When Max found out that Terry, of all people, was Batman—seriously, Dana's perennially late boyfriend?—she thought it was kind of weird. And, okay, yeah, kind of schway, too, but strictly in a "it's good someone else is doing it" kind of way. Information support was one thing, going out in a weird suit and spending your nights flying around Gotham waiting for someone to attack you was quite another. And being the plucky-sidekick-comic relief was not on her agenda. Period. She wasn't kidding when she told Terry she'd never be Robin, and once she figured out who Alfred had been, she figured that was out of the question, too. (Seriously. Butler? Who did Terry think he was? No way in hell Max was going to pick up after him and cook and stuff.)
Then she figured out something that should have been obvious, which was that suit or not, sitting at home like some twentieth-century Sweet Young Thing waiting for her man was just not going to happen. Particularly since it wasn't even her man. Max was not some fainting flower of womanhood, she'd been taking care of herself for a long time now, and if there was ass to be kicked and a friend in danger, she was going to be out doing something about it.
But she was still not going to be Robin.
Still, there was that female batsuit in the case; Max could tell from the colors that it wasn't a Robin. She didn't want to be an imitation any more than she wanted to be a sidekick, but if there already had been a Batwoman and she'd earned a place in the case, then maybe Max could be an homage. A successor.
It took more poking around to find out who Batgirl had been (and why Batgirl when it was Batman? Max was so changing that) than it had to find out that Terry was Batman. Which Max thought proved that Batgirl was cooler than Batman, or at least smarter and better at covering her tracks. Knowing that Terry had Commissioner Gordon's ear kind of gave her an advantage this time around, but it hadn't helped much.
Finding an excuse to talk to the former Batgirl was harder. She tried waltzing in like Terry did, but Terry had clearance Max didn't. She tried calling her at home, but Gordon apparently screened her calls even more thoroughly than the secretary at work did. Finally, Max faked a request for a meeting from Terry.
She arrived early at the park she'd selected and sat down at a bench with a good view of the major paths so she'd see Commissioner Gordon before Gordon saw her. There wasn't anyone else around.
"You know, if you're going to fake messages from people and send them to the police commissioner, you need to learn to do a better job."
Max jumped at the voice from over her shoulder. "How did you know?" She turned, to find the commissioner standing behind her, hands in her pockets, shades covering half her face.
"Call it a hunch," Gordon said. "Backed up by some of the best voice-analysis software on the market." That there was better voice-analysis software not on the market (some of it underneath Wayne Manor) went unspoken.
"So, why did you want to meet?" Gordon said, prompting her.
"Why Batgirl?" Max blurted out, cringing as she said it, because this was not how she'd planned the conversation. "I mean, as opposed to Batwoman or your own name, or something."
"I was young when I started," Gordon said, coming around the bench and taking a seat next to her. "Bruce was ten years older than I was. Compared to him, I was a girl. And he was one of the first true superheroes, and the impression he made on Gotham when he first showed up—it wasn't hero worship at the time I took the name, but I wanted to trade on the legend that surrounded him even when he was just getting started." She shrugged. "Besides, it's slightly easier and quicker to say, which in a fight can make a difference."
"It's only an extra syllable," Max objected. "Half a second to say, tops."
"Sometimes half a second makes all the difference in the world," Gordon said, and though her voice and body stayed at ease, there was something in her eyes … Max shook herself.
"Okay. But what made you go out in the first place? And how did you learn how?"
"Why?" Gordon raised an eyebrow. "You thinking of taking over my mantle?"
"Maybe," Max said, tilting her head and looking sideways at the older woman, trying to stay confident like always. It was the first time she'd said it aloud.
"It's not fun and games, kid," Gordon said. "It's serious business. People die. Or worse. Even if you do everything right, you can't do everything. And it changes you, even if you survive. Some of the changes … aren't pretty."
"I know," Max said impatiently. "I've seen what Terry goes through. It's not kid stuff, it's serious."
"Exactly. You shouldn't have to deal with it; you should have time to be a kid." Gordon shook her head. "I know you feel like an adult, but you're not. Take it from me, adulthood isn't something you want to rush into. Particularly not out of some hero-worship that'll get you killed."
Max stared at her, incredulous. "Has it somehow escaped your notice that like half of the stuff Terry has to deal with as Batman relate somehow to stuff that's going on at school? Jokerz or kids taking slappers or stealing giant robots or buying android girlfriends or …. I mean, I always knew Hamilton Hill was one of the worst schools in Gotham, but I had no idea how bad it was until I started paying attention to all the things that get bad enough to need Batman. I'm not doing this out of hero-worship. Really, Bruce is kind of a jerk and Terry's … Terry. Why do I want to do this? They always tell you in self-defense lessons in gym class that when someone's attacking you, the safest thing to do in the long run is to resist, to fight back in whatever way you can. That's what I want to do."
Gordon shook her head. "There's a difference between fighting back and actively looking for trouble, Max."
"But I'm right about Hamilton Hill being practically a war zone," Max said. "Look, there are a lot of creeps out there, and I'm not going to sit on my ass fretting while they take over Gotham. I've got to live here, too, y'know? You do good work with the police."
Gordon nodded and opened her mouth.
"But it's not enough," Max went on before she could say anything. "I don't know what it is about some cities that makes them need a superhero. Gotham needs Batman; even in the couple of years since Terry's took up the mantle, he's made a difference to Gotham. I think I could make a difference, too. Not everyone can do this, but I think I can. I'd like your blessing, and your advice." Max held her breath, waiting for Gordon's response.
It took a while to come. Gordon studied her intently, and Max had to fight not to fidget or open her big mouth. At last, the commissioner sighed. "I think I must have been as cock-sure of myself at your age as you are." Her mouth twisted. "You do realize that Gotham is Batman's city, right? I can give you pointers, but unless Bruce accepts you, you won't be a hero in this city. Not for long, anyway."
"Terry managed to get around him," Max said. "Bet I could, too. Or I could make myself a different costume, not use the Batcave. He couldn't stop me then."
Gordon laughed. "Gotham is Batman's city. I don't care what Bruce says or how old he's gotten, Terry wouldn't be Batman if Bruce didn't allow it. He may not have chosen Terry, but if he truly didn't want Terry to be Batman, he wouldn't be. And it doesn't matter what costume or name you choose, you won't operate in this city without Batman's acquiescence. And I wouldn't recommend trying. Not just because you'd spend more time in a pissing contest with him than actually getting things done, but because if he thinks you're not good enough, chances are you aren't. And chances are you'd get yourself killed very quickly. It's happened before."
"Who was it?" Max asked, curious. She wasn't as curious about Bat-history as Terry was, but the chance to learn something new was irresistible.
Gordon looked off across the park. "Her name was Stephanie Brown. Steph. She was the Robin after Tim Drake. Her suit's not on display. She'd made her own suit and name—Spoiler—before coming to us. Bruce tried to train her for a bit, made her Robin, then took the suit away when he didn't think she had what it took. Not physically—Bruce could train the physical skills into her. But she was too reckless. She thought he was wrong, tried to prove herself by going after several major figures in the Gotham underwold. Black Mask tortured her to death. I can show you the autopsy photos, if you want."
"No, thanks," Max said. She grimaced at the thought—she'd seen enough horrors since learning Terry was Batman, she could imagine it quite well enough without the photographs.
"Bruce can be arrogant, domineering, paranoid, and obsessive," Gordon said. "But he lasted as long as he did because he's the best. You can't let him run roughshod over you, but if he truly doesn't think you can cut it, he's probably right."
"But what do you think?"
"As the Police Commissioner? That civilians have no place dressing up in ridiculous costumes and interfering in the justice system. As Batgirl?" Gordon studied her.
Max tried not to feel like a bug under a microscope. She returned Gordon's stare, daring her to turn Max down.
At last Gordon nodded. "As Batgirl, I think there are things you'll need to know that Bruce will never teach you." She stood up and walked off. "You coming?" she called back over her shoulder.
Max grinned, and dashed off after her.