by JSAGL and Starsky Hutch 76
“I will destroy them!”
If sound could travel in space, surely Despero’s cry would have frightened even the most hardened of souls. Revenge on the JLA had been his only thought, his only reason for living. It was enough.
It began on Kalanor. Once again, in the so-called Villain War during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Despero had been defeated by the Justice League and other Earth heroes and returned to his homeworld, shamed and broken. How many times had this scenario repeated itself? Too many. “Hey, loser!” people would call out to him. “Maybe you can challenge the Earthlings to a deadly game of bridge! Or how about explosive tiddly winks?” Despero, the former tyrant, had become the laughingstock of Kalanor. He was incarcerated on the prison planet Takron-Galtos, where Despero had resigned himself to spending the rest of his life.
While watching holo-vids one afternoon, Despero saw a documentary on his home planet of Kalanor. Normally, he would have just changed the channel, but something caught his eye. It appeared that one year prior, archaeologists had discovered an ancient palace, and within it the legendary Flame of Pytar.
Everyone on Kalanor had heard of the Flame. Centuries ago, as the legends told it, a great warrior named Babuhutch had freed the people of Kalanor from bondage at the hands of the Khunds. The flame had been created in secret by a mystic who said that only someone pure of heart and purpose could walk into the flame and live. If he did, he would have power beyond imagining. Many Kalanorans tried, desperate to be rid of the Khunds. They all died — all but the last, Babuhutch. He singlehandedly drove the Khunds from Kalanor and freed his people, or so the legend went.
Despero’s eyes went wide. The Flame was real.
He quickly arranged his escape from Takron-Galtos, calling in favors he was owed, and made his way back to Kalanor. Once there, he journeyed to the site of the Flame. It was a simple matter to kill the guards and enter the palace. Then Despero stood before the Flame.
He had been renewed in his purpose. His heart was indeed pure — pure hate. The Flame would either kill him or transform him. But either fate was preferable to being a laughingstock.
So he entered the Flame, and he was indeed transformed. He had grown slightly taller and was as well-muscled as any of the heroes of Earth. Even his cumbersome Kalanoran fin had transformed; previously it had ranged from one side of his head to the other, but now it ran from front to back. Thanks to this new and formidable physical and burgeoning mystical power, he could no longer be regarded as merely an intellectual villain.
But that was not enough for him. It may have been enough for Babuhutch, but Despero was more ambitious than that ancient Kalanoran had been.
So he entered the Flame an unprecedented second time. When he exited, he collapsed into a coma. The authorities returned him to Takron-Galtos, where he remained.
When he emerged from his coma, he had become more powerful than he ever imagined. Besides the unknown mystical powers that he had gained and planned on using, his body had become even more muscular than before, transforming him into a huge hulk of a man. He had become powerful and indestructible, even if it had cost him a small fraction of his natural intelligence. No one would ever laugh at Despero again. It was time for him to begin his journey to Earth.
“They shall die!”
“I swear, by all that is holy, I am going to kill him!”
Buddy Baker, alias Animal Man, stuck his head out of the monitor room to see Firestorm marching down the hall like a man on a mission. “Stormy? What’s wrong?” he asked. “What did the General do now?”
Firestorm stopped and looked at Animal Man for a moment. “It’s not the General, it’s Guy! If he doesn’t stop, I’m gonna kill him!”
“Guy?” Buddy said in confusion. “What could he possibly have done?”
“He cleaned my quarters!”
Buddy did a double take, and a grin crossed his face. “And this is bad because…?”
“He threw out stuff I wanted! I keep my mess — I mean my things — in a certain place, and he organized everything! Now I don’t know where anything is!”
At that moment, Firestorm’s inner voice — the consciousness of Martin Stein, who made up one-half of the nuclear man — spoke to the other half, young Ron Raymond. “Ronald, you have to admit that a cleaning was long overdue, and in any event–“
“Not now, Professor!” Firestorm whispered, a bit too loudly.
“Who are you talking to, Stormy?” Buddy asked as he and Firestorm made their way to the kitchen.
“Nothing. No one. Never mind.”
As the duo entered the dining area, they found Sargon the Sorcerer sitting at the table, eating. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said in greeting. “I trust you are well.”
“Hey, Sargon. What’s that you’re eating? It smells wonderful,” Buddy inquired.
“Grilled salmon in a light garlic sauce with new potatoes and fresh vegetables with almonds. Quite delicious.”
Firestorm sat down at the table, hungrily eyeing Sargon’s food. “So, can you magic some up for us? We’re starving!”
“I didn’t magic it up as you so crudely put it, young man. Mr. Gardner made it for me.”
Buddy and Firestorm exchanged bewildered looks.
“Hi-de-ho, neighbors!” said Guy Gardner as he walked into the room, carrying a serving dish. “Isn’t it just the most gorgeous day today?” He set it down on the table, revealing an elaborate chocolate dessert. “Here’s that dessert I promised you, Sargon — Death by Chocolate. I got the recipe out of this month’s Good Housekeeping. There are just so many good articles in that magazine. I signed up for a year’s subscription!”
“Yes, Mr. Baker? Oh, my stars and garters! Where are my manners? Were you fellows hungry? I’ll be glad to whip you up something!”
Just then, Ted Kord entered the room. “Hey, Guy. I just came from the monitor room, and it seems that there’s a cat stuck in a tree in Central Park.”
Guy whipped off his apron. “I’m on it, Mr. Kord! I’ll have that cat back in its master’s loving arms in no time!” He phased through the wall and made a beeline for Central Park.
“Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! That’s the fifth cat I’ve sent him after today! This is just too much.”
Sargon simply continued eating his meal, while Buddy and Firestorm looked at each other in disbelief.
“I’ve just got one question,” said Buddy. “Where’s Rod Serling hiding at?”
Happy Harbor, Rhode Island:
“You’ve reached the official headquarters of the Justice League of America. Ralph Dibny, the world-famous Elongated Man at your service,” the ductile detective said, answering the phone in the monitor room with his usual eager flair.
“Oh, hi, Sue!” he said cheerfully, hearing that the person on the other end was his wife.
He cradled the receiver between the crook of his neck and his head as he fiddled with the dials of the monitoring equipment, listening as his wife spoke. “So how was your day? Yes, I’m listening. You went to the doctor’s office? You’re feeling OK, aren’t you?”
Ralph straightened, as if in shock, and the phone fell to the floor. From the other end, Sue Dibny called, “Ralph? Ralph?”
He quickly picked up the phone and said, “Don’t go anywhere, honey! I’m coming home right now!” He hung up the phone and jumped to his feet.
The new Wonder Woman, Nubia, who had been standing at the other side of the room watching the news, was diverted by the noise and walked over to where he was standing. “Is something wrong?” she asked, laying a concerned hand on his shoulder.
“Nuh… no,” Ralph blurted as he turned to her with a wide-eyed expression. “Just the opposite. I — I just found out I’m gonna be a daddy!”
Despero continued on his course undeterred through this vast expanse of emptiness. A smile crossed his lips. He was entering the orbit of Pluto.
“Where is Ralph?”
Wonder Woman looked up from the monitor board to find the Martian Manhunter standing in the room. “Hola, J’onn. It seems that Ralph has discovered that his wife is pregnant. He asked me to assume monitor duty for him, which I agreed to. I am at a loss, though, to understand his state of mind. Is this biological function not a normal thing in Patriarch’s World? His reaction is most bizarre.”
J’onn J’onzz took a seat next to Nubia. “I would tend to agree. Even in all the years I have been here, I have never truly been able to understand human behavior. On Mars, the discovery of an impending birth is a solemn occasion — joyful, most assuredly, but not invoking the type of behavior that human males seem prone to.”
Nubia looked at J’onn thoughtfully for a moment. “It has been thousands of years since any Amazon has had a child, much less known the touch of a man.”
“Diana told me as much. She said that you and she had been the first children born to an Amazon in millennia. What became of those other children from long ago?”
“We are not sure. Some of our sisters elected to stay in Patriarch’s World with their children rather than come to Paradise Island after Hercules betrayed our queen. As for the sisters who came with us, a few did indeed leave their children behind. It was a sacrifice they made willingly.”
“The Amazons are truly a remarkable group of humans. That they were able to rise above a basic biological need is very fascinating, indeed.”
A sly smile crossed Nubia’s face. “J’onn, I said that an Amazon had not known a man’s touch in millennia. I said nothing about abstaining.”
The planet Rann:
“How much longer?”
Sardath looked at Adam Strange, exasperated. “I do not know. The Zeta radiation has a natural affinity for your body. I’ve never tried to remove it from you before.”
“All right. Keep trying.”
Happy Harbor, Rhode Island:
“Nubia, do you mean that you–?”
She smiled once again. “Would you think less of me if I did?”
“Not at all. It is yet another human prejudice I have never comprehended. Such things were never an issue on my homeworld.”
“Well, let us say that some sisters abstained, and some did not. Several thousand years is a long time, after all.”
“So tell me, J’onn, have you come to understand any of the behavior of Patriarch’s World?”
However, before the Manhunter could answer, he was interrupted by a beep from the monitor board. An attractive brunette woman in a smart business suit appeared on the screen.
“This is JLA Headquarters. J’onn J’onzz here. How may I help you?”
“Bonjour, Monsieur J’onzz. My name is Catherine Cobert, and I have a proposition for you.”
After she explained her proposition, J’onn repeated, “Justice League International?”
Catherine Cobert smiled at J’onn. “It has a nice ring to it, does it not? Come now, Monsieur J’onzz, surely you can see the need for the Justice League to concern itself with incidents outside the confines of the United States.”
J’onn viewed the woman with skepticism. Generally, with people in person, he could get a read on whether they were telling the truth or not. He would never consider forcibly probing a person’s mind, but their psychic impression comes through without a lot of effort.
“I have my doubts, Ms. Cobert. Although most of our members are American, as you pointed out, the JLA already has a charter with the U.N., and we generally take care of major worldwide threats as it is. Besides, there is already an international group of heroes — the Global Guardians.”
“Yes, but Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev is looking for a more high-profile group such as the Justice League. Simply put, no one knows very much about the Guardians, but everyone knows the JLI.”
“JLA. And the Soviets have a hero that they wish to join the group? I am assuming that we are referring to Leonid Kovar, AKA the Red Star?”
“Non, monsieur. Mr. Kovar has declined his government’s invitation. Your new member would be a member of Russia’s new Rocket Red Corps.”
“One hero from Russia hardly makes our group international. Can I assume that there are other candidates as well?”
Catherine lifted a piece of paper from her desk. “From Japan, Doctor Light. From England, Lionheart and the Beefeater. A new heroine named the Crimson Fox has been spotted in France, whom we are attempting to contact. There are others as well.”
J’onn turned to Wonder Woman for a moment and then back to the screen. “And what about a headquarters? Could an international group operate effectively from a cave in Rhode Island?”
“Non, but they could from your satellite headquarters, which I happen to know you are in the process of rebuilding.”
J’onn was genuinely surprised now. He hadn’t thought that anyone knew about the satellite. “I see. It seems that you have thought of everything, Ms. Cobert.”
“I do try, monsieur. The U.N. is also willing to build embassies in each member country across the globe that would hold teleport tubes to your satellite, as well as serve as a base in each country from which you could operate.”
“Thank you, Ms. Cobert. You have given us much to think about. I will bring your proposal to the membership and will let you know their decision.”
“Very well, but do not take too long. Maxwell Lord has expressed an interest as well.”
Despero barely noticed as he passed by the next planet. Neptune did not interest him — only Earth.
Outside the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary:
Zatanna stood silently as the limousine pulled up to the road leading to the Sanctuary. The wind was blowing gently as it had now for several days. The sky was somewhat overcast, but it could not dampen Zatanna’s spirit.
A man in his mid-thirties with dark hair and a mustache got out of the limo. He was wearing a designer suit and fashionable sunglasses. “Zee, baby, how the heck are ya?”
Zatanna ran toward the man and threw her arms around him. “Jeff! I’m so glad to see you!”
“Uh-huh,” said Jeff Sloane, her professional manager. “Then why did you bolt from Atlanta the way you did? I’ve been trying to get ahold of you for weeks! All I knew was that creepy Constantine dude said you were headed to Detroit, and the next thing I know, you’re on TV with the JLA again! You should let your manager know these things!”
“Why Mr. Sloane, I didn’t realize you cared so much,” Zatanna said, taking Jeff’s hand and walking toward the Sanctuary.
Jeff looked at Zatanna for a moment and thought to himself, If only you knew how much I cared, Zee. If only.