“Me?” Superman asked. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s very simple, really,” Captain X explained. “I cannot leave this submarine because both it and myself have been charged with a unique form of radiation. If I leave it, it will cause a chain reaction that will kill me.”
“I’m with you so far,” Superman said, fighting through the kryptonite-induced pain, again testing his bonds and finding them adamant.
“After the Martian invasion of Earth — the first one — I found a downed Martian craft at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Australia,” Captain X went on. (*) “I was able to, pardon the pun, pirate some technology from this craft in the hopes of finding a solution to my imprisonment. And I did find it! I found a means of transferring the radiation out of my body and into another body, which would leave me free to finally leave this blasted sub!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “War of the World?” Justice League of America #228 (July, 1984), “War of the Worlds 1984, Part Two,” Justice League of America #229 (August, 1984), and “War of the Worlds 1984, Part Three: Blessed is the Peacemaker,” Justice League of America #230 (September, 1984).]
“And would trap whomever you transferred the radiation into,” Superman stated grimly.
“An unfortunate waste product,” Captain X admitted. “But after more than twenty years in this iron cell, one I am willing to accept. Unfortunately, the process is very rigorous; not just any body would be able to withstand the transfer. And if the receiving body should die mid-transfer, the reversal would probably kill me as well.”
“So you needed a body strong enough that there would be no chance of that,” Superman said.
“Precisely. So, using further technology I looted from the Martian ship, I captured the Outrider in the hopes that you would be sent to investigate. I was worried for a while that Aquaman would come instead, but his body would probably be strong enough to serve the purpose. Probably. Yours, definitely.”
“So you had a trap ready for me, complete with a kryptonite torpedo warhead.”
“I do hate resorting to clichés, but I found a sizeable chunk of the stuff at the bottom of the Sea of Japan, and one works with what one has, eh?”
Before Superman could reply to that, a sudden shrill beeping sound cut through the submarine. Captain X smiled grimly.
“My perimeter alarm,” the mad captain informed his prisoner. “Another gift from the Martians. Someone has followed you to my lair. Well, they’ll find I’m not about to let anyone stand between myself and freedom!” Captain X’s hand stabbed out to a control button, sending a pulse of electromagnetic waves beaming from his ship.
In a deep cave hollowed out in the undersea mountain forming a wall of the canyon, his signal was heard and answered.
“That’s the place,” Nicky said, pointing at the sonar screen display. “That undersea canyon dead ahead.”
“And there’s Captain X’s ship!” Biff rumbled. “I guess Superman wasn’t after him, after all!”
Or else he already overpowered Superman, Dane thought but did not dare voice that worry.
“Dane!” Judy cried in alarm. “Something just entered the radar field! Something — big!“
“I’ll say,” Nicky gasped, gazing at the readout. “If this readout is right, I haven’t seen anything this big since we tangled with the Octopus Man!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Sea Devils Vs. the Octopus Man,” Sea Devils #1 (September-October, 1961).]
“It’s moving fast, coming this way,” Dane said, gazing at the readout. “It ought to be in visual range of our sonar scanners any second! It–“
Biff glanced at the screen, suddenly filled by a gigantic, green-skinned hand, clutching the hilt of an enormous coral sword, swinging toward them in a deadly arc.
“Holy cow!” Biff exclaimed. “It is the Octopus Man!”
“Great Krypton!” Superman exclaimed, watching the scene on Captain X’s view-screen. The monster was humanoid in shape, but the resemblance ended there, since it was at least a hundred feet tall, with drawn, parchment-like skin a sickly green in color and huge, bulbous eyes. The creature held a crudely fashioned sword of heavy coral. On the beast’s face was an expression of monstrous rage.
“Interesting specimen, isn’t he?” Captain X asked. “There’s actually any number of monstrous beasts swimming around down here, if one knows where to look. More Martian technology allows me some measure of control over him. He makes a perfect watchdog, wouldn’t you say?”
Superman did not deign to answer.
“Hard astern!” Dane cried. “Now!” The Sea Devils’ craft arced underwater and very narrowly avoided the swinging coral blade. The undersea wave created by the displaced water nearly sent the sub hurtling end over end, had it not been for the new stabilizing gyroscopes.
“First Captain X, now the Octopus Man!” Nicky exclaimed. “What is this, old villains week? Who’s next — Horro or the Gamester?”
“Probably the Sea Angels,” Biff quipped. “Probably looking for a spot to park their bikes.”
“I would be obliged if you two would take this seriously!” Dane snapped. “The Octopus Man will no doubt be swinging that sword at us again any second!”
“Sorry, Dane,” Nicky said. “Just trying to keep from realizing how terrified I am.”
“Yes, well, I am, too,” Dane said. “But we’ve got to get past that hundred-foot horror and reach Captain X!”
“We’re too vulnerable in the sub,” Judy offered. “We can’t outmaneuver him in the craft, no matter how fast it is.”
“You’re right,” Dane said. “Everyone into your gear and into the water! Judy, set the autopilot for a two-mile radius and return. Move!”
Their leader’s sharp command galvanized the Sea Devils into action. With a speed born of endless hours of practice, they donned their scuba gear and shot out of the sub’s jettison tubes. Once in the water they took off in four different directions to confuse their monstrous foe. The Octopus Man seemed to hesitate for a moment, then his scaly green hand shot out in a grab for one of them.
“Judy!” Dane exclaimed.
“Wouldn’t you know?” Nicky’s voice came through his earpiece radio receiver. “Just like a giant monster to go for the blonde.”
“Nicky!” Biff cautioned. Judy had evaded the Octopus Man’s grab with a graceful underwater arc, but now his other hand was bringing up the coral sword.
That’s Dane and his friends out there, Captain X thought silently, grimacing at the screen. Ironic. Dane is part of the world I lost when I became trapped in this sub, the world I want to rejoin. And now he’s trying to keep me from it! Well, I won’t be stopped by him or anyone else!
The maddened seaman turned to his blue-clad prisoner. “I’d love to watch the end of that contest out there,” he said, “but I see no reason in putting off the transfer process any longer.” Superman watched as Captain X touched another control button. Two metal rods descended from the ceiling, stopping about five feet from the floor. Eagerly, Captain X reached out and wrapped his hands around the rods.
“The process will begin in sixty seconds,” he whispered. “The radiation will drain out of me, through these rods, and be funneled into your body through the conducting material of the table on which you lie! My undying thanks, Superman, for taking my place on this modern-day Dutchman!”
Superman lay helpless as the machinery hummed to life.
Dane watched Judy arc through the water as gracefully as a dolphin, narrowly avoiding the Octopus Man’s colossal coral sword. “Biff! Nicky!” he cried into his radio mouthpiece. “Maneuver 27!”
“Aye-aye, skipper,” Biff rumbled.
Nicky went into action immediately; if the young man felt any fear in the face of the hundred-foot horror, he did not show it as he swam directly into the Octopus Man’s line of vision. The brave youngster began a series of complicated underwater acrobatics, somersaulting, twisting, and looping through the water. As he did so, he kept clicking his underwater flashlight on and off, on and off. The spinning lights dazzled the Octopus Man, held his rapt attention just long enough for Biff to swim to the top of the undersea mountain that formed one wall of this canyon. There the swimming strongman set his shoulder against a boulder at least three times his own size and began to shove. Biff put all his strength into the task; veins on his neck began to bulge.
“Come on, come on,” Dane whispered. “Nicky’s tricks can’t keep his attention forev–” Dane did not finish his statement, for then the boulder gave. It plummeted through the water like a depth bomb and struck the giant beast squarely on the right shoulder. With a howl of pain that echoed through the water, the Octopus Man sank to its knees, right arm hanging limp and useless.
“Good thing he didn’t have his pet octopus with him this time,” Nicky commented, coming out of a somersault to swim back to where Dane and Judy awaited him. Biff followed as well, but slower, much of his strength spent by the task.
“A busted arm won’t keep Ocky down for good,” Dane commented. “We’ve got to get aboard X’s ship and fast!” The other Sea Devils nodded their assent.
“Almost enough energy built up,” Captain X announced, clutching the metal rods with white-knuckled tension. “Soon, you shall help me achieve my exodus, Superman! What do you think of that? Superman?” When the Man of Steel did not answer, Captain X looked over his shoulder, and gasped. “No!” he cried. Superman’s eyes were closed, his head rolled to one side limply. His chest did not rise and fall but lay still and unmoving. The green glow of the kryptonite washed over his motionless form.
“The kryptonite!” Captain X cried, releasing the rods to race over to the table. “Did I miscalculate? I-I thought such a small piece would only keep him weak enough to prevent him breaking free!” The old captain placed a desperate ear to Superman’s chest. He swallowed in fear when he could detect no heartbeat. Quickly, Captain X snatched the kryptonite from the rod holding it over Superman’s body and raced it across the cabin to lock it into a small, leaden chest. He then grabbed a small tin box, white with a large red cross on it, and raced back to the table.
“I can’t let this happen!” he cried out. “Superman can’t die! Not before I’ve transferred the radiation from my body into his! I can’t have come this close to be stopped now!” Captain X bent over the prone form and peered intently at the still face for a few seconds. He then set down the first aid kit and opened the lid.
Captain X cried out in surprise as vise-like fingers closed around his wrist. He looked down at Superman’s still form; the Man of Steel opened his eyes and cracked a wry smile. “You — you’re not hurt?” Captain X asked weakly.
“Not now,” Superman said. Still holding his erstwhile captor’s wrist, Superman flexed his arms, snapping the steel restraints like rubber bands.
“B-but there was no heartbeat!” Captain X protested. “Y-you can stop your heart at will?“
“Not fair, is it?” Superman asked. He snapped the restraints holding his ankles, swung his legs over the side of the table, and stood up. “Now, Captain, you are relieved of command. I’ll see that you get the help you need, but I’m afraid it’ll be in federal prison now.”
“No!” Captain X cried out. “You can’t do this! You–” The enraged man stopped dead, a look of fear on his face. Superman, seeing the expression, looked over his shoulder to see what had terrified Captain X so. He gasped when he saw the view-screen.
“Be careful,” Dane cautioned as the Sea Devils approached Captain X’s ship. “If he realizes we’re out here, there’s no telling what–“
“Look out!” Judy’s voice screeched in their earpieces. The men’s heads turned to see the Octopus Man, right arm still hanging limp at his side, swinging his coral sword at them left-handed.
“Scatter!” Dane shouted, and the Sea Devils did just that, darting through the water in four different directions. The coral blade, swung clumsily by the monster’s left hand, missed them entirely and continued on a collision course with Captain X’s ship.
“Dad!” Dane cried out as he saw the coral blade sink into the metal hull of the ship. It did not quite cleave the ship in two; the blade broke a little more than halfway through the ship. Sparks shot out into the water, and dark, cloudy liquid seeped from the crippled vessel.
“Holy cow,” Biff cried out. “What a way to go!”
“No!” Dane cried. “He may still be alive!” Dane’s fingers fumbled for the remote control device in his belt, summoning the Sea Devils’ ship. “Come on, we’ve got to find him! Get him to safety! We–” The commander of the Sea Devils stopped as he saw a red and blue blur rocket up out of the sub.
“Wow!” Nicky cried. “Superman! He was on board the sub!”
“Come on!” Dane shouted as their ship came into view. “Superman may not know about Dad’s condition! We’ve got to get to the surface!”
The Sea Devils scrambled into their ship; Dane set the controls to surface as fast as they dared. Dane gripped the controls with white-knuckled tension. His wife stood by his side, a gentle hand on his shoulder. She said nothing; she knew there was nothing she could say. Finally the sub broke the surface.
“Dane, there’s Superman!” Nicky cried, pointing at the view-screen. “And he’s got your dad!“
True, the Man of Steel hovered in the air above the Sea Devils’ ship, cradling the still form of Captain X in his arms. When he saw the sub break the surface, he descended slowly to it. Dane raced to the hatch and met Superman outside on the hull. The other Sea Devils were close behind.
“Dane Dorrance!” Superman cried, seeing the Sea Devils’ leader. “I had no idea it was you and your Sea Devils outside the sub fighting that monster. Wait — Dorrance. Great Krypton, I never made the connection!”
“Dad told you?” Dane asked. “About his condition! Is — is he–?”
“It was close going for about ten minutes,” Superman said. “I didn’t fly him anywhere, because frankly I didn’t know what to do for him. But — take a look.”
Dane watched in awe. Captain X, his father, was coming around. He seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. Superman set him down gently on the hull of the Sea Devils’ ship.
Captain X’s eyes fluttered open; he winced against the bright sunlight and shielded his eyes with his hand. He looked around in bewilderment. “I — I’m outside? And I’m — not dead?” Captain X asked. “But how? It’s impossible!“
“I have a theory,” Superman said. “The radiation absorbed by your cells was driven out of your body by another form of radiation.” Superman looked up at the bright tropical sun shining down on them. “Solar radiation.”
“So–“Captain X choked. “You mean… all these years… all I ever had to do…?”
“Was go out in the sun.” Superman nodded gravely. “I’m sorry, Captain Dorrance. I truly am. I wish there were something I could do, now. I’m afraid you’ve just traded one prison for another.”
Captain X looked up at Superman and his son, pleading in his eyes. Then he buried his face in his hands and wept huge, ragged sobs. Dane grimly turned his face away from the father he hardly knew; Judy took him in her arms and held him close a long, long time.