by Martin Maenza
Not too far from the studio, a black sedan was parked near a phone booth with the engine idling. The passenger door was open while one of the men from the car used the phone. “Boss, we got it!” he said into the mouthpiece. “Your little distraction worked like a dream.”
“Excellent,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “though there was never a doubt in my mind that it would not. Next stop is Paragon Studios. The scenario will be the same: you signal me when you are in position, I will generate the distraction, and you make way with the specified goods. Understood?”
“Sounds good,” the hireling said. “This is one of the easiest gigs me and the boys have had in a while.”
“And if you continue to perform as directed, you all will be compensated handsomely for your work,” the boss replied.
“I like the sound of that,” the thug said. “We’ll be in touch soon.” He hung up the phone and joined the others in the car.
And somewhere across town in a hidden location, the man in charge also hung up the phone.
“It’s all unfolding like a well-written plot,” the figure in the dimly lit room said to himself. “No one can stop me now, not even Green Lantern. And even if he did show his do-gooder face, it won’t matter. With my vastly improved abilities, I’ll bring all of Hollywood to its knees by ripping off the major studios and holding their prized releases for a king’s ransom! There is not a damn thing any heroes can do to stop me now!” And the man laughed with a maniacal laughter.
That evening, from Paragon Studios just across town came reports of a spaceship hovering over the lot. A pair of heroes were quickly on the scene, having been on alert for the better part of the afternoon.
“There she is!” Blue Devil said as he spied a saucer-like craft hovering over the back part of the lot. The rockets in his trident propelled him through the air.
A green condor soared beside him. “I don’t know,” the transformed Changeling said. “From the alternating lights to the eerie glow from the underside.”
“Sounds real, too,” the azure avenger agreed as the air was filled with a faint hum. “Given recent events, maybe it’s the real McCoy.” He noticed that the security guards were flocking toward the back of the lot, guns drawn.
“Doubt it,” Changeling replied. “I doubt anyone would try another invasion this soon. Plus, I’ve seen enough real crafts in my time, and that ship looks waaay too Hollywood.”
The ship suddenly began to open fire. Blasts of light surged from the sides, randomly striking the ground. “Those men!” Blue Devil tensed. “We gotta help them!” He charged into battle before waiting for Changeling to reply.
Blue Devil hit the ground hard and found he had to dodge the striking blasts. “No time for offense yet,” he said, eyeing one of the guards who was firing upon the ship. “First things first.” He ran up and scooped up the man in his free hand.
“Hey!” the studio guard exclaimed.
“Trust me, buddy,” Blue Devil said. “You’re better off leavin’ this to the professionals!” He deposited the guy back with the others. “Guys, you better stay back!”
“I thought you heroes drove off all those stinking aliens!” one of the men said.
“We did, we did!” Blue Devil bounded back off. “Sheesh, we get no respect.”
A green bird caught up with him. “There you are! You bolted so fast.”
“Sorry, Gar,” Blue Devil apologized, “but I saw trouble. Those guys were under attack!”
“Hmm,” Changeling said. “I wonder…”
“Think it’s a setup?”
“Could be. Stay loose for a second and let me try something.” The green condor streaked off toward the spacecraft while Blue Devil landed on one of the building roofs to hang back.
As Changeling got closer, he transformed himself again. This time, he was a bit smaller with a different wingspan. “I may not be the detective that Nightwing is,” he said to himself, “but even I know that sometimes you need to invoke the skills of the bat.” He laughed to himself silently as he moved into position.
Blue Devil watched the craft. “I’d swear that was real,” he said to himself. “If it’s not, it’s some of the best damn special effects I’ve ever seen!” Then again, he had believed the giant ape he was fighting earlier was real, too, though all the clues seemed to be pointing to it being a fake somehow.
While he watched and waited, he heard a sound coming from the alleyway behind the building atop he was perched. What’s this? Blue Devil thought to himself as he peered over the edge. Three men with film canisters under their arms rushed to a waiting black sedan. They hopped in the vehicle, which then took off quickly.
The hero smiled. “Ah-ha!” he said. “Looks like I know who might be behind that spectacular distraction!” Blue Devil raised his trident and was about to shoot out the tires.
“B.D., hold up!” a voice called out behind him. A green condor landed and transformed back to the green-skinned hero in a red and white costume.
“Gar, those are thieves makin’ off with studio films!” Blue Devil said. “I bet they’re behind the theft at Verner Brothers, too!”
“The M.O. certainly fits,” Changeling agreed. “But I think they’re just hired muscle. Let’s follow them.”
The two heroes took to the air high enough to keep the car in sight but to remain unseen.
“What makes you think they’re not behind the giant ape and the spaceship?” Blue Devil asked.
“I checked that ship using sonar,” Changeling said. “It wasn’t real.”
“Exactly, but a damn good one. I’ve experienced a few of those in my time, and it takes a pretty powerful person to whip one of those up. I think if we follow the car, it’ll lead us right to the mastermind behind the plot.”
“Sounds good,” Blue Devil said. Though he was older than Changeling, Gar certainly had more years in the hero business. He would gladly draw upon Gar’s wisdom in this matter. Still, he hoped the car would lead them to whoever was behind this business soon. After the beating he took earlier in the day, Danny was itching for some more action.
The three men entered the hidden lair, their arms full of stacks of film canisters. “Boss, we got ’em!” one of the men called out.
The man at the table, who was dressed in a white and gold costume, looked up. His eyes were blue, his hair and beard black. A smile crossed his lips as he saw the bundle. “Excellent,” he said, rubbing his hands eagerly. “Put them down on the table so I can examine the take thoroughly.”
“Definitely a good idea hittin’ Paragon next,” one of the thugs said. “They definitely had more releases ready to go.”
“Verner Brothers is struggling,” the costumed man said. “I knew Paragon would bring in a good haul.” He moved around the table and began to examine the titles on the sides of the canisters.
“The sequel to Laguna Hills Cop — excellent. They’ll certainly want to reacquire this one fast. Given the first film’s take, this one is assured a good run. The Untraceables has been generating some buzz in the production papers as well. Good, good. Lethal Lure, also a lot of buzz about this one. The Damned Boys? I’m not familiar with this one…”
“It’s a vampire flick. It’s got those Coreys in it,” one of the thugs said.
The costumed man nodded. “Hmmm,” he mused. “No great talent there, but it might have youth appeal.” He put the cans down and moved about the table. “Now to make some calls and get wheels in motion to ransom these back to the studios. If this opportunity proves as lucrative as I surmise, we’ll be taking a little road trip in the near-future.”
“Road trip?” one of the guys asked.
“Of course,” the costumed man said. “After we extort the studios here, it’s down to Florida and Benchmark Studios there. I hear they have a number of big-profile projects that have just wrapped on production.”
Suddenly, there was a loud crash from above.
The men stepped back as the shattered glass of the skylight rained down to the floor.
A large figure landed on the floor with a thud, while a green bat swooped down behind him. “I’d avoid booking any flights if I were you,” Blue Devil warned. “The only place you’re going is jail.”
“Get him!” shouted the costumed boss.
“Right!” the men replied. A couple pulled guns from the waist of their pants and began to open fire on the horned hero.
Blue Devil smiled as he took the fire without flinching. “C’mon, fellas, that tickles,” he said as the projectiles bounced off of his invulnerable hide.
“Better watch it, B.D.,” the circling bat said. “Superman might get mad if you use his schtick.”
“Nah,” Blue Devil replied. “Me and the Man of Steel are buds.” He turned to the two men firing on him. “OK, boys, now it’s my turn.” He hoisted up his trident weapon and took aim. The blast of energy shot from the prongs and slammed into the two thugs. They flew back against the wall, knocked out from the blow.
Blue Devil turned to his partner. “Need any help there?”
“Got it covered!” replied Changeling, who had transformed into a large Australian marsupial with big hind limbs. With the shorter forelimbs, he was punching out the third thug. “Just call me Captain Kangaroo. Ha-ha-ha-ha.”
When the last of the hirelings fell, the two heroes turned back to the man in charge. “OK, buddy, whoever you are,” Blue Devil said to the costumed man, “you plan on doing this the easy way or the hard way?”
“Fools!” the man scoffed. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“He looks vaguely familiar,” the green kangaroo said.
“Fools!” the villain spat. The room suddenly seemed to burst into flame, and a huge projection of the man’s face appeared in the air before them. “I am the great and powerful Dazzler! Cower before my mighty power!”
“Dazzler?” Blue Devil repeated.
Changeling’s eyes grew wide. “Yeah, sure,” he said, popping himself aside the head. “The name. The costume. He was a character on some campy TV show from the late ’70s called the Dazzler. It featured a lead character who was a super-villain.”
“Really?” Blue Devil asked. “I don’t remember it.”
“Very short-lived,” Changeling said.
“Shut up, both of you!” the image of the villain’s face scowled. “And prepare to feel my wrath!” A bolt of energy shot toward them. The two quickly scattered.
“Wrath of corn is more like it,” Changeling said, transforming into a bird for easier maneuverability.
“Careful, Gar,” warned Blue Devil. “Let’s not upset the crazy man! Let’s just find out how he’s making with the special effects and shut it down!”
“Ha-ha-ha!” laughed the face of the Dazzler. “You’ll never shut me down. My power, originally taught to me by an alien named Ibor from the planet Ethor, is one-hundred-percent natural. Even after my incarceration last year by the accursed Green Lantern, I encountered a party who could increase my powers tenfold. (*) Now, I am able to project my powers even across a good distance, allowing me to strike at my intended victims from anywhere.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Lantern: The Play’s the Thing.]
“Yeah?” Blue Devil said, taking a defensive stance. “Then bring it on, loudmouth! He stepped defiantly between the glowing giant head and the table of films. “The only way you’re gettin’ your ill-gotten gains is through me!”
Changeling pondered for a second the Dazzler’s boastful words. I got it! He transformed himself again, this time into a green cheetah, and took off like a shot toward the exit of the room. As he got into the hall, he spied the fleeing villain going through the building exit. “I thought so!” Using the natural speed of the animal whose form he now shared, he was quickly closing the gap between himself and the Dazzler.
Blue Devil battled against the enemy who wasn’t there. His body was registering the heat from the flames all around him. Gotta keep tellin’ myself this is all just illusion, he thought to himself as he swung his weapon about him. Sooner or later, I gotta connect with something.
He closed his eyes for a moment, figuring that might do it. When he opened them again, the flames and everything were gone. “What do you know?!” the hero exclaimed. Then Blue Devil looked about the room quickly. The films were still in place, but both Changeling and the villain were gone. “Oh, great!” He raced out of the room after them.
When he got outside, Blue Devil saw that Changeling had cornered the villain. Or, more to the point, the villain had cornered him. A half-dozen Dazzlers had encircled the green cheetah.
“Ha-ha, you green freak!” all the villains laughed in unison. “Having a bit of trouble deducing which of us is the real Dazzler?”
The animal was pacing slowly back and forth, scrutinizing the group. It might take a little while, but he hoped his enhanced senses would yield the truth. “I’ll figure it out,” Changeling said, “just as I figured out your other illusions.”
“Why bother?” Blue Devil shouted. All heads turned. “Especially when I can do this!” With his trident in hand, he blasted the group with a barrage of lightning from the prongs. In a moment, the arc of energy was going about the circle of villains, shocking them all. Each writhed and screamed in pain.
Changeling had transformed into a mole, tunneled into the ground, and appeared safely near Blue Devil. “Now that’s what I call dazzling!” he quipped.
“Thought you’d like that,” Blue Devil smiled. One by one, the villains started to fall. After a moment, they started to blip out in turn. The illusions faded, leaving the real Dazzler there on the ground. “I had a feeling that if he got distracted, his illusions would fall. That had to be what happened in the room back there when you chased him out here.”
“Good thinking,” Changeling agreed.
The Dazzler groaned and started to rise. “I won’t be defeated so easily. I have great strength that I can rely upon.”
“Really?” Blue Devil said as he came charging forward. “Good to know. Then you won’t mind if I do this!” He swung back his right fist and slammed it into the man’s jaw. The Dazzler spun about and fell to the ground once more.
Changeling joined his friend. “I’d say this guy’s all washed up,” he said.
Blue Devil nodded. “Yeah, a shame when an old television star goes bad, huh?”
“They can’t all be like me,” Changeling said. “I just get better with age.” And the two heroes had a laugh as they carted the criminals off to jail.