In a luxurious penthouse apartment in Metropolis was a blonde woman with a slightly coarse edge to her otherwise sophisticated and attractive manner. She switched on a television and smiled as the WGBS logo faded to reveal a confident and lovely redheaded reporter.
“This is Lana Lang reporting live from the scenic splendor of Moldacia-Tybern,” she announced with a winning smile. “My exclusive interview with Princess Portia will be coming up after we treat you viewers to a previously taped tour of the former actress turned royal’s kingdom.”
The blonde shut off the sound and turned to an oily man who slumped on the sofa with his feet across the coffee table. “Did you hear that? There won’t be a better time to strike! Get them ready!” she said as she clapped her hands together in pleasure.
He raised his eyes slightly and nodded toward another door in the penthouse. “Velvet, baby, what about the kid?” he asked.
Velvet O’Mara smiled coldly and said, “What do you mean what about the kid? She has nothing to do with it. She’s lucky we haven’t done away with her already. Still, you don’t need to fret. She has no clue that we’ve been using her toys without her knowledge.”
Assuming a pouting expression, Velvet raised her voice until it became a mixture of the vapid and the infantile. “Besides, she thinks pretty little Velvet, here, is a dumb blonde right out of a Harlow flick!” she said in an exaggerated manner.
The oily man pulled her down on to his lap and said, “Baby, you always have an ace up your sleeve.”
She laughed and said, “More to the point, I’ll soon have a ring on my finger!”
Bert Bennet had been the building maintenance man at the Metropolis Gardens for years. He took pride in the fact that he worked within such a luxurious and exclusive apartment complex. He considered the tenants to be a source of oddly personal proprietary pride. There was no doubt that the aging repairman held Lana Lang of WGBS News in high regard. Her flirtatious manner had won him over long ago. He practically curled up in a ball at her feet whenever she called him luv in that melting manner of hers. That was why he felt a mixture of excitement and disappointment when he realized that in answering her request for a routine plumbing job in her apartment, he would not get to see her in person. She was out of the country on assignment for the network.
He used his passkey to enter her apartment and made his way over to the sink. He inhaled for a moment with his eyes shut in a moment of bliss; her perfume still lingered within her home. Bert examined the drain and quickly located the problem. He made a few deft adjustments and started to leave.
Bert had almost reached the door when an impulse made him turn around. “I better water her plants! She’d appreciate that!” he said, filling a brightly colored watering can with water and beginning to tend to Lana’s plants, when he heard a buzzing sound.
“Bees? Ms. Lang won’t like that!” he said, looking around for the source of the noise and spotting an odd sight. Shiny insects were pouring inside the apartment from outside.
“Bugs! They came right in through a hole in the patio doors! That hole is as neat a circle as you’d see in a geometry class. The piece of glass is even right below on the rug.”
He drew back in alarm as his hand brushed against one of the beetle-like bugs. “Metal? It’s some kind of toy!” he gasped.
Moments later, the swarm engulfed him, and a slight flash of light filled the room as energy surged out from the weird bugs and left poor Bert stunned. The insects flew through the apartment as if guided by a keen human intellect. They reached Lana’s bedroom and gathered themselves into a strangely humanoid collective. This bug-man searched the room, tossing Lana’s clothing and jewelry aside, until it found a small gemstone set in a gold band. It enveloped the ring in an act that looked like swallowing, then disassembled itself into a swarm and flew away into the night.
Bert groaned slightly and dreamed of Lana Lang, but no other sound came from the now-silent apartment.
At that moment, a colorful figure in and red and blue was speeding over the city he loved. Superman knew that any routine patrol over Metropolis could become anything but routine at any moment. Thus, the Man of Steel was not as surprised as a typical citizen would have been when his keen senses detected the odd mechanical swarm soaring away from Lana’s building.
He flew closer and scanned the swarm with his super-vision. “Great Krypton! Those insects look more like something from George Lucas than from Mother Nature!” he said. “I’d better investigate.”
He moved to intercept their flight path, only to find them assembling once more into a humanoid form that moved to grapple with him high above the city below. He frowned as a few punches did nothing to halt the creature, since every movement of his powerful arms merely scattered the bugs briefly until they formed in a different pattern. They buzzed slightly as energy crackled and sparked from within their odd colony-like body.
Superman ignored their energy discharges in the same way he would have ignored a bullet or a bursting shell. Nothing they did could harm his invulnerable form. “These things are rather remarkable,” he said. “The design is advanced, and they seem capable of any number of bizarre functions. I don’t like the fact that they came from the general direction of Lana’s home! I see a fallen figure inside her apartment, as well as signs of forced entry! The man is breathing, so I can assume from a quick check of his vitals via my super-senses that he was only stunned. Still, I can’t let these things get away with their mysterious mission. I have no doubt that some intellect is guiding them from a remote location.”
He gasped as the insects swarmed away from him and deftly covered the windshield of a speeding car on the Mooney Overpass below. The blinded motorist could do nothing as his vehicle careened wildly out of control.
Superman hurried down to swoop below the car and carefully guide it to a safe landing nearby. “Those things obviously have more than a robotic capacity to handle various contingencies. I assume someone is guiding them from afar.” He did not detect any signal that he could trace, nor could he immediately deduce their purpose beyond simple theft. “These things might very well be the answer to the series of robberies that have plagued the city of late. I think I can even assume that their maker is known to me by reputation.”
Spinning around like a human top, Superman created a whirlwind that swept the robotic insects into his wake. He carried them into space and dispelled them where they could do no harm. They had been carried beyond the range of their maker’s control device, and Superman had figured such would be the result of his actions. There was very little he could not anticipate after so many years of incredible adventures.
Before he could do anything else, the little creatures crumbled to nothingness before his eyes. “An automated self-destruct code just robbed me of a chance to examine any of them up close. Luckily, I have a few other options not open to the average Joe!”
Superman shook his head in disgust before flying back to Earth and swiftly checked on poor Bert. He helped the waking man up and gently lifted him to his feet. “Don’t worry, sir. You’ll be fine. Ms. Lang will appreciate your efforts on her behalf. I think she’ll be equally concerned to hear that a good friend like you has been hurt.”
Bert smiled slightly and said, “She will? She will! Thanks, Superman! Those weird bugs just shocked the tar out of me. I never saw anything like them before.”
“Nor have I,” said Superman. “Still, I think I have a friend who just might be able to shed some light on these things.”
Back at the penthouse, Velvet smiled as one of the robotic bugs delivered the stolen ring. “All it took was for one of these beauties to escape from Superman while the others occupied him,” she said with a gloating manner. “They were no match for him, but thanks to their efforts, I soon will be!”
A few days later, in the rural community of Pleasant Valley, three men were busy unloading boxes from a station wagon into an old-but-cozy house in a pastoral setting. The first young man lifted several boxes at once with a show of impressive strength. “Where do you want me to put them, Adam?” he asked.
The dark-haired youth frowned as the others stared at him in amusement. An older man watched intently, as did a very pretty blonde girl. “What?” said Hank Heywood, alias the super-hero called Steel, after he noticed their stares. “I figured I could just carry them all inside at once. Everybody here knows Adam’s secret. The fact that he has buddies with special talents shouldn’t alarm anyone!”
A young man with long brown hair smiled and said, “Hank, I think it’s not the fact that you have super-strength but the blatant display of it that startled the Thayers. Folks out here aren’t exactly used to seeing super-heroes. This isn’t Metropolis, or even Detroit!”
Hank shrugged and said, “OK, Will, OK. I’ll do things the dull way.”
Will Payton, alias Starman, said, “Hank, I could carry in the whole car if I wanted to, but I like to do things like a normal person once in a while.”
Adam Cray, alias the Atom, sighed as he leaned against the car. “Listen, no matter how you do it, I sure appreciate your help in moving my stuff out here to the Thayer house. Juliet and her Uncle Ed have been swell about offering me a room and a job, but I couldn’t have made the transition from Ivy Town without the help of good friends like you guys.”
Will smiled and said, “No problem. Hank and I were planning to just hang out, anyway. This side trip is not a big deal.”
Dr. Edward Thayer stroked his chin and thoughtfully added, “I wish you lads could stay for supper. My niece is an exceedingly fine cook.”
Juliet Thayer, a pretty blonde in a pink sweater and jeans, swatted his arm and said, “Uncle Ed is a bit biased where his favorite and only niece is concerned. He thinks I’m a real Wonder Woman!”
The others laughed, and Hank said, “Say, where is Dr. Palmer? I figured he’d pitch in, too. It is his car that we’re using!”
Adam Cray, a slender man with brown hair, said, “Ray must have been delayed by something. He promised that Jean would drive him out here to lend a hand, but I have not heard from either of them.”
Will Payton finished placing down the last of Adam’s belongings, and then he turned to depart. “Mara and I are taking Hank out for dinner,” he said. “Despite being an honest millionaire, the poor guy still can’t find a date. We’re going to offer him sympathy and a good meal.”
Adam shook hands with both of them and said, “Thanks for all your help! I’ll see you around.”
Will glanced around and then altered his facial features slightly through a remarkable transformation. He took off his shirt and jeans to reveal the black and red costume of Starman with a star emblem on the chest.
“Back to the city, Jeeves, and don’t spare the horsepower!” said Hank. “I’m starving!”
Starman grabbed Steel by the arm and flew off with a last wave to the Thayers and Adam Cray.
Dr. Thayer came over to Adam and said, “Fascinating! Weren’t the boys a bit casual about their secret identities?”
Juliet laughed and said, “Uncle Ed, Starman can alter his face! All we know is that his first name may be Will. Hank could be anybody this side of Superman! Besides, it’s not like we’re spies working for Doctor Death or the Joker!”
Adam grinned and took her hand as they entered the old farmhouse. “Doctor Death?” he asked with a smile.
Juliet sniffed in mock indignation. “Well, there could be a Doctor Death! I mean, all the good names are taken, right? How else do you explain a grown man calling himself the Penguin?”