Far away, in an old castle on another world, a mysterious figure in armor shook his fists and dismissed his scurrying slaves. “Bah! My righteous wrath shall be visited upon the one who has dared to drain my energy reserves,” he shouted through his metallic mask. “The Key is a faint and fading relic, thanks to the energy-piracy of some alien being!”
He stalked the lab of his castle, planning the destruction of the one who had stolen his weapon’s power.
“Earth? That paltry mud-ball?” he cried. “Little does it dream that one such as I shall soon shape its destiny and avenge myself upon he who dared usurp that which is mine all by right of birth, by force of will, and by fate’s decree!”
Thunder shook the old castle as its master plotted thoughts of destruction and of doom.
Green Lantern followed the Flash’s speeding form, carrying Zatanna, now wearing her costume, in an energy bubble along with the Elongated Man. “Now that you’ve given me the approximate vibratory pattern of the energy trail, my ring can lock on it,” said Green Lantern. “Don’t push yourself so hard, kid!”
The Flash smiled. “OK, Unca G.L.! Seriously, I’m fine. My days of speed limits are over.”
“The Force is strong in this one!” joked the Elongated Man.
The Flash grinned. “Force of will, you mean? G.L.’s willpower is the only force I know about.”
Zee laughed, “And here I was getting my Princess Leia hairdo ready!”
“Wouldn’t become you, Zee,” said Ralph Dibny. “Can you detect anything magical about our Zodiac, or were they scientific?”
She shook her head. “Nothing! They weren’t truly alive, as I said. I think they are, or were, energy given some semblance of life. Golems of energy, if you will.”
“Well, this seems to be where the power that birthed them came from,” said Green Lantern. “A living man is inside, too. He’s their master, I’d venture to guess.”
The Elongated Man nodded as his nose twitched. “Think he’s got the rest of the Zodiac in there?” he asked.
The Flash said, “One way to find out!” He vibrated through the wall and saw the lab, several other costumed beings, and a man he knew from JLA files. “The Key!” he said.
The wizened man in a large chair nodded slowly. “Who better to wield a cosmic key?” he said with a cough, holding aloft a gleaming, forked device.
Green Lantern and the rest entered, and the emerald champion nodded as he said, “That high-tech tuning fork of his is the source of his Zodiac constructs.”
“You’re ill!” said Zatanna, shock in her voice. “I thought my magic had cured you! (*) Why this attack?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Key Crisis of the One-Man Justice League,” Justice League of America #191 (June, 1981).]
“To lure you here,” explained the Key. “Your magicks faded, and I need all you possess if I am to survive! I’m sorry, my dear. I must drain you dry if I am to live. I regret this and am still appreciative of your past kindness to me.”
The Elongated Man shook his head. “The lady is no Duracell!“
“Key, I’m sorry you are sick,” said Green Lantern, “but ending Zee’s life won’t be an option! Let me try to help you!”
The Key shook his head sadly. “No! It is too late. My zodiac key made my slaves, and it shall enable me to kill you three so I may drink deeply of the eldritch might of the lovely Zatanna!”
Aquarius stepped forward, and he gestured to produce waves of cascading water. The Flash made a trench in the floor to contain the flood as Green Lantern flew higher.
Leo the Lion roared and jumped toward Green Lantern’s hovering form. Always I get the yellow ones! he thought wryly. He saw the construct’s claws and fangs, and he brought up the floor to block his attack, wrapping it around the struggling lion man, then connecting with a right cross. “I’d be lion if I said I took you too seriously!” he quipped.
Meanwhile, Elongated Man dodged the woman called Libra as her scales flashed, and his world became one of frozen-but-perfect balance. Out of step with world around me, he mused. Some kind of stasis. Perfect equilibrium. He caught the reflection of the zodiac key and struggled to reach it, even as his own body felt sluggish and helpless.
Zatanna spoke hurriedly and danced aside as Scorpio’s lethal stinger missed her leg. “Gnits flesrouy!” she cried. At her magical command, he connected with his own body and shut down like a broken toy.
Green Lantern dropped Leo on top of Aquarius, and the Flash charged the Key, but when the villain pressed his zodiac key, raw energy erupted to stun the Flash.
Ralph used the momentary distraction to grab the zodiac key out of the villain’s hands. It erupted in fire, and he was forced to drop it in pain. “Booby-trapped, and I’m the boob who fell for it!” he said ruefully.
Green Lantern called out, “Zee! Can you create a blackout?“
“Ssenkrad llaf!” cried Zatanna, and the room became pitch black, while the energy beings vanished.
“I figured a temporary eclipse would destroy them,” mused Green Lantern.
The Flash rocketed forward and swept the zodiac key away with a blast of wind, and the human Key gasped in anger. “You fool!” he groaned. “I’ll die! The exertions of creating the zodiac key and drawing the energy from beyond Earth to fuel my army and bring you here has weakened me!”
Green Lantern scanned his pale, gaunt form. “He’s right,” he said softly. “I detect total cellular erosion. His body is literally slowing down all its vital functions.”
Zatanna stepped forward and placed her hands on his cheeks. “I can’t let him die,” she said. “Maybe if I give him my magical powers again…”
Ralph snaked out an arm and drew her back. “Nope. Let the Flash speed up his metabolism. He can now add speed to others,” said the ductile detective.
The Flash said, “It’s worth a try!” Turning to the Key, he said, “I won’t hurt you. I want to try to jumpstart your failing metabolism.”
The Key nodded.
The Flash bent over his frail form and vibrated until he was a blur, and his speedy energies entered the Key’s body. In a moment, it was over.
“If I tried anything more, it would hurt him,” he explained.
Green Lantern nodded. “My rings shows he has improved. I think you did it!”
The Key already did, in fact, look better. “My thanks!” he said. “You helped me when I would have killed you all. You shame me! I suppose the stars smiled upon me this day.”
The Flash grinned. “I like to think this day was special, too!”
Ralph placed his arm on Flash’s shoulder. “Yeah. He’s smiling on you from somewhere. Compassion toward a foe. It’s the kind of gift he’d like, too!”
They nodded in agreement as they remembered Barry Allen.
On the world called Angor, slaves rushed around as their master departed in a glowing circle that lowered itself from the roof and passed over his armored body. Other silent forms stood nearby.
“My computer reveals this Key robbed my zodiac key of its power without knowing what he did,” he said. “He thought he robbed the stars when in fact he took that which was mine. No matter. He is but one petty schemer from that alien world. He did me a service by revealing that the Key could be created there as well as here. If he received the idea for the device in some manner, then perhaps other relics of power found on Angor may also be found on Earth! In any event, that world will soon be mine for the taking.”
Oblivion had little doubt that his power would be enough to conquer the Earth and its champions.