Meanwhile, Stavros Markos sat aboard a large yacht and faced a group of colorful figures. He looked at them with an appraising eye, as if the tycoon saw them as nothing more than commodities to be evaluated for commercial value. In truth, this was exactly how he did see them. “Professor Wye suggested I contact you. She insisted that your group could perform a task for me. She also told me what price you ask for your services. I can meet that sum and double it. I’ll gladly do so, if you accomplish what I require of you. “
The woman who led the odd group stepped forward and smiled in a scornful manner. “We will do what you want for the money, but don’t think you own us!” she said in a cold voice. “Never assume we’re just your pawns.”
Markos nodded as he stared at her. She is clearly psychotic, but she and her group might just be what I need, he thought. After all, Aquaman has proven his ability to beat Black Manta and Fisherman, for example, again and again. This new group might challenge him. If not, they will occupy him while my other operative does his job. He smiled and said, “I won’t make that mistake. Kill Aquaman for me, and you’ll be paid well.” They listened as he gave them details of the task at hand, and then they filed out.
After they departed, Markos turned to signal another figure who was hiding behind a sliding door. This man wore a gleaming, solid white costume with a fin on the crest of his helmet. He smiled and said, “I heard it all. Frankly, I can’t see the sea king surviving a bout with that bunch.”
“I don’t know,” said Markos. “He is astoundingly resourceful. If they occupy him, will you be able to do your part? If he lives after they confront him, I want him to know the pain of loss and defeat that only your mission can ensure.”
The Protector, for such was the name of this figure clad in white, said, “Look, I owe my powers to the industrial pollution guys like you created with your big businesses. That’s why I call myself the Protector. (*) I gladly give back to the men who made me. I’ll do what you want, since Aquaman stands for everything I hate. Give me a chance, and I’ll destroy all he holds dear!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Krypton, No More,” Superman #307 (January, 1977) and “This Planet Is Mine,” Superman #308 (February, 1977).]
Aquaman yawned as he stepped out of the JLA teleporter unit that was located in New Venice. He smiled as he recalled an exchange he’d had with Green Arrow aboard the satellite headquarters. Ollie is still pretending to be shocked that I eat fish, he thought. It has become a running gag with us since I first told him that a while back, last spring. (*) I’m rather glad, since it gives me a chance to kid him about his love of chili.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: May the Best Man Win, Chapter 3: To the Highest Bidder.]
He frowned as a wave of blistering heat swept over him as he crossed the bridge. “Suffering Shad!” he said. “I may have a good imagination, but I know I can’t conjure up piping hot chili just by thinking about it! Someone is trying to cook me!” He dodged aside nimbly as a blast of flame cascaded downward, and a shapely woman in a red and yellow costume with a fire motif came into view.
“I’ve located him! Come and get him!” she cried, speaking into a wrist communication device.
Aquaman tried to place her, but her general appearance didn’t register with his memories of past foes. Obviously, she could generate fire, but that didn’t tell him more than her general look revealed. Well, she’s refrained from making fish-fry jokes. That says something for her, he mused as he prepared to avoid her next attack.
She drew closer as her heat emissions intensified. “Darrell, I’ve got the target!” she said. “He’s got to be as weak as a fish on the sand, now that I’ve drained him of moisture with my fire-balls!”
A man with a white crew cut and a blue and white costume raced up and smiled affectionately at the woman. “Good work, Joanne! Now that you’ve weakened him, I’ll put him on ice!” he said.
“Not if I knock you cold first, if you’ll excuse the expression!” said a defiant Aquaman. Jumping forward, he connected with a stinging punch that left the man in white and blue reeling, even as the sea king hurled him bodily into the woman. She crashed to the bridge, and Aquaman rolled them both off the edge into the canal below.
“That flame-thrower will be too busy keeping her boyfriend afloat to trouble me for a while,” he said to himself. “That gives me time to prepare for her friends.”
The woman grasped her partner and struggled to swim to the bridge as Aquaman watched them from above. “My heat should have weakened you!” she whined. “I know you need moisture to survive!”
Aquaman grinned slightly as he thought, I need contact with water once every hour. I don’t grow weaker if I run into a little bit of heat. Water, be it steamed or frozen, still doesn’t hurt me! I’ve been immune to basic temperature extremes for years.
He frowned as two more costumed figures came into view. The man was a hulking brute with a balding head and a green costume. The woman was clad in dark blue with a punk rock blue hairdo and a sneer to match.
“We’re the Masters of Disaster, and you’re toast!” she said.
“Get him, New-Wave!” said the big man, who was called Shakedown. “I’ll help Heatstroke and Coldsnap!”
New-Wave smiled and changed into a wall of water that loomed over Aquaman and threatened to envelop him.
He laughed harshly and said, “Forgive me if I don’t take you seriously. In case you didn’t catch the first part of my name, it is Aqua, as in water. See, water doesn’t scare me!”
New-Wave scowled in rage and said, “I’m not going to attack you, I’m going to add the waters from your little village to my mass and sink the whole place!”
Aquaman stopped smiling and sent out a mental summons to some of his aquatic allies. “Not while I can get by with a little help from my friends!” he said. Topo the octopus loomed into view, and his tentacles hurled eight odd fish into New-Wave’s watery form.
“Puffer fish will absorb your mass and disperse at my command. That should occupy you while I tame your big buddy!” said Aquaman as the thrown fish splashed through the liquid woman and sailed back into the water to swim off at top speed. He whirled around to see the big man pulling his partners to the bridge. “The average puffer fish can inflate to three feet and contain water to near that extent. That should slow down the woman.”
Heatstroke yelled to the huge man in green as Aquaman drew closer. “Shakedown!” she said. “He’s coming up fast! Darrell is still out cold. That creep hits like Superman!”
Shakedown stood up and turned to face Aquaman. “B-b-b-back off!” he said with a stammer.
Aquaman gasped as vibrations struck him from afar, and he felt pressure building on his body. My body can withstand the depths of the ocean, so I’m not hurt yet, but this bruiser is doing a real job on me! he thought.
Shakedown grinned and walked closer to Aquaman as he increased the vibrations. “I c-c-can hurt you from afar!” he said. “I don’t n-n-need to touch you!”
Aquaman concentrated, and a flock of seagulls swept down to blind the bigger man. As Shakedown lost his own concentration, Aquaman rolled forward and came up to ram both legs into the man’s stomach. He followed this up by punching him twice in the face. Got to keep him too busy to create those vibrations, he thought.
Shakedown reached for the agile hero, but his huge hands only grasped two electric eels. The voltage failed to harm him, and Aquaman struggled onward.
Tossing those eels into his hands was a weak effort, but since they answered my summons, I figured I should give them a chance. That’s why I stock the aqua preserve with creatures like them, he thought, then gasped as Heatstroke ignited the bridge, and fire blazed behind him. I can’t get more help from that side. I have to take the fight to them myself. Looks like Coldsnap is coming to as well, so this might be more than I expected!
Coldsnap smiled and began to create a barrage of icy spears. I want to finish this job so Jo and I can take our share of the loot, he thought, and get the same egghead who separated us after we were merged together in that freak accident. He should be able to dilute our powers enough so that we can really be a couple!
Aquaman knocked the spears aside as he tried to keep the flaming barrier behind him from spreading. He saw Shakedown and New-Wave return to the area as well. Neither of them had been delayed for long.
“Nice trick with those fish, but I can use my powers even when my mass is separated!” shrieked New-Wave. “It just takes me longer and makes me madder!“
A whizzing sound echoed in the air as a dart struck Heatstroke in the back. She gasped and collapsed as Cal Durham waved to Aquaman from across the bridge. “That tranquilizer dart should keep her out until we can lock her away!” he shouted.
Coldsnap turned and cursed at the black lawman. “You won’t get away with shooting her like she was some kind of animal!” he cried as he created a huge blast of freezing air.
Cal drew back even as Aquaman himself reached Coldsnap and punched him flat. “Cal, thanks for the help, but stay back!” he said. “These misfits mean business!”
“I’ll show you how deadly I can be!” cried New-Wave. She turned into a huge wave and loomed overhead as she attempted to wash them all off the bridge. Suddenly, she stiffened in shock while her still-human face expressed pure rage at her inability to move.
“I don’t like to see flashy tarts getting close to my husband!” said Mera as she swam into view, having used her control over water to capture the still-immobile New-Wave. “I won’t let this terrible woman return to human or move an inch until you’re ready to lock her up,” announced Mera.
Smiling, Aquaman turned to face Shakedown, who charged forward and then stopped as the hero tackled him and brought him crashing down into the waters below. The pair wrestled beneath the waves, but Shakedown could not deal with the strange conditions, and his strength and powers availed him little against Aquaman’s greater underwater fighting ability.
Aquaman threw the big man on the bridge and nodded approvingly as he saw Captain Strong and Cal leading the others to jail. “We’ll holds them tight for ya, mate,” said the sailor. “Those fancy handcuffs you brought back from the STAR Labs for our local pokey will fix ’em right!”
Slipping an arm around Mera, Aquaman said, “Thank you all. It’s great to have so many loyal friends!” But before he could continue speaking, the entire bridge was shaken by an explosion.
Neptune’s beard! What is it now? thought Aquaman as he swam down a canal toward the source of the blast.
Aquaman soon reached the source of the explosive blasts, spotting a man clad all in white with a fin-decorated helmet. He was generating rapidly fired bursts of energy from his hands. The Protector! he thought. Superman told me all about him once, since he figured this guy’s mania for pollution might bring him into my path one day.
The Protector smiled as he saw Aquaman, and he stepped down to wait as the hero climbed onto the bridge. “Well, you actually survived the Masters of Disaster!” he said. “That’s a surprise, but that’s good fortune, too, since now I can destroy your little city on the sea and rub your sanctimonious face in it!”
Aquaman said nothing as he approached the villain. He was aware of the nature of his foe’s powers, and he was determined to make use of that knowledge. This guy is a real arrogant cuss. I can definitely make use of that! he thought, swinging at the Protector, but frowning as his fist struck solid metal.
The Protector laughed and said, “I can turn my body into anything I choose. I don’t mind taking this slow. I think I’ll just stay solid metal and beat you to death!”
Aquaman glanced around and nodded in satisfaction. “Not until you catch me, you worm!” he said, running across the bridge as the Protector followed.
They drew closer to a warehouse area, where mechanics worked on various boating implements. “What are you — the Chicken of the Sea?” yelled the Protector as he tried to catch up to the fleet Aquaman.
Aquaman smiled and stood still as the villain came closer. Light gleamed off his metallic body, and Aquaman silently ordered a gull to obey his precisely given telepathic order. The sea bird landed on a control panel near the garage, and a humming sound indicated that a powerful magnetic wench had been activated.
The Protector gasped as he was pulled across the canal and pinned against the machine due to the metallic nature of his altered body.
“I’d say luring you here was a good plan,” declared Aquaman as he drew back his fist. “I know my city as well as Batman knows Gotham!”
“Don’t count your sea monkeys before they’re hatched!” said the Protector. “I can escape your trap by returning to human!” As he made the change, the Protector cried out in pain as Aquaman connected with a swinging punch that knocked the now-human rogue out cold.
Aquaman smiled down at the stunned villain and said, “Getting you to turn human again was always the purpose of my plan.” He dragged the beaten villain to jail and whistled in satisfaction as he went.
Elsewhere, two people reacted to the news of Aquaman’s latest victories in different ways.
Stavros Markos crumpled up the paper in disgust and said, “Aquaman wins again! Well, I’ll make him rue the day he humiliated me. At least the Protector’s loyalty means I won’t be implicated. I’ll pay him well for his silence.”
In a small office, Professor Andrea Wye looked at her notes. She had written the following:
“Because of his very heroism, the Hero is a man apart from those around him.”
She ripped that up and began to write.
“The Hero’s courage inspires the devotion and loyalty of many allies. His very nature as a champion brings out unseen levels of sacrifice and courage in those around him.”
Reading that line, she smiled. Very nice, she thought. Aquaman didn’t prove the theory I expected, but he served to illustrate a fascinating new one. The next chapter in my study of the Heroic Ideal should be equally intriguing. She adjusted her glasses and glanced at an atlas that had the heading Ivy Town at the top.
But that would be another story.