Somewhere in space was a lonely world called Takron-Galtos. This was a harsh, barren world where nothing grew, the climate was intolerable, and chances of survival were slim. What else would this world be used for but a prison?
In the exercise yard of this prison planet, three bitter men sat on a relatively smooth outcropping of rock, mulling over past defeats and near-glories. One of them, a man with glowing green skin, was particularly bitter.
“I nearly won, I tell you,” the green man said. “If that fifth-dimensional imp hadn’t interfered, I would have killed Superboy stone dead! (*) There never would have been a Superman! I would have been the greatest villain in all the galaxy! If only–!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Dreams of Doom,” Superboy #83 (September, 1960).]
“If, if, if,” the pink-skinned man with bulging yellow eyes said. “We’ve all played the if game, Blorian. If I hadn’t tried to turn the Justice League of America into my own personal galley slaves, if Peril here hadn’t tried to defeat two Green Lanterns at once…” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Slave Ship of Space,” Justice League of America #3 (February-March, 1961) and “Prince Peril’s Power Play,” Green Lantern v2 #45 (June, 1966).]
“Yeah, but I came closer than anyone,” the green man continued. “Toyman, Brainiac, even Luthor! None of them came closer than I did! And someday I’ll get my chance again. Someday.”
The green man’s ravings were interrupted by a brilliant flash of light. When the flash cleared, Kanjar Ro and Prince Peril looked around, puzzled. The Kryptonite Man was gone.
There were myriad dimensions in the multiverse. Some were similar to one another, many were vastly different. Some had been given names and number designations by those who had crossed the dimensional barriers. In the dimensional gap between the realities called Earth-One and Earth-Two there rested a bubble of pure energy. Five colorfully costumed people sat in this bubble, disgusted with the turn of events that placed them there.
“What if Johnny Quick vibrated at two different frequencies at once,” the one in the owl mask said, “and attacked both sides?”
“Tried that,” the man in yellow and red sighed.
Silence reigned for a moment, and then the owl-masked man began again. “What if Superwoman formed her lariat into a giant expanding column, pressing against opposite sides of the bubble until–“
“Tried that, too,” the one woman in the group said resignedly.
“Damn it,” the powerfully built man in blue snarled suddenly, “there must be some way out of this blasted prison!”
There was suddenly a brilliant flash of light. When the brilliance cleared, the five prisoners found themselves suddenly four.
Ultraman had vanished.
The Kryptonite Man looked around him. He was clearly no longer on Takron-Galtos. He recognized the banks of machinery, the curve of the walls. Though this particular design was not familiar to him, he knew he was in a spacecraft of some kind. He also noticed a large, muscular man in a blue costume and red cape standing next to him. Instinctively, he flinched. Superman — or was it?
“Who… who are you?” Kryptonite Man asked. “You look like — but no, you’re not, are you? Where am I? How did you get me here?”
Ultraman looked at his companion, noticing him for the first time. “Me? I’m as surprised as you are! Say, is that kryptonite radiation coming off you?”
“Why, yes it is,” Kryptonite Man said. “Obviously you’re not from Krypton, or you’d be tossing your cookies by now! Who are you?”
“Actually I am from Krypton, but not the one you know, obviously,” Ultraman said. “My name is Ultraman, and kryptonite radiation gives me extra power! Watch this!” With that, twin beams of energy stabbed from Ultraman’s eyes and burned a hole through a foot-thick steel column to the villains’ right.
“Wow!” Kryptonite Man said. “That’s something, all right! You say you gain power from kryptonite? Pleased to meet you — I’m the Kryptonite Man!” The glowing villain reached out and touched the steel column, and it instantly transformed into kryptonite. Ultraman marveled.
“Where have you been all my life? You have the Midas touch of kryptonite! Together, you and me could be unbeatable!“
“Statement: my sentiments exactly, gentlemen,” came a humming, electronic voice. The two villains’ heads snapped around in the direction of the voice. They beheld what appeared to be a metal skeleton walking toward them.
“Who the Devil is that?” Ultraman gasped.
“That — that’s Brainiac!” Kryptonite Man said in awe.
“Affirmative,” Brainiac confirmed. “It was I who liberated you gentlemen from your respective prisons. Your powers complement each other perfectly. Individually you each nearly succeeded in destroying Superman. Prediction: together you will succeed.”
Kryptonite Man and Ultraman glanced briefly at each other, then at Brainiac again. “The two of us against Superman? You’re on, metal guy!” Ultraman declared. “Lead us to him!”
“Statement: my ship’s instruments have detected Superman’s presence. Currently he is aboard the Justice League Satellite. My teleporter beam can transport you both there immediately.”
Both villains balked at that. “Wait a second! You want us to take on the entire Justice League?” Kryptonite Man squeaked. “No way! They have heavy-hitters like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who don’t give a damn about kryptonite!”
“Negative,” Brainiac stated. “At present only two other Justice League members are aboard the satellite, and their powers are inconsequential. You will triumph.”
“Hm. Well, you’ve been right so far, Tin Man,” Ultraman said, considering. “I’ll trust you again. We’ll do it!”
“Affirmative,” Brainiac said. With a silent command, Brainiac activated his teleportation beam, and the two villains vanished in another flash of light.
Meanwhile, on the JLA Satellite, two members of that renowned organization sat at their meeting table. One, a muscular man in a blue uniform with red cape, spoke into a recording device that combined the finest of Terran and Thanagarian technology. His companion, a red-headed man in red and blue, sat and watched.
“…following which events, we turned the Royal Flush Gang over to the local authorities.” (*) Superman turned his gaze to the Elongated Man. “Anything to add, Ralph?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Shuffle and Deal… with Death,” Justice League of America #203 (June, 1982), “The Cut of the Cards,” Justice League of America #204 (July, 1982), “The Final Hand,” Justice League of America #205 (August, 1982).]
“Nah, you’ve got it covered, Supes,” Elongated Man said resignedly. “I’m just glad you included me in the report at all; I hardly did anything but watch.”
“Oh, come on, Ralph, you know that’s not true,” Superman said as he switched off the device. “You stopped the Ten from getting away; she’d have escaped if you hadn’t caught her.”
“Right, suuurrre… You would have corralled her at light-speed if I had missed her. I have to tell you, Supes, sometimes I wonder how much good I do on this team at all.”
“Ralph!” Superman said, honestly surprised. “What kind of talk is that? Who was it who destroyed the Lord of Time’s Eternity Brain? Who was–?”
“I know, I know,” Elongated Man said. “But seriously, in a team with members like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Firestorm, and you, what good is a second-rate Plastic Man? Maybe I’d be better off as a solo act.”
“I don’t believe I’m hearing this,” Superman said, shaking his head. “From you, the heart of the JLA! I can’t count how many times you’ve brought this team’s morale back from desperation. Well, OK, I can, but only because of my super-brain.”
“You know, Superman,” came a tiny voice, amplified by the satellite’s communications systems, “Ralph has voiced thoughts that have been on my mind lately as well.”
Superman and Elongated Man turned to see the Atom, who had been on monitor duty when they arrived to document their mutual case. “You too, Ray? What’s going on around here?”
“I’m supposed to be a physicist, Superman,” Atom said. “Do you know how much time I spent in the lab last year? About a fifth as much time as I spent on JLA cases. And what did I do on those cases? Mostly stood around watching Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary wipe up the place with the bad guys. I’ve started to think I could do much more help to the world as a full-time scientist than as a part-time super-hero.”
“Guys, I shouldn’t have to tell you this,” Superman said, rising from his chair, “but each of us make unique contributions to the team. Every member is vital to the team’s performance as a whole. There are things the Atom and Elongated Man can do that no other member can do–“
Superman’s speech was interrupted by a brilliant flash of light. The Atom and Elongated Man blinked until their eyes adjusted, but Superman’s vision was unimpaired. The Man of Steel’s bravery was testified by the fact that he did not gasp when he saw what he saw.
“Anybody home?” the Kryptonite Man asked mockingly. “We were in the neighborhood, so we thought we’d drop by!”
“Sorry we didn’t bring a gift,” Ultraman sneered. “Will you settle for this?” And with that he rushed in and delivered a right cross. Superman tried to block it, but the radiations from the Kryptonite Man’s body had already slowed his reflexes; the blow glanced off his jaw.
“Holy smokes!” Elongated Man exclaimed. “Atom, do you see what I see?”
“I wish I didn’t, Ralph, but I do,” Atom said. “Someone finally thought of teaming up the Kryptonite Man and Ultraman!”
“Hey, Ultra, we’re not alone,” Kryptonite Man said, pointing to the Atom and the Elongated Man.
“So I see,” Ultraman sneered. “Well, they’re of no consequence. We can kill them after we deal with Superdud here! He — aaagh!” Ultraman cried in pain as twin beams of laser-like heat-vision stabbed from Superman’s eyes and caught him full in the chest. Superman, however, was able to stifle his own agony as a solid kryptonite coffee cup struck him in the side of the head.
“Naughty-naughty, Supie,” Kryptonite Man said, holding up a notebook that he had just turned into kryptonite. “Lay down and die like a good little Boy Scout, and we’ll make it over with quickly!”
“Speak for yourself, K.M.,” Ultraman sneered. “I want to make him suffer, the way he made me suffer in that damned bubble!” With that, Ultraman delivered another crushing blow to Superman’s solar plexus, doubling him over.