The teleporter tube in the JLA Satellite hummed to life. Steel, seated at the monitor console, watched the shimmering light that signaled the arrival of a JLA member. No matter how long he worked with the Justice League of America, Steel never got over that awesome sight.
“Hiya, Hank,” the Flash said amiably as he stepped out of the tube. “Got here as fast as I could. Had to stop for a red light in Kuala Lumpur.”
Steel, alias Hank Heywood III, smiled at the joke. “Thanks for covering the shift, Wally. Don’t understand what happened to Superman.” Steel had been scheduled to be relieved by Superman, but the Man of Steel had neither shown up nor called in.
“Ah, he’s probably on an important mission in space or something and couldn’t call in,” said the Flash, alias Wally West. “Happens a lot in this business. I once had to take double shifts when Mister Freeze, Captain Cold, and the Weather Wizard teamed up to paralyze Star City with a massive blizzard in April. Nobody was free to relieve me.”
“Well, thanks again,” Steel said. “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind staying, but I have a hot date tonight, and–”
Suddenly, the monitor alert began flashing. The Justice League computer was programmed to monitor television and radio broadcasts and alert the League if certain key words were used, such as hostage, terrorist, and Despero. The Flash and Steel both looked to the monitor.
“Maybe we’re about to learn why Supes is late,” the Flash said, stabbing the button to bring up the audio-visual display.
The sight that met the young heroes’ eyes made them gape in disbelief.
Superman was standing atop the Statue of Liberty, hands on his hips, staring down at the people pouring out of the monument. There was a look on his face that neither hero had ever seen on it before: a look of malevolence.
“That’s right — run!” Superman shouted to the people. “I said I’d give you ten minutes to clear out of the monument, and I meant it! I don’t want to hurt anybody — not yet — but if you think I’m bluffing, just stick around and see!”
The Flash and Steel looked at one another, then back at the screen.
When all the tourists had cleared out of the monument, Superman addressed the crowd. “I’m sick and tired of cleaning up the messes you ridiculous humans make! I’m tired of the revolving door on Mount Olympus prison! Tired of being expected to get every cat out of every tree and put out every fire started by human carelessness! It’s become clear to me that you humans can’t manage your own affairs. So I am taking over! As of this moment forward, the entire world is under the direct governmental control of Superman! I will direct your lives and bring a new golden age to this sorry world! And if anyone thinks they can challenge my right to do this, well, history has shown us that might makes right! You Americans have this country because you had better weapons than the indigenous people here! And the same principle applies now!”
With that, Superman flew up into the air, banked in a tight arc above the Statue of Liberty, and hovered there. Twin beams of scarlet flashed from his eyes, bathing the statue in heat. In a matter of seconds, the mighty copper statue was reduced to molten metal, and then to vapor, and finally to random atoms. The Flash and Steel watched in horror.
“Um… I guess we did find out what kept Superman, after all,” Steel said. The Flash was uncharacteristically silent.
The Martian Manhunter had been on the telephone all night. On the East Coast of the United States, the sun was just beginning to rise; in the JLA Satellite, the change went unnoticed.
“Yes, Mr. President, I’m well aware. No, I assure you, Superman was not acting with the sanction of the Justice League of America. It came as just as much of a surprise to us as to the rest of the world. What? Well, we haven’t actually determined that that really was Superman. Well, we’ve fought any number of villains who have shape-shifting abilities. Yes, I realize that. Well, that sort of thing can be faked, you know. No, we haven’t been able to contact Superman. We haven’t ruled out the possibility of mind-control, either. Yes, I will keep you posted. Thank you, Mr. President. Goodbye.”
J’onn J’onzz broke the connection and turned, grim-faced, to face the rest of the assembly. The satellite meeting room was crowded. Nearly every member of the Justice League of America, active and inactive, was there.
“Steel?” J’onn asked.
Steel consulted a handful of computer printouts in his hands. “I checked the JLA computer for all known super-villains with shape-shifting powers. Everyone is accounted for. The Marshal is safely locked up in Mount Olympus awaiting transfer to a prison planet; Amazo is deactivated and in cold storage; Byth is still in Takron-Galtos, et cetera.”
J’onn nodded almost imperceptibly. “Shayera?”
Hawkwoman, alias Shayera Hol of Thanagar, also consulted computer printouts. “I did a check on all villains known to control or influence minds. They, too, are accounted for. A possible exception is Brainiac, but Hal tells me that’s unlikely.”
“Yes, I checked with Oa about him,” Green Lantern said. “His ship was sighted in Sector 0071 two days ago. It’s highly unlikely he could have made it across that much space in so little time.”
Again, J’onn nodded. “Ralph?”
Ralph Dibny, alias the world-famous Elongated Man, shook his head. “I’ve been trying to reach Superman for hours. He doesn’t answer his JLA signal device, I’ve left twenty-six messages on Clark Kent’s voice mail, he hasn’t been seen at the Daily Planet, and there’s no answer at the Fortress of Solitude, either.”
J’onn nodded again. He looked around at the assembled faces. All were close friends of Superman; all had worked closely with him for years. None of them believed he was capable of this.
Suddenly, J’onn noticed something. “Where is Batman?”
The assembled heroes looked around. In the throng, nobody had noticed it yet. Batman, Superman’s oldest and closest friend, had failed to respond to the call.
The Flash raced to the communications console, but J’onn was sure he knew what they would learn. Things were going from bad to worse.
In a secret room of the Pentagon, five old men sat tensely around a table. They had sat thus for hours and were no closer to a decision.
“Even if we do decide to move against him,” one of the Joint Chiefs said, “what could we do? This is Superman we’re talking about!”
“I don’t think even Superman could take a direct hit from one of our tactical nuclear warheads,” another Chief said haughtily.
“He’d laugh it right off,” a third Chief assured him. “If he even let the missile hit him, that is.”
“All right, what about kryptonite?” another brought up. “Where can we get our hands on some?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” the third Chief said. “It’s reasonably safe to assume Lex Luthor could help us in that area. Get some green K into our hands.”
“So, what, we offer him a Presidential pardon?” the first Chief asked. “Unleash a menace potentially greater than the one we’re trying to stop?”
“Well, what else can we do?” the first Chief wailed.
“You can die,” hissed another voice. All the Joint Chiefs looked at each other, then toward a corner of the room. They watched a tall, menacing figure seem to materialize out of the shadows.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the figure said, cloak wrapped around its body. “Why wasn’t I invited to the party?”
“Batman!” one of the Joint Chiefs gasped. “Well, it’s just — we thought — you know, you being Superman’s friend, and all–”
“You thought I’d support his actions? Possibly even try to stop you from trying to stop him?” Batman whipped his hands out from under his cloak. A .45 Magnum was clutched in each gloved fist. “You were right,” Batman said, grinning wickedly. The guns blazed, bullets spraying across the room. It was over in a matter of seconds. Four of the Joint Chiefs lay sprawled across the table or slumped in their chairs, dead. The fifth cowered in terror.
“You spread the word,” Batman said, pointing menacingly at him. “Let the world know that Superman’s word is now law. Anyone who disobeys it will be dealt with swiftly. And I am his angel of death.” And with that, Batman left as mysteriously as he came.
“Batman, too?” Aquaman shouted, driving his fist into his palm. “I can’t believe it! I’ve known both men longer than I have almost anyone else — longer even than Aqualad and Mera! I would trust them with my life!”
“We still don’t know exactly what’s going on,” J’onn pointed out. “There are any number of possibilities. They could be impersonated, they could be mind-controlled…”
“They could have really gone bad?” asked Nubia, the current Wonder Woman. Everyone stared at her. “I’m just saying what nobody else seems to have the guts to say. Maybe I have known them less time than anyone else here, and maybe that’s why I’m the only one who wants to face it. But it’s a very real possibility.”
“I can’t believe that for a second,” Green Lantern declared. “If you knew them like I do–”
“You don’t think they have a dark side?” Nubia asked. “Wasn’t your own arch-enemy, Sinestro, once a respected member of the Green Lantern Corps?”
Green Lantern had no answer for that.
“Superman and Batman have been fighting the good fight longer than any of us, though,” the Flash pointed out. “They were the first heroes on Earth, or at least the first ones in the current generation of heroes. They started the trend the rest of us follow.”
“And you don’t think they could get fed up with how little they’ve actually accomplished in all that time?” Nubia asked. “How many times did Batman have to capture the Joker just last year alone?”
“Nuts!” Green Arrow said, punching the wall with a loud THUMP. “If this crazy talk keeps up, I might start believing it myself! I–”
Just then, the lights in the satellite started blinking out.
“What gives?” Ralph asked.
“The satellite system is shutting down!” Hawkman declared, racing for the control panel. “Something’s interfering with it!”
“Can you fix it?” J’onn asked.
“I’m trying, but it’s not responding!” Hawkman cried. “It won’t accept my commands! It–”
Suddenly, the JLA members found themselves floating in air. The artificial gravity system had suddenly ceased. The undertone hum of the generators, usually just barely audible, now deafened them with its silence.
In the darkness, one light suddenly snapped into life — a monitor screen showing a face most of them knew well, especially the Flash.
“Nightwing!” Flash declared, looking at the face of his lifelong friend.
“Hi, there, gang,” Nightwing spoke to the heroes. “Bet you’re wondering what happened to your satellite, huh? Afraid I have to take credit for this one!”
“Oh, no, Dick, not you, too,” Flash whispered.
“I’ve uploaded a particularly nasty virus to your satellite computers through the com-link you share with Titans Tower,” Nightwing explained. “Everything on board has shut down, including life support. For your sake, I hope Green Lantern is on board; I figure you’ve got seven minutes to get out of Dodge!” And the image winked out, leaving the entire satellite black.
Nobody said a word as Green Lantern surrounded them all in a power-ring bubble and ghosted them through the satellite walls. One by one, their closest comrades were turning on them. What was to come next?