“Toyman!” Superman cried, seeing the rotund little man in the blue-and-pink-striped suit standing in the doorway. “I knew it was you! This caper has your signature all over it!”
“Lemme at ‘im, Supes!” Changeling said, morphing into a gorilla. “I’ll use him for a basketball!“
“No, wait, please!” Toyman cried, holding out his hands. “Please, hear me out! I-I am to blame for this, but… I’m not the man you want!”
Superman’s eyebrow raised. Perhaps he remembered a time when the Toyman had gone straight, become a law-abiding citizen for a short time, driven back to crime only by a personal trauma. (*) Or perhaps his super-senses told him that his old foe was not lying. “I’m listening,” he said.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Target of the Toymen,” Action Comics #433 (February, 1974) and “The Man Who Toyed with Death,” Superman #305 (November, 1976).]
“Well, I suppose I should begin at the beginning,” Toyman said. “As a child, Christmas was always my favorite time of the year. Nothing I ever found later in life, not even my successes at crime and my spectacular jousts with you, gave me the simple, childlike pleasure of opening a new toy! It was the greatest feeling I’d ever known!”
“You’re breaking my heart,” Changeling said sarcastically.
“Gar,” Superman warned. “Go on, Schott.”
“Yes, thank you,” Toyman continued. “Anyway, as I was planning my next spectacular crime, I began to think about that Christmas childhood joy. Call it nostalgia, but I decided that this Christmas would be different. Instead of robbing and plundering, I would do something beneficial for the people of Metropolis. I wanted to give them that same joy I experienced so long ago. I wanted all the adults, obsolete children as Geisel calls them, to once again experience the childhood joy of Christmas as only children can!”
“So you came up with the idea of phony toys that send out electronic waves that regress a person’s maturity level to that of childhood?” Superman asked.
“Yes!” Toyman cried out. “Brilliant, wasn’t it? By disguising this electro-regressor device as this season’s most popular toy, I was sure to spread my Christmas joy to the greatest number of people! It was masterful, don’t you think?”
“Sure, if nearly causing fatal car crashes and suicide leaps was your goal,” Changeling said. “To say nothing of these bully boys, here, robbing the city blind!”
“But that wasn’t me!” Toyman cried. “All right, I admit, I was a bit shortsighted. I never anticipated the, shall we say, unfortunate side effects of the sudden emotional regressions. Believe me, I never foresaw the potential for danger!“
“And these gentlemen?” Superman said, indicating the bandits with a sweep of his hand.
“I’m telling you, I did not hire these brigands!” Toyman swore.
“Then who did?” Changeling demanded.
“The man,” Toyman said simply, “who built the electro-regressor device!“
Superman and Changeling exchanged surprised glances.
“But you just said you created the device,” Superman said.
“No, I did not!” Toyman declared. “I conceptualized it, yes. But my forte is miniaturization, weapons-making. While I have the imagination and creativity to conceive of such a device as a tiny electronic transmitter that regresses a person’s emotional maturity to roughly the age of seven or eight, I certainly lack the know-how to design such a device!”
“Hmm, true,” Superman said. “That kind of device does seem a bit out of your league.”
“So I took my idea to someone more adept at that kind of thing than I,” Toyman said. “Someone who could turn my dreams of a Metropolis full of happy, childlike adults into reality. The heartless cur must have perverted my idea to his own ends and hired these bandits to loot the city when the chaos started!”
“And just who was that?” Superman asked. “Luthor?”
“Heavens, no!” Toyman swore, genuinely shocked. “I would never deal with that backstabbing murderer! After that foul trick he pulled, slaughtering those poor, unsuspecting super-villains in cold blood just to make another of his interminable attacks on you, Superman? (*) The man is persona non grata in the super-villain community these days! Why, Captain Cold has sworn to kill him!“
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Pawns of the Power Pirate.]
“He has?” Changeling asked wide-eyed, not understanding why a felon like Cold would seek vengeance for other villains’ deaths.
“Certainly!” Toyman said. “The Rainbow Archer owed him fifty dollars; a Superbowl bet, I understand. Some chance he has of collecting it now!“
“If we could return to the point,” Superman said, “since you’re here, making a full confession and all, I suppose you’re willing to tell us who you contacted to build your electro-regressor device, and where we could find him?”
“Surely, surely!” the Toyman said. “Er… perhaps… in exchange for immunity from prosecution?“
“Why, you slimy–“
“Gar!” Superman turned back to the Toyman. “I can make no promises, Schott, but I will tell the district attorney that you came to us and cooperated fully.”
“I can ask no more,” Toyman said. “Now, the gentleman’s name and address–“
In the 1960s and 1970s, Kiddie City had been the largest toy store in Metropolis. Thousands of children had roamed its wide aisles and stocked shelves in gleeful rapture at the cornucopia of brightly colored playthings. The 1980s had spelled doom for the store. National chains like JD Toys and Toys-We-B had come to Metropolis, and the independent retailer had been unable to compete, especially in an increasingly poor economy. In 1986, the store had shut its doors forever and remained tightly shuttered, a new buyer for the store not yet found.
“Creepy,” Changeling whispered as he and Superman walked the dark, deserted aisles. Seeing the gigantic stuffed animals — including a life-sized giraffe, tiger, and hippopotamus — in the silent shadows was positively eerie.
“No talking,” Superman warned him, scanning the deserted store with his x-ray vision. “If Schott was right, our quarry is in here someplace.”
“So why all the stealth?” Changeling asked. “We’re the super-heroes, aren’t we? We walk in and break him in two!”
“Hasn’t Dick taught you any better strategy than that?” Superman asked. “We need to anticipate a trap; our foe may be prepared for–“
“Yaaa!” Changeling’s shout of surprise cut off Superman’s lecture as the stuffed giraffe lunged forward, jaws gaping open to reveal rows of razor-edged teeth. Its snapping jaws barely missed the leaping Changeling.
“I wouldn’t have chosen such an aggressive way to illustrate my point,” Superman said dryly, “but it’s certainly effective.” With a searing blast of heat-vision, Superman decapitated the robot giraffe. The tiger and hippopotamus were joining the fight now.
“Yeah, it gets the point across, all right,” Changeling said, morphing into a huge emerald rhinoceros. Getting up speed, Changeling charged the mechanical hippo, crashing into it and sending gears and springs flying.
“Someone was definitely ready for us,” Superman said, allowing the robot tiger to break its teeth on his arm. “Could be just a general defense against all intruders.”
“Or maybe Toydude sold us out,” Changeling said, changing back into his human form.
“In either event, let’s be careful,” Superman said. “These animated toys were little more than an annoyance, but remember, this villain supplied those thugs with a red-solar laser gun, too.”
“Yeah,” Changeling said, looking around. “I wonder if–?” Suddenly, with a slight pop of air rushing to fill a suddenly empty space, Changeling was gone.
“Gar?” Superman asked.
“Here I am,” came a whisper in Superman’s left ear. Changeling had assumed the form of an ant perched on Superman’s shoulder. Only the Man of Steel’s super-hearing could have even heard the tiny whisper of Changeling’s insect voice. “Don’t let on you suspect something, but… take a look at the back wall of the store.”
Superman scanned his eyes in that direction and saw what the young hero meant. Life-sized marionettes hung from strings in a huge display in the rear of the store. A clown, a ballerina, a cowboy, a knight, a second clown, and a princess hung silently in the darkened store as if waiting for the children to come back.
“Two clowns?” Changeling asked in a whisper.
“We’ll see,” Superman whispered back. He began scanning the giant puppets with his x-ray vision. “Most of them are plain wooden marionettes,” Superman whispered. “The second clown I can’t see through. Some sort of lead foil shielding in its costume.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear!” Changeling cried, leaping off Superman’s shoulder. The impulsive young hero quickly changed into a gorilla, bounding straight for the marionettes.
“Gar, wait!” Superman cried, but it was too late. The huge emerald fist slammed into the second clown puppet — which exploded.
“Gar!” Superman cried out, momentarily blinded by the smoke and haze. “I tried to warn you it may be another trap!“
“People should make a habit of listening to you, Superman,” came a voice from behind. “You make a great deal of sense.”
“You!” Superman snarled, turning.
“Yes, me,” the man in the yellow body suit said as he stepped out of a door in the giant plastic tree situated in the center of the store. “Jordan Weir, also known as the Puppet Master or the Puppeteer — take your choice. At your service, Superman.”
Superman’s super-hearing told him that Changeling still breathed; his gorilla form had protected him from serious injury. He would tend to his young friend later, after he wiped the floor with this swaggering villain.
“Schott was a fool,” the Puppeteer went on. “When he came to me with his insipid plan for giving the adults of Metropolis a childlike Christmas, I nearly laughed in his face. Then I saw the moneymaking potential in such a scheme. I’ve been listening to the radio, and I understand my brain-wave regressor device is working beautifully.”
“You twisted maniac,” Superman growled. “Turning a beautiful time like Christmas into a deadly chaos? Preying on innocent people’s holiday gift-giving as part of some sick scheme to rob the city? You’re a monster!“
“You’re breaking my heart, Superman,” Puppeteer sneered. “I guess I’m off your Christmas card list, hey?”
“But you’ll make an excellent Christmas present,” Superman said, striding forward, “when I present you to the district attorney!“
“Ah-ah-ah, Superman,” Puppeteer said, drawing a pistol-like weapon from his belt. “Remember what my Big Hero X toys did to the grownups who got too close to them.”
“If that’s a threat, Puppeteer, it falls short of the mark,” Superman said.
“I suppose it would,” the master villain sighed. “Then again, you forget that I know how to use red solar radiation in my weapons.” With that, the Puppeteer pulled the trigger. There was no light, no sound; only a glazed look in Superman’s eyes. Then, with a happy chuckle, the Man of Steel turned to the ceiling-high shelves of the deserted toy store.
“Toys!” he cried out happily. “All these wonderful toys! I’m gonna play all night!” With childlike glee, Superman began grabbing toys from the shelves, examining each one for a few seconds with rapt attention before moving on to the next one.
The Puppeteer threw back his head and laughed. “I guess there’s a bit of the child in all of us, eh, Superman? I suppose, this being Christmas and all, I should just leave you happily reliving your childhood while I make my getaway, rather than drill you through the back with a red-solar laser. But they’d say I was getting soft, wouldn’t they? And that would never — eh?”
“Give it up, Gepetto,” Changeling snarled, still in gorilla form, lurching forward through the debris.
“Oh, please,” Puppeteer sneered. “I suppose Superman needs a playmate.” The gold-garbed villain raised his regressor weapon and pulled the trigger. The electronic waves beamed out, directly into Changeling’s brain.
“Wa-hoo!” the young hero cried out, leaping across the store. His powerful simian legs carried him to the villain’s side in a single leap. Puppeteer barely had time to cry out in terror as a huge green paw, curled up like a fist, shot out and nailed him on the point of his chin. The slight-framed villain went flying back, crashing into a huge display of rubber balls of various sizes. He lay amid the bouncing spheres, totally unconscious.
Changeling morphed back into human form and picked up the Puppeteer’s dropped weapon. After some experimental fiddling with the controls, he was able to reverse its effects on Superman.
“What a bizarre feeling,” Superman said, rubbing the back of his head. “I suppose Puppeteer’s weapon turned me back into a child?“
“Yup,” Changeling acknowledged. “That’s a cool Lego castle you built, there.”
“What happened then?” Superman asked. “Didn’t he use the device on you?“
“He tried,” Changeling shrugged. “It didn’t seem to take. I dunno why. Donna and Kory are always saying I’m so immature; I guess the gizmo didn’t have much to do.”
Superman chuckled. “Well, this time, Gar, your immaturity saved the day!“
“Uh, Supes,” Changeling asked, “would you mind writing that down? And signing it? Please?“