DC Universe: Deus ex Machina, Chapter 4: Men of Metal

by Libbylawrence

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Back at the hospital, Lana Lang and Lois Lane listened as Len “Big Daddy” Rothko continued his sad story. “Yeah, the murder of Blackjack was just the beginning of the end for my Earth. You see, Volt was the psycho who fried Blackjack, and in a way we gave birth to him. He was a scientist with ideas for an electrical voltage-generating battle-suit. He offered the idea to the WEB agency, but he was turned down. That was during a period of inactivity for us when our bureau had been closed. By the time we reopened, Volt had developed the armor with funding and help from other criminal sources.

“Anyhoo, the next maniac to enter the picture was Burnout,” he continued. “He was a pyromaniac with advanced battle armor. He started to make the Chicago fire look like a campfire when he began a rampage through Manhattan! Three of my buddies tried to stop him, and they did. However, they didn’t succeed in the way we’d have preferred.”

“Len, both of the villains you’ve mentioned wore armor or battle-suits,” said Lois. “Is that what you meant when you said men of metal destroyed your Earth?”

Len nodded and said, “Exactly, babe. All these punks were brought together by a creep who had the data to find them and the power to free them and equip them! He also gave them their agenda. He sent them out during the red skies and time warps to kill as many heroes as possible!

“My pals were all different. The oldest was a mellow martial arts expert with a laid back vibe. He was called the Sunshine Kid. He hung out at the Haight in the ’60s and was a pal of Tim Leary’s and the Merry Pranksters. I miss him still. He led two younger recruits from the WEB, and they ganged up on Burnout. The kids were called Rad and Jump, and all three men were brave and capable.

“They closed in on Burnout, and from the data our main office received via remote transmits from their WEB armor, the killer was in a world all his own. He was laughing and smiling while fires raged around him. People were dying. People were watching their whole lives go up in smoke, and this nut was acting like he was on a picnic!”

“Pyromaniacs do often get a real pleasure out of seeing fire at work,” noted Lana.

“Well, my buddies called for what we called priority boots!” continued Len. “They gained temporary power-enhancement through the access lines beneath their skin. The extra juice allowed them to stop Burnout cold, so to speak. They closed in on him in an old tenement, and he did something that gives me the shakes even now when I think about it. He looked at them and just hit some kind of self-destruct switch. His armor ignited, and the roar of the flames as that building exploded around them was the last sound my friends ever heard! The building collapsed on them. They were buried beneath a ton of rubble. I know they took Burnout down with them, in a way, but one killer’s life don’t equal three heroes in my book!”

At that moment, a doctor came out and said, “Miss Lane? We know you were waiting to get word about Tawny Young. She will recover in time. She has passed through the crisis state.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” said Lois. “We’re glad to hear that.”

“Lois, are you going to become the Black Hood again to catch the hit-woman who tried to kill Tawny?” asked Lana.

“Uh, no, she’s not!” interrupted Len. “I can’t let you use that silk hood again until I tell you the story behind it. I guess how I ended up with it and got to your Earth is how my story ends, so I’ll try to get to it faster.”

He stood up and said, “The cops have been tipped off. They can guard the other news-babes. As I was saying, some good men died at the hands of some metal-bound killers. Of course, in any war, the good guys pull off some victories, too. Two come to mind real quick.

“One of the most unlikely of heroes on my Earth was a geek named Bob Brooks. He wanted to be called the Phantom, but when someone asked his name, he reacted by instinct and said Bob. So the media dubbed him Bob Phantom. He was brave and did more than many men could or would do, but he was not a pro. He was just a good man who wanted to help people and get a little rush out of it. Well, he was prowling the streets of L.A. when he was stabbed by an unseen foe. He struggled with the man he felt in front of him, but he couldn’t see a thing. Well, he reached down and tossed his trademark weapon…” Len grinned and looked at the two reporters before he continued.

“Y’see, Bob Phantom used paint balloons! The silly gimmick worked. It made his invisible killer show up, and Bob died before he could do more. Well, the now-paint-stained Invisible Terror — that was the assassin’s name — tried to get away, but he found his path blocked by ordinary folks who managed to subdue him. He was a deadly fighter, but he relied on his trick of invisibility too much, and in the end he lost!”

“A hero who uses balloons to fight crime sounds so… well, silly,” said Lois.

Lana smiled and said, “Lois, weren’t you the one who once dated a guy named the Human Cannonball?

“He’s proven himself to be a real hero, and a TV star, too, but I get your rather catty point,” said Lois.

“I don’t mind,” said Len. “I always laughed at Bob, too, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t die like a hero.” He stood up and said, “Maybe I’d better tell you how I got the Hood. You see, I was…”

Before he could finish his statement, he saw a news alert on a small TV in a waiting room nearby. “Hey! That can’t be true! I’m seeing things!” he muttered.

“Hmm… Some patriotic crook is fighting with Steel, Atom, and Starman,” said Lana. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen the armored man before.”

Lois glanced at the TV and said, “It’s a report about a fight between some heroes from our Earth and some new villain! That happens almost every day here!”

“Lady, that’s no villain,” insisted Len. “That red, white, and blue champion is one of the finest heroes my Earth ever had! He’s called the Shield — or he was before he died!”

***

The hero in question was certainly demonstrating an impressive array of fighting abilities for a dead man. He was a young man with brown hair, and he wore a red, white, and blue suit of armor that was amazingly durable, yet oddly lightweight. His real name was Joe Higgins, and as Len correctly declared, the youth was called the Shield due to the remarkable manner in which he used his military-created armor to protect his country. However, none of this mattered to Steel, Starman, or the Atom as the three friends found themselves attacked without more warning than a heated battle-cry.

The three young men had been out in their civilian identities for a rare evening away from their costumed roles when the armored figure had jumped out to halt their progress down a quiet street. “I’m here to make you sorry for mocking our nation’s colors, you metal monster!” he shouted, punching a startled Hank Heywood III, who fell flat before the other man’s strength.

Starman assumed the slightly altered features and heroic costume that marked him as a hero, while the Atom shrank down to six inches and sailed through the air by adjusting his size and weight controls. They were eager to help their fallen friend, but before they could take action, Steel had shed his own suit and was leaping at the newcomer. “I don’t know how you knew my secret or why you’ve got a beef with me, but I’m not going to let you call me a monster or challenge my right to wear the red, white, and blue!” said Steel, belting the Shield with a right hook and drawing closer, even as the armored figure brought both hands up and clapped them against each side of Steel’s head. He staggered forward on momentum before the Shield connected with two more punishing blows.

“Why don’t you try that on me?” said Starman, and the hero in red and black flew between the struggling pair, blocking the Shield from his friend.

“I don’t know what kind of traitor you are, mister, but if you’d side with a metal man against real humans, then you deserve what you get!” said the Shield. He brought both of his own hands together, and a blinding electrical burst erupted without having any effect on Starman.

“You pack a real punch, but then so do we!” said Starman.

The Atom had been drifting closer to the fight, and his keen, scientifically trained mind was scanning his foe for some visible weakness. His helmet may be his Achilles heel, mused the tiny titan. He entered Shield’s helmet, and at greatly reduced size, he deftly crossed two wires. The Shield cried out and fell to his knees as his own gear suddenly suffered a power surge that left the young man dazed. The Atom returned to normal size and said, “Now, while he’s stunned, we’d better regroup.”

“That’s not necessary,” said Captain Comet as the red-and-white-costumed man of the future swooped into view.

The Shield stood up slowly and raised his hands, but this time he did so in a gesture of placation and not as a means of attack. “I’ve been a dupe again!” he muttered. “First my uncle, and now someone else!”

Starman greeted his ally and said, “Captain Comet, what brings you here? I see you traced us via a JLA tracker device.”

Captain Comet nodded and said, “I’m here to stop this young man from making a big mistake.” Turning to the Shield, he said, “You see, son, I’ve been told all about you, and as you seem to realize from my own mental projection, you’ve been tricked.”

“OK, so there’s more to this attack than meets the eye,” said the Atom. “How about letting us in on the details?”

“I’ll be glad to do that,” said the Shield. “Your pal’s mental broadcast just told me everything, and that’s why I gave up so suddenly. My name is the Shield. To cut to the chase, I’m a good guy, and I was told that Steel, here, was a threat to this Earth. He is something of a cyborg, and my own Earth was destroyed by cyborgs and robots.”

Your Earth?” said Starman. “You come from some parallel Earth?”

The Shield nodded and said, “I did. My Earth died, and somehow I ended up here. I felt like I had a second chance to make up for so much that went wrong on my world. You see, the man who orchestrated the end of my world was my uncle. For years I’d believed him to be my father, but in truth he was only an uncle. He came to hate me, and his hatred led him to put in motion events that destroyed my Earth!”

“The ghost of the Black Witch showed me how information about heroes of your world had been taken from her and given to certain powerful beings,” explained Captain Comet. “They duped you and some others into thinking that certain cybernetic or robotic types from this world were evil, like the ones you fought back home. That was all a deception. You see, they only wanted to use you to strike at some heroes here. It was all a plot to get at heroes like some Justice League members, the Doom Patrol, the New Titans, and others. The Black Witch repented of her role in it when we freed her from her own evil self. She showed me where you and some others from her world had been sent to attack heroes here. Now, I hope we can all gather together and confront the true menace!”

***

After the Enchantress had explained what she knew to Jaguar, Robotman, Celsius, Halo, and Windfall, she used her magic to summon the group of heroes at Titans Tower, where the lithe and lovely Dolphin had arrived at Titans Tower in time to catch the departing Fly, Cyborg, Changeling, and Raven. Summoning also Captain Comet, Starman, and the JLAers, the Enchantress drew everyone back together on the isle of Vumania. There, explanations were quickly made, and as they prepared to take action, Captain Comet drew Starman aside.

“Will, I’ve got another mission for you. The Black Witch’s ghost imparted certain information to me that relates to you. You see you’ve become the target of a group of super-powered villains, and their master has wrongfully captured yet another player in this story. I’d like to join you and rescue him.”

Starman nodded and said, “Of course! If some innocent has suffered because of me, I’d like to make things right!”

Comet smiled and said, “I expected as much.”

***

Earlier, in Boston, Gotham City’s Olivia Ortega had returned to her room in the hotel and carefully washed away her slightly dark complexion and her black hair color to reveal a pale woman with short red hair. “Abducting the real Olivia Ortega and taking her place has given me access to the hotel and the schedule of the guests,” she said. “It’s a shame I’ll have to kill her after I finish killing Lang, Lane, and the rest here. Using a longer red wig when I’m in my Executrix role is a necessary evil, since I can’t build my damaged reputation back if people assume I’m not the original. I spent too long recovering from my last encounter with Superman and Batman to let my market value as a hit-woman fade!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Gotham Bridge is Falling Down,” World’s Finest Comics #314 (April, 1985).]

She donned her red costume and slipped the wig back in place before she examined some round objects with hard metal casings. “These bombs will take down the hotel and all the newswomen, too.” She set certain adjustments on the spheres and then swiftly exited from her upper story window.

Before she could depart from the huge building, a wild, maniacal laugh echoed above her, and she glanced upward to see a weird, nightmarish figure with green hair, yellow coloration, and a furry, vest-like red garment. “Even a pretty mortal who has no fear of heights should learn to beware the Creeper!” he said, cackling madly.

Cursing, she whirled around to target the wildly capering figure as he darted from side to side. “I don’t have time for this!” she said. “I never knew Boston was so full of super-heroes!” She fired her energy rifle again and again, but the Creeper merely flipped out of her range and disappeared into the shadows.

The Executrix jumped off the roof and used her own impressive agility to turn her fall into a series of artfully executed rolls until she landed perfectly below. She glanced up at the roof and saw nothing. “I can’t worry about that grinning goon. I’ll blow that freak to kingdom come!” she said as she activated the bombs via remote control.

Seconds later, to her horror, she saw the spheres sailing out of the hotel directly at her from above. Before she could escape, they struck her, and she gasped as nothing else occurred. Loud laughter rang out, and she saw the Creeper jump down to tackle her. “I thought you were the kind of woman who enjoyed making things explode!” he said in a mocking tone. “Yet you seemed as skittish as a farm girl in the big city!”

“You deactivated them!” she cried. “You must have been watching me the whole time I was in my room!”

He grinned and said, “Oh, the Creeper sees all, and you put on a good show!” The Executrix punched him in the face, but he shrugged off her blow and wrestled her down to the pavement with a show of superior strength. “I can tie you up with some of your own gear! I like that in a foe. You supply the means of your own defeat!” he said as he used her grappling rope to hogtie her.

“Now you can dream of me from a nice cell,” he said as he removed her wig and danced away into the shadows.

The hit-woman fumed helplessly as police cars pulled up, and she was taken into custody. “Olivia Ortega was rescued earlier by the Creeper,” said an officer. “He may be a freak, but he does some good.”

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