A few days later, Velvet O’Mara stood before Jackie and the captive Melanie Larvan in a bright purple costume that left her legs bare above flared boots. A thin black stripe formed a V-neck collar that led into puffy shoulder pads. “I designed it myself!” she said. “I think I’ll call myself Insecta.”
Jackie whistled appreciatively and said, “Velvet, you look hot! Don’t she, kid?”
Melanie grimaced and said, “If I could get free of this web, I’d express my opinion on her face!”
“We better stop feeding her,” said Velvet. “A few days of hunger might tame her smart mouth!”
Jackie said, “Velvet, I’m a bit worried about your plan to use the bugs again. What if Superman runs into them again? I figured we could pull a few jobs and get out of town before the big blue Boy Scout figured out we were behind them! You just don’t mess with Superman!”
Velvet smiled and fluffed her hair as she said, “Jack, leave the thinking to me. I want nothing more than to draw Superman’s attention to us. I can handle him.”
She turned to a control box and said, “I’m sending the swarm out into the city. Superman will be sure to notice them, and then you’ll see why your lady is a champ!” She twisted a dial, and the metallic swarm emerged to soar out of the patio door and into the heart of Metropolis.
Superman was busy at that moment in his secret identity of Clark Kent. The mild-mannered reporter was sitting across from his gruff editor Perry White as the older man offered a suggestion. “Clark, I’d like to see you do a piece on some former super-criminals who have turned their lives around by reforming. The Golden Glider, I.Q., and the Pied Piper come to mind, to name just three.”
Clark nodded in approval. “I like the idea. It always inspires me to read about someone who has made a positive change in their lives. Having the subjects be formerly notorious super-villains will only make their tales more exciting.”
He frowned as his super-hearing detected the sound of a high-pitched alarm. Great Scott! That’s the signal Adam Cray and I placed in our bug, he thought. It’s responding to the return of the other bugs. I need to get moving and lend Adam a hand. I know his own receiver will have picked up the signal as well, since we linked it to our specific JLA signal devices.
Clark stood up and said, “Perry, I’ll get right on the assignment. I’d better make some calls.” He rushed out, leaving the older man staring in consternation.
“Great Caesar’s ghost!” he said. “The boy’s getting more unpredictable every day. He runs around like a chicken with its head cut off — but he always delivers a great story.”
Meanwhile, Adam Cray was pulling a Clark Kent of his own as he stood up and excused himself from a history lecture at Ivy Town College. “Sorry, Dr. Croft, but my stomach is turning flips,” he said slowly as he rushed out of class. He rounded a corner and grabbed a pay phone. A quick call to the Daily Planet will enable me to reach the city in record time, he thought.
He heard a woman say, “Hello? Daily Planet.”
Quickly, he reduced his size and traveled via the phone to emerge through the phone and sail away from a surprised Jennifer Owens. The curly haired receptionist put the phone down without ever knowing a microscopic man had passed inches by her ear.
The Atom frowned as he saw Superman flying skyward to intercept the swarm of robotic bugs. “They were attacking a weather news copter,” he realized as he saw Superman blow them away from a tilting aircraft.
Taking a small metal insect out of his vest pocket, the Atom smiled. “I.Q. did a great job on making the contents of my vest immune to the old side effect of enlargement after shrinking. In the past, any item an Atom carried with him would explode moments after being enlarged again. That is one worry I no longer have!”
He shrank himself down, slipped inside the bug, and activated a control that allowed it to fly skyward to mix with the swarm. Perfect! I’ve joined them without any detection, he thought. I can let Superman do his thing and then follow them right back to their creator!
Superman was going through the motions of deflecting the now-humanoid-looking bug-man, but he had no desire to do too good a job. We want to have the bugs lead us back to Melanie Larvan. That means I need to take a dive, so to speak! he thought. As energy crackled around him from the creature, he reeled aside and pitched forward at high speed. I’ll act like the energy left me dizzy. That should give the swarm time to flee.
Back at the penthouse, Velvet shook her head in concern. “He’s falling! I wanted him to come here so I could finish him off. Still, if our creatures managed to hurt him, all the better! Why should I break a nail when they can handle him?”
“You’re dreaming if you imagine my bugs could have harmed Superman!” said Melanie.
Jackie gripped her hair and said, “Shut up, kid! Don’t make Velvet angry!”
“Call me Insecta when I’m in costume,” said Velvet, smiling as she summoned the swarm to return. “There is no sign of Superman. I think we actually knocked him out!”
The bugs flew into her patio door, and she had just directed them into their container when Superman suddenly stepped into the room. “Velvet O’Mara! I didn’t expect to see you again,” he said. “I knew you once robbed Lana of her bio-ring, but I doubted you’d ever return to crime after your last defeat.”
Jackie clutched at Velvet and said, “Vel! It’s him! It’s him!”
She shoved him aside and said, “I can see that. Be calm. I’ll handle him. Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly!” She started to laugh.
“That’s enough banter,” said Superman. “I’m taking you in. Call this a raid, if you want.” He stepped forward, and Velvet used the bio-ring to turn into a huge, red-scaled insect with eight legs.
“A scarlet spinner from Krypton can even hurt you!” she hissed as she bounded forward and generated a web that wrapped around Superman’s body.
“I can’t break free of the web, but then you knew that, didn’t you?” he said. “This was a trap!”
She drew closer to him and lifted one leg. “I can poison you with my venom. Any insect from your homeworld can kill you. I know all about them because of your book about the flora and fauna of that doomed world.”
Superman used his heat-vision to melt through the web that held Melanie, even as he continued to struggle with the alien snare.
Velvet laughed as she saw his futile efforts to tear the web. “I knew the metal bugs couldn’t hurt you for long. I suppose you faked your earlier weakness and followed them at invisible super-speed.”
The Atom emerged from within the bug he had ridden within and took stock of the situation. Superman didn’t expect Velvet to be involved, but he did consider the possibility that whoever took the ring from the Lang home might use it to turn into alien bugs that could harm him. That’s why he agreed to act as a distraction while I made my own play. I just hope I don’t let him down!
Before he could act, Melanie jumped across the room as the web holding her broke apart. It had been far stronger than a normal web, since Velvet had spun it in her magical giant-sized insect form, but it was still a mere Earthly web, so Superman’s powers could work on it. He could not, unfortunately, use them on the Kryptonian web that held him.
Melanie kicked Jackie below the belt and grabbed the robo-bug control device. “Now, I’ll pay you back!” she yelled. But the girl’s good intentions only resulted in attracting Velvet’s attention to the Atom’s presence.
“The Atom!” cried Insecta. “I’ll swat him like a bug, if you will allow me the expression!”
The Atom scowled as his efforts to be unseen failed because of Melanie’s movement. The teenage girl tried to activate the robo-bugs, but Velvet’s alien form was quicker, and she swatted the device out of her hands before she could use it. “I’ll rip your heart out!” she hissed as she loomed over the fallen girl.
Jumping forward, the Atom reduced his size and mass until he had landed on her finger. Then he quickly grew to full size and ripped the bio-ring off her finger before she could stop him. “That ends your shape-shifting days for good!” he yelled.
Insecta could not change form, but she could still make good use of her current scarlet spinner form. She fired a gooey web directly at the Atom, and although he tried to avoid it by shrinking, his change in size only resulted in his complete entrapment. I can’t reduce myself! he thought. The sticky stuff is clinging to me. I’d rip apart if I altered my size now. He smiled as he plunged his arm through the bio-ring and changed into a scarlet spinner.
“The spinner is immune to its own web!” said the Atom. “I figured it could not move across it so easily if the web could hold the spinner’s body. Some secretion must make it able to move on the sticky web.” He pounced on Insecta and wrestled her to the ground. “I’m stronger than you in my human form, so I’m still stronger when we’re in the same insect form!” he said.
Melanie used her control device to send the robo-bugs into a sudden attack on Velvet as well. They could not hurt her, but they distracted her enough for the Atom to knock her cold. He then freed Superman from the web and changed back to normal.
The two heroes nodded in agreement as they noticed Jackie sitting on the floor where Melanie’s kick had left him. They turned to Melanie with appreciation.
“You really came through for us,” said Superman. “We might have had a rough time if you had not distracted Velvet with your bugs. You did make them to begin with, didn’t you?”
“I did,” said Melanie. “My dad created the basic design, and I improved it a little. I’m sorry about all this. I guess you have to take me to jail now.”
The Atom said, “Well, you helped us defeat Insecta, and we’ll both put in a good word for you. If the stolen items are returned and you agree to do community service, I’d say you might just avoid the full consequences of your actions.”
“Thank you!” said an astonished Melanie. “Do you really mean it? Maybe I could even use my bugs to fight crime! I did help you guys!”
Superman put an arm on the girl’s shoulder and said, “I think you can do anything you want to do. Believe in yourself. As for being a heroine, you certainly proved it today! Keep on proving it!”