Locks

The castle stood at the top of a mountain, balanced impossibly upon the very peak. It curved upward and outward on all sides, intricate and beautiful with towering spires, twisting walkways all shaped out of pale green stone. It was the kind of structure an architect could only dream of, which was precisely how the castle had come into being; seeking a new shape for his home, the King of Dreams had plucked this one from the mind of a man who slumbered at his workdesk in Venice in February of 1592.

There was a small balcony halfway up the tallest of the castle’s towers, and Dream stood with one hand resting lightly on the balustrade looking out over the Dreaming. A light breeze tugged at his white hair as he stared at a strange shimmering and twinkling just visible on the horizon. It was the Maze of a Thousand Locks, a part of the Dreaming since the beginning of everything… But for the last few days something had changed. Something new had occurred. Now, the maze was moving.

He gazed thoughtfully at the strange lightplay for moment longer and then took a step forward. It was a single step, but this was his own domain; Dream now stood upon nothing, high above the Maze of a Thousand Locks. It was vast, laid out in a pattern of rings and circles, like the inner workings of a pocket watch. Different sections of the maze were connected by thick metal doors, and on each door was a complicated lock. As he looked down he saw a small figure moving through the maze, pausing a moment at each doorway but always moving forward. Her movements were swift, urgent… She ran through the maze, clearly seeking something. The different sections shifted and moved, turning and twisting even as the figure made her way forward.

Another step, and Dream stood in a corridor of the maze just before a grey metal door. He heard the faintest whisper of footsteps, and the figure he had seen from above turned the corner and moved swiftly and almost silently toward the door. She wore dark clothes, browns and blacks, with a hood pulled forward so that her face was mainly shadow. A lock of white hair had escaped, however, and even as Dream watched the figure tucked it back beneath her hood. Seeing her, Dream knew her; this was, after all, his own domain.

She paused before the door and bent quickly to the lock. Her movements were economic, controlled, but he saw the tension in her frame. In moments the lock clicked, and the woman pulled the door open and leapt through. She ran swiftly but silently down the corridor and came to a fork. She paused, looking each way for a moment, before setting off down the right hand corridor. Dream followed her unnoticed through another door and down another blank corridor. This too ended in a fork, but a short way down each new hall was a door. Both were shining copper, and appeared to be identical. The woman stopped at the fork, and sighed.
“So which one do I go through?” Her voice was barely a murmur, the question for herself alone. But Dream felt an impulse to give her an answer of sorts. He stepped forward and spoke quietly.
“That depends upon what it is you are seeking, Spire.”

The woman moved quickly, spinning to face him and at the same time leaping back to give herself room. Her eyes were wide with shock, her hands clenched. The right one glinted with bronze and copper, and Dream looked with curiosity at her strange mechanical arm. Then his gaze travelled to her equally strange eye which, along with its more normal counterpart, was regarding him with suspicion and confusion. She shook her head and blinked, staring intently at him again, as though trying to understand what she was looking at.
“Where did you come from?” Dream gestured with his hand at the corridor they had both walked down. “I didn’t hear you.” Dream shrugged slightly and said nothing. The strange woman frowned at him for a moment longer, and then relaxed slightly, her hands unclenching. She straightened, rolling her right shoulder as though it ached. “You know me, it seems. Who are you?”

“I have many names, some of which might be familiar… But simplicity can often be the best path. I am Dream.”
“Dream? Like in the story, ‘Kelis and the Dreaming King’? I heard that once, long ago…” Her voice trailed off, a cloud passing across her face. Dream spoke again.
“I am Dream.”
The woman, Spire, frowned then, and after a moment nodded to herself.
“And is that what this place is, then? Just a dream?”
“‘Just’? That is a dangerous enough word in the waking world, Spire. It is even more so, here.” Dream paused, but Spire did not speak. He smiled slightly before continuing. “But you are right enough. This place is the Maze of a Thousand Locks, and it is part of The Dreaming, which is my realm.”
“And what is in this maze?”
“What are you seeking?”
Spire frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “I knew it was a dream. I’ve been having it for a few nights. I’m looking for something, or someone… I don’t know what, but I know I can’t find it, and I have to… If I don’t, everything will fall apart. But every time I think I have moved forward, everything shifts and changes.”

Dream said nothing, and she turned to stare at the copper doors, one after the other.
“But I’ve not reached this place before. Do you know which door I should take? Where each door goes?”
“I can answer the second question, Spire, but only you can answer the first.”
“You sound like old Hedran,” Spire said with a grimace. “He likes to speak in riddles too…”
A faint shadow that might have been a smile passed over Dream’s lips.
“One door will lead you home, to dreamless sleep and then waking. The other door will lead you to the thing you seek.”

Spire met Dream’s gaze and held it, though it was clearly a struggle to do so.
“And you can’t, or won’t tell me which door to take?”
Dream said nothing, and Spire grinned ruefully.
“Just like Hedran,” she muttered, and sighed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As she opened them she let the breath out, nodding to Dream.
“What does Kelis say to the Dreaming King…? ‘Thank you, my lord, for the answers you have given.’”
Dream nodded in return, and Spire moved toward the door on the left. She drew a set of picks from her belt and bent to the lock. In a few moments it clicked, and she reached for the handle. It was brown in colour, smoothed and polished by years, and seemed to be carved from horn. As her hand touched it, Spire turned to Dream.
“Wish me luck,” she said, and Dream murmured the words softly.
“Good luck.”

Spire nodded, and pushed the copper door with the horn handle open. All that Dream could make out beyond the door was a soft orange glow. As she stepped through Spire began to fade, and in moments she had disappeared. The door swung shut and the lock clicked into place. Dream stood staring at the door, listening to the sounds of the maze slowly coming once again to stillness. He nodded once, and stepped forward. It was a small step once again, but he was the King of Dreams; as his foot came down he was no longer in the maze.


He stood in a dark loftspace, rafters sloping up to a point above his head, a rough boarded floor beneath his feet. Boxes and chest were piled high and covered with dustsheets, but they were curved about an open, circular space. In the centre of the space a small wooden chest sat beside a copper plate that held the stubs of three candles, faint trickles of smoke rising from their wicks. Next to the chest was a nest of blankets rumpled from use, and on top of these crouched Spire, her face confused. Her eyes were wide, and her strange mechanical eye glinted blue in the darkness.

“You…?” Dream nodded. “But this is no longer a dream?”
“This is the world you know. Is this your home?”
Spire shook her head and a lock of white hair fell across her eyes.
“This is just a place I know… A bolt hole, somewhere for emergencies. Things are… I wanted to be somewhere different, where I could think.”
Dream nodded, and Spire straightened, relaxing once more. She looked up at Dream and again he saw the confusion in her eyes, as though she were trying to process two images at once. Again the shadow of a smile crossed his lips, and Dream held his pale, thin hand out to her. She looked at it and then back at him, questioningly.
“I have not visited Clockwork City before, Spire. Will you show it to me?”
After a moment she nodded. “The roof will give the best view.” She began to move past him, almost reluctantly taking his hand in hers. As she did so the King of Dreams gestured, and Spire cried out in shock. They now stood seemingly on thin air, with the whole of Clockwork City laid out far below them.

Dream was impressed by this strange young woman; there was shock and surprise in her face, confusion even, but little fear. She looked down at the city below her, and then raised her eyes to his.
“This is still the dream,” she said accusingly, and Dream shrugged.
“I did not say it wasn’t.”
“You conniving… Why are you showing me this?”
“You chose wisely. Now, look down.”
She did so, and he felt her tensing as she saw the truth.

Below them Clockwork City lay, huge and sprawling; the canals and walls that separated the different quarters and districts giving it the appearance of a giant cog, with an inner and outer wheel divided by spokes into five sections… But at the same time, impossible though it was, it was also the Maze of a Thousand Locks. Even as they watched it began to move again, shifting and changing, each section rearranging within itself and within the whole.

As he watched the brave young woman staring intently down at the city-maze, Dream spoke quietly.
“Your world is shifting and changing, Spire, even as you are trying to find your way through it. The way is difficult; other people are seeking their own way, and their paths, like yours, cause events to happen… There is never an easy path. But there is always a right one.”
“But how am I supposed to find it? In all of that, how do I find the right way?”
Spire looked at Dream, and for the first time fear truly showed in her eyes. Slowly he took her other hand. His pale white fingers closed about the strange, beautiful mechanism, and he look at her intently.

“Trust yourself, Spire. Follow your heart, do what you know you must. The right way is the one we truly believe in.”
Even as he spoke, she began to fade again, and in moments she was gone. Truly gone this time, out of the Dreaming and into the waking world. Dream stood in the darkness above the Maze of a Thousand Locks for a long moment, and then took a single step back to his balcony at the top of the impossible castle. He looked out over his domain, wondering why he had been so compelled to speak to the woman, and wondering also if he had helped her at all…


A short time later Dream left the balcony and walked slowly through his new home, familiarising himself with its shape, seeking out the library. There was a book on its shelves he was most curious to read…

The character of Dream and the location The Dreaming are created by Neil Gaiman and owned by DC Comics. They’re not mine, I just hope I’ve done them justice.
The character of Spire and her home Clockwork City are my own creations and therefore © Matt Beames.

Joe Dredd: Off Duty Judge

In the third millennium, the world… changed. Climate. Nations. Borders. All were in upheaval. Humanity itself turned as violent as the planet. Civilization threatened to collapse. And then… a solution was found. The crumbling, teetering legal system was merged with the overburdened police, creating a powerful and efficient hybrid. Trained equally in jurisprudence and combat, these new guardians of Society could dispense both justice and punishment. They were police, jury and executioner, all in one. They were… The Judges.

Judge Joseph Dredd, the most infamous of all the Judges in Mega-City One kicked his Lawmaster into gear and rolled it slowly down the street away from the pile of rapidly cooling corpses. He’d call it in but in this neighborhood the bodies would be gone by the time the clean-up crew arrived. That was why the Slo-mo drug cartel had been able to survive for as long as it did; in a city made up of bad neighborhoods this was the one that parents warned their children about. Not that Dredd worried himself with such trivialities, he was the law and the law had no borders, no fear and no remorse.

As he cruised down the street his dark mood deepened; the city was dying, and everyone knew it. The humane thing would be to put it down, move on and start again but there was little humanity left in the world nowadays. Mega-City One once the shining beacon of progress and culture was now a crumbling edifice of a forgotten age. Ancient sky scrapers leaned drunkenly, spewing black smoke from their shattered windows, trash was piled up in the broken streets and everywhere he looked bright gang tags covered the crumbling walls.  He rounded a corner and filth covered beggars, brightly tattooed gang-bangers and even a few honest looking citizens scattered for cover. As always he drove in a bubble of calm in a city of chaos.

It had a been a long week but even Judges were allowed time off now and then and for the next 48 hours Dredd was free and clear. He kicked his Lawmaster into high gear and sped down the freeway heading for home, a shower and a change of clothes.


Dressed in his civies Joe felt like a completely different person. On the street people hawked their counterfeit holo-discs, offered him small packets of white powder or flashed him a leg and the promise of an unforgettable night. He felt his hand reaching to where his gun should be and clenched his fist with a grimace. ‘That way madness lies Joe,’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Remember Judge Sterling.’ He could still see the madness in his eyes as he’d rampaged in the streets blasting men woman and children; and the relief that replaced it when Dredd had put him down. If you tried to be a judge 24/7 you ended up answering to one. Dredd ground his teeth lowered his head and pushed through the crowd, he was only a block away then he could finally relax.

The door opened with a soft click and Joe was instantly assaulted by a miasma of sweat, fear and desperation. Eyes darted nervously in his direction then away again before he could make eye contact; a couple of the more skittish patrons darted behind the high wooden bookcases at the back. Joe kept his face neutral and tried to blend in with limited success; there’s only so submissive a six-four, 240 pound off-duty Judge could look. He wandered down an aisle fingering the thin plastic sleeves, eyes roving the merchandise for something to take his mind off the terrible scenes of the day, but nothing caught his eye until he rounded the corner and saw her.

She was maybe five-seven, slim but strong like a gymnast with fiery red hair and piercing eyes. She ran her delicate fingers over one of the cellophane wrapped packages and smiled to herself; Joe felt his mouth flop open, she was perfect. She looked up and Joe darted his eyes away, grabbed the nearest package and pretended to study it closely. He waited for his heart o climb back down into his chest then after two long calming breaths peeked around the edge of the package and came face to face with the beautiful girl who was stood only inches away from him her head cocked and that smile on her face.

“Jezz!” cursed Joe jumping his face turning bright pink; the girl giggled and Joe felt his face flush a deeper red. She reached out and took the package from his unresisting grasp.

“2000 AD Prog 2009, The Cannibal Run. I remember this issue, it was a good one.” She turned the comic over in her hands then froze. “Wait a minute, you’re..” She held it up to his face. “You’re THE Judge Dredd.”

Joe turned a deeper shade of red; he felt faint as every ounce of his blood was pumped to his face. “Umm…”

“It IS you!”

“Ah, Umm… Well…”

“What are you doing reading your own comics you’re not…” she looked around then leaned in conspiratorially. “one of them are you?”

“One of them?” asked Joe finally remembering that he spoke English.

“You know, like him…”


As if on queue the door burst open and in stepped… “Batman?”

“I’m Batman,” growled Batman striding into the store in full bat-getup his cape swirling in the gust from the closing door. “Where’s my latest issue? I need to see what the caped crusader has been up to.”

The girl leaned in close to Joe as Batman strutted around the  foyer of the shop like he owned the place. “He comes in this time every week, he only buys his own comic he is super vain.”

“Ha Ha there it is,” said Batman as a nervous fanboy tentatively offered him the comic he was holding. “Oh I remember this, it was a good day a good day.” He tucked the comic in what appeared to be a specifically designed comic book holder in his utility belt. “Right now who wants autographs? Only 10 bucks a pop.”

“Ugh he’s such a shill,” moaned the girl. “I mean you don’t see us, I mean them, offering autographs.”

“Them?” asked Joe trying to regain some composure.

The girl threw her thumb over her shoulder. “That crowd trying to be inconspicuous at the back there.”

Joe squinted. “Wait isn’t that?”

“Wolverine, Hellboy, Morpheus, Dark Pheonix and yep I think that’s Spire, all in disguise of course they’re not dicks…”

“Spire from those Novel Dreamers short stories?” said Joe.

“Yeah, I didn’t think a big shot like that would hang out with them either but he seems like he’s a pretty cool dude.”

“Wait, how do you know all these guys?” asked Joe.

“What do you mean?”

“Well they’re all famous, but they’re in disguise who are you?”

“I’m nobody,” she said backing off slightly. “Just a comic nerd, anyone worth their salt would recognize you lot.”

Joe squinted at the girl. She took another step back and he swore her eyes flashed yellow for a second. “You sure?” he replied. “You seem awfully familiar…”

Joe leaned in closer, ‘I swear I know her from somewhere,’ he thought to himself. He felt her name dancing on the tip of his tongue. “You look just like, like…”

He was cut off as the door burst open and “Wild” Bill Carmody and the rest of the Badlands Gang burst in.

“Everyone put your hands in the air and nobody gets hurt,” said the criminal mastermind. “I’m just here for the Amiibo figures, once I have those we can all get on with our lives; but if any of you try to be a hero…” he pointed his gun at the crowd and pretended to shoot. “Bang! I’ll blow you’re head clean off your shoulders. We don’t have any hero’s here now do we?” To Joe’s amazement the crowd, including a now quite bashful Batman held their arms straight up in the air and shook their heads.

“Seriously,” whispered Joe. “Batman is just going to bend over and take it?”

“Shhh!” hissed the girl. “You want him to notice us? You heard him once he has those Amiibo’s we can all go.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Joe incredulously.”I mean…”

“Ho, Ho, Ho what do we have here?” said Bill approaching the pair. “A hero in the making eh?” He tapped his pistol against Joe’s face.

“More of an anti-hero actually,” replied Joe.

“I don’t think you understand the dynamic here pal,” said Bill. “You see I have this gun, which means you do exactly as I say or I’ll stick it where the sun don’t shine and pull the trigger ’til it goes click.”

Joe sighed. “The next thing you touch me with you won’t be taking home with you.”

Bill spat, pulled off his leather glove, licked his finger and wiped it down Joe’s cheek.

“Not. Smart,” said Joe. Before Bill could react he snapped out a hand grabbed Bill by the finger and snapped sending the villain to his knees.

“Get this fuck,”roared Bill in agony.

The gang burst into action automatic rifles coming up sending brass flying and everyone skittering for cover; everyone that is aside fro Joe Dredd who simply spun Bill around pulled his pistol from his ruined hand and returned fire.

“Attempted Murder,”said Joe aiming and firing in one smooth movement; the two closest gang-bangers went down, double tapped to the head.

“The punishment is death.” Joe ducked behind a shelf of vinyl figurines that shattered into a thousand pieces in hail of hot lead pushing Bill to the floor. “Associating with a forbidden criminal enterprise,” said Joe popping up and taking bead again. “Death.” He pulled the trigger and two more hapless henchman were down.

The remaining members of the Badlands Gang shrank back eyes darting from side to side.

“Anyone who leaves now gets a stay of execution,” called Joe. The crew looked at each other and as one sprinted for the exit.

Joe got to his feet and wiped bits of figurine from his hair. “Now where was I?”

“You were about to die law man,” spat Bill pointing his backup pistol right between Joe’s eyes.

“You know I’m off duty,” said Joe keeping his gun pointed away from Bill. “If you leave now, I promise I won’t follow you.”

“Good try Dredd,” spat Bill. “But this is where your story ends.” Joe’s mind raced as Bill gave him an apologetic shrug then tightened his finger on the trigger. Joe closed his eyes and waited for the end to come. After a couple of seconds he opened his eye a crack to see Bill sprawled on the floor a beautiful blue woman stood on his back twisting his arm at an alarming angle.

“No dying until you’ve taken me for a drink, agreed?” said Mystique.

“Fine but you’re buying,” replied Joe.

“You want me to let him go?”

Joe looked down and put two bullets between Bill’s narrow eyes. “Do what you want now, I don’t think he’ll be causing trouble any more.”

Mystique let go of the dead man’s arm and blurred back into the beautiful girl he’s been speaking to before Bill had burst on the scene. “Well shall we?” she asked holding out an arm.

“Let’s,” replied Joe taking her by the arm and leading her through the rubble out of the shop.

The shop sat in a stunned silence as they left then Batman poked his head over the counter. “You can come out now people,” he called standing tall. “it’s safe all of the bad guys have been subdued, you can thank me later; now who wants an autograph?”

Novel Dreamers, ASSEMBLE!

Puns, guns and caffeine overdoses. This is what I promise from this month’s assignments!

Welcome back to Novel Dreamers and the March Challenge. For those of you who are waiting patiently, STOP WAITING AND GO VOTE! For those of you who have voted already, allow me to steal your attention for a further moment.

March’s challenge involves Superheroes. Each of the writers were asked who they would cast themselves as if they were a graphic novel protagonist/antagonist and we got a list of beauties for you.

Leanne Pearce as Dark Phoenix
Hannah Torrance as Spire (See From the Rooftops and A Quiet Drink by Matt Beames)
Picto as Judge Dredd
Paul Rogers as Wolverine
Kirsty Mealing as Mystique
Richard Leverton as Batman
Matt Beames as Morpheus/Dream (yanno the one, Gaiman did it!)

Not only do they now have to write a piece for their chosen heroes BUT they also have to involve another hero in the piece as well. It can be as the villain, the sidekick, it could merely be the two meeting for tea! This has led to me looking at the list and awarding Hannah Torrance 3 bonus points for a sheer ballsy move! Bad enough to write fan fiction for a hero but there’s more info on all the characters chosen but hers…

With this being said, I had to offer my own hero and I already have a fan fiction piece I want to write because of this challenge now but that shall have to wait! I took on Hellboy and decided to take a leaf from Mrs Torrance’s book to challenge Spire. This example piece is brief and open ended as to not affect anything that should come from the Spire works later!

Finally – before we step into the example piece – I want to talk about word count. The last few months have offered the writers 1500 words max to write on the given subject. From this point on, the writers have no defined word count and must choose what they personally feel fits the piece. They are more than welcome to continue the writing challenge of 1500 words but this is a further movement of what I wanted to do with ND and as such, you have picked up your tool kit over the past 4 months, it’s time to start playing with it. HOWEVER! This does not mean you are allowed to go wild, this is a questioning of the editing of your work now; not an excuse to just hand in whatever!

And now, the example piece….

A Brief Waltz

The wind blew back his trench coat, revealing the long tail that protruded from the base of his spine. He stood at seven-foot-tall, dwarfing any of the Fourth Watch that had approached him that same day. It had felt like millennia had passed since the fight with Dr Carp’s experiment – a chimpanzee that had been injected with his blood – and the painful throwing back in time to 1902. Somehow, the story had not followed the path it was intended to and now he found himself walking down a dark cobbled street in a city he knew nothing about.

He had awoken face down in a pool of his own blood, causing lilies to sprout around his unconscious body. It still baffled him that this happened but had been privy to this knowledge since a long mission in which he was tasked to slay the Saint Leonard worm. Had it been the first time this had happened since his fight with Dr Carp, he would be as dazed and confused as he was in the first realm. After each fight he had been flung backwards into yet another time vortex and found himself horns first in the dirt a few hours later in a new place.

The first fight had been somewhat boring to him. He found himself in what he thought was a part of New York with the lights out but turned out to be a place called Gotham. He had been hounded by a grizzled man in a latex suit and was only until finally throwing him into a vat at Ace Chemicals that he was pulled once more into the vortex. He fought a police officer accused of going rogue, a lady who could change form in the blink of an eye, a man who grew claws of metal from his knuckles – a bloody hard fight, even snapped Excalibur – and most recently a red haired vixen with telekinetic and bloodthirsty powers.

During the fights he had started to realise that each of these coincided with the Christian belief of Seven Sins. He had thought Dredd and his sense of pride, Logan had been all but wrath and if Ms Grey was to be seen in a more approachable light…

He coughed and afforded himself what could be called a blush if it were not for his red skin. Hellboy may have been ridiculously old, but his mind was still 15 and a fiery redhead is a fiery redhead. Bringing his mind back to the task at hand, he had two entities left; Gluttony and Sloth.

“Obviously sloth will be last,” he said to himself through a mouth holding the end of a cigar. He had already worked out that Gluttony was the theme of this target. He had spent time lurking around the backstreets of the Lowgrime Quarter, where he happened to stumble upon a tavern housing a rather slant old man. He reminded Red of a reincarnated cadaver he had once had to transport on his back during a mission to take down Rasputin reborn. The man had given the name Cagey and told Red that if he wanted to know about the gluttony of this city, he should find himself a perch on the rooftops of the Merchants Guild that very night.

The autumn wind bit with winter’s teeth as it blew across the rooftops of Clockwork City, underneath a bright, full moon. The wind curled about the chimney stacks and blew across the skyline helping him to pinpoint his target in between the shadows below him. She dexterously broke into and back out of an office and appeared to be muttering about a forced food shortage in the Artist Quarter. Heading off in an eastern direction, Hellboy followed her from above until eventually he had lost sight of her altogether and stopped to gather his thoughts. He was musing to himself that this was the second time a clockwork city had caused his cultural demise when he was blindsided by what felt like a sledgehammer to the side of his face; however, as the weapon passed his face, he noticed it was actually a slight, thin arm attached to a small leather gloved fist.

“Why are you following me?” The voice was calm but commanding, low but feminine. He spun to catch a blur of motion as a boot flew up to follow the fist, though he had a few tricks up his sleeve himself. His tale swooped up and caught the ankle, lifting the girl into the air. Several trinkets fell from her belt and locks of pale white hair fell from underneath the hood.

“Rats, girl! What’s in that glove of yours?”

“Trade secret. Want to put me down you great beast?”

“After you take a swing for me? Oh no, we got to chat about why you slug a guy in the head before taking him to dinner. Now what’s your name?”

“Put. Me. Down.”

“What a charming name. I love old money names! Let’s try again…”

He jolted her with his tail, which she took as her moment to kick out and cartwheel to one side before throwing another punch. The noise of metal on stone rung out across the square, which Hellboy hated because to the reader this would have been a great moment for film when the camera zooms out to show that he had just caught the girls fist with his right hand; The Right Hand of Doom. He squeezed and she shrank before him, sinking to her knees.

“Name?!” He growled.


“Good! Where are we?”

“Clockwork City. It’s an industrial hub just north of the Kingdom’s border. Well I say Kingdom…”

“Enough with the smarts girl! My head is spinning from the first punch.”

“It’s hardly a kingdom without a king now, is it?”

He had let down his guard, thinking she had finally started to play ball and that was his down fall. She winked at him and swept his legs from under him. As she did so the sleeve on her coat slipped to reveal the arm that had caused such mischief. It was metallic, steampunk and – to Hellboy – frickin’ awesome! He landed onto his back and followed the momentum into a backwards roll, grasping the Samaritan from its holster and took aim. She was just as quick; within seconds she had pirouetted and released a clip on her right arm causing a small hand pistol to fling out mechanically into her palm.

“Now here’s the question, monkey man. Is your hand faster than my mechanical arm?”

They had no time to find out. A vortex opened, sucking them both in and they landed on their backs on the same street they had just been fighting on. It felt like their backs, but it also felt like they were standing; it felt like they were on the street but also were just a representation of themselves and they couldn’t move. They didn’t know they were now trapped in a volume of Hellboy that never existed. Sloth was the lord of all that did not exist.

Morpheus closed the thought off in his mind. Hellboy couldn’t win a fight against one of the Endless. There was no trusting a demon, regardless of how pure…