Narkran paced the throne room impatiently. Those fools. He was prepared to lead Poseidonis to glory, to take its rightful place as the leader of a kingdom that would encompass all undersea civilizations. And how do they repay him? Through dissent, talk of revolt, and longing for Aquaman and Vulko. He should have them all executed, every one.
A klaxon sound stirred Narkran from his thoughts. It was the perimeter alarm. Someone was approaching the dome. He turned on the monitor screens and saw what he expected to see — Aquaman. The fool had come to reclaim his precious kingdom. The water behind Aquaman was strangely cloudy, Narkran noticed. Perhaps the fool had ordered an octopus to provide him with an inky cover. Well, no matter. Narkran flipped on the public address speakers outside the dome and spoke into them.
“Aquaman! How good of you to come for a visit! You should have called ahead. I would have prepared kelp salad. Or perhaps you’d prefer — what is it the land-crawlers eat? Pizza? You spend so much time among them…”
“Enough, Narkran!” Aquaman yelled back. “I have come to take you off that throne — by force, if necessary! Will you surrender?”
Narkran threw back his head and laughed. “You are either incredibly brave or unbelievably stupid, Aquaman, but then, there isn’t much difference between the two, is there? By the way, I contacted some old friends of yours. I offered them jobs as my praetorian guard. They’d love to say hello!”
From a small outpost beyond the dome, Aquaman watched a handful of colorful figures emerge. His teeth gritted as he saw Black Manta, the man who had murdered his son. The Fisherman was with him, as was Dagon. The Marine Marauder, flanked by two killer whales. The Scavenger’s scorpion-ship crawled into view. Even the Creature King, having somehow regained his monstrous form, was there.
“I expected as much from you, Narkran. You’ve always been a coward, getting others to do your fighting for you!” Aquaman yelled.
“Big talk from a dead man swimming,” Narkran shouted into the microphone. “Farewell, Aqua–”
Narkran stopped as he watched the inky cloud behind Aquaman congeal, resolving itself into the shape of a man. It became a man, a man Narkran recognized from his studies of the surface-world’s superhuman population in preparation for the war — Metamorpho. And the suddenly clear water revealed the presence of others — Mera, Aquaman’s wife, was there as Narkran had expected her to be; the Metal Men, their feet turned into propellers to thrust them through the water; Animal Man, absorbing the powers of nearby fish; the sleek craft of the Sea Devils glided through the water; and Green Lantern, his power ring protecting him from the crushing pressure of the ocean depths.
His surprise lasted only a second. “Get them!” Narkran screamed into the microphone. “Get them, you fools, before they ruin everything! I’ll triple the pay of every man who brings me one of their heads! Get them!”
But the villainous guards were hopelessly outmatched. Narkran watched in growing horror and frustration as Mera grabbed Black Manta in a fist of hard water — and who could blame her if she squeezed a bit tighter than was necessary? The Metal Men easily overwhelmed the Fisherman and his weapons. Animal Man made the Marine Marauder’s power work against him, absorbing the very strength of the killer whales he commanded, and pummeled him into unconsciousness. Dagon’s water-controlling power provided only a momentary obstacle for Metamorpho. The Sea Devils’ craft, far superior to the Scavenger’s in maneuverability and speed, quickly trapped it in titanium-mesh netting. And Green Lantern’s power ring was more than equal to the task of trapping the Creature King.
As he watched the last of his praetorian guard fall, Narkran scanned the monitor screen quickly. Where was Aquaman?
“Narkran!” barked a voice from behind. The terrified dictator whirled, to see the enraged Aquaman standing right behind him.
“You — how did–?”
“A secret tunnel, which I used in case of emergencies when menaces threatened Atlantis,” Aquaman explained. “It could get me from the throne room to just outside the dome in moments. It got me in just as fast.” He paused for a moment. “Please don’t surrender, Narkran. I’d love to do this the hard way.”
Narkran trembled a moment, then screamed with rage and flew at Aquaman. The sea king drew back his fist and hurled it forward, planting a right cross on the point of Narkran’s jaw. The insane dictator crumpled to the floor.
“Too easy,” Aquaman said with contempt, looking at the fallen Narkran. He took out his JLA communicator. “Aquaman to Batman. Do you read?”
The Darknight Detective’s voice came over the communicator loud and clear. Aquaman marveled at the Thanagarian technology; even at the bottom of the sea, it had crystal clarity. “I’m here, Aquaman. The liberation of our friends went without a hitch. Korge is defeated. Superman is under the purple healing ray and responding well, but I’m afraid he won’t be up and around in time to help out. How are things going there?”
“Just as we planned,” Aquaman said. “Narkran had some goons to help him, but the surprise attack floored them. He’s just been forcibly dethroned.”
“Excellent. Do you see the device Narkran used to communicate with the Marshal?”
Aquaman scanned the throne room. “I think so. I see something new since my last visit, anyway. It looks like some kind of communication device.”
“Give it a try,” Batman said. “You know the plan. Batman out.”
“Roger. Out.” Aquaman snapped off the communicator and strode purposefully to the device. Before he could try to turn it on, however, it flickered to life on its own.
“The Marshal calling Narkran,” a voice came through. “Come in, Narkran.”
Aquaman stepped up to the device. “Narkran can’t come to the phone right now,” he said. “May I take a message?”
“Aquaman!” the Marshal’s face was now visible on the monitor screen of the device. “Then, Narkran–“
“Narkran has been defeated,” Aquaman stated. “And you’re next, Marshal.”
“Never!” the Martian declared. “We don’t need the Atlanteans’ help. We will destroy your planet without them!”
“If you’re Martian enough,” Aquaman said. “The word is that you’re a coward, hiding behind starships and guns, afraid to fight as a true Martian fights.”
“What?!” the Marshal shouted, enraged. “A true Martian? You waterlogged fool, I am Mars! I am the hope for the rebirth of the Martian way! I am–“
“You are a coward,” Aquaman repeated. “If you’re not, you can prove me wrong by meeting our champion in personal combat. Death Valley, in two of our hours. Be there.”
Before the Marshal could answer, Aquaman put his fist through the screen. It sizzled and smoked as the circuitry exploded.
Aquaman stared grimly at the broken device. Silently he prayed to Orin that Batman’s plan would work.
“J’onn,” Batman said, laying a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I know you don’t approve of this, but…”
“I understand, Batman,” J’onn J’onzz said in a level voice. “This way the war will be ended with a minimum of bloodshed. It is the correct thing to do.”
Batman tried a small smile. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?”
J’onn looked at his old friend. “Yes. They do.”
Batman sighed and withdrew. The JLA teleportation beam drew him back to headquarters. J’onn J’onzz stood alone in the sand and heat of Death Valley, waiting for his people to arrive.
He did not have long to wait. Shortly, an entire fleet of Martian warships, gleaming yellow in the sun, arrived in the valley. J’onn stood rigid as a statue as the wind whipped the dust around him, while the ships landed. Within minutes a wall of grim Martians stood between J’onn and the ships. Long minutes passed before the wall parted to admit the Marshal. The leader of Martian forces strode toward his hated enemy, stopping mere feet from him.
“It seems we’ve been here before,” the Marshal said. “You and I in personal combat. Aquaman did not specify who the earth-crawlers’ champion was. I hoped it would be you.”
“I am surprised you would wish it so,” J’onn said. “After I defeated you last time.”
The Marshal gritted his teeth. “You don’t even know me, even now, do you? You don’t recognize me. You know me only by my title, that of the Marshal.”
“I confess I do not,” J’onn said, without emotion. “Should I?”
“Do you remember Re’s Eda?” the Marshal asked.
J’onn did; the name stirred painful memories in him. “He was my mentor, a beloved elder statesman of our people. But he grew mad and attempted to lead us in an invasion of the peace-loving people of Baltaz. He faked his own death to get me out of the way while he put his plans in action.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mission: Catch a Killer,” Adventure Comics #449 (January-February, 1977) and “Today Mars, Tomorrow the Universe,” World’s Finest Comics #245 (June-July, 1977).]
“And you defeated him, crushed his glorious plans with the help of your earth-crawler friends!” the Marshal fairly spat at J’onn. “You imprisoned him like a common criminal! In shame, he hanged himself in his cell!”
The truth slowly dawned on J’onn. “He was a good man, once. Before the madness took him.”
“The only madness my father ever had was listening to you!” Marshal growled. “He was a great general, a commander of his people! He would have led us to greatness, if not for you and your so-called Justice League! Now I, C’yk Eda, his son, shall lead our people to glories my father never dreamed of!”
“I stand in your way,” J’onn said.
“Not for long!” C’yk growled and flew at J’onn. The two Martians locked in combat, grappling with each other’s mighty muscles. J’onn and C’yk exchanged blow after blow, neither gaining an inch of ground.
Finally, J’onn gained an advantage and pressed it. Blow after blow after blow he rained on C’yk, not giving his opponent time to catch his breath. C’yk was driven to his knees by the force. Finally J’onn stood back, waiting for C’yk to make his next move.
The Marshal’s Martian followers held their breath, waiting for their leader’s move. He had to win. They had followed him across the stars, not once but twice. He was their supreme commander; he had to triumph.
C’yk Eda, the Marshal, looked up at J’onn J’onzz, his hated enemy. He looked up and clasped his hands in supplication.
“Please! No more!” the Marshal begged. “I — I can’t take any more! You have beaten me! I surrender! Strike me no more! You are the champion! Spare my life! I beg you, spare me!”
The Martians’ eyes were wide. Their grand leader was begging for his life. He had shamed them before his greatest enemy, their one-time leader.
J’onn turned to his people. “You see whom you have placed your faith in?” he demanded. “You see your great leader? He is a coward! I shall spare his life, but he shall remain here, to face the Earthmen’s justice! He shall walk the Martian sands nevermore! Now go! Return to New Mars, and never return to Earth bearing arms! When you have atoned for your sins, Earth will welcome you as a peaceful neighbor. But until then… begone!”
For long minutes, the Martians stood there silent and still. Then one of them turned and walked back to his ship. Another followed, and another. Soon the entire company of Martians had returned to their ships, and the gleaming yellow craft took to the skies. J’onn grimly watched them go, knowing they would not return.
In the gleam of a teleportation beam, Batman returned. He carried with him a set of special manacles, designed to keep even a shape-shifting Martian prisoner. The Marshal rose to his feet and meekly extended his wrists. Batman snapped the cuffs on. “Thanks for the help,” he said.
“Anytime, Bats,” the Marshal said. “Glad to do my part.”
J’onn turned to the Marshal. “I, too, thank you. I take no pride in our victory; there was no honor in it. But many lives were spared by your actions today. My gratitude is yours.”
“Anytime, Greenie,” the Marshal said. “I know what you mean about honor. But believe me, life is more important. Take it from someone who knows.”
With that, the Marshal shuddered and sank to his knees. He was once more in control of his own body; the spirit of Deadman had left him.
“You coming, J’onn?” Batman asked as he signaled the JLA to teleport himself and the unconscious Marshal away.
“In a while, Batman,” J’onn said, staring up at the sky. “I need a little time to myself.”
“I understand. Whenever you’re ready, old friend.” A shimmer of light, and Batman and his prisoner were gone.
For a long time, J’onn stood staring at the desert sky. The sun gave way to night, and a great cool settled on the stands. J’onn stood looking at the stars. Once again, his people had betrayed him. Once again, he had driven them back to the stars in defeat.
But he had found a home here, and dear friends — friends who would gladly lay down their lives in defense of his, as he would do for them. He had lost one home, had J’onn J’onzz. But forevermore, Earth was his home — Earth, and the Justice League of America.