Batman’s head inclined sharply in Green Lantern’s direction. “Hal!”
“I’m on it, Bruce!” Green Lantern declared, and disappeared in an emerald flash of light shooting up through the ceiling of the Batcave. Of all those assembled, only he could engage the Martian craft before they entered Earth’s atmosphere.
“Aquaman, what the blazes is going on here?” the Flash demanded. “Who’s this Narkran?”
“He was once a trusted member of my court,” Aquaman said, and all could hear the agony in every word he spoke. “A brilliant young strategist and politician. When Mera was kidnapped by persons unknown, I spent a long time searching for her. I placed Narkran on the throne in my stead, feeling he could govern with wisdom and justice. But the power corrupted him, and he turned into a dictator. A rebellion led by Tula — whom you knew as Aquagirl — unseated him, and he was sent to the Atlantean prison. (*) He was freed six months ago. Vulko and I felt he had learned his lesson.” Aquaman laughed, a short humorless laugh. “Shows what two old men know, doesn’t it?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Sorcerers of the Sea,” Aquaman #40 (July-August, 1968), “The Explanation,” Aquaman #46 (July-August, 1969), “Come the Revolution,” Aquaman #47 (September-October, 1969), and “A Kingdom to Rebuild,” Aquaman #48 (November-December, 1969).]
“All right, so we’ve got three priorities now,” Batman said, taking command as only he could. “Rescuing our friends from Korge, stopping the Martians, and overthrowing Narkran.”
“Narkran — is my problem,” Aquaman declared. “It was my foolishness that gave him his chance. I–”
“Arthur,” Batman said, rising from his seat. “Listen to an old friend. You’re a human being — half-Terran, half-Atlantean, but all human. Humans make mistakes; we all do. And when we do, it’s good to know we can count on the support of our friends to correct them.”
“Bruce is right,” Zatanna said, taking Aquaman’s arm. “Nobody expects you to undo this by yourself. The entire Justice League of America is at your side. You would do no less, were it any of us in your place.”
The once and former king of Atlantis stood tall and proud. “My friends, what can I say? Thank you.”
“Save the thanks for when we figure out what to do,” Green Arrow suggested. “We still have three priorities, as Bruce pointed out, and still no plan for any of them!”
“Are your warships prepared?” the Martian commander known as the Marshal asked Narkran, communicating by view-screen. “My ships will be on Earth within one-half of your hours!”
“All is in readiness, my friend,” Narkran assured him. “The Atlantean army is full of hot-blooded youths who have grown restless with no foes to fight! It was easy to trick them to our side! Your warships will have full naval support!”
“Excellent,” the Marshal said. “Soon I shall have my revenge on those who thwarted me — and avenge the memory of my father, as well!”
“Shalako grant us success, my friend,” Narkran said before breaking the communication.
“Green Lantern calling the Batcave!” Hal Jordan’s voice crackled over the communications system. “Urgent!”
Batman snatched up the microphone. “Batcave here, Hal! Go ahead!”
“I failed, Batman! The Martians –they were ready for me! They’ve painted their entire fleet of warships yellow! I tried using my power ring indirectly — directing meteorites into them, that sort of thing — but they stopped me with yellow force-beams! I had to retreat!”
“Understood. Return to Batcave!” Batman snapped off the microphone.
“What now?” Elongated Man asked.
“For now — we call the President and the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” Batman said. “Alert them to the crisis, and the fact that so far we have failed to stop it!”
Green Arrow’s hawk-keen eyes flicked to the radar screen. The Martian warships would be on them in a matter of minutes.
“This is Lana Lang for WGBS News,” the pretty young redhead spoke into the camera. She had just regained her job at GBS when she was pushed back into the fray with this latest crisis. “It is with a heavy heart that I report the events of this past day. It was just thirteen days ago that the Earth celebrated its victory over an invasion by the alliance of three alien empires — the Dominators, the Khunds, and the Thanagarians. Just as the nations of the world had begun rebuilding from the damage caused by the invasion of the alien alliance, the world has been attacked once more. This time the Martian race that attacked the Earth little more than a year ago has returned. And they appear to have help from Atlantis.”
Lana’s voice continued to issue from the speakers as the scene on the video monitor changed to one of carnage. In the Batcave, several brightly costumed figures watched the scene intently.
“The Martian airships first attacked in Australia, which most of us will recall played a large role in the recent alien invasion. Atlantean warships rose from the waters around the small continent to support the Martian craft in their attack. Fortunately, the Australian attack was turned away by the efforts of three super-heroes. Australia’s local hero, the Tasmanian Devil, was assisted by the American stuntman-turned-adventurer Blue Devil, who was on location filming Blue Devil II: The Wrath of Manga Khan. A red-haired man tentatively identified as Ultraa also assisted.”
Lana’s voice quavered a bit as she read on. “The European continent, however, was not so lucky. Martian ships strafed London, England, as the seaports were attacked from offshore by Atlantean ships. Great Britain’s local heroes, Godiva, the Knight and the Squire, the Bowman of Britain, Lionheart, and the Beefeater worked hard to get bystanders to safety, but were unable to turn the attack.
“Tragically, the first casualty among the super-heroes was in Paris, France. The masked archer known as the Phantom of France was cut down by Martian strafing runs as he assisted an elderly man into a bomb shelter. The–“
“Damn it!” Green Arrow shouted at the top of his lungs. His curse reverberated throughout the cave. “Why do we just sit here while the other heroes do all the work, take all the risks? What are we doing here?”
“We are planning our strategy, Oliver,” Batman said levelly. “You know that. We all agreed not to rush off half-cocked–”
“Yeah, but the Martians didn’t agree to that, did they? Or the Atlanteans? I knew the Phantom of France! He based his crime-fighting career on me! So in a way, he’s dead because of me now! And that–”
“That is horse apples, Ollie, and you know it!” Black Canary snapped. “He died as he lived — a hero! If there hadn’t been a Green Arrow to inspire him, he would have found inspiration somewhere else. Now shut up and let us think!”
“I have to go along with Oliver on this one,” Aquaman said grimly. “My own kingdom, my own warships — why did I ever go along with maintaining the warships? I wanted them dismantled, every one! But Vulko convinced me the conservatives in my kingdom wouldn’t hear of it, that some of the old ways had to be preserved, simply because they were the old ways! Why didn’t I–?”
Batman sat back, listening to all this. His eyes flicked from one area of the cave to another. The computer. The chemistry lab. The medical facilities. The trophy room.
“I have it.”
All heads whirled in Batman’s direction. “What’s that?” Green Arrow asked. “You’ve got what, Bat-ears?”
“Just possibly — a solution. The first order of business, of course, is to free our friends — all of our friends: our fellow Justice Leaguers and the Atlantean people.”
“Well, duh,” Green Arrow countered. “Have you figured out how?”
“I think I have. Arthur, you and Hal make a few calls to some friends of ours. Ollie, Dinah, you come with me. I have a call to make, too.”
“What’s this about?” Hal asked. “What have you got up your sleeve, Bruce?”
“You defeated Korge the first time by surprising him, yes? Well, I just may have a surprise for him, too.”
The Leaguers knew better than to question Batman when he was in one of these moods. They went along and listened to his plan. As plans went, it was a good one. They hoped it would work.
They knew it had to.
Narkran was pleased with himself. He reclined in the throne of Poseidonis, one leg thrown over an arm of the regal chair, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
“We’ve rounded up another cell of Vulko supporters, Lord Narkran,” the dictator’s chief aide said to him, reading off a scroll of paper made mostly from kelp. “They’ve been imprisoned awaiting trial.”
“Excellent. Have our raiding parties returned from their missions in Australia and Europe?”
“Not yet, my Lord. They are expected back soon. Er…” the young aide’s discomfort was evident.
“Out with it, man,” Narkran snapped impatiently.
“Er… well… some of your followers are displeased with this turn of events.”
“Yes. They say that… well, they say they wanted an old man with old ideas off the throne, but they never figured on open invasion and war with the surface world. They…”
“Have them imprisoned.”
“Did I gurgle? Have them imprisoned, every last one who spoke thus! It will serve as an example to the rest.”
“Yes, my Lord. Right away, Lord Narkran.” The aide quickly bowed out of the room.
Narkran grumbled to himself about spineless jellyfish, when suddenly his ethereal communicator hummed to life. The Marshal was trying to contact him. Stepping to the communicator, he flipped on the visual. “Narkran here. Go ahead.”
“Our primary invasions met with mixed results,” the Marshal said. “Our plan to avoid the large concentration of meta-humans in the North American continent until we had a strong foothold elsewhere was a good one, but it seems there is nowhere on your planet where we cannot find at least some costumed interference.”
“Yes, I heard about the Australian debacle,” Narkran scowled. “It seems my intelligence reports were remiss. I thought we would only have to deal with the Tasmanian Devil. I didn’t know that American stuntman would be in Australia, and Kordax only knows who the red-haired ape was.” Narkran shook his head. “Nevertheless, things will turn around very shortly.”
“Yes,” the Marshal said, smiling evilly. “The deadline is fast approaching for the Justice League to attempt to rescue their friends. Korge is prepared for their tricks this time, however. And once he destroys them, the American continent will fall before us. After that, the rest will be easy pickings.”
The two co-conspirators shared a laugh over that.
“Korge, please take the kryptonite away from Superman!” Wonder Woman pleaded. “Look at him — he’s no danger to you now!” The Man of Steel lay on the floor of JLA headquarters. His skin glowed a bright, sickly green; his face was filmed with sweat, and his breath came in ragged gasps. “He’s in the advanced stages of kryptonite poisoning! If you don’t take it away, he’ll die!”
Korge barked a short laugh. “It matters not! Soon he will! Die anyway! You will, too! All of you!”
J’onn J’onzz stared at Korge with cold fury. The self-proclaimed god of rage had allowed his captives to watch the carnage wrought by the Martians and Atlanteans on the monitors. The Martian Manhunter silently boiled with impotent anger.
“Time almost up!” Korge announced. “Your friends come! Soon or else! You will die! If they come! Korge kill them! Then you die!” The white-skinned giant laughed to himself.
“Korge!” an amplified voice called from outside. “We’re here! Come out and fight! If you have the courage!”
Korge snorted at this. “Your friends come! That is good! You not have! To die alone!” The giant twisted a dial on the monitor controls. “I turn on! Perimeter view! You can watch! Your friends die!” With that, Korge strode out of the headquarters.
J’onn J’onzz, Nubia, and Hawkman looked at the screen with momentary bewilderment. Only four heroes had come to meet Korge in battle — Batman, Nightwing, Green Arrow, and Black Canary. Four heroes with no super-powers against one of the mightiest foes they had ever faced. But their wonder was short-lived, as they realized Batman must have something planned. They had known him too long to doubt him now.
Korge strode to within ten yards of the four heroes. He glanced at them, standing ready for battle, then threw back his head and laughed. “You four fools! You have no! Powers at all! Mere human beings! Korge will destroy!”
“You’re welcome to try, white-bread,” Green Arrow mocked as he drew an arrow, nocked it to the bowstring, drew, and fired in less time than it took to say it. The arrow flew true to its mark, striking Korge’s left temple and exploding as it struck. Korge laughed it off. Batman and Nightwing tried a double-pronged assault with batarangs; Korge caught them and crushed them in his fist. Black Canary tried a judo kick to the back of Korge’s knee; she just barely avoided his smashing fist.
“Now!” Batman shouted. As one, four hands flew to their belt-buckles, then to their mouths. Green Arrow then shot at Korge’s feet two arrows, which erupted into a thick cloud of black smoke.
Before Korge could adjust his vision, something struck him on the side of the head, something powerful. The blow sent him reeling. Before he could recover, something grabbed him by his neck from behind, lifted him off the ground, and slammed him face-first to the ground with pile-driver force. As he tried to rise, he saw twin beams of scarlet light lance through the smoke and strike him; the beams were laser-like blasts of pure heat, and Korge howled in pain.
“Hey, bird-boy,” Green Arrow called to Nightwing, as he turned off his heat-vision. “Tell me again where Bats got these super-vitamins. They’ve got Flintstones Chewables beat a mile!”
“Superman’s father, Jor-El, made them on Krypton to renew a Kryptonian’s powers on Earth should he ever lose them,” Nightwing explained. “Years ago, a common criminal named Elton Craig found them inside a kryptonite meteor and became super-powerful. When Superman’s powers were temporarily removed by exposure to kryptonite, Batman and I took the capsules and helped capture Craig. (*) We’ve had the capsules in the Batcave for safekeeping ever since.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Reversed Heroes,” World’s Finest Comics #87 (March-April, 1957).]
“They sure turned the trick, all right,” the archer said, watching Black Canary kick Korge in the teeth, knocking him completely backward. “Getting Korge to analyze our plain-Earth bods, then taking the super-pills, was a stroke of genius!”
“Only kind of stroke he strikes,” Nightwing said with admiration. “As good as I get at this, I never forget who taught me everything I know!”
After a few more super-powered blows, Korge succumbed to unconsciousness. The heroes, Batman in the lead, raced into JLA Headquarters to free their friends.
“Hold still, Nubia,” Black Canary said as she separated Wonder Woman’s fused bracelets with a narrow burst of heat-vision.
“My thanks, Dinah,” Nubia said as her bracelets came apart. “We have to get Superman to the medical lab. He’s dying!”
“Wow, Hawky, someone trussed you up for Thanksgiving,” Green Arrow said as he pried away the metal bonds that had once been Hawkman’s wings.
“I see Jor-El’s capsules didn’t improve your sense of humor, Ollie,” Hawkman retorted.
“You guys get Superman under the purple ray,” Nightwing said as he snatched up the kryptonite Korge had created. “I’m going to chuck this into the sun!” And with that, he vanished in a blur.
“Batman — I must go,” J’onn said as Batman blew out the flames with his super-breath. “I have to stop my people. I–”
“I know, J’onn,” Batman said. “And I have a plan that should let you do it with a minimum of bloodshed.”
“I see.” The Martian Manhunter was silent a moment. “And what of the Atlanteans?”
“That’s being seen to as we speak,” Batman assured him. “Let’s just hope Aquaman was as successful as we were!”