by Martin Maenza, partially adapted and expanded from Superman #413 by Cary Bates and Curt Swan, and Crisis on Infinite Earths #6 by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez
The weather on Earth-One had become very unpredictable ever since the world was swept into the netherverse. Red skies had appeared intermittently, and in some landlocked parts of Europe, an incredible blizzard was gripping the land despite it being the end of July. On the East Coast of the United States, torrential rain storms and lightning filled the darkened morning skies. It was as if Mother Nature herself was rebelling at the idea of the worlds being taken from their natural place in the cosmos.
While fleeing from a battle with his archenemy Superman, a brilliant bald scientist-turned-master criminal found himself caught up in an intense tornado. “I guess this is goodbye, old foe — for now!” he shouted with bravado while being pulled backward into the extremely powerful vortex. “But hear my vow while you still can: One day — one way or another — Lex Luthor will be back to win our man-to-man war once and for all!”
His foe now out of sight, he kicked in the armor’s thrust engines, but even they could not pull him from the whirling funnel of air. “This is insanity!” Luthor cried. “If the readings my battle armor display are to be trusted, this storm is beyond that which has ever been seen! Damn!”
The man shouted at the top of his lungs, hoping to rise above the howl of the winds, “I refuse to let my life end this way! I am Lex Luthor!” He was a man of science, of reason, of logic. The chaotic, unpredictable natural forces seemed to mock him, as if to say that he was less significant than he thought. To them, he was but a speck of sand to be tossed around and deposited at their whim. The speed of the tornado increased.
Suddenly, there was a burst of energy that shot down through the atmosphere and directly into the storm. “What the–?!” Luthor exclaimed as the beam cut across his path. With little control over his own course, he hit the energy beam dead on and felt his whole body twinge with an odd sensation.
The next moment, Luthor found himself standing on a platform inside a huge structure of components, circuitry, and displays. The interior of this place, wherever it was, had a cold, sterile feel to it. The machinery hummed ominously, sending a slight shiver down Luthor’s spine.
And yet — and yet the technology looked incredibly advanced. It was well beyond anything that had been seen on Earth, outside of his own work of course. Wild thoughts raced through his head about the potential for all this. Surely he could find a use for it all, once he managed to make it his own.
Luthor suddenly snapped back into focus, realizing he wasn’t brought to this place by chance. “Where am I?” the man asked indignantly.
As he started to take a step, a silvery robot resembling a skeleton with a large, domed head caught his attention. The robot sat across the way on a chair of sorts that seemed to be directly wired into the structure. The robot did not move at first; the face stared back at him with empty circuitry.
“Who are you?” Luthor asked. “Tell me, robot, or I’ll–”
“Silence, Luthor,” the machine said coldly, its voice devoid of all personality and emotion. “We have met countless times and fought together against the power of Superman.”
“You’re insane, robot,” Luthor said. “I don’t know you.”
“You are wrong, Lex Luthor,” the machine corrected him. “I am the new Brainiac. And I offer you now a plan calculated to make us both rulers of this universe.”
Luthor’s eyes brightened. “Oh, really? Tell me more of your plan… Brainiac.”
Brainiac rose to his feet, his robot body standing tall and stiff. As he moved forward, it was with great mechanical precision. He approached one of the plasma screens to the side, and an image began to form upon it as he got closer.
Luthor worked his way slowly over to the robot’s side. The image formed that of the space outside, showing what appeared to be two images of the Earth extremely out of focus so that they barely overlapped. The same could be said for the moon in its orbit.
“In simplest of terms, Lex Luthor, my plan is as follows,” Brainiac said. “There is a Crisis at hand, one in which the heroes of this world and others are working to resolve. The readings I have been conducting over the last few hours indicate that there are two universes being held in check at this time. There is a great power keeping them from merging into one.” He gestured to the screen.
It showed a montage of familiar figures dealing with the backlash of the wild weather and helping the innocent people affected by it. “We have both seen the drive and determination of these heroes in the past. There is a high probability that they will find a way to resolve the current dire situation.”
“I have to agree with you there, old ally,” Luthor nodded. “They do have a tendency to pull off miracles when the odds are stacked against them.” The man in the green armor stared at the screen once more. “Two universes, eh? So if we worked together, you and I could each take one as our own, to do with as we saw fit.”
“Yes. Even if the heroes are able to stay the Crisis and the universes survive, I calculate they will be in a very weakened state. We would be able to take over easily.”
“Kick them when they’re down,” Luthor said. “I like the way you think, Brainiac. But…”
“But?” Brainiac mimicked the words. “Query: what concerns you, Luthor?”
“I’m thinking we could increase our odds of success by bringing in a few recruits of our own,” Luthor proposed. “You know, set up an army or two to take the last of the fight out of the heroes. This way, you and I can keep a watch over everything and avoid all the messy work. When our side wins, we take over. If our side loses, we’re not out anything but our time.”
Brainiac was silent for a moment as he processed Luthor’s suggestion. Finally, his vocal systems came online once more. “Indeed. I calculated that coming to you would be the best strategy. Your mind is a devious one.”
Luthor took the compliment. “Let’s get to work. We have an army to build.”
After three days of planning and observation, as Earths One and Two found themselves rapidly merging, Brainiac’s space craft continued to hover undetected in orbit. “With all that is occurring below, our location should remain hidden,” he remarked. “We can proceed with little fear of interuption.”
“Excellent,” Luthor said. “Then let us fire up that teleportation ray of yours. It’s time to bring in our first recruits.”
Brainiac eyed the console that Luthor had been working at for days. The device cross-referenced known individuals of the criminal persuasion with approximate whereabouts on the planets’ surfaces below. “Your first two choices are intriguing ones,” the living computer remarked. “Query: why those two first?”
“Think about it,” Luthor said. “More than two thirds of the Earths’ surfaces are covered with water. Who better to lead an assault from the seas?”
Brainiac nodded. “I concur.”
Below, not far from the undersea location where the cities of Tritonis and Poseidonis should have been situated, a number of water-breathing individuals expressed their concerns.
“Great Neptune!” Aqualad exclaimed as he turned to his girlfriend Tula. “What happened?” He glanced at the now barren ocean floor. “Where did the cities go?”
“I don’t know, Garth,” the purple-haired young woman said. “When I returned from the caves, I found they had simply vanished. I couldn’t have been gone more than twenty minutes.”
Aquaman floated in the cold, turbulent ocean and stared in disbelief. The pained expression on his face showed the anger welling up inside of him. I came from New Venice to find Mera, he thought. I wanted to get back with her, to make our marriage work. But she’s gone! Without saying a word, he began to pump his arms and legs to propel himself away at great speed. I’ll find her! I swear I’ll find her!
Watching the sea king rocket off, two of Aquaman’s mortal enemies hid behind an outcropping of rock and conversed. “It seems, Ocean Master, your brother is troubled,” pointed out a darkly garbed villain who wore a special helmet and tank that allowed him to breathe underwater and communicate with his associate.
“Not quite so troubled as he soon will be,” the purple-caped Ocean Master replied. “Trust me on that, Black Manta… Yes, trust me on that.”
Suddenly, a blinding flash of light appeared in the darker ocean depths, and the two villains were engulfed by it. As the light faded, the two men were gone.
And the only witness to their sudden departure was the platinum blonde lone swimmer named Dolphin. They… are gone! she thought to herself. But… how?
Black Manta and Ocean Master echoed that question as they materialized in the cold depths of space aboard Brainiac’s ship within a depressurizing chamber that contained a viewing screen. Since they had been plucked from the depths of the ocean, they needed to acclimate themselves to the lighter pressure of the ship.
“What is the meaning of this?” Black Manta demanded.
“Who dares abduct me?” Ocean Master exclaimed.
Lex Luthor stepped forth on the viewing screen. “Relax, gentlemen,” he said, his voice carrying over the screen’s speaker. “In times such as this, we must work together against our common enemies.”
“You want to help us destroy Aquaman?” Black Manta asked.
“Aquaman, Superman–” Luthor said, “–the whole damn Justice League and more! By working as one, we shall finally have the revenge we all desire.”
Ocean Master smiled. “Yes, that would be sweet indeed.” He strode across the chamber in a regal manner, his cape flowing behind him. “Tell me more of this plan, Luthor.”
“All in good time, Ocean Master,” Luthor said. “For now, let the pressure chamber do its work.”
Brainiac watched silently from the sidelines as Luthor won the trust of his fellow humans. They seemed to respect the man, if for nothing more than his determination in trying to destroy Superman. Luthor would make a good mouth piece; he would be able to herd the villainous cattle. Brainiac had chosen wisely.
Suddenly, one of the sensors diverted the computer’s attention. Brainiac studied the readings with some concern; he wanted to have all the data analyzed before he announced the findings. His brain quickly crunched the numbers as they fed into his systems. Only when the conclusions were clear did he interrupt the discussion between the three men. “Luthor, an important development has occurred,” Brainiac announced.
“Yes?” said the criminal scientist, opening the pressure chamber and releasing Ocean Master and Black Manta to the interior of the ship.
“The very fabric of the space around us is altering,” Brainiac explained in a matter-of-fact manner. “The two universes that had already been spared from destruction have been joined by three others. Now there are five Earths, five universes, that are linked together. While their vibrations remain distinct for now, it is a logical conclusion that they might come together as one.”
Ocean Master and Black Manta looked at one another and then turned to Lex Luthor, who seemed to follow what Brainiac was saying.
“Five Earths, eh?” Luthor pondered aloud. “While that steps up our timetable some, by the same token it provides us with a wider pool of resources and a bigger prize as well.”
Luthor turned to Brainiac. “It’s time we get to work!” The bald scientist checked his list and located the next targets for transport.