Superman and the Atom: Bugged, Chapter 2: Bug-Eyed Bandit II

by Libbylawrence

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As Adam Cray settled into his new home, his old mentor Ray Palmer, the original Atom, was receiving startling news of his own. In his Ivy Town home, Ray had just received a phone call from an old friend. “Chief Baxter? How are you? I don’t suppose this is a purely social call, is it?” said the theoretical physicist.

Ray listened to the older man talk and made a few appropriate replies. He glanced left and right as he did so and finally said, “I’ll have the Atom look into it! I do appreciate the information. You’re a good friend. I know I lack any official standing these days, but considering the nature of the case, I really feel personally involved.”

As he returned the phone to its cradle, a woman stepped out of the shadows and placed her hands on her hips, gazing at him with a look of irritation. “OK, Ray Palmer, just who was that, and what type of case has your personal involvement?” demanded the alluring, black-haired Jean Loring.

Ray jumped slightly from surprise and smiled in a placating manner. “Jean, honey, I didn’t see you come down. That was Gil Baxter. He just wanted to consult with me about a recent series of crimes. The police over in Metropolis notified him, because elements of the thefts matched the M.O. of one of my old foes!

Jean drew closer and put her arms around his neck. “I hate to come off like the tough-but-sexy lady lawyer, but which foe? Was it Larvan?” she asked.

Ray frowned and then kissed her gently before replying. “Yes, honey. A series of robberies have been occurring in Metropolis, and the police called Baxter because the M.O. matched that of my old enemy, the late Bug-Eyed Bandit. Some robotic insects have been spotted near robbery sites, and that sounds more than a little like Bertram Larvan’s old technique of creating synthetic insects to do his bidding.”

“Ray, it has to be his daughter Melanie,” said Jean. “After all this time, she’s turned up at last! I appreciate your concern, but you didn’t need to try to shield me from the news. I knew that felonious brat would eventually rear her antennae-bearing head!”

“Melanie is a troubled girl,” said Ray. “I figured after what she did to you that it would be better to keep quiet about the new case. I know how much she upset you.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Force of July: The Crime Champions.]

“Ray, you can be more direct,” said Jean. “Melanie Larvan came here after her father’s death. She wanted to see you, but when she found me instead and learned you were away, she used a robotic insect to knock me out, before… before she robbed me and left me naked as the day I was born!”

“Jean, she is a teenager!” said Ray. “She just saw your outfit and took it. She had been shifted around from one foster home or social services center to another. I can’t help but think that she came to me not for petty crime or revenge for the times I defeated her dad, but because she was a scared but inventive girl who needed help!

Jean sighed and said, “I know. I’ve been abducted by the best. Still, she just really robbed me of my dignity, and for some reason I can’t get over it. I still see red when I think about it!”

“I’ll tip off Adam,” said Ray. “He should be done with his move by now. I’ll call him at Ed’s place, and he can look into the matter. You and I can talk this thing out.”

Jean nodded in agreement and waited as Ray hurried to the phone. I thought our lives would calm down after Ray quit his role as the Atom, she thought. I hoped that he would just hand the costume and the role over to Adam, and we could escape from all the madness that came along with his super-hero world. Now, I wonder if we’ll never be free of his old foes.

***

Back at Velvet O’Mara’s penthouse, an ugly confrontation was occurring between the cocky blonde and a young brunette girl of around fifteen. Melanie Larvan waved a crumpled newspaper in one hand as she shouted at the older woman. “This story makes it pretty clear that you used my bugs to break into the Gardens, and you had them attack that old man! I agreed to create the robotic bugs for you and help you use them to rob when you first took me in, but I never agreed to let you use them without me being in control of them! I also made it really clear to you that I will never use them to hurt someone again! I’ve never gotten over that terrible day when I knocked Jean Loring out and robbed her. It was stupid, and I can’t even explain why I did it.”

“Look, kid,” said Velvet, “we didn’t want you to find out about our secret use of your toys, but now that we’re being so direct and all, let me be blunt. You better not cause trouble for us, or we’ll kill somebody and make it very obvious that you were the brains behind the whole thing! With your old man’s record and your little episode at the Loring place a while back, you make a perfect stooge!

“You can’t threaten me!” cried Melanie. “You were working as a stripper when I found you. I had studied up on all insect-related heroes or villains, and thus I knew about your history. I knew that you once battled Superman and used an insect motif to do so. (*) I thought we might have something in common, so I found you and I enabled you to get rich enough to rent this place in exchange for giving me shelter. I used the bugs to steal enough to make you rich, and you were to respect my wishes in return for my services with my robo-bugs. ”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Beware of the Bug-Belle,” Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #69 (October, 1966).]

“You needed me!” said Velvet. “Let’s face it, kid, in spite of your tough talk, you want a family more than anything else. That’s why you came to me instead of just going solo. Well, I’ve learned how to use your mechanical creepy crawlers, and I’m calling the shots from now on!”

Melanie said, “Not if I use them to take you apart!

Velvet sneered at the girl and said, “Wrong! Jackie is out there in the city with some of your creations. If he doesn’t hear from me regularly, he’ll use them any way he wants! You know Jackie has a pretty face but not a lot of brains or morals. Don’t force me to let him kill with your pets. Any bloodshed will be on your head!”

Melanie stared at the brazen blonde through tearful eyes and said, “I’m smarter than you think. I’d rather go to jail than be at your beck and call!”

Velvet lifted one hand to the light and showed the angry teenager a ring she wore on one finger. “This is called a bio-ring. I had Jackie use your robo-bugs to steal it from Lana Lang’s place! You recall my past encounter with Insect Queen and her magic alien ring? Well, this time I can use it to keep you in line! We really don’t need you anymore. I know how to make your creations now, and with this ring, they aren’t all that vital to my plans, anyway.”

She changed form before Melanie’s eyes and became a weird creature that combined a woman’s torso with the body and legs of a giant spider. Jumping forward, she spun a web around Melanie’s body until the helpless girl was trapped and could not move.

Velvet then returned to normal and caressed her cheek. “You be a good little girl, and we’ll make your end a swift one!” she cooed.

Melanie Larvan struggled fitfully in the web, but she could not break free.

***

Meanwhile, Adam Cray had just arrived at Ivy Town University’s famed physics lab. Adam had been informed about the insect situation, and he had said a hasty farewell to Juliet and Ed Thayer before making a journey via the telephone lines from the Thayer home to Dr. Palmer’s lab, where his assistant Ira Quimby had helped to facilitate the trip by answering the phone.

Adam Cray now wore a distinctive, dark-hued costume with a vest full of deep pockets. The mask that covered his face left his mouth bare, and yet it concealed his features well enough that he could not be recognized as the young research assistant/college student. He stood at six inches tall thanks to the adjustments he had made to the size and weight controls in the belt he wore as part of his Atom costume.

Ira ran one hand through his receding hairline and said, “Atom, I may never quite get used to seeing you come popping out of the phone like that. Dr. Palmer has explained the basic principle you use to travel via phones, but seeing it goes beyond intellectual understanding.”

The Atom smiled and said, “I tend to accept many things Ray tells me on faith instead of trying to grapple with the exact scientific ideas involved. The man is a genius!

“He is,” said the man known as I.Q. “I respect him far more in that lab coat than I ever did when he wore that red and blue costume.”

“You’ve come a long way from your days as a super-crook,” said the Atom. “We all trust you and believe in you. I know Ray is very happy with your help.”

A deep voice echoed through the lab as Superman himself flew into the window at super-speed. “I know I certainly appreciated Ira’s help a while back when I was facing a small problem myself!” he said. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and Ray Palmer: Hardly a Small Problem.]

Ira Quimby lowered his eyes in a self-effacing manner before he shook hands with Superman and said, “It was an honor to help. What brings you here now?”

“Ray told me that I could find Atom here, so I came to ask for his help with a crime in my city,” explained Superman.

The Atom had worked side by side with Superman a few times, since they were both members of the Justice League of America; however, he still felt a bit of awe as he gazed up at the world’s greatest hero. “Superman, Ray told me that he believed the insect robbers were made by Melanie Larvan. She is the teenage daughter of the late inventor-turned-crook Bert Larvan, and she is a runaway. She’s been missing from a foster home since her father died in the Crisis. Ray’s wife Jean was attacked by her a while back. She didn’t really see her, but since an insect attack was followed by the theft of her credit cards, cash, and her clothing, Jean assumed it had to have been a woman who used the technology. Melanie seemed to be the most likely suspect.”

Superman nodded and placed a small metallic object on the table. “The creatures that I fought in Metropolis self-destructed, but I had already scanned them with my super-vision, and through super-recall I was able to create a crude copy. For all practical purposes, this is one of the creatures I fought in Metropolis. They clearly possess enough sophistication to pull off a simple robbery via remote control.”

Atom walked closer to the metal insect. It was roughly his size, and he could readily imagine that at Atom-size, Ray would have had a bit of a fight on his hands when attacked by those creatures. “The late Larvan was called the Bug-Eyed Bandit,” he said. “I can confirm these things are a clever variation of one of his designs. Ray showed me the originals a while back when I was researching some of his old enemies.”

Superman nodded and said, “I was reasonably certain that they came from Bert Larvan’s warped mind. Ray told me about him before, and even without super-recall, it would be pretty hard not to remember a guy called the Bug-Eyed Bandit!”

Atom shrugged and said, “Like someone recently told me, all the good names are taken.”

Ira said, “I guess silence is best in my case. I.Q. was not an especially inspired nom du crime!

Superman asked, “Can you help me track down Melanie or whomever is behind these things?”

“I think so,” said the Atom. “In fact, all we need to do is alter this specimen in a certain manner.”

Superman smiled. “Are you thinking of making this one act like a homing device to join up with the others when they next appear?”

Atom nodded. “I figured as much. All we need to do is wait until more of them become active, and then my plan may lead us to our elusive Bug-Eyed Bandit II.”

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