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The Joker on the cover of Batman: The Man Who Laughs.
Art by Doug Mahnke

Episode Two

The tense silence began to grate on the Joker’s nerves. His manic smile immediately fell into a chagrin scowl, the deep smile lines around his mouth looking almost pained as they were forced to follow the shape his face was not accustomed to forming. The lemmings just sat there! They stared and stared, paralyzed into their seats like the deer in the headlights that they were. Not that he blamed them. He often enjoyed being such a show-stopper. But he had asked them a simple question and he expected an answer!

Straightening, the Joker made a dignified gesture of tugging on the lapels of his purple coat before signaling to Harley Quinn, his most trusted and loyal hench-wench. Without hesitation his dolled-up bringer of death reached into her duffel bag and revealed an Uzi to his audience. As he expected it inspired an immediate response.

Many of them dove to the floor or under the tables as Harley Quinn unleashed a short barrage of gunfire into the crowd. She didn’t hit anyone, and hadn’t been planning to. The machine gun tore apart plaster and glass far above their heads, but it wasn’t long before the lemmings were begging for their lives and screaming that they were in fact doctors.

The Joker broke into a fit of laughter, louder than even the screams of panic he had caused. “Well, of course you are!” he exclaimed, as if nothing were wrong. “We came here for medical attention, you see. We’re two very sick clowns in need of professional help!” He glanced over at his companion who batted her eyelashes lovingly at him. “Harley… care to do the honors?”

“You got it, Puddin’!” she enthusiastically squeaked. Harley Quinn then bounced forward, aiming her Uzi at the cringing spectators. “Ya heard Mistah J!” she shouted in her helium-filled Brooklyn accent. “I want all the shrinks to one side of the room! Everyone else can go jump offa bridge!”

As the room erupted into desperate action, Hannibal Lecter remained seated, his intrigue honestly piqued by the turn of events. Around him he calmly watched the restaurant employees escape through the kitchen and back doors of the establishment. Most of the customers followed, while a good third of the restaurant’s paying occupants huddled to the side of the room where Lecter sat, presumably the psychiatrists Miss Quinn had asked for.

How delightfully ironic, he thought to himself as he quietly watched his would be colleagues gather. Including himself there were only about half a dozen of them, and he could see in their fearful stares that they had an idea of what was coming next. The Joker was particularly notorious for breaking the doctors who examined him at Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. There were many who had sought out the Joker as a patient for the potential glory that came with finally diagnosing him, a glory Hannibal was never interested in.

The Joker approached the group with his own firearm, an elegant looking handgun with a long barrel. He simply stood there laughing to himself for minutes straight while Harley Quinn began her work of barricading the front door and windows with the tables she overturned. She did the same with the back ones, disappearing for some moments into the kitchen before returning.

“Thank you all so much for staying,” the Joker said once he was through with his giggles. He paced slowly back and forth across them, keeping his gun relaxed but still pointed at his hostages. Behind him Harley dragged the largest circular table into the middle of the room and began filling it with as many chairs as there were people in the room.

“You see, the main squeeze and I have this little predicament,” the Joker explained. “Here we are, two aspiring psychopaths climbing the career ladder of crime. We have a lot going for us, including a humble little abode over in Gotham, complete with a solid roof over our heads, three meals a day, good medical care, and best of all, those comfortable straight jackets and shock therapy! HA! We were living the dream, Harley and I, until our quack landlords went ahead and declared the both of us sane!”

The Joker cackled, almost falling backwards from his own mirth. “Sane!? Do you believe it!? What is this world coming to when a homicidal maniac is turned down by his local insane asylum? HAHAHAHAAHAAAAAA!!!”

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The laughter was almost deafening. Lecter frowned to himself as he quietly finished his wine, the Joker’s laugh beginning to offend his tastes. More so, he was offended more by the incompetence of the doctors at Arkham. He would have expected old Jeremiah to have more resolution than that. Clearly they decided to declare the Joker sane in order to transfer him out of the asylum and into a real prison, to be processed like Gotham City’s other criminals.

When the table was ready, the Joker pulled out the first chair and sat, reaching into his coat pocket as he did so. He dropped a deck of playing cards on the table’s surface, as well as the fedora he removed from his head, revealing full head of bright green hair. Harley Quinn began to herd the small group to the table with her Uzi, directing them to their chairs. Hannibal followed them and chose a seat opposite of Joker, but not directly so.

“You see,” Joker explained. “We need one of you fine folks to help us out, but I’m not comfortable confiding in just any stranger. I need to get to know you first, see which one of you is trustworthy enough to hear about my traumatic childhood…” He made an attempt to look sorrowful before laughing maniacally again, Harley having to catch the back of his chair before he could fall with it.

The Joker began to deal the cards. Hannibal went along with the first hand of the poker game, feeling the distaste in his mouth from having to play a game so unsuited to his intellectual tastes. Knowing enough about the game, he knew better than to play the hand he was dealt and decided to fold. As he did a gunshot rang out, causing the others to scream.


The psychiatrist seated to the right of Hannibal, the only one who decided to check Joker’s call, fell back from the shot to his forehead. His limp fingers dropped the two pairs he had been holding, while Joker pushed his own full house into the middle of the table.

Hannibal Lecter leaned back in his seat, his blue eyes bright with the plan forming in his mind. The first step was to simply wait for his peers to be eliminated by Joker’s mad method of choosing a doctor to evaluate him.

Lecter, however, had no intention to evaluate his sanity.

To be continued…