Soon Superman, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Wonder Woman, and Batman were closing in on the castle being held by Oblivion.
“The last time we had to rebuild the Absorbascon,” Hawkman had explained the situation earlier, “we added a feature or two with help from Adam Strange’s father-in-law. We now can disable the device from afar and prevent the thief from using it. We also have a tracer within it.”
They had followed the signal directly to the castle. Superman had conferred with his friends about his own encounter with Wandjina, and the Hawks had described both the battle with Beehive and the blurred image recorded on their home security cameras when Jack B. Quick had taken the Thanagarian device.
“When he last met the JLA,” added Batman, “Blue Jay mentioned other members of his team, and G.L.’s comrades in the Earthbound Green Lantern Corps revealed that they had encountered a few other Angorian heroes that fit the descriptions of the bee-manipulating woman and the speedster. We’re dealing with mentally dominated Assemblers, all right.”
Red Tornado leaned over to Wonder Woman and said, “Nubia, I recently enjoyed reading your speech down south from a few months ago. The transcript, if accurately reported, indicates you did a fine job.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Wonder Woman: Black and White.]
Nubia glanced at the artificial man and nodded. “My thanks, Tornado,” she said. “Like yourself at times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.”
“I see J’onn’s been loaning you books again,” said a grinning Black Canary.
“Nubia, I experienced some of the very same discrimination myself while under the influence of red kryptonite,” said Superman. (*) “I must talk to you about it later. Maybe even call John Stewart as well. Sadly, there’s no alien rock to explain away why so many people fear and hate anyone who is different.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: The Private Life of Clark Kent: Skin Deep.]
Nubia smiled and said nothing.
Meanwhile, on the base called Styx, Black Manta smiled beneath his helmet as Romana’s prone form was tossed out to sea.
“You retrieved the genetic data as requested and discarded her corpse?” he said. “Good. Now prepare our captive for experimentation.”
His men rushed to obey.
Oblivion paced the marble-floored hallway that once served as the main reception area of the castle. His armored costume and mask concealed his expression, yet his body language made it all too clear that he was angry.
“The crown lost! The star band theft thwarted! The Absorbascon useless — except for my secondary purpose! Romana dead!” he shouted. “I grow weary of these setbacks. No world shall best Oblivion — not while I still breathe!”
Nearby stood several entranced Assemblers. The bald and rugged Wandjina was impassive, but his dark eyes glowered with a perceptible thunder. The lithe Jack B. Quick stood silent, but his nervous intensity was evident by his trembling. His silvery-white hair and proud features marked him as one unused to such submission. Silver Sorceress was lovely and pale beneath her elaborate headdress. Her magicks could not help her against Oblivion’s powerful science. Beehive frowned slightly as she realized that her golden hosiery had a run in one leg. She retained her love of fashion even under the spell of the tyrant. Tin Man’s powerful armor rivaled that of Oblivion’s, yet his served a more vital function as it kept his injured heart beating. Captain Liberty, their leader, remained still, yet his keen mind and battle-sharpened reflexes made him a potent force. He would win their freedom somehow, as he had defeated the dark forces during the last Global Conflict years before. Finally, Pulsar, a young blond man with golden bracelets on each wrist and a starry gaze in his eyes made the final Assembler, since Romana was missing.
Superman scanned the castle and nodded. “This is it. I see Wandjina, Silver Sorceress, and the rest. No Blue Jay this time.”
“Perhaps he fell in combat against the being who enslaved his allies,” suggested Wonder Woman. “Death before bondage.”
Batman nodded. “He was a good man. I hope he still lives.”
As they entered the castle to confront their foe, the JLAers pondered what they knew in their own ways.
Superman wondered just what item from his Fortress of Solitude had Wandjina been seeking when he stopped his search. Was it the Phantom Zone projector, an animal from the alien zoo, or perhaps one of Brainiac’s weapons?
Batman planned tactics with a clinical detachment that belied his true passion. He cared for others and had based his whole life around the premise of preserving the family unit or keeping innocents safe. He hoped he could restore the enslaved heroes.
Black Canary recalled the recent battle against her temporal duplicate, Magpie. Odd how heroes from different worlds and realms could take so many forms. She revered the concept of law enforcement and remembered how it had been an honored calling in the Drake family for years.
Red Tornado thought of Kathy Sutton and little Traya and their impending nuptials. He hoped to settle this case quickly.
Wonder Woman tried to remove the lingering resentments she still felt as she recalled her time in the South several months ago. A warrior princess kept her mind focused at all times. The scorn of small-minded people should have no place in Nubia’s life or her feelings.
The Hawks worried about the same thing: once more Thanagarian technology had fallen into the wrong hands in spite of their best efforts. Was their natural world fated to ever pose a peril to their adopted home?
Nubia rushed forward and kicked open a huge wooden door. “Villain! Reveal yourself!” she shouted.
“I am above such petty designations,” said Oblivion. “At the least, I see myself as a hero of mankind as far above petty ideas of good and evil as you are superior to an ant or flea!”
“Your ideology justifies your actions?” said Batman. “That’s no different from what any thief, killer, or dictator claims!”
“Get them!” shouted Oblivion.
Quick was, of course, the first to respond. He was aloof from his own team and had little concern about these other-worlders. He vibrated forward and knocked Nubia’s sword out of her grip. His super-rapid blows sent her reeling but left her unharmed.
He’s as fleet as Hermes! she mused. “Too bad I’m even faster!” she said.
Wonder Woman caught his arm and slammed him down, only to see him vibrate through the floor and emerge to strike her as she whirled around. She spun faster and kicked him flat.
Batman moved with silent precision and sent a gummy substance from a belt pellet into Oblivion’s impressive bank of machinery. No need to let him use those weapons against us, mused the Darknight Detective.
Meanwhile, Silver Sorceress gestured, and her magic caused snake-like tendrils to wrap themselves around Hawkman. He gritted his teeth and flexed his mighty muscles to break free and send the shapely witch to the ground with one gust from his wings.
Hawkwoman found herself dodging energy beams from the armored Tin Man. She frowned. This may be a robot, but he could be a man in an armored suit. Either way, a photonic lance should slow him down. She danced high above his energy beams and brought her extending photonic lance down in a sparking arc.
Black Canary had sent herself rolled across the floor to bowl over the red-white-and-blue-clad Captain Liberty. She gasped as he rolled with her and pinned her to the ground. He’s very, very good! she mused. Maybe as good as Mister Terrific!
Wandjina slammed into Superman as Red Tornado tried to counter the hulking man’s wind blasts. Pulsar flew above them and created an energy bubble around the combatants so no more of Oblivion’s devices could be ruined by Batman.
Batman realized the energy field was too strong for him, and he turned to help Black Canary. He connected with a right hook as Captain Liberty fell backward. He kicked the star-patterned shield off the man’s arm as well.
Black Canary smiled and back-flipped across the room to unleash her sonic canary cry at Wandjina. He gasped and staggered momentarily as Superman resolutely knocked him into Tin Man.
Hawkwoman swooped down to kick Silver Sorceress in the mouth. “I’m the only enchantress for Hawkman,” she joked and tossed her lance to her husband, who caught it and brought it down on Jack B. Quick, who fell stunned.
Hawkman nodded. “Well, there’s always Zee.”
Hawkwoman frowned in mock disapproval. “I look great in fishnets, too, you know.”
Wonder Woman frowned and charged directly through the swarm of heat-generating insects summoned by Beehive. She ignored their stings and slapped their mistress to the floor. “This should end your annoying attacks!” Nubia said as she crushed Beehive’s tiara to pulp.
Tin Man loomed over Black Canary as Reddy whirled down to carry the blonde bombshell to safety. “Thanks, Reddy! That metal menace was ready to stomp me into the ground!” she said, smiling.
As the witch from Angor struggled back on her feet, Hawkman was agilely dodging Silver Sorceress’ mystical blasts in such a way that he directed them toward her allies whenever possible. Tin Man gasped as one struck his armor, and he became inert.
Superman blasted Captain Liberty with icy breath and turned to smash through Pulsar’s energy field. He gasped as the field turned red.
“I can channel red sun energy as well!” said Pulsar.
“He spoke?” said Black Canary, shrugging.
“Indeed! I am immune to all mind control,” said Pulsar.
Red Tornado said, “I speculate magic holds the youth instead of a form of brainwashing.” He soared up and drove back Pulsar as Superman landed hard as the red sun sapped his powers.
Batman helped him up. “Are you hurt, old chum?”
Superman grinned ruefully. “Just my pride.”
Wonder Woman hurled her tiara, and it sliced precisely across Pulsar’s wrists to slice through his bracelets. They fell to the floor as he crashed down at Red Tornado’s feet.
“Very nice,” said Oblivion. “You defeated my pawns in record time. That was expected.”
“You knew we had traced you?” said Superman.
“I wanted you to come here,” explained Oblivion.
Superman scanned the room and located the stolen Absorbascon. “You could not use it, nor did you succeed in stealing anything from my Fortress. What good has this madness done you?” he asked.
Batman frowned. “Superman, it’s you!“
“Great Krypton!” cried Superman. “He didn’t want anything from my base. He wanted to lure me here!”
Oblivion nodded. “True. At last there is light to dispel the darkness of your feeble mind. I wanted the power items, true enough, but your super-charged cells were always my goal. You see, I can’t risk damaging my armor by channeling the combined energies of the devices I brought from Angor. Your super form can be my energy container.” He clutched his fists, and energy flooded the room.
The heroes fell as one as Superman alone remained on his feet. “If you’ve hurt them–!” he began.
“They live. Your good behavior will ensure that they continue to do so,” said Oblivion. “Now to remove them via my Nth projector.”
“I don’t think so!” said a determined voice as a newcomer blazed into the room and melted the machine to pulp.
“Who?” asked Oblivion. “The nuisance from STAR Labs?”
“You could call me that,” said Starman, grinning. “I prefer to think of myself as just a guy who does the best he can to shut down creeps like you!” He tackled Oblivion but shuddered as the alien genius activated his armor’s defense capabilities.
“Fool! My power can’t be reckoned with!” said Oblivion.
Superman nodded. “Careful, son. He’s deadly!” He flew in tight circles around the tyrant, and the energy crackled. Got to keep turning on the power, he mused. Make him drain those power cells!
Starman understood the tactic and glanced down at the fallen bracelets Pulsar had lost. Their stellar energy pattern led me here after I stopped pretty boy, there, from stealing Doc Danvers’ star belt prototype, he mused. Will Payton concentrated and absorbed their energy, then released it all at Oblivion as the tyrant tried a new stunt.
Oblivion chanted as magical glyphs appeared in the air to stop the Man of Steel. The energy rocked him backward. “Bah! I cannot be interfered with by this meddling whelp!” He clutched at his belt and removed an expanding device that resembled a cube. “The Cosmos Cube can absorb your energies!” he chuckled.
“Not if it’s in space!” cried Superman, grabbing it at super-speed and hurling it into orbit.
Starman smiled and said, “Thanks, pal! He almost drained me dry!” Will Payton bent over Nubia and stirred her as Superman awoke Batman, Black Canary, and the rest.
“Starman!” said a smiling Wonder Woman. “Well met! Your power will be of good use here.”
“If my pawns had but retrieved their assigned relics, then I would have crushed you like gnats!” said Oblivion. “As it is, I still may retreat to conquer again at some other time!” He flickered away as a gleaming device materialized out of the air to cover him and then revealed nothingness.
“He’s gone! And no energy pattern to follow this time,” said Starman.
Batman nodded. “Hawkman, I’d say we owe our friend, here, for his timely rescue.”
Hawkman nodded. “So I surmised. Good work, Starman.”
Black Canary kissed his cheek and said, “What brought you here?”
“I work with a man named Fred Danvers now,” explained Starman. “He is researching the idea of containing stellar energy for good purposes in an instrument like a rod or belt or harness. The blond guy tried to steal our prototype, and I trailed him back here.”
“I know Dr. Danvers,” said Superman. “He’s a good man.”
“Oblivion’s hold on the Assemblers has been broken!” announced Batman, pointing toward the waking figures who stared in amazement.
“Thank goodness! You’ve freed us!” said Beehive.
Silver Sorceress nodded. “The JLA! I hoped beyond hope you could stop Oblivion. He enslaved us all back on Angor.”
Wandjina nodded. “Aye! We must make him pay!“
Pulsar glanced at his ruined bracelets. “That may be easier said than done.”
Captain Liberty smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Never say never, lad.” He extended his hand to Batman. “Thank you. We owe you all our thanks.”
“It’s nothing you would not have done for us,” said Batman.
Captain Liberty frowned. “Romana, we were worried about you!” He greeted the pretty aquatic blonde as she entered the castle.
“Cap, you’re free!” said the blonde. “I woke up in the sea and found myself free of his control. My healing factor had kicked in after injuries I must have sustained while under his control.”
“We can return you all to Angor via my spaceship,” offered Hawkman.
Beehive frowned. “Gad! My hair is a total wreck, and this costume, too! I have to do some shopping first!”
They laughed as another case concluded.