by Martin Maenza
It was a common misconception that New Orleans only came alive around the celebration of Mardi Gras. The truth was that the city often began celebrating the annual festival many weeks before Fat Tuesday. Still, many of the visitors to the famed Louisiana city flocked to it during the height of the celebration. That was the case this year with Ed Raymond, his new bride Felicity, and his son Ronald.
“Isn’t this great?” the black-haired woman asked over the loud noise of the partygoers in the streets.
“Sure,” said the brown-haired newspaper editor. He didn’t seem to be enjoying himself, though.
“Oh, come on, honey,” Felicity said as she gave her husband a squeeze. “Where’s your sense of adventure? Everybody should experience Mardi Gras at least once in their lives.”
“Yeah, Dad,” the brown-haired Ronnie Raymond said. “Now you’ll be able to die happy.” The college student gave his father a playful punch on the shoulder.
Ed Raymond smiled. “I’m just glad you’re starting to perk up,” he told his son. “I know you weren’t jazzed about going on vacation with your old man and stepmother.”
“Well, you’re right, there,” Ronnie admitted. Then he noticed a bevy of scantily clad young women pass by on a makeshift float. One of them tossed some stringed beads toward the trio, and Ronnie caught them with a jump. “But this isn’t so bad, after all.”
Ed Raymond watched his son’s wandering eye. “If you want to explore around on your own, that’d be fine,” he said. “You know where the hotel is.”
“Really?” Ronnie asked. “Cool. Thanks, Dad.” The youth took off down the crowded street.
“Ed, since when did you become the easy parent?” Felicity asked.
He pulled the beautiful woman closer. “I just figured we could enjoy some alone time, too.” He gave her a knowing wink.
“Oh!” Felicity said. “Lead on, honey!” And the couple took off toward their hotel room.
Ronnie spent a good hour taking in the street performers and sampling the wares of Creole cooking. He had to admit, he was actually enjoying himself. But that good time was about to end as he caught sight of someone.
Hey, wait a second, Ronnie thought to himself. He shifted through the crowd to get a better look at the woman walking down the street. She was attractive with long black hair and white streaks. I’d know her anywhere! That’s Sabrina Sultress! The young man decided to follow her, just to see what she might be up to. I can always become Firestorm if the need arises. He saw her head down an alleyway and then enter a fortune-teller’s shop. Ronnie continued to investigate.
Approximately 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth and an hour or so later, a brown-haired hero in red and blue was acting as tour guide. “And here we have the library,” Steel announced. Along the wall were shelves of books bound in leather. Another young man in a black shirt with camouflage pants and a black mask was sitting in one of the chairs looking at one of the books. “And our resident bookworm.”
The Atom looked up from the pages he was reading. “Very funny, Steel,” he said before returning to his large book.
“Just kiddin’, Atom,” the indestructible man replied. “So, what do you think?”
The long-brown-haired young man in a black costume with red boots and gloves looked around, still in awe. Upon his chest he had a white star with red trim. “This is impressive,” Starman said. “I always wondered what it would be like to see the Justice League Satellite. It’s so cool to actually get a chance to look around.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” Steel replied. “My grandfather had built us a place down in Detroit, but this one is a few steps up. Combines Kryptonian and Thangarian technology, with a little Martian and Oan advances thrown into the mix. Much better for monitoring worldwide situations.”
“Definitely scores high on the hi-tech meter,” Starman agreed. “We don’t have nearly this much stuff at the Forgotten Heroes base off of Vumania. Still, an island headquarters does have its advantages.”
“I’m rather surprised the JLA didn’t ask you to step up from the minor leagues,” Steel said. “I mean, after all that work you did when Aquarius plunged the Earth into darkness last Fall and all. You really pulled out all the stops then.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Super-Team Family: Starman and Superman: The Final Night.]
Starman felt a little embarrassed. “Just using my powers where I can,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t expected an invite or anything.”
“Still, maybe someone should bring it up the next time we’re discussing new members,” Steel mused. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s 11:50. Almost time for Red Tornado to relieve me from monitor duty.”
Without looking up from the book, the Atom said loudly, “And shouldn’t you be watching the monitors?“
“Relax, rookie,” Steel said. “These systems practically run themselves. If there was trouble, an alert would sound, and…”
“There is trouble!” a deep, baritone voice said from the shadows. The three young men turned to see a figure in a dark, flowing cape and dark, wide-brimmed hat that cast most of his facial features into shadow.
“Who the–?” Starman asked as he assumed a defensive position.
“How’d you get past the security?” Steel asked as he, too, prepared to defend himself.
The Atom sprang up from the couch and stepped before the two young heroes. “Will you guys relax?” he said. “Don’t you know who this is?“
Steel and Starman looked to one another, both having a similar confused expression. “No,” they said in unison.
“If you read the old casebooks a bit more, you’d know who this is,” the Atom said. He turned to the new arrival. “This is the Phantom Stranger, an honorary member of the League. He’s helped the team out on a number of occasions.”
The Stranger placed his white-gloved hand on the Atom’s shoulder. “We do not have time for a history lesson, my young friend. One of your own is in serious danger and can use your help! I have come here to bring you to his aid.”
“Danger?” Steel asked. “Who?”
“Firestorm,” the Stranger replied.
“Maybe we should summon the others,” the Atom suggested. “Like Superman or something.”
“No!” the Stranger said firmly. “Superman would not be of much help in a situation such as this! Besides, time is of the essence. The three of you will be sufficient, I feel.”
“Count me in,” Starman said. “I may only be a friend of the League and don’t know Firestorm that well, but if someone’s in trouble, and I can help, then that is all that matters.”
“Spoken like a true hero, Starman,” the Stranger said, acting as if he knew the young man, even though they’d never met. “Hurry! We must go now!“
“The transporter is one level up,” Steel said as he turned toward the door.
“No!” said the Stranger as he grabbed Steel’s arm firmly. The mysterious figure seemed to have great strength, despite his average-build appearance. “I have the means to get us where we need to be.” And with that, the man waved his cape about. The material seemed to swell around the four of them. In a flash, they vanished from the satellite.
The four men materialized in an alleyway in New Orleans. The sounds of a parade and celebration were just a dozen yards away from them.
“Whoa!” said Starman. “Talk about rapid transit!“
The Stranger moved down toward the street, and the Atom was first to follow. “Guys, if half of what I’ve read about this guy is true,” the Leaguer said, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” Steel and Starman fell into line.
In the midst of the Mardi Gras festival, the costumed heroes were barely given half a glance. So many of the celebrating crowds had some form of mask or costume on, anyway. From clowns to harem girls and angels to demons, it would be very easy for someone to blend in with the people here.
“Quickly,” the Phantom Stranger said, motioning to the young men whose pace slowed when some scantily clad females passed by. “I sense the danger around your friend increases with each moment!” The man in the cloak led them down a narrow, cobblestone alley that was dimly lit.
“What kind of fate could befall Firestorm here?” Steel wondered.
The Phantom Stranger approached a small shop with a single candle lit in the window. The sign beside the door read Madame Ophelia, reader of palms and the Tarot.
“I don’t know,” Starman said. “A bad reading, perhaps.”
“That could count as some misfortune,” Steel said with a laugh.
The Atom pushed the two forward. “Steel, be serious! C’mon!” They followed their mysterious guide into the shop.
The front area consisted of a waiting room with a few chairs, a table with some magazines, and an ornate throw rug covering most of the wooden floor. Not a person was in sight. “This way,” the Phantom Stranger said as he stood by a large set of curtains that led to another room. He slipped through the opening in the curtain.
The Atom was the first to follow through, followed by Starman and then Steel. When the three stepped past the fabric into the other side, they were startled by what they saw. Each expected something like the previous room: some antique furniture of sorts with perhaps a table and candles and such. What they found was nothing like that at all.
Standing before them was the Phantom Stranger in what appeared to be some sort of hellish realm. The ground was beet red, and steam and intense heat emanated from various holes in the crust. Beyond that, the terrain was barren. “What the hell?!” the Atom exclaimed.
Steel spun back around, but the curtain they passed through and the other room of the fortune-teller’s shop was nowhere to be found. “Something tells me that’s exactly where we are!” he said.
“Stranger, what’s going on here?!” Starman exclaimed. “Where are we?”
“This is a nether realm to which your friend has been whisked,” the mysterious man said in a matter-of-fact way. “We must find him quickly before something dastardly befalls him.”
“No need!” said a wicked female voice. Suddenly, a dark-haired woman with white streaks was standing before them, dressed in a flowing purple robe. “What I have in store for your friend can wait until I’ve destroyed you as well!”
“Whoa! I know her!” Steel said. “She’s called the Satin Satan!“
The Atom did a double-take at his colleague. “Steel! I thought you never read the casebooks! How do you know Sabrina Sultress by sight?” Steel mumbled something under his breath. “What did you say?”
“I said,” Steel admitted, “that I saw her in a recent Cosmo.”
“You read Cosmo?” Starman asked.
“I was just doing the quiz,” Steel said defensively.
Sabrina laughed. “Well, as much as I appreciate that, you all must die! A deal is a deal!” She thrust out her hands and fired a mystic bolt at the group.
The Phantom Stranger quickly countered with a wave of his gloved hands. Her attack shattered across an invisible mystic field. “Hold, woman!” he said. “I do not know of you, yet I sense a familiarity about you. Why?”
Sabrina’s expression contorted slightly, and when she spoke this time, her voice had a different tone and sounded more masculine. “You truly are as all-knowing as your reputation claims, mystic,” she said. “I should have known you might try to run afoul my plans as you did once before! But no matter. We already have in our possession the one called Firestorm, and by destroying his spirit we shall kill two birds with one stone!”
The Stranger stared for a moment at the woman, and then a revelation came to him. “Of course! Now I can see clearly!” he said. “I should have known that foul aura could only belong to Count Crystal!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Carnival of Souls,” Justice League of America #145 (August, 1977).]
“Bravo!” said Sabrina Sultress, her voice once again with a feminine lilt to it. “Now, you will all die as well!” With a grand gesture, the ground began to tremble, and forms began to rise up from the surface itself. They took the form of featureless humanoids, powerfully built in size. “Destroy them, my minions!”