On a sweltering July afternoon, Lucius Fox looked down on Gotham City from his office in the WayneCorp Building. From his office, he could see Riverside Park. Normally, on a day like this, he would see boats on the river and swimmers enjoying the water. Along the banks, he would see families and those who might someday start a family.
That was in the past. This day, Lucius wondered if he would ever see sights like that again.
Parts of the Gotham skyline were obscured by thick smoke. The Gotham Broadcasting Building was partially destroyed, its top ten floors gone and eight floors below that reduced to a skeletal framework. Riverside Park was the site of a Red Cross encampment, with large white tents erected emblazoned with the international emblem of the charitable organization. By most men’s reckoning, that symbol was sacrosanct and inviolable. Now, however, the tents and the emblem had been hastily painted over with green and gray camouflage paint and fake greenery placed over that. Those who had arrived a week ago to wreak such havoc on Gotham recognized no emblem of peace or mercy. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2: Battleground Earth.]
At the direction of WayneCorp’s owner, Lucius had placed most of the company’s resources at the disposal of the Red Cross and other relief organizations. It would cost the conglomerate plenty if life ever returned to normal. However, it could well spell the difference between survival and extinction if the current events continued unchecked.
“Simply unbelievable. And Bruce, good old reliable Bruce Wayne, is incommunicado for most of it,” Lucius said to nobody in particular. “I swear, it seems like every time things go haywire, he manages to be in Aruba or the Alps or somewhere. I’d love to know how he does it.”
“Wouldn’t we all, Mr. Fox?” asked a rough, gravely voice. Lucius spun around to find an grossly misshapen figure standing in the door that connected his office to that of Bruce Wayne. Pasty white skin, mottled with lumps and bruises, covered the thin man who stood there clad in nothing more than a pair of shorts. “Not to worry, all will become quite clear right about now!”
Lucius tried to dive behind a desk, but he was too slow for the beam of light that shot out from a penlight in the twisted figure’s hand. It struck, enveloping Lucius in a nimbus of iridescent colors. When it faded, Lucius was gone, and a similar, twisted mockery of humanity stood in his place. This one had skin of pale violet.
“Welcome, my friend, to Earth!”
“It’s true, then! You’ve managed to breach the barrier!”
“By effecting an exchange, yes. It took five of these beings’ months for the proper molecular changes to take effect, but today is the day that the Gra’xian invasion begins! You are the first of my advance invasion force, um…”
“Zarx Deljnef, sir. And by what name shall we call you?”
The white-skinned figure paused for a second, trying to recall his original name. “Bah, that name no longer matters! Call me what the people of this world call me: The Outsider!”
At the old Rialto Theater, a relief shelter had been set up for people displaced by the alien attacks. Darting from one cluster of refugees to another was a plump, matronly woman wearing glasses whose unwavering cheerfulness did more for the dispirited souls than the food and drink she carried. Climbing back up to the stage to refill her tray of sandwiches and the shoulder-bag of bottled water, Harriet Cooper took a moment to sit down and catch her breath.
“I tell you, Leslie, I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard,” she exclaimed to the older woman cutting up sandwiches. “Or felt this good about it!”
“That’s the spirit, Harriet. Oh, how I wish I’d had you in Children’s Services ten years ago. You would have made a great case worker.”
“Oh, how you go on!” Harriet took a stained and wrinkled handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her face with it. “I don’t have the strength to handle that sort of thing. I honestly don’t know how anybody can face those conditions day after day.”
Leslie Thompkins stepped around the card-table and took Harriet’s chin in her hand. “Don’t sell yourself short, dear. You are helping people here deal with things just as bad as anything I dealt with. Some of those people have lost their homes, members of their own family, to a menace that most of them couldn’t even believe existed a few weeks ago. I heard somebody say that the group that arrived this morning was retrieved from a slave ship by some members of the Justice League. I can’t begin to imagine what that had to be like, yet you have them settled in talking to each other and others about their experience, and a few of them are showing hope that they will go home.” Leslie smiled and shook her head. “No, Harriet Cooper, you are far stronger than you know.”
“Not strong enough to save herself or you!” snarled a new voice.
People turned to see who it was, and many in the theater cried out in horror. The slim figure that stepped from the shadows of the stage looked like a person turned inside-out, then bleached under the sun. Lumps and welts covered his body and his hairless head.
“It’s another of them alien freaks! We ain’t letting them take us again!” cried one of the men near the front. He and several others rushed up onto the stage. Before they could reach the Outsider, he pointed a thin, pen-like device at the two women. A beam of light shot out and enveloped them, bathing them in a changing, shifting sphere of light. When it faded, Leslie Thompkins and Harriet Cooper were gone. In their places stood two more gruesome figures.
“He’s got more with him! Come on, everybody, get them!” This time, women and children joined the rush. As they swept up onto the stage, the old curtain unwound itself from the ropes holding it back to the sides and came down on the crowd of humans. With a seeming life of its own, the curtain twisted around some, swept others off their feet, and finally became rigid enough to keep anyone else from coming up on the stage.
“There; that cloth will constrict around them, putting them out of their misery soon enough. Now, you two, come with me. We have others yet to join us!”
As the screams from under the old theater curtain grew first louder, then more faint, the Outsider and his fellow Gra’xians left the building.
In Riverside Park, an ambulance wound around the running trail, seeking a spot to pull off with its cargo. Halfway through the park, the driver spied an opening. As soon as he stopped, volunteers were opening the back door to unload the three patients stuffed into the back.
“Careful with them, guys. They got caught under a pile of debris when they hit the bridge.” The driver checked to make sure the stretchers were being taken out properly, then turned around, looking. “Any of you guys know how to handle one of these things? I need to see a doc myself.”
A middle-aged woman stepped up. “Drove one in the Army a few years back. That all right?”
“All right? That’s terrific. Nobody’s really tracking them, but if you still have the rig when things settle down, try to get it back to Mercy Services on Broome Street.” The driver limped over to her and handed her the keys. “I hear they’re providing gas down at the WayneCorp warehouses on Dock Street.”
“Got it! Go have that leg checked!” She got in and drove off.
“Wish it was my leg I was worried about.” Jason Bard looked around, spied a broken-off tent-pole lying on the ground, and appropriated that as a replacement for the cane he had lost earlier in the day. With the aid of the walking stick, he made his way to the entrance of the tent.
Under the canvas roof, it was strangely quiet. Part of the tent was walled off with heavy blankets, but in the large, open expanse that Jason found himself in there were dozens of cots, tables, chairs, and patches of ground where blankets had been laid to designate somebody’s space. It was a strange mixture of uniformed medical personnel and volunteers that took care of the injured, lost, and hopeless of Gotham City. Jason saw a line of people who appeared to be waiting for help, and he joined them. As the line moved around one corner of the tent, Jason saw a brutish-looking man in denim and leather comforting a pair of toddlers. Beyond that, he spotted a woman who was easily old enough to be his grandmother supporting a man twice her size as he hobbled over to a cot where he could rest his cast-covered leg. Teams of small children moved through the crowd with wagons dispensing some type of drink from large coolers emblazoned with the logo of the Gotham Giants. Off to one side, he saw the three people he had brought in being carried through to the walled-off section.
“That’s where they’ve set up their operating area,” said the man in front of him, noticing where Jason was looking. “Man, I’d hate to have a doctor operating on me under these conditions.”
“Trust me, friend, it’s a hell of a lot better than not having a doctor there,” replied Jason, recalling his days in Vietnam.
“How’d you hurt the leg, bud?”
“Oh, that’s just an old knee injury. Never lets me forget my days in the Army.” Jason pulled his jacket open a bit, revealing a bloody bandage. “I got careless while digging out that last group at the bridge. A support cable snapped and caught me in the ribs. Nothing serious.”
“Yow. I thought I saw you on the bridge. Smacked my head pretty good getting out of my car after the bridge got blasted.” The stranger extended a hand. “Nick Mancuso.”
“Jason Bard.” With a handshake, two strangers became friends. “From what I hear, they got everyone off there before it collapsed.”
At that moment, an older gentleman stepped out from the operating area and spotted Bard. “Jason! I thought I heard you out here!”
“Doc! Hey, how’re you doing?” Jason left the line to greet Dr. Douglas Dundee. “Should have known I’d find you down here.”
“And I should have known you’d be playing knight in shining armor for half the city,” replied the doctor with a smile. “I’ve got a couple minutes before they need me in there. What’s the matter?”
“Ah, just a bit of a tear across the ribs.” Jason pulled off his jacket and pulled up his shirt. “Don’t know if there’s much you can do for it, but–”
“Just hold still for a moment or two.” Dundee called over to a couple of other volunteers. “Jamie, Walt, bring me some of the large sponges, a medicated swab, and a roll of tape. One of the large poly splints, too.” Turning back to Jason’s lacerated chest, he continued. “Not much I can do but clean it out and try to cover it securely. The splint will help, because I know you’ll be going back out there.”
“You know me too well, Doc.” Jason looked back over at the line. “I may have some help, if you can check him over while you’re waiting for the bandages. Yo, Nick!” he called, waving his new friend over. “Doc, meet Nick Mancuso. Nick, this is Doc Dundee. Nick smacked his head in the car over on the Gotham Bay Bridge.”
The doctor pulled a penlight from his pocket and checked Nick’s eyes first. Finding the pupils properly reactive, he ran his hands over Nick’s head, finding the bump. “You’re a lucky man, Mr. Mancuso. Normally, a goose egg like that, and I’d have you under observation for concussion. Looks like you’re all right, though.” At this point, Jamie arrived with the supplies that the doctor had requested, and he set to work on Jason’s injuries.
Just as Dundee was finishing his handiwork, there was a commotion outside the tent. All heads turned toward the entrance, where screaming was heard. To their amazement, that side of the tent suddenly opened up as if a huge pair of hands were ripping it apart. It revealed a scene of chaos outside, as driverless automobiles and trucks circled a group of strange-looking figures. Four pale, mottled humanoids stood there, one of them following the movements of the vehicles as they opened a progressively larger path through the crowd.
“Is there a doctor in the house?” asked the leader of the group. His distorted features were twisted into a rough approximation of a smile. “There you are!” He raised a small device and pointed it at Dr. Dundee. A beam of light shot out. When it struck the doctor, it expanded to envelope his whole body. In the relative darkness of the tent, his features appeared to melt away into something similar to the being that had attacked him.
When the light ceased, the creature that had been Douglas Dundee sneered at the two men before him. “Pathetic worms. Here!” it said, tossing the bandages and tape at them. “Heal yourselves!”
As the Outsider and his growing band of allies departed, Jason Bard and Nick Mancuso struggled against the gauze and tape that threatened to choke the life from their bodies.